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It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Wonderful Life poster

An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.

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My good friend Austin from The Bishop Review is currently running a project called Classic Movie Week, where 7 different bloggers are taking on 7 different classic, black and white movies. I was honoured to be asked to join his project, and figured I would review something from the IMDB Top 250 (2 birds, 1 stone and all that!) Here are my thoughts then on the classic movie It’s A Wonderful Life, and you can find my post on Austin’s site HERE, so you can check it out twice!

IMDB Logo

Top 250 #30

Year of Release: 1946

Director: Frank Capra

Cast:

James Stewart – George Bailey
Donna Reed – Mary Hatch
Lionel Barrymore – Henry F. Potter
Thomas Mitchell – Uncle Billy Bailey
Henry Travers – Clarence

There are some films that people only ever say good things about. Quite simply, they are considered ‘classics‘ or ‘masterpieces‘. I’m not a huge fan of labelling films with those terms, simply because everyone’s opinion is subjective, and those terms can get thrown around all too easily. Yet when talking about something like It’s A Wonderful Life, it’s pretty much impossible not to go along with the general consensus and call this movie one of those superlatives. It is just a beautiful picture with a relatively simple story, yet is timeless and an absolute joy to watch.

Young George Bailey

Young George Bailey

Some people are brought up on these old classics. Others find their own way to them, normally through their parents or from looking at ‘greatest of all time‘ lists. For me, well anyone who has read my ‘about me‘ page will know how my love affair with films started. It’s safe to say it wasn’t because of these beautiful black and white films. I have basically caught up with this golden generation a long time after everyone else. I’m very slowly working through what most people would call classics, and so when Austin asked me about joining his project, I knew It’s A Wonderful Life was the perfect choice for me.

Adult George Bailey

Adult George Bailey

I presume most people will know the plot, but I’ll just cover it very briefly. Released in 1946, the film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community would be had he never been born.

Angel

Guardian Angel – Clarence

Right from the beginning, when George risks his own life to save the life of his younger brother Harry, who had fallen through the ice on a frozen pond, and because of his heroic action, George lost the hearing in his left ear, we see what a kind, amazing person George is. This never changes, he saves a man from poisoning a child, he repeatedly sacrifices his dream to travel the world, he gives away his honeymoon money. It goes on, just a man doing kind things, and eventually it all gets too much for him, and after a series of unfortunate events, he can’t go on the trips as he has always wanted and he has to look after the family business – the bank. George gets tied down with a family and feels trapped in a world in which he doesn’t want to belong, and he then realises he is worth more dead than alive. The intervention from his guardian angel then shows George what the town would have been like without him. Bedford Falls, named Pottersville, is home to sleazy nightclubs and pawn shops. Bailey Park is never built. Mr. Gower was sent to prison for poisoning the child and is a despised derelict.

The beautiful Mary - Donna Reed

The beautiful Mary – Donna Reed

But most importantly for George, who has four children with the beautiful Mary (Donna Reed) in his real life, he sees Mary as a single spinster librarian. Rushing back to the bridge and begging for his life back, the film finishes with one of the most beautiful endings I have ever seen, as George realizes that he truly has a wonderful life. Perfect, and no wonder this is a film loved by so many people.

It's a wonderful life family

Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini’s character in the greatest TV show of all time, The Sopranos) used to mention Jimmy Stewart on the show. He wished everyone was more like Stewart, and you know what, maybe he was right. I’ve seen Stewart in Rear Window, and Vertigo, but I don’t think he has ever been better than he is in Wonderful Life. I can’t believe he was beaten to the Oscar. He showcases everything here. From being a loving, kind, caring person, to when he eventually loses it and trashes the house, Stewart is incredible to watch and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Equally, his wife, Donna Reed, is so sweet, and absolutely beautiful to look at. She is definitely not just a token wife. She is a strong and kind woman, who dearly wants to see her husband happy. Even Lionel Barrymore as the cold, Scrooge-like Mr. Potter owns every scene he is in. Whilst everyone takes a back seat to Stewart here, It’s A Wonderful Life is filled with excellent characters that bring both humour and sadness into the story. Every range of emotion is on show; envy, love, corruption, joy, hope, faith and despair, all beautifully portrayed by the actors. We even get a nice moral to end the story with. Something that is sadly lacking these days in films.

It's a wonderful life

Frank Capra’s directing is masterful, and it’s easy to see why both he and Stewart class this film as their personal favourite. I know there is a re-mastered version in colour now, but this film has to be seen in black and white. It is quite simply beautiful, and most people consider it the essential Christmas time film. No one should underestimate the power of its themes, themes that are ageless and universal. It just reminds us of how we can all make a difference to others. And what a sweet way to show us!

Its A Wonderful Life bridge

I can’t really say much more, as I’m sure everything that can be said about It’s A Wonderful Life has already been said by much better writers than me. I just hope my little opinion on the movie does it justice, and whereas most of the time I’m trying to point you all in the direction of something more obscure, I’m guessing most of you have seen this classic, and I hope you all loved it as much as I did.

9 stars

the end

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84 Comments

  1. Few things touch me like this film. Fine look at this, Tyson.

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  2. That Austin guy sure sounds swell. 😛

    It was great reading this review, and I’ve already read it about 12 times! 😀

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    • Ha ha, he is not a bad lad 🙂

      Thank you, and for the opportunity to write about something which has no blood and torture, and it’s always nice to join in other projects. Appreciate it dude! 🙂

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  3. Excellent review. This is one of my all-time favorite films.
    Nice work, Bill

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    • Thanks very much Bill, appreciate it! This is one movie I’ve reviewed where I’m expecting most people to love it. Surely has to be one of everyones favourites, just simply a beautiful film 🙂

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  4. Awesome review, Tyson!
    I’m a newcomer in the field of classics. I’m still working on seeing more of them. So I haven’t seen this one. Although my boyfriend does praise this movie a lot. I really have to find time to make a stop at the store to get some movies.. haha!

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    • Thank you Kim!!

      I would also class myself as a newcomer. Like you though, I’m trying!! I have just started recording them all on our MGM/Classics HD channel over here, and I want to try broaden my horizons! My worry reviewing them is doing them justice!

      I just cant imagine people not loving this film. I hope you get to see it soon 🙂

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  5. Great review! You know, I’ve never seen this movie but it’s one that I hear about quite often — it being a classic and all. Are there any zombies in it? Because I just might need to watch it.

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    • Cheers Ryan!!

      My wife’s exact words when she saw me watching it:

      ‘Didn’t think there would be enough deaths and torture for you’

      🙂

      It is excellent dude, and a little darker than many people would imagine. No zombies, but just a film that will make you happy 🙂 Give it a shot!

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  6. Reblogged this on Serendipity and commented:
    This is MY favorite Christmas movie. Love that “movie within a movie” alternate history thing. Enough like time travel to tickle my brain in all the right places and enough sentimentality to need at least a couple of kleenex.

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    • Thanks again for the reblog Marilyn. Very clever approach with the journey back in time element. And yeah, I have to admit it made even me feel happy and emotional. Beautiful ending 🙂

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  7. So long since I’ve seen It’s A Wonderful Life – it never gets old.

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  8. My favorite holiday movie. I like others too, but this one never gets old for me.

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    • For sure, just a perfect movie, I mean any time of the year would be ideal, but especially around Christmas makes it just that bit more special!

      Thanks for the re-blog 🙂

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  9. I watched this for the first time on Christmas Eve. I watched the one that had redone in colour. It was bloody awesome.

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  10. gregory moss

     /  January 25, 2013

    Can’t say I’ve ever seen this – or ever felt the need to. It plays here on the tele every christmas (why is that?).

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  11. Garry Armstrong

     /  January 26, 2013

    Jimmy Stewart’s first post war film. He showed flashes of his dark side that would become more obvious in his 50’s westerns directed by Anthony Mann. I think Stewart is one of the few stars from Hollywood’s “golden age” who actually got better as he aged.

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    • Yeah in places he was pretty dark here, relatively speaking of course. Such a great screen presence though, I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

      Cheers Garry 🙂

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  12. My essential Christmas time movie is Bad Santa. That’s pretty similar to It’s a Wonderful Life, I think.

    I haven’t watched this in forever, but I wouldn’t mind another go with it. Check this out, though, it’s pretty funny:

    http://www.uproxx.com/gammasquad/2012/12/its-a-terrifying-life-three-reasons-the-christmas-classic-is-actually-a-horror-movie/

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    • Bad Santa is definitely similar……. 😉

      I like the link, it actually has some valid points! They could definitely make an R rated version of Wonderful Life. Actually, thats what Bad Santa is 😉

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      • Yea, it’s a spiritual successor.

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        • Joking aside, I do love Bad Santa!! 🙂

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        • Hell yes. It actually is on my yearly watch list. That movie will never, ever, ever get old. Ever.

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        • Arent they doing a sequel, or a tv version of it? Swear I saw that talked about somewhere

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        • God, I hope not. A sequel could be good, but not a TV version.

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        • Apparently Bad Santa 2 is a go, Billy Bob is back, the guy writing and directing it is from from Hot Tub Time Machine (which I liked)

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        • I still haven’t got around to seeing that, but it sounds like you think he’s a good match for this? I’m a little skeptical if it’s not the same guy who directed the first one.

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        • Well, Hot Tub was crude and funny, so it’s sorta on the same wavelength for a start. The last bit of info for Bad Santa 2 was about 5 months ago. It has a page on IMDB, and lots of sites say whos attached and writing/directing, but no start date as of yet. Got to live in hope right!? 🙂

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  13. Great review of a great movie. A classic in every way possible.

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  14. wordschat

     /  January 26, 2013

    Tyson, Jimmy Stewart is my fav actor of all time. Your review us a lovely tribute. You mention The Sopranos reference. Without cheating to IMDB how many other references can people pass along besides mine here?
    1- Gremlins where the main street is called Bedford and there is a Building & Loan
    2- Bruce Almighty where Jim Carey does a lasso the moon debit literally as he plays God
    3- Glee where Chord Over street’s Sam character also does the lasso line in a black and white sequence.

    Also when Georges uncle after they’re drinking goes off screen falls down to the sound of crashing cans and yells to George “I’m alright” well that’s an ad lib.A prop table fell over making the noise. The actor faked the line and Stewart ran with it. Thanks for bringing Christmas back a month after.

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    • Apologies for the late reply. Very unfair that the spam collector would put you in there. 🙂

      I honestly can’t think of any other references really, but the ones you mention are pretty cool! I’ll have to have a think about that one!

      Loving the trivia, and sometimes mistakes/ad-libs etc make things better. I know of lots of occasions with stuff like that improving bits. Thanks for the kind words, and glad you approve of my review. Such a pleasure talking about a film like this, glad it has had such a positive reaction in here 🙂

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  15. Tyson, you mention that the film finishes with one of the most beautiful endings you’ve seen; I don’t know if you mean the bridge moment or the actual happy at-the-house wrap-up, but for me that moment on the bridge is my favorite, and always gets me: begging for Clarence’s help as he leans on the railing, full of despair and repeating “I want to live again”, his head down…and then the snow slowly begins to fall behind him, signaling that he’s back.

    Oh hell, I’m getting misty just typing it…

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    • Yeah I think from the bridge onwards. Its going dark places, he is upset, begs for it all back at the bridge and then its just really sad and then really happy! Beautiful, and even though you know it will end happily, still a great last few minutes and I imagine a few people get a little misty….. 🙂

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  16. One of my favourite films, certainly my favourite Christmas film. Great review Tyson 😀

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  17. I love this movie. I’m a huge fan of Stewart and this is one of the film I encourage everyone to see. It’s an amazing story that almost wasn’t a film. Thank goodness Capra believed in it. I reviewed this as part of my series on Stewart. Nice choice!

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  18. Great film, great review 🙂 Hanging on to those last little remnants of Christmas!

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    • Cheers buddy! Yeah, I was going to do it at xmas, but ran out of time, went with Elf & Home Alone, and now Austins project gave me a chance 🙂

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  19. Great post, Tyson! Stewart is my favorite actor and this is one of his best performances. Also, this is THE Christmas movie and I make it a priority to see it every year. That ending gets me EVERY TIME.

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    • Thank you Fernando!

      I am late to the party in appreciating his work, but I will strive to see more. He was incredible here. If the ending doesnt affect people, they cant be human!

      Cheers buddy 🙂

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  20. Not only one of my favorite Christmas films but one of my favorite films of all time. There is a great Saturday Night Live skit from the late 80’s where they show a deleted ending scene. At the films conclusion where everyone is singing, Uncle Billy recalls Old Man Potter has the cash. A mob heads over to his office and beats the tar out of him while singing. 😉

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    • I will have to look for that on YouTube, sounds great!! Cheers, and definitely one of the best films made. Should be one of everyones favourites 🙂

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  21. simon watson

     /  January 30, 2013

    I think this one of the most depression films of all times

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  22. simon

     /  January 31, 2013

    ok I will now say why I think this film is depressing. James Stewart dreams in this film are always being crushed. He never gets to begin his life of his choosing. Every time he tries some thing else pulls him down. In the end he tries to comment suicide why because its not a wonderful life when you a nice guy.

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    • In a weird way I see your point. I still think by going through the tough times it makes the end even sweeter, and by seeing what life was like for everyone around him whose life he changed, made him realise how worthwhile his life has been. 🙂

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  23. It’s A Wonderful Life is one of my favourite films and this is a great review 🙂

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  24. Tom

     /  April 8, 2013

    Unfortunately I belong to the category of those who have not seen It’s A Wonderful Life. But with this review behind me, I’m adding it to my list of Must-See’s. Great write up.

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  25. Splendid review! I know you saw this ages ago now, but glad you got to see it!

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  26. You did a great review, it’s really a hard job to review a classic film…

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  1. Movie review: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) by Tyson Carter at Head in a Vice blog « Wordschat - Words, chat & more in any medium

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