Film Flick: It's a Wonderful Life

Friday, December 20, 2013

We're continuing a Holiday Tradition on Never Fully Dressed by sharing some classic holiday films. Some might be institutions in your home this time of year; others might be delightful new friends, but they're all sure to impart some the season's spirit and sense of fun. Consider it my way of wishing you and yours nothing but the very merriest.  


Even if you've never seen the film, everyone knows what It's a Wonderful Life is about. A man in dire straights meets an angel, and, after wishing he had never been born, finds out what the world would have been like had his wish been reality. But if you've never seen the film then this next sentence might blow your mind- that's not really what most of the story is about.


Oh, yes, that is the plot, but the majority of this long film actually chronicles the life of that man- one George Bailey of Bedford Falls. The audience meets him as a stand up boy who dreams of seeing the world. As he grows into a young man, circumstances continually throw life-reversals at him, all of which seem aimed at keeping that vital dream out of reach. We see the sacrifices, the joys, and eventually the actions that will eventually drive him to contemplate suicide that fateful night on the bridge when divine intervention steps in.

For a Christmas film with an ultimately bright message- that we all really do have wonderful lives- there are dark undercurrents in this film. Both the audience and George get reminded that we can have wonderful lives even without the dreams we have longed for, but it cannot erased that we have had to leave a dream behind. And perhaps this strong undercurrent is present because there were darker and rawer emotions present in many of those who made this film.

For James Stewart, it was his first film on returning from war, and one he had needed to be convinced to take (though he would later cite George Bailey as his favorite character). He had been especially nervous about whether he still had the chops for those on-screen kisses; it needn't have worried him though. The director shot the scene completely unrehearsed to keep the emotions fresh and he ended with a scene so passionate it had to be severely edited to meet the Hayes Code! Likewise, several scenes show Stewart actually crying. The other kisser was Donna Reed as Mary in her first starring role.
Just as the war had effected James Stewart, American movie-goers had been changed by the war. Director Frank Capra had seemingly had the Midas' touch throughout the nineteen thirties, but It's a Wonderful Life was decidedly a box office failure. Part of this could be attributed to the expense of the film (the Bedford Falls Main Street was a set on a backlot that spanned over three city blocks!), or to stiff competition (The Best Years of Our Lives had open a week earlier). Still, the film never made back what the cost making it had been. Many now saw Capra's bright and wholesome messages in a different light, and the director earned the nickname "Capra-corn" for the corny films he made.

Corny or not though, the film became a holiday tradition for many in the seventies, when the movie came to the small screen. And it is still worth watching today. The film is long, and the quite literal "Dues ex machina" seems a little like something out of a Christmas Card (then again, the story idea originated on a greeting card!) Still, it is surprisingly romantic- even a bit seductive. The chemistry between Stewart and Reed is palpable and the moral is one we all need to hear every now and then. So go and watch this wonderful reminder that we all have A Wonderful Life.

P.S. WANT MORE HOLIDAY CLASSIC FILMS? GET INTO THE SPIRIT WITH: HOLIDAY INN | WHITE CHRISTMAS | CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT | MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET |SHOP AROUND THE CORNER MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS | IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE | HOLIDAY | A Christmas Carol |

21 comments

  1. This and Elf are my two favourite Christmas movies. Then the stop motion animation Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer is a close third.

    This film makes me cry not matter how many times I've watched it.

    A classic.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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    1. Christmas and the stop motion Rudolph flick go together like PPJ for me!

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  2. confession: I've never seen this movie before. I know, I know, it is horrible.

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    1. I think I watched it for the first time through only last year, so...

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  3. I feel ashamed even saying this but I've never seen this movie! I have a hard time watching movies at home, I always fall asleep!

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  4. I totally forgot about this movie! I need to make my husband watch it with me this year! Gotta establish traditions early, right? :)
    xoxo
    e
    nine-fortytwo.blogspot.com

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    1. Traditions are good no matter when established :D

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  5. Another great Christmas movie :) I actually bought the DVD for my mom this year as she is always hoping it will be on TV on Christmas Eve haha. And I had no idea it was a box office failure. So crazy that it's such a staple today.

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  6. When I was younger, I didn't like this movie because some of the characters were so mean. I should give this movie another chance!

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    1. I think you would like it better as an adult. That seems to happen to me a lot for classic films.

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  7. Wow- such a cool backstory on this movie that I didn't even realize! It's been years since I've seen the film, I'll have to re-watch it. I did get to see the play last year, that was pretty cool. I always enjoy reading the off-beat series you have on your blog, Kristian!

    perfectly priya

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    1. Priya, thank you! Your comment made my day <3

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  8. I remember seeing it as a small girl, missing all the heavy parts cause they went over my head, but loving it to tears nonetheless. Such a classic and wonderful movie. Jimmy Stewart's best film perhaps.

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  9. It's a Wonderful Life will always be one of my favorite movies of all time, and one that I've seen too many times to count. I'll just always have a soft spot of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra. Just reading your review, I can't help but smile :)

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  10. This along with The Sounds of Music are my favorite movies of all time. I will fully admit I cry at the end ever year...and that Christmas is not complete unless this is watched. Loved the backstory on Stewart (who is quite darling btw). I just read yesterday that he was 38 when he made this film...which blew my mind.

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    1. Ah! I love the Sound of Music (Hmmm.... should do a review of that! Thanks for the inspiration!). My dad recorded that new "live filming" version of it. It was fun but nothing can beat Julie Andrews.

      James Stewart has a rather ageless face. Like, he ALWAYS looks the same age. Not young exactly but not really old either...

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  11. I actually just saw this film the entire way through this year at our historic theater in downtown Birmingham. Such a good movie, even if it's hard to watch because emotions are so high. definitely not a light hearted Christmas movie, but I loved it all the same! great review, btw.

    christen
    fashionplatecheapskate.blogspot.com

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    1. Oh, I bet that was so much fun to see it in a movie theatre, especially a historic one!

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  12. I really liked this film. In my opinion the old movies are much more ambitious that we think of them now. We usually tend to think their plot is simple and the purpose of watching them is looking on beautiful retro stars and their costumes. This film taught mi that vintage movies also speak about important things.

    Linn

    indecision-and-reveries.blogspot.com

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    1. I definitely agree. This is a great perspective on films.

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