Thursday, January 12, 2012

Movie Review: It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life has an interesting history. It was originally written as a short story. But the author, Philip Van Doren Stern, failed to get it published. So he turned it into a Christmas card and mailed it out to friends and family.[1] It came to the attention of RKO Pictures who bought the film rights, intending to make it into a film starring Cary Grant. He went on to make The Bishop's Wife, instead [2], so RKO sold the film rights to Frank Capra, who had already made a name for himself with It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and You Can't Take it With You (1938), each of which earned him an Academy Award for Best Director.[3] It's a Wonderful Life was slated to be released in January of 1947, but was moved up to December of 1946 so it would be eligible for the 1946 Academy Awards.[4] Ultimately it was a box office failure and didn't win any of the five Oscars it was nominated for. The film fell into obscurity until 1974 when a clerical error allowed its copyright to expire.[5] Local television stations around the U.S. started showing it at Christmas which dramatically increased its popularity. It is now a Christmas classic and is considered one of the top American films of all time by the American Film Institute.[6]

My verdict: This film has great characters and a great message.[7] I still get teary when George Bailey's friends show up to help him out. The casting was impeccable and the acting was down-to-earth and believable. I also appreciate that this film actually has Christmas carols in it.[8] The snow looks more convincing than it usually does in films.[9] Having the angels be pulsating nebulae in space was kind of a weird choice, though.


[1] See's a Wonderful Life#Background.

[2] Read my review here.

[3] See Capra#Film career (1934–1941).

[4] Ironically the movie that won the 1947 Oscar for Best Picture, Miracle on 34th Street (also a Christmas movie), was ready for release in December 1946, but was pushed back to May 1947 (read more at my review here).

[5] Republic Pictures, the current owner of It's a Wonderful Life, was later able to reestablish their copyright claim.

[6] It placed number 11 in the 1998 version of their list "100 Years…100 Movies" (see here) and number 20 in the 2007 version (see here).

[7] If you get the "two-disc collector's set" don't watch the extra "A personal remembrance: A special tribute to Frank Capra narrated by his son, Frank Capra Jr." It's not pleasant to see how decayed Frank Capra Sr. (or James Stewart, for that matter) had become. And he's so crass and bitter that it's hard to believe that such a wonderful film was created by that man.

[8] An early draft of the script had George Bailey reciting the Lord's Prayer at the end, but this was eventually replaced with George's friends helping out because Capra felt this latter ending had more emotional impact than the religious ending did. See's a Wonderful Life#Filming.

[9] At this time it was common for studios to drop crushed corn flakes to simulate snow, but this created a problem. The actors would walk on the corn flakes, making a crunching noise that the microphones would pick up, which meant that the sound for the film had to be re-recorded and dubbed. For It's a Wonderful Life RKO pictures actually made "chemical snow". See's a Wonderful Life#Filming.

Image attributions:

Wall Street Bank Run is by the United States Federal Government, available at outside nyse.jpg. 

No comments:

Post a Comment