Oscar winner James Stewart plays George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life - now thought of as one of the most loved Christmas films ever; indeed when Stewart was asked which of all his films was most dear to his heart his choice was It’s a Wonderful Life.
However it was not always the case. Upon its release in the Christmas of 1946 it wasn’t a box office smash. The world was recovering from the catastrophic effects of World War II and was not ready for a slice of cheerful Americana. However with the advent of television it slowly found its audience and acclaim.
The film’s director was three-time Oscar winner Frank Capra (It Happened One Night (1934), Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It with You (1938)), who along with his star, James Stewart had returned to Hollywood after a four-year absence serving in the American forces. Capra’s films were renowned for their vigour, heart and optimism and he thought a glowingly optimistic film, starring the perfect ‘everyman’ in Stewart would be the ideal film to launch his independent production company Liberty Films.
It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey who lives in Bedford Falls, a nice but pretty dull small town. Married to childhood sweetheart Mary (Donna Reed), Bailey is the father of four small children, and he runs his father’s building and loan firm. On the death of his father, George finds out that many of the townsfolk have leaned heavily on his father’s easy going nature, which means that cash-flow is low. The ‘Scrooge’ like town banker, Henry Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore, does nothing to help since he wishes to buy the Bailey family company.
Seemingly without hope and seeing no way to save his business or family, George decides to take his own life...until he makes the acquaintance of a kindly gentleman, Clarence Oddbody. Clarence turns out to be his guardian angel and shows George the repercussions of his never living for his family and his friends in Bedford Falls.
The esteemed American Film Critic Roger Ebert sums up the appeal of It’s a Wonderful Life perfectly: ‘What is remarkable about It’s a Wonderful Life is how well it holds up over the years; it’s one of those timeless movies like Casablanca or The Third Man, in that improves with age. Some movies, even good ones, should be seen only once. When we know how they turn out, they’ve surrendered their mystery and appeal. Other movies can be viewed an indefinite number of times. It’s a Wonderful Life falls in the second category.’
This perennial favourite can be seen again and again and we are delighted that it is once again to be enjoyed on the big screen, as part of the Showcase Flashback season on December 13 and 18. Click here to book tickets: http://www.showcasecinemas.co.uk/films/its-a-wonderful-life-1946