Monday, October 3, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life

"It's a Wonderful Life" arrives on television every holiday season with the certainty of cookies and milk, and is met with both fondness and weariness alike. Revisiting this ageless classic, I was taken in and captivated as always, but I was also surprise at how dark the film is in spots, a quality not always associated with the work on first thoughts. Released in 1946, this is still essentially a film about the depression, made by Frank Capra, a director who perhaps most typifies that decade. It opens with celestial beings representing God and St. Peter receiving prayers of desperation for the sake of a despondent George Bailey. Summoning a bumbling angel, the two higher beings take him through the selfless hayseed's life where all of his personal dreams and ambitions are sacrificed for the good of the people in the small town. Faced with the prospect of jail on Christmas Eve, the angel gives George a chance to see what life would have been like had he never been born. For Jimmy Stewart, "It's a Wonderful Life" represented what I suppose you could call a composite of his career, featuring the wide eyed good natured performance indicative of his early work as well as the darker, tortured soul roles that defined much of his latter roles. His transitional work here is remarkable, and he is surrounded by such a great supporting cast: Donna Reed is sweet as his wife Mary and Thomas Mitchell plays another great drunk in Uncle Billy. Henry Travers is excellent as Clarence the angel, and Lionel Barrymore has some of the best scenes as the despicable Mr. Potter. "It's a Wonderful Life" is a film I gladly revisit whenever it presents itself, and is one of the most affecting and captivating movies ever crafted.