It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946, USA)

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) has long been a Christmas institution in the United States, and its journey there could itself be the subject of a book. When the copyright on the film lapsed, numerous TV stations throughout the US began broadcasting the film throughout the 1970s and 1980s on a royalty-free basis. While that period ended in the early 1990s when the copyright was reclaimed, the film entered the American psyche by that point - despite being something of a flop upon its initial release. Self-financed by Frank Capra, It's a Wonderful Life was conceived as the director's first collaboration with Jimmy Stewart following WWII (both men had served together).

While Capra is known now for his sentimentality, and the film's ending is sentimental, the journey there is far from sentimental. In our era of multiverses, it is remarkable to see a film from the 1940s exploring the sense of life's lost opportunities, and its twist of fates that lead us to follow one path rather than another. Deeply indebted to Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol, though its basis was a Christmas "pamphlet," Wonderful Life has a message that anyone from a small town will be able to relate to.

The film's political exploration is also interesting, and Capra comes across as a true defender of "small-town life" in the film's writing. This makes the film interesting in retrospect, as many towns such as Bedford Falls have become Pottersville since the film's release. Stewart carries the film, but the cast is excellent uniformly, particularly Lionel Barrymore as the evil and cantankerous Mr. Potter. It's a Wonderful Life is a surprisingly relevant film that is far more complex than its sentimental reputation suggests, making for a rich viewing experience even after the hundredth time watching it. Highly recommended for classic film fans. 



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