“I wish I’d never been born.”
I’m sure that at one time or another in our lives we’ve uttered these words. I know I have, especially before my teens. But did you ever stop and think about how many other lives your absence would affect? Neither did George Bailey.
Welcome to Bedford Falls. A small town that looks just like every other small town. The difference here is that Bedford Falls is the home of George Bailey (Stewart, in one of his greatest performances). George knows everyone in town and they all know George. He is the one the townspeople know they can depend on. From saving his brother from drowning as a child to helping people buy their own homes through his dealings at the family building and loan company things seem perfect for George. Until one day his old Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses a large deposit for the company. Without that money, George knows that when the business is audited that it will appear that he is stealing and that he’ll be spending Christmas in jail. Desperate, George throws himself off of a bridge, only to be rescued by a kindly old man named Clarence (Henry Travers). Clarence claims to be an angel – actually an angel in training. George is upset that Clarence has saved him. He’s sure that everyone around him would be better off with him dead. If Clarence wants to earn his wings he must convince George how wrong he is.
Both director Capra and star Stewart have claimed IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE to be their favorite of their own films. And why wouldn’t it be? Each were among the films five Oscar nominations. It also earned one for Best Picture. This is a rare film in that, seven decades after its release, when you watch it it’s like you’re watching it for the first time. Capra assembled a cast so spot on that I can’t even imagine any other actors in the roles. This was Jimmy Stewart’s first film after returning from World War II and he was worried if film fans would remember him. He needn’t have worried. If there was ever an “everyman” in Hollywood it was Jimmy Stewart and the audience feels the same emotions he does. Donna Reed, as George’s wife, Mary, is also well cast. And Capra filled his cast with a who’s who of great supporting actors including Lionel Barrymore, Ward Bond and Buelah Bondi. Heck, if you look hard enough you can catch Carl “Alfafa” Switzer during the high school dance.
What makes this a perfect film is that it is a story of redemption without hitting you over the head with religious platitudes. It’s one that I watch every year during the holidays and, if you haven’t seen it, I’m sure you’ll add it to your “much watch” holiday movie list. So next time you hear a bell ring head to the Blu-ray player and help Clarence get his wings by watching IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE!
Video: The film is presented in a 1.34:1 aspect ratio and, considering it’s 70 years old, the transfer is well done.
Audio: The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and, like above, considering the source, is well mixed. You can certainly hear the bells ring.
You may wonder why I gave this such a high grade in the “Extras” department even though there is only one extra. Here’s why:
The Making of “It’s a Wonderful Life” (22:45): A documentary hosted by Tom Bosley that looks into every nook and cranny of this film. The fact that it features interviews with both Frank Capra and James Stewart make it a true must watch.
The set also comes with miniature lobby cards. There is a second disc which presents the film in a colorized version.