It#039;s a Wonderful Life
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 20, 2006
One film in particular seems to capture the hearts of its viewers each Christmas: “It's a Wonderful Life.”
Sixty years ago this month, the Frank Capra classic debuted on the silver screen. Stephen Cox, author of “It's a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book,” says this of the film: “In the landscape of American motion pictures, ‘It's a Wonderful Life' shines like a brilliant illuminated angel atop Tinseltown's Christmas tree, noble and towering above the rest.”
While certain critics on both sides of the Atlantic panned the film as “too corny” in its initial release, time - and repeated airings of the film on television - proved “It's a Wonderful Life” a durable classic that Time magazine said “has overtaken every other Christmas fableŠas the story of the season.”
Greenville Advocate readers certainly love the film.
“My all-time favorite movie is ‘It's a Wonderful Life.' I watch it every Christmas Eve and have for the past 20 years,” said Kimberlei Bowen, a teacher at Greenville Middle School.
“I began watching it the year my Grandmother died, in 1987. We were watching it when we got the call she had passed away. Ever since then, I just watch it and remember how wonderful she was! And I still cry at the end, even though I have seen it so many times.”
Claire Jones, principal of Greenville Elementary, also loves the Capra classic.
“My favorite part is the very end when I hear the bells, and I am reminded of how short life really is, and how wonderful second chances are,” Jones says.
“The movie is so true; it teaches a great life lesson. I just love it,” Luverne Journal editor Regina Grayson says.
Assistant Principal Tera Simmons says “It's a Wonderful Life” is her favorite holiday movie “because it reminds us of the things truly important in life.”
If Director Frank Capra were still alive, no doubt he would be gratified by their comments. The film was the first Capra directed after the horrors of the war years and the first to star Jimmy Stewart after his own years of service and heroism in the war.
Capra knew audiences needed its spirits lifted at such a crucial time.
“People are numb after the catastrophic events of the past ten to fifteen years,” he told the “L.A. Times” in early 1946.
“I would not attempt to reach them mentally in a picture, only emotionally.”
Prior to production, Capra told writer Edwin Schallert there were two things he hoped to accomplish with “It's a Wonderful Life:”
“One is to strengthen the individual's belief in himself and the other, even more important right now, is to combat a modern trend toward atheism which is very much present in the world.”
The odds might have seemed against this strange little story, inspired by Philip Van Doren Stern's short story “The Greatest Gift.”
The movie was shot largely on the lot. The outdoor scenes of the fictional town of Bedford Falls were created in Encino California, its three-block-long set covered in new kind of artificial snow invented for the movie.
Those “cold” Christmas scenes were filmed in the middle of the area's worst heat wave in years, no less. The film overran its $2 million budget by a million dollars - no miniscule amount, particularly in the 1940s.
Star Jimmy Stewart, normally called upon to simply play the all-American aw-shucks nice guy, was asked to display rage, despair and disappointment as George Bailey – a man on the verge of taking his own life because he's worth more “dead than alive.”
The movie's villain, Mr. Potter, does not have a predictable last-minute change of heart; he remains rotten to the end.
In the end, George's friends reach out to help him out of a jam in return for the kindness and compassion he has shown them through the years. As angel Clarence points out, “You really had a wonderful life after all, George.”
Most critics who disliked the film said it lacked realism, calling the angel-wing stuff “silly.”
Writer Stephen Cox, however, says, “For billions of Christians around the world, a faithful trust in God and divine intervention from saints and angels is their core of existence, their manna to sustain them through life's tribulations.”
As Cox puts it, “Who goes to movies for pure realism? I don't. Television provides too much of that.”
To learn more about the making of “It's a Wonderful Life,” check out Cox's 2003 book, published by Cumberland House.