A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

It’s a Wonderful Life

December 24, 2010

It’s a Wonderful Life

I’m probably not going to be able to be able to say anything new about this movie. It’s one of the most beloved of all Christmas stories, and with good reason. It’s kind of funny – I didn’t see the whole movie for most of my youth. I saw bits of it here and there over the years. It’s always being broadcast during the Christmas season. There are clips from this movie in two of the other movies we’ve reviewed for these twelve days of Christmas. But during this time of year there’s always so much else going on. There’s shopping and wrapping and cooking and such. So what with one thing or another I never managed to see this whole movie until I was about thirteen years old. (Heck, even tonight we have it playing in the background during a family dinner on Christmas Eve and there’s boisterous laughter and barking dogs and all kinds of distractions, so I’m maybe catching three words in ten.) I finally saw the whole movie in July one night when I has insomnia and it was on late one night on channel 38. It started at around one in the morning and with ads it lasted until four AM. Of course I loved every minute of it.

This is a movie to be savored. Oh, sure, everybody knows the story of this movie. It’s so familiar that it’s cliche. George Baily Is a small town guy who is foiled in his every attempt to escape and live his own life. Instead he stays home, takes over his father’s business, marries a girl who had a crush on him in high-school, fathers an enormous family and is generally an all around nice guy when he isn’t preoccupied with feeling all sorry for himself. This movie is inspired by one particular bout of extreme self pity when George actually becomes convinced that people would be better off if he weren’t around and just then his guardian angel shows up and shows him just how awful things would be for everybody he has ever known if he hadn’t been there.

It is couched in terms of this being a sort of Christmas miracle, what with Clarence the angel and such, but I view it more as speculative sci-fi. It’s a story about alternate universes and the many ways that one person’s life intersects with and influences the lives of many others. To that end the movie spends a lot of time introducing you to George Bailey and to his friends, loves, frustrations and dreams. Indeed it takes an hour and forty minutes for the film to reach the crucial turning point that is the crux of the movie. It’s not wasted time either – the many episodes in Georges life that are shown all act to help us fall in love with him, fall in love with his quaint home town, and learn to see the pattern in his life.

In many ways this is a simple movie. George’s home of Bedford Falls is a Norman Rockwell vision of simple American perfection (except for the evil Scrooge figure Mr. Potter.) There’s a formulaic repeated theme to every stage of George’s life with him being ready to set out on some grand adventure when some new disaster befalls his town or his father’s altruistic but never profitable savings and loan business which pulls him back in. Time and again he must put the welfare of the people of Bedford Falls ahead of his own until the inevitable moment when disaster strikes and he has that one particularly bad day. It is not a subtle movie. But it is wonderfully moving and touching nonetheless.

The fact that this movie works at all is mostly due to Jimmy Stewart. His oft lampooned stutter and passionate speeches drive the movie. He has that perfect everyman feel to him, as has often been pointed out. George Baily is the hero for every man who works his whole life and has nothing to show for it (except the love of his peers.) On the other side of the coin there’s Lionel Barrymore’s thoroughly loathsome Mr. Potter, who is the perfect foil for George’s enthusiasm and self sacrificing nature. Lionel’s sneer and squint convey so much about how utterly miserable his character is – and how miserable he wants everybody else to be.

We watched this tonight with Amanda’s brother and parents and all of them at various points did James Stewart impressions, and all of them were completely loving the movie. We were watching an old VHS copy of a colorized version of the film (the first thing we did was turn the color on the TV all the way down so we could watch it in proper black and white.) Amanda’s mother pointed out how brilliant Stewart is in the scene when George has his complete breakdown in front of his family. He has this haunted, haggard look that carries so much power after seeing him overcome every obstacle up until then in the movie. From there he gets to portray that great manic desperation of his fall from grace and his befuddlement when shown the horrifying nightmare world that would exist were it not for his influence. And the equally manic joy with which he greets everything that he once felt held him down is of course completely wonderful and uplifting.

It leaves me overwhelmed with joy and sobbing as always (somewhat embarrassing when hanging out with your in-laws.) I didn’t particularly want to be writing a lengthy review tonight of all nights, but this movie is to wonderful a tale to simply shrug off. I want all the world to know how much I truly love this movie. And all that I have to say in the end is “Merry Christmas, you old movie-a-day blog!”

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December 24, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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