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...