Here we are, folks, at the very end of my December countdown. It’s Christmas morning, I have my trusty coffee and a slice of Alaskan bombe. Although the streets outside are devout of snow, today feels festive enough solely in spirit. True, I wouldn’t have minded a nice pile or two to dive in, but London persistently refuses to make a habit of that. Anyway, I’ll jump straight into my film recommendation for the big night.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” is perhaps the most well-known Christmas production of all time. Undoubtedly, a classic which has withstood the tests of time and the tidal wave of quality competition thrown its way. Released back in the cold winter of 1946, this film acted as a much needed reminder of life’s beauty. Ugly pictures of war and death had been showering newspapers and television programmes for too long. Hollywood’s first step towards reflecting this recovery came in motion pictures. “A Beautiful Life” was the only movie ever completed under director Frank Capra’s independent studio – Liberty Films. His desire to break free of the Golden Age’s repressive, Capitalist exploits, gave the project five Academy Award nominations and with a reason.
Enter George Bailey – Bedford Falls’s most altruistic and kind-hearted resident. His only dream is to see the world, explore everything life has to offer outside the boundaries of New York. Every time a door seems to open and give him a glimpse of those desires, someone runs by slam it shut. Instead of leaving for South America before college, George stays behind to run the family business after his father’s sudden death. The boy manages to save up for tuition fees once more, but ends up giving the money away so that younger brother Harry could receive an education instead. He protects and helps Bedford Falls’s people agains the overhanging tyranny of loan shark – Henry Potter, whose cruel intentions benefit no one, but his egocentric self. However, things are looking up when George marries the love of his life – Mary, a girl he’s known since childhood. They create a family and nestle down in an old house. Years go by and children start spurting, four to be exact, their affordable housing business seems to be thriving better than ever, life is looking up. In the peak of his happiness, a disaster comes to tear the joy apart. George is painfully used to being ripped off in one way or another, he rolls with the punches and tries to keep walking. However, that night is particularly daunting, leaving him in a desperate and suicidal track. George decides to jump off a near-by bridge and end the hurt for ever. Little does he know, Clarence the angel is watching over him that night. An angel who will make a single wish come true – let George see the world as it would have been if the man had never been born. A picture of decay and misery unfolds, playing out every worst scenario the town could have imagined. George learns just how important his kindness was to everyone around and releases the tunnel vision of success for the bigger picture of humanity. Upon realising life is an amazing gift, which should never be wasted on cruelty and disregard, he begins being Clarence for a chance to go back. Once more hug from his children, one more kiss from his wife, a chance to apologise and re-estimate his values, that’s George’s biggest Christmas desire. Moreover, surprises come stacking when the man returns home, and the puzzle pieces finally fit together, because life is truly an amazing treasure.
Take this as a promise from me – this film will melt your heart. The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” is in full effect here, proving that old pictures have a quality about them that a blockbuster just cannot replace. Its script, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett is romantic, funny, happy, exhilarating and painfully honest about pain and struggles. The dialogue flows like a river, turbulent with snappy George’s humour and rhetoric, yet calm with its authenticity. It manages to touch big themes will small sentences. “What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey, that’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary,” George said on his first date with future wife Mary. Infinitely beautiful their lines are to listen and see, about that there is not a single doubt inside my mind.
James Stewart is a name that should be a part of your film repository. An actor, father, war hero and generally kind human being, Stewart could not have been a better fit for the role of George Bailey had he consciously tried to be. He is absolutely extraordinary, quiet, but understood, funny, yet truthful and serious. Nothing more could I have asked from his character or portrayal, because Stewart masters both to perfection. His blue eyes stare at you through the black and white picture, digging holes inside your soul only to bury a seed of subtle positivity and joy.
Henry Travers is in the role of Clarence, who we only get to see for half the movie. In that time, however, he manages to become irreplaceable as a plot point and influence, creating an unshakable staple of the timeless tale. The angel who wants to get his wings and gives a small-town man a second chance at life, is the sidekick every person needs. Another supporting role goes to Donna Reed, who encapsulated George’s intelligent, funny and supporting wife Mary. The two’s connection shakes the ground with forceful tremors, leaving its audience wishing they had a romance of such proportions. From that first date, to their embrace over the phone and calm marriage that followed, a picture of an ideal is painted. Although critics gave Capra a hard time about his characters’ unrealistic idealism, they later re-visited that opinion, which was inevitable. It’s a chemistry and a love story, which surpass superficial expectations.
The theme of suicide is explored in one of the film’s culminations, which leaves spectators on the edge of their seat. George is someone we have created a relationship with and having to see him pushed to the limits of disappointment hits us just as hard. Capra does not simply gloss past the issue, dwelling into it through Clarence and George’s conversations. That’s partially what makes the recovery so powerful. We’ve seen the lows, we’ve hit rock bottom, so having a kick start back into happiness in its purest form feels exhilarating.
If you hadn’t figure it out by now, “It’s A Wonderful Life” could very well be one of my favourite films, period. It holds quality, which we rarely get to see in mass cinema nowadays, its cast is more than perfect for the complex set of characters we explore, and the rollercoaster of emotions leaves us gasping with overwhelming joy. There is nothing more that I could wish for in a perfect Christmas film. This is everything and more.
Now, have yourselves a very merry Christmas!
Thank you for following my blog this past year and hopefully I can continue to entertain you throughout the next one!