It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) was released 75 years ago. Of course, the brilliant film features in Our All Time Favourite Christmas Movies Feature. But the film deserves to have a feature of its own. We’re here to look at why the film’s still so beloved to so many people . . .
It’s A Wonderful Life wasn’t an instant classic. in fact, far from it. It wasn’t considered as a staple of the holidays until as late as the 1970s. At the time it was considered somewhat sentimental, which perhaps reflected the attitudes of the first post World War II generation. Yet, that’s exactly why the film is so well loved now! But it’s important to point out that the film isn’t all whimsy and sentimental gush. So, let’s have a closer look at some of the themes and the nuance of the story to help further explore them both.
Story and Themes
The story contains a supernatural element, and so is perfect for SciFiPulse to discuss. But we don’t actually meet Clarence the Angel (Henry Travers) until near the end. It’s very much about what happens to George Bailey (James Stuart) that is central. On the surface, this is a redemption tale, of sorts. But there’s also a lot of very important social commentary going on in the background . . .
Considering that this film was released in 1946, it’s well ahead of it’s time. It doesn’t just suggest that Capitalism has its evils, it outright declares so. Today, films and shows can say almost anything they want to. But not so much back then . . . We’re given an example of the power of community, and how vital collectiveness can be. There are huge, socialist ideas being played out in the film.
James Stuart puts in an absolutely stunning and flawless performance as the hero of It’s A Wonderful Life. He does comedy as well as he does the film’s darker scenes, too. His performance helps to highlight other films such as expectations of masculinity, and the impact of mental health on the family unit. Again, such themes were far from the norm, at the time the film was made and released.
Every great hero needs a villain, to show their power. Lionel Barrymore provides one, with his fantastic portrayal of hatred and intolerance, as Mr Potter. Also, Donna Reed delivers as Mary Hatch/Bailey, who allow us to truly see the good heart of George Bailey.
It’s A Wonderful Life is now a much loved seasonal must. The magic of the movie is its message: our lives impact on those of others, greatly. Also, we’re reminded that life is a great gift, a blessing, even when it feels like a curse. When it does seem like being alive is the latter, this uplifting story grounds us. In terms of its influence, George Bailey is certainly an early example of the now well known “everyman” trope, in screenwriting. Another great thing about this movie is that it wasn’t a resounding financial success, immediately. That seems fitting, considering that the film is about how important things are, other than money. Of course, It’s A Wonderful Life is on Our All Favourite Christmas Movies. There can be very little doubt that it will remain a firm favourite for a great many years yet . . .