By J.D. Cook
Our #1 Christmas Film
Released: December 20, 1946
Directed by: Frank Capra
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There is without a doubt no finer Christmas movie than It’s A Wonderful Life. Many of the choices on this list can be debated and should be; in fact. This one should not. Since its release in 1946 it has occupied a warm place in American pop culture. The story is similar to A Christmas Carol in that a supernatural presence changes the protagonist. Where these stories differ is in the supernatural aims. In the case of Scrooge he changes from a miser to compassionate and giving. In the case of George Bailey he must be shown that it is better to live a tough life then to not live at all. The story follows the aforementioned Bailey, played by one of the greatest actors of all time Jimmy Stewart, as he grows up and tries to leave his home town of Bedford Falls. He of course never does get to leave as various circumstances keep him in the town. He is instead in constant battle with Mr. Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore) a slumlord who wants to own the town; Bailey’s Building and Loan is the only thing Potter needs to control Bedford Falls. Bailey fights him for years giving people service and quality that they could never get from Potters bank. In the meantime George’s brother becomes a war hero and George has four children with his high school sweet heart.
This all takes a terrible turn when George’s Uncle loses money the Building and Loan needs to stay in business. With the loss of the money George will potentially face criminal charges and be destitute. Seeing no end to his problems he decides to commit suicide..only to be stopped by the intervention of his Guardian Angel Clarence (played by Henry Travers). Clarence shows George Bailey what the town of Bedford Falls would look like if he had never been born. The terrifying experience convinces Bailey that it’s better to live with hardship then to not exist. He then runs through town elated to be alive and returns home to find that the people of Bedford Falls have rallied together to make sure he can pay off the money he owes in one of the most touching scenes in cinema history. His whole family is present and the film ends when his daughter exclaims, “Teacher says every time a bell rings an angle gets his wings,” informing the audience that Bailey’s guardian angel Clarence has earned his wings by showing George the beauty of life.
I can’t say how emotionally charged this film is. It spends the majority of its time building up George Bailey as a wonderfully kind man. Then we see him driven to despair and finally we see him realize that life with all its crazy terrible flaws is always far more worthwhile then death. It’s a wonderful film and everything in it is as great as can be. It really is the best Christmas film I’ve ever seen and I watch it every Christmas Eve at eight P.M. and every year I seem to cry with tears of Joy as George Bailey runs through town shouting ‘merry Christmas you old building and loan’. It’s a truly timeless film and I can’t say enough about it. I wish I could write a more academic paper on why this film is great but the reason I love it is how emotionally invested I become in it when I watch it and as a result my writing reflects this with a crazed rant about how much I love this movie. Sit down and devote a few hours this Christmas or next Christmas Eve and watch this film to see why it’s so great for yourself.