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IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
When life's troubles are too overwhelming for frustrated businessman, George Bailey, he thinks about ending his life by jumping from a bridge on Christmas Eve. However, George winds up saving his guardian angel, Clarence, who then lets George experience and see for himself what his town, Bedford Falls, and the people in it would be like if they hadn't been the recipients of all his good deeds throughout the years. "George meant so much to so many people; should he really throw it all away?"
The acclaimed cast includes: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, H.B. Warner, Frank Albertson, Todd Karns, Samuel S. Hinds, Mary Treen, Sarah Edwards, Virginia Patton, and Sheldon Leonard.
Screenplay by: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Frank Capra; based on the story, "The Greatest Gift", by Philip Van Doren Stern.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE was nominated for the Best Picture award.
Directed and Produced by: Frank Capra.
Promotional Line... "It's a wonderful laugh! It's a wonderful love!"
For years the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan had been an asset to the small community of Bedford Falls, offering loans to ordinary people with good character, when the regular bank wouldn't consider them. This business, started by Peter and Billy Bailey, has been a thorn in the side of the nasty and mean Mr. Potter, who wants to control all commerce in Bedford Falls.
Peter's son, George Bailey is now in control of the Building and Loan business, and has been following in his father's footsteps, helping people build houses, sustain businesses, much to the annoyance of the infamous Mr. Potter, who waits for an opportunity to trip up George and end his competition.
The story begins on Christmas Eve, and George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) has felt that he has hit the bottom of the barrel. He is in deep trouble, probably facing jail because Uncle Billy accidentally misplaced $8000 which evil millionaire, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) gets a hold of. Seeing this as his big chance to get rid of George Bailey, Potter gets a warrant for George Bailey's arrest, while keeping the missing $8,000. Seeing no way out, only a future of shame and trouble, George thinks about suicide, believing that it would've been better if he had never been born. After hearing the prayers of George's family and friends, who know that for some reason, George is in trouble, the angels above have a discussion, and decide after viewing a synopsis of George's life, to send George's guardian angel, Clarence (Thomas Mitchell), who is trying to earn his wings, to try to change his mind.
The synopsis of George's life begins when George is 12 years old, in 1919. George saves his brother from the icy water of a frozen pond, which results in George getting an infection in his left ear, loosing his hearing. When he is 12, he also works for the town druggist, Mr. Gower. While on the job one morning, we meet Mary and Violet, two girls who will be important in his life. George notices that the drunken Mr. Gower is distraught, and sees a telegram stating that Gower's son, Robert has died of the flu. He further observes that Mr. Gower, in his emotional state, has put poison by accident in pills being sent to a sick child. At expense to himself, George doesn't deliver the pills, and shows compassion to Mr. Gower.
This is the beginning of George living his life doing the right thing, despite what the cost is to his own dreams and aspirations. When his father dies, he gives up his planned summer adventure to stay home and help run the office. To prevent Mr. Potter from putting them out of business, George winds up accepting the job as head man at Bailey Building and Loan, giving his hard-earned savings he was going to use for college to his younger brother, Harry so he could go to college. 4 years later, Harry winds up not coming home as planned, but George winds up marrying a wonderful woman Mary, who has love him since she was a child.
On their wedding day, there is a big bank run on the Bailey Building and Loan, with many people wanting to take their money out. George once again thinks of others, at the expense of his honeymoon. Under his direction, Bailey Building and Loan helps families build their own homes in a new development, Bailey Park, escaping the run-down, expensive rental housing that Potter offers.
He and Mary wind up living in a grand old, fixer-upper house with their four children, during WW2, fighting the good fight for fairness and opportunity for the people of Bedford Falls.
After viewing this synopsis, the 293 year old Clarence Oddbody begins his assignment in a unique way, hoping to change the black attitude of the despairing George Bailey to one of hope, joy and thankfulness for his wonderful life, where he has made the difference in so many other people's lives. Clarence allows George's wish that he had never been born to come true, to open George's eyes to what life would be like in Bedford Falls, if George had never been born. George is in for some frightening, personally horrifying surprises, that snap him out of his state of mind, wanting him to live, no matter what the future brings. He realizes what is the most important thing -what makes his life a wonderful one.
"It's a Wonderful Life" is the film that Frank Capra considers to be the crown jewel of his career, though the audiences and the academy awarded him his Oscars for his other films, "It Happened One Night," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," and "You Can't Take It With You." It is in this film, however, that Capra made a strong case for how the individual can affect many lives, and what a huge hole the absence of one person can create.
This labor of love is a classic, loved by many because of its inspiring script, gifted direction, detailed sets, great production values and tremendous acting by a talented cast, hand-picked by Capra. Capra had a lot of control over the making of this picture, as he was also the film's producer.
While the screenplay did have elements of three other previously written attempts by writers for RKO, Capra captured the essence of the original story by his own written screenplay, with some help of a friend or two, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.
The direction by Capra brought out some truly inspiring performances by his talented cast which consisted of some well-known leading men and women, some new faces and some well-established character actors. All did an outstanding job.
Jimmy Stewart had worked with Capra before, in such films as "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and "You Can't Take it With You." In Stewart's wonderful portrayal of George Bailey, he displays both the positive and the dark side of George in such an effective manner that it touches the audience, making the story real and poignant.
Donna Reed was perfectly cast as Mary Hatch Bailey, his wife, who is as positive as George is, being a supportive, loving person who has loved George for who he is for a long time.
The multi-talented Lionel Barrymore had a lot of fun playing the villain, Mr. Potter, a formidable opponent of the Bailey family, because of his desire to financially control the whole town.
Oscarred supporting actor, Thomas Mitchell is very convincing as the well-meaning Uncle Billy, who has a few vices, but who does his best.
British born Henry Travers, is wonderful in his portrayal of Clarence Oddbody, angel 2nd class. This performance is the one that he is most remembered for, though he had a successful career as a character actor in the 1930's and '40's.
Beulah Bondi did a fine job portraying Ma Bailey, George's (Stewart's) mother. The change she portrays in Ma Bailey's personality when George didn't exist is quite surprising. This fine character actress often played mothers and grandmothers, "both sweet and vicious," in many Hollywood movies. She played Stewart's Mom in 3 other films. The change she portrays in Ma Bailey's personality.
I also enjoyed H..B. Warner's portrayal of the drunken pharmacist, Mr. Gower who has an epiphany because of the actions of young George Bailey.
This film is a great film for family viewing. The pacing in the synopsis of George's life, seen by the angels was perhaps a little slow, but the pace was perfect after this part in the film.
Quote from Clarence: "You've been given a great gift, George. A chance to see what the world would be like without you. One man's life touches so many others, when he's not there it leaves an awfully big hole. You see, George, you really have had a wonderful life".
Quote from Zuzu Bailey: "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings". \If you enjoyed IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE you may like THE FAMILY MAN, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, SCROOGE (1951), FORREST GUMP, BILLY ELLIOTT, BACK TO THE FUTURE, HIGH FREQUENCY, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, and STAR TREK 4.