Chances are that if you’re a review blogger, know Tyson Carter and his Desert Island Movies feature on his website, Head in A Vice. Now if you don’t know Tyson, then head over to Head in A Vice right now. If you like the film Drive, then you’ll probably become best friends. If you don’t like the film, act like you do. Anyways, I hope you enjoy his review of a Jimmy Stewart classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.
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 labeling 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Classic Movie Week is currently filled with writers, but if you would like to take part in a future film week, email me at Bishopthereviewer@gmail.com.