It’s a Wonderful Life is the best Christmas movie that has ever been made, bar none. Never mind that it is only a Christmas movie toward the end and that when it was released it was a gigantic bomb. Never mind, also, the naysayers who say “Nay! That movie is a cheesy, sentimental dud.” They are completely, objectively wrong and always will be. Anyone who believes this either has no heart or has gone too long without watching the movie. There’s a reason this movie pops up at the end of every year on TV and in theaters around the country – it is required viewing. Why? Because encapsulated in its 130 minute run time is every human emotion you can feel, played to their absolute limits: happiness, sadness, love, hate, confusion, pity, pride, regret, rage, horror and everything else in between.
The story, if you haven’t seen the movie, concerns George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), small town kid and string-bean everyman who has big dreams of leaving his town and traveling the world, to see amazing things and have exotic adventures. Nothing specific, mind you. He wants to explore. Somehow, though, life has stymied this dream at every turn, whether it’s because he messed up his ear when he was young while saving his brother (which kept him out of army) or whether the family business is about to go under and he has to stick around and save it. George keeps setting up the plans and life keeps knocking ’em down. He feels trapped.
Through it all, Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) keeps pace with George – she’s the beautiful anchor that both attracts and repels him. She’s the best girl in town by far, though being with her means staying in Bedford Falls for life. But she’s got her heart set on him. She tells him so when they’re young – that she’ll love him until the day she dies. Though she’s sure to say it in his bum ear. She’s George’s greatest source of confusion, the thing that tears his heart in two and demands that he do two opposing things at the same time – leave and stay. It’s not a choice George is 100% sure of – even after he makes it.
And though George already seems to have it hard enough, there’s Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), the greedy land owner whose bottom line is more important to him than any person. Potter has always been in direct competition with the company George’s dad runs, the Building Savings & Loan. When George takes over, he and Potter lock horns and it will be a fight to the finish between greed and, as George calls it, “common decency”.
Through it all, three angels watch over the proceedings – the most important being Clarence (Henry Travers) – and comment occasionally as it goes along. Clarence has been assigned to George’s case so as to finally earn his wings. And the way Clarence goes about doing this is the sequence the movie is most famous for, though it only takes up fifteen or twenty minutes of the total one-thirty. It’s a scary bit when you get right down to it. As saccharine as its detractors think it is, this ending doesn’t really let George off the hook. All of his problems haven’t been fixed – just the most important one.
It doesn’t hurt that the characters are still so easy to relate to 60 years on. As Bailey, Stewart is good looking enough, awkward enough, goofy enough, and suave enough to pretty much cover the bases of what just about any man wants to be and/or is, at least in America. Donna Reed is a pillar of strength and purity while also managing to be smokin’ hot. The only character who is removed from the human realm is Potter, a man of pure, unapologetic evil. But truly, that is what he represents. He is a demon to Clarence’s angel. He gets no comeuppance because he isn’t a part of the mortal milieu. He is something darker and bigger than that. Which makes it all the more triumphant when George defeats him.
So is there anything about this set that can kill my buzz for this movie? Yes. And it is probably the only thing that could. For some reason, the makers have seen fit to include a colorized version of the movie. What possible improvement this could be over the original black and white version I don’t know. But I suppose if the only thing that stands between you and watching this fine film is the original black and white, maybe it’s something that can be forgiven. I wish they would have at least jammed the extras onto the colorized disc so as to free up some bytes for the original, but oh well.
The film is presented in 4×3 full frame. The black and white version is beautiful, apparently cleaned up from an already fairly clean transfer on the last disc issued. The color version is filled with fake skin tones and blurry edges, generally making the film look cheap. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital English Mono and French Mono with English Subtitles.
The Making of It’s A Wonderful Life – Tom Bosley hosts this making-of short from 1990, which boasts some archival footage of Capra and Stewart. Fun stuff, including alternate casting and how they made the copious amounts of snow for the production. (22:44)
A Personal Remembrance – Frank Capra, Jr. stiffly hosts this look back on the film and his father. (14:05)
Original Theatrical Trailer – Interesting in that it doesn’t much mention what the movie is about.(1:44)
Trailer for Last Holiday – Because if you like classic film, you’ll love wacky comedies starring Queen Latifah. (2:33)
It’s a Wonderful Life is a perfect movie, one that accomplishes everything it sets out to do and does it in a way no other movie has done since.
Paramount Pictures presents It’s a Wonderful Life. Directed by: Frank Capra. Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Gloria Grahame. Running time: 130min. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: November 13, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Christmas, Frank Capra, It's a Wonderful Life, James Stewart, jimmy stewart