Frank Capra offers up a hefty helping of heart in his 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Although Capra was well known for many of his films uplifting and poverty-to-wealth styled stories, “It’s a Wonderful Life” separated itself from his extensive stock of hit films.
In Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” we find two angels talking about James Stewart’s character George Bailey, a small-town banker and philanthropist. The two angels speak about Mr. Bailey because his life is in peril as he contemplates suicide.
In deciding what to do, the two angels review Mr. Bailey’s life from the start until the point he now finds himself, at the end of his rope.
This allows us, the audience, to watch in total captivation the classic tale of a humble down-home family man’s growth and maturation into becoming the pillar of his community.
The end result is a splendid and altruistic approach to capturing the life of a true family man and gentleman. Unfortunately, however, the audiences of post-World War II America were no longer rushing out to see films with such a kind and tender approach to storytelling, and the film subsequently failed to make a big box office impact on its initial release.
Of course, decades since the film is a classic that plays on countless channels every Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but people couldn’t accept it for what it was at first. And many critics of the time subsequently dismissed it as fluff or unnecessarily happy.
The truth of it all, in fact, is that director Frank Capra knew all too well the state of the world and the feeling of loss so many families were having to deal with. And so, he created “It’s a Wonderful Life” and let it enter into mass public like a glimmer of hope -- that no matter how bleak or low down you feel, you will return to happier days and a sense of normalcy.
My favorite sequence of the film is when George Bailey is taken by one of the two angels from the beginning of the film to an alternate world where he was never born. The result is a bleak and grim town known as Pottersville. Which is, in essence, owned and operated by local banking powerhouse Mr. Potter himself.
In that town George and the angel wander about and visit some of the people and places George loves, only to find sullen husks in place of the once warm and happy locations of significance.
When George realizes he doesn’t want to contribute to the world’s bleakness and recaptures his love of life, he begs the angel to go home. With his wish granted, George embraces his family and friends again and rings in the new year.
While it may seem like a predictable end to what certainly is a feel-good story, “It’s a Wonderful Life” makes itself essential in films not only because of its execution, but because of its intent and effect.
Much like George Bailey’s journey to the stark world without him, we too are asked what would happen if we were no more? The answers to that question are impossible to know, but it does offer us one thing.
And that is, no matter how bleak things can get, there will always be a home for everyone. It may not be the grandest or richest for each person, but there is love and acceptance in all of them. No matter what the outside world looks like, there will always be warmth and love for us all.
Grant Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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