Director: Frank Capra
This is one of those films that are absolutely perfect and timeless, like “Citizen Kane”, “Casablanca”, “Gone With the Wind”, “The Wizard of Oz”… Well, according to the countdown of the 100 Greatest American flicks ever released by the AFI in 98, this ain’t exactly the films that top the chart, but they are indeed all on the top ten, well, 11 (whatever). What makes these classics so special ain’t just that they’re brilliantly written, directed and acted. They also have that special quality of movies that get better and better the more you watch them, and they all carry quintessential messages about life like “there’s no place like home” or “tomorrow is another day”. Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” might be the ultimate of these “message” films.
The incredibly talented and charismatic James Stewart stars as George Bailey, the kind of nice guy who does so much for others that he ends up with almost nothing. He’s always broke even though he works late every day. He believes in doing the right thing, but that’s not how business works, so the Building & Loans company he took over after his father’s death is always on the verge of bankruptcy. George might love his wife and kids, but he still has regrets. He’s been wanting to leave the small town of Bedford Falls and see the world forever but, to quote Michael Corleone, every time he thinks he’s out, they pull him right back him. As if that wasn’t enough, he always have to watch out for the evil Mr. Potters, a cranky, greedy, wheelchair-bound old banker who can’t stand George’s honesty in business. So when an error of his uncle Bill causes George’s business to go belly up, he starts thinking that he’s done enough, and that everyone would be better off without him. Hey, he wishes he’d never been born at all…
That’s when this otherwise superior but unexceptional film becomes awesome. As a drunken George is considering jumping off a bridge, the big guy upstairs sends down one of his angels (Clarence, who has yet to earn his wings) to help him out. Clarence then shows him how things would be if he hadn’t indeed ever been born, kind of like “A Christmas Carol” in reverse. That brings us to the message of the film. George might not have lots of money, but he has countless friends and a family that loves him, and that makes him the richest man in town. I know, I know, cynics will call this corny, but that’s their problem. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is an absolutely marvelous, feel good film. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for?