It’s A Wonderful Life is a wonderful film. Does that sound cliché? Well, too bad, because it has been voted the number one most inspiring film of all time by the American Film Institute (AFI). Frank Capra’s film holds up to the hype, and that’s a very difficult thing to live up to after so many years and years of fanfare. Broadcast every holiday season, this film is considered a “Christmas movie” though it’s not really about Christmas at all. It was continually shown during the holiday season, as the rights had fallen into public domain, so TV stations ran it endlessly during the holidays without having to pay a royalty. The aggressive broadcasts assaulted the public, happily creating several generations to take notice. Though it may have always been regarded among only film buffs as a great film, television is responsible for it its rediscovery, and for crowning it one of the royal classics, along with Gone with the Wind and the Wizard of Oz. My full review after the jump:
It’s A Wonderful Life should be viewed any time of the year. It is a masterpiece of filmmaking and should not be saved only for the holidays. In the film, George Bailey (James Stewart) questions his self worth late in life. He was once someone with big dreams, ambitions and ready to leave his small hometown Bedford Falls to make his mark on the world, but fate forces him to take on his father’s Building and Loan Company, which provides the lower income residents of Bedford Falls a chance to better their lives. He stays in Bedford Falls, though he knows that his decision to stay and run the his father’s loan company will guarantee him a financially moderate life like his father’s and prevent him from fulfilling his ambitions. Also, he is the only chance the community has against the wicked Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) who owns everything in town except the Building and Loan. Foiling Potter’s continual attempts to put the Building and Loan out of business George is eventually found a victim to Potter’s evil schemes, and, in a desperate frame of mind, questions his own self worth. He is shown, with some heavenly help, that his life has been an adventure, indeed – and his impact on everyone around him has been profound. “No one is a failure who has friends,” was filmmaker Frank Capra’s ultimate message.
Released in 1946 by RKO It’s A Wonderful Life was filmed at the Culver Studios. The studio has had different names before and since the filming of this film, such as Tom Ince Studios, Desilu Culver, David O’Selznick Studios and recently, simply The Culver Studios. The film’s interiors were shot on the same stages where Gone With the Wind, King Kong, Star Trek and Batman were filmed. The exterior set for Bedford Falls was filmed on the little celebrated RKO Ranch, located in Encino, California. The ranch is all but forgotten today, and I believe that a golf course is now located where cameras once captured lighting in a bottle or onto celluloid rather.
This disc offers the film in original glorious black and white, looking absolutely pristine as presented in its standard 4:3 format. It definitely looks better than previous releases, but not noticeable enough to freak out over. Also offered is the colorized version, which looks not as crisp as you would think. This version suffers from the “colorized look,” where the pigments are just “off” enough to annoy, and constantly remind you that something doesn’t look right. The gem of the set is a vintage television documentary hosted by Tom Bosley, who looks as plump as a Christmas goose in his blue holiday sweater, stoking and poking his fireplace while he reminisces about the film. Ah, the production values of television. Surprisingly, Tom will go on to grace other film docs again, lending his syrupy and throaty voice to explore the sci-fi train-wreck all-time crap-tacular waste of sci-fi celluloid called Krull. Thankfully interviews with James Stewart and Frank Capra make this doc worthwhile.
I predict that the future of It’s A Wonderful Life will be prolific: there must be even more versions of the film released, as the movie needs a better in-depth look into its history. It is perhaps the greatest time-travel films of all time, next to Back to the Future. It is no surprise that this is one of Robert Zemeckis’ favorite films, and that It’s a Wonderful Life contains moments that obviously inspired Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale in writing their time-travel trilogy. I am sure that the film inspired even Rod Serling, as some of the creepier moments could be right out of the Twilight Zone. How many vintage family films combine such evocative story telling, drama, and gut-wrenching emotion? Very few, which is perhaps why fickle audiences of today except It’s A Wonderful Life in so many ways.