C'mon, you knew this one was going to wrap up this series of posts. What other bona fide classic was left?
Then again, how does one "review" something that just about everyone has seen? Not only seen, but up until the copyright was reimposed a few years ago - and how that happened is a bit baffling to this non-legal type - you had a better chance of missing sunlight that a showing of "It's A Wonderful Life".
Once, back in 1991, I was watching it on TV; mid-way through, this announcement was broadcast: "We interrupt this presentation of "It's A Wonderful Life" to bring you this special program. And now, 'It's A Wonderful Life'."
(Yes, Virginia, that was a joke...)
Hard to believe, yet still true, is that this beloved film was not originally a hit. In fact, it was such a box-office bomb that the producing studio, Liberty Films, soon went out of business after it was released. If memory serves, "Life" was the only film that Liberty released. The word "Ouch" comes to mind...
Frankly, I'm not that surprised. This is one dark, dark flick. Hardly a bit of feel-good fluff. Instead, it misses very few opportunities to pile on the pain felt by George Bailey. One wonders if his middle name is "Job"...
It's quite likely that the passage of time, and with it, years of acclimation to director Frank Capra's style, made later audiences comfortable with the story's tone.
Stylized as it is, Capra couldn't have pulled this one off without a brilliant cast. Though I feel his performance went a bit over the top in the last couple of reels, Jimmy Stewart was probably the only actor of the time whose persona matched up with the role.
What man wouldn't have given up planned singleness for someone like Donna Reed's Mary? Beauty to spare, and loyal above and beyond the call.
And Lionel Barrymore...his performance can be summed up with just three letters: S.O.B.
Certainly, this is an odd bit of cinema to be held up as a holiday tradition. Just as certainly, anyone who's ever been overwhelmed with life issues - and who hasn't been - can relate to George Bailey.
Furthermore, when those times come upon us, we all need reassurance that we really do matter. In that regard, the expression of hope and validation resonates within us...making this completely appropriate in the season of hope and miracles.
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