Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life

Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life

This one was on my list of films I should have seen by now but haven't for one reason or another. Along with Citizen Kane, which I've never managed to watch through to the end.

I felt like I'd seen the film a million times before even watching it, as it crops up regularly in best 100 lists, so there was no real incentive to watch. Then on a hungover New Year's Day film marathon, I put It's A Wonderful Life in the DVD player, and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.

The film takes place in Bedford Falls, a small town where nothing really happens - if it was around today it would be a gated community. Everyone knows everyone, there's a drugstore, a bank, a bar, and a main road. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) dreams of leaving Bedford Falls every day, but for one reason or another is kept there by a sense of duty - first to his family, then to his wife and children, then to the town itself.

Eventually, he snaps and tries to kill himself, and is rescued by an angel called Clarence who has yet to earn his wings.

That's the story - so far, so straightforward. But the way the story is told keeps you guessing every step of the way, and it's beautifully directed by Frank Capra.

There's been a million words written about this film - but one thing that surprised me was Jimmy Stewart's performance. He's utterly convincing in his portrayal of a man having a complete nervous breakdown, and it's terrifying. If there's one man you don't want to see losing the plot, it's Jimmy Stewart.

The film's themes resonate really strongly today. It's about a town brought to its knees by economic forces. There's a run on the bank, then a run on the mortgage company. The main character loses all his money. There's a lot of that going around at the moment.

Anyway, It's a Wonderful Life. It completely and utterly lives up to the hype. One of the best films of all time. Now, if anyone can explain to me why I should watch Citizen Kane...


  1. Jim Buck says:

    I hate It’s a Wonderful Life. Fortunately, Capra made atonement with the superb, ahead of its time: The Bitter Tea of General Yen.

    • newfilmblog says:

      You hate it?! Why?

      I'll def check out Bitter Tea though... so many classic films from 40, 50 years ago to get through...

  2. Jim Buck says:

    For one thing: I can't stand James Stewart:

    Politically, Stewart was a staunch supporter of the Republican Party[76] and actively campaigned for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He was a strong supporter of the anti-communist movement and reportedly served as a federal spy under J. Edgar Hoover.[77] (wikipedia)

    And along with that, his acting style just rubs me up the wrong way.

    As for the film's major theme: it's a sugar-coated apologia for small town failure. Early on in the movie he says:

    "I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet, and I'm gonna see the world. .........Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I'm comin' back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I'm gonna build things. I'm gonna build airfields. I'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I'm gonna build bridges a mile long."

    Unbeknown to our hero, his laudable ambition has been outweighed, in the balance of fate, by his girlfriend's selfish wish that he stay in Bedford Falls. So, at the end, he's found happiness; but it's no more "truer" than the happiness of his brother---who did achieve all his ambitions. Groundhog Day does it all far better. And, for my money, smalltown American life is better reflected in Fury (Fritz Lang 1936).

  3. newfilmblog says:

    Jimmy Stewart is a bit of a good ol' boy Republican like Charlton Heston, but that shouldn't really take away from his screen presence and body of work should it? I love Arnold Schwarzenegger films after all...

    This article in the NY Times reflects a lot of your sentiments - and he's right - Pottersville looked like a hell of a lot more fun than Bedford Falls.

    Still a cracking movie though - and I'll always raise a glass to the richest man in town. Even if he's still going to jail.


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