Frank Capra’s American Christmas classic is, for most, along with turkey and all the trimmings, a staple in the festive period diet.
The film follows the story of local hero George Bailey (James Stewart), a man with dreams of becoming a famous explorer who never quite manages to leave his hometown of Bedford Falls.
His responsibility to the family’s savings and loan association, which is the only thing standing between the townspeople and the greed of the local banker, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), keeps him in the town indefinitely.
George marries his high school sweetheart (Donna Reed, in her first starring role), settles down with his family and helps the poor folk of the town buy their own homes.
Then, his absent-minded uncle misplaces important funds during the Christmas period, leaving the Baileys’ business within the grasp of Mr. Potter.
George loses all hope and in a drunken stupor tries to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge.
This is when he is saved by a mild-mannered angel called Clarence (Henry Travers), who shows him what Bedford Falls would have been like without him.
The best and worst thing that happened to ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is that it fell out of copyright.
This meant that it could be played on any station without a fee, which in turn propelled the once forgotten classic back in to the hearts of the public and helped it to become the annual ritual it deserves to be.
That was the best thing.
The worst is that, with the movie in the public domain, it has been colourised – which was much to the disgust of Capra and Stewart who both claimed it to be their favourite film.
The gaudy colour completely destroyed the purity of the original black-and-white masterpiece.
But thankfully, it is rare to see the full colour version on the TV nowadays, which I imagine would have pleased Capra and Stewart.
Although it was never intended to be a ‘Christmas film’, today it is heralded as one of the finest feel-good outings of the holiday season. And a genuine stand-alone classic up there with the likes of ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
If there is one movie you should watch over the next few weeks make it ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.