It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

After another viewing of this compelling and heartwarming holiday classic last evening, I knew that this had to be my next blog entry. It is definitely a tradition in my family to watch this film every Christmas Eve – we reflect on the roads travelled throughout the year, their journeys and destinations, and what we have learned from them. This film definitely stimulates those thoughts and a discussion of that nature.

Set in the town of Bedford Falls, the film takes us through the life journey of George Bailey, earnestly played by Jimmy Stewart. He can never quite escape the town which he desperately wants to rid himself of. He continues to be drawn back into the financial politics between the townspeople and the greedy, manipulative villain, Henry Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore. As the majority of the film is told in flashback, we are brought to the present near the end, where George reaches a point of hopelessness. It is through a guardian angel that he realizes the importance of his role in the community, and that he does indeed have “a wonderful life”.

I can’t imagine watching this film at the time of its release. While George himself did not go to war (you will learn why in the film), the battle and challenges that he faced in his daily life with his adversary drove him to desolation. Individuals returning home from the war probably wanted to watch very uplifting portrayals of war heroes, but our protagonist’s struggles must have been quite pertinent (perhaps, a little too pertinent) to those faced by individuals at home. As a result, the film did not do well at the box office initially upon release. Another film, “The Best Years of Our Lives” swept the Oscars in the same year, which explored the post-war lives of three soldiers upon their return home, all quite varied but not without financial, emotional, and social challenges. Both films must have been very tangible to moviegoers, but it took some time for “It’s a Wonderful Life” to find its traction over the years. However, public domain on multiple networks allowed multiple viewers to discover the importance of the film’s message, and that has led to the film becoming one of the most appreciated and loved films of all time.

George Bailey and most of the other characters in the film are timeless. They dedicate their lives to public service, are hardworking, and make personal sacrifices so that others around them can prosper and flourish. This dedication can be quite exhausting and overwhelming. It is important to be reminded that all individuals contribute to a society, whether it be within a familial group, municipal, or even on an international level. Yes, one individual could be limited by lack of resources and manpower, but their endowment to man is unique and appreciated. This film reminds us that our life journeys intertwine with others and have an influence on their daily lives as well. It reminds us of something that all humans desire – that we all matter. 

 

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Note: I do not own the above image.

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12 thoughts on “It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

  1. I never realized the Best Years of Our Lives and It’s a Wonderful Life came out in the same years. Both are excellent films. And they have very obvious similarities in the way they call on the banks to have a sense of social responsibility.

    I think the Best Years of Our Lives has an edge, if only because of the way it manages to frame Dana Andrews’ difficulty in find a place in life (He’s much too old for the role. The character is in his mid-20s) as the difficulty of a vet returning to civilian life.

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    • They are both wonderful movies – such a toss up. I remember reading somewhere that The Best Years of Our Lives was more pertinent to the American public following the war (and understandably so). But It’s a Wonderful Life explores themes of hopelessness and discusses suicidality – ideas that may have been a bit too “out there” for the American public at the time.

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      • The more I think about the two movies the more I realize how many themes they have in common.

        There’s not only the social responsibility of the bank president. The “good girl/bad girl” dichotomy between Teresa Wright’s character and Virginia Mayo’s reflects the Bedford Falls/Pottersville split.

        FWIW, I always thought Virginia Mayo’s character was treated unfairly. The working class girl is the “bad girl’ and the daughter of the bank president is the “good girl.”

        I mean, way to rationalize upward mobility.

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      • I definitely agree with that sentiment. It has been such a long time since I watched The Best Years of Our Lives. I will be watching for similarities between the two films because they are more similar than they are different – themes of social justice, despair, adjustment, and the list goes on…

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  2. Some deep thoughts on these movies. But the focus of The Best Years of Our Lives is the serviceman and their return to home life, whereas George was 4F but ” was there to save Harry, who saved every man on the transport. ” Life is really like that, we are all able to make a difference. And angel unaware is very present in each of our lives, though not a bumbling Clarence. Another, lesser known film I would suggest for the Holidays is Beyond Tomorrow. The plot is similar in many ways to It’s A Wonderful Life when a young couple is aided by their recently deceased benefactors before they get to heaven. It stars Jean Parker and Richard Carlson.

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