It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)


Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Or…depressing life?

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you’re all at home enjoying some time with family and friends. I meant to review three classic films by today (A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s a Wonderful Life), but you know how the holidays get. I was only able to put in one film for the slot, and of course it had to be everyone’s favorite holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. While I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite Christmas movie, per se, I still think it really is…well…wonderful for a variety of reasons. At the same time though, some things did bug me, and those feelings kind of made the experience ultimately lower, and I’ll try to share some of my thoughts with you.

Most of you know the plot of It’s a Wonderful Life like you know the back of your hand, but in case you don’t and just never got around to seeing it, let me clue you in a bit. George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, is this guy that clearly fits the description of “nice guys finish last”, at least from his perspective, that is. He has ambitions to travel the world and go to school, but every which way, life gets in his face and thwarts those plans in the most depressing of ways, but good ol’ George pushes on, gets married and has babies with the love of his life, Mary. Wouldn’t you know it, the evil scrooge of this film, Mr. Potter, has his sights on taking over the city, but blast that George Bailey. Murder is illegal, but he has the money and power to render George useless to the point where he would want to kill himself. That’s when Clarence, an angel from heaven comes down and shows George what life would really be like if he never was born, which is the most iconic part of the film by a longshot.

Sorry if that was spoilery for any of my readers, I just think that if a film is over 50 years old, it just doesn’t matter anymore. Now, this film is a classic for so many reasons it’s practically impossible to even begin to explain. At the same time, I want to make a point…in my humble opinion, this film is not a Christmas film. You got films about Christmas, and you got movies that pass through the holiday season at some point, which I don’t consider a true Christmas film. Die Hard meets the criteria of that latter example. Christmas is seriously only in the last, maybe 15 minutes of this classic film, which…out of two hours clearly takes it out of the list. It’s got the spirit of a Christmas film though, so there is that. The rest of the film is more about the character of George Bailey alone – in many different variations of season.

I know, I know, blasphemy, but I truly believe it doesn’t fit. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t like the movie – I do, a lot. For a film I know I have seen a lot, I’m not sure what I can say. Like most of you, I remember the movie for the alternate vision of life, but I didn’t remember it only happens in the last half hour…maybe a bit longer, I couldn’t say for sure. It is the most prominent part of the movie, and it’s only in the very tail end of the film (not unlike the booby traps section in Home Alone). The rest of the film was pretty much in-depth character and story development that had some serious thought put into it.

So much thought was put into the construction of this film that, seriously, it had some of the best acting that I’ve ever seen in my life – which was a complete and utter shock. The chemistry was phenomenal, the emotion was brilliant, and the humor was really light-hearted and great. It’s major downfall was not knowing when to quit it with the light-tones. There are clearly scenes in the film where George is battling something fierce deep inside, but then you’ll have some funny character come by, give him an overly-humorous body language reaction. I get that’s how they did it back in the day, but for an audience with modern expectations – they’d want more emotions taken serious.

I’d have to say that my main concern about this film was not being able to understand the overly complicated monopoly business that George is dealing with Mr. Potter. Some of the greatest films on Earth are those that actually make sense and are easy-to-follow. I don’t want to try to figure out why this bank is shutting down that, or why they need this much money, and why they are doing this to keep it up, I want to be told exactly what in the world I’m looking at. His business is a big part of how the movie turns out, and it’s unfortunate that I couldn’t connect with him on that level.

The other thing I’d probably complain about is that even though they had some great character and story development, they knew the Clarence part in the end was going to be the best part, and I’m just putting it out there – they really should have made that longer than a simple glimpse.

The Good:

There’s a lot of good to say about this film. Character and story development had a lot of thought put into it. A lot. The acting from Stewart was absolutely astonishing, something I don’t say often for films so much older than me. I usually can’t tell the females apart in movies this old, and I actually liked the character of Mary in this. Honestly…the movie is just phenomenal all around.

The Bad:

Not exactly bad, but a pet peeve – it’s not a Christmas movie. It’s a movie about battling depression and being able to step out of oneself to objectively assess a difficult situation before going in headstrong about it. Christmas was at the tail-end, but for almost two hours it wasn’t even close to Christmas. Also, like I mentioned, the monopoly business plot was overly complicated.

Memorable Quote:

George Bailey: What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.



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