Monday, March 12, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No.46: It's A Wonderful Life

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

I saw It's A Wonderful Life many times as a gangly youth, but didn't really get it till I was in college.  This is a wonderful movie with a wonderfully simple theme, is it a little preachy? Yeah, but it works.

The film follows George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, all through his life.  George Bailey had big dreams, he wanted to move out of the small town he lived in, go to college, travel abroad, but his innate selflessness always ended up causing him to stay in town, help his family's business, or help his friends and put his dreams on hold.  He takes over his fathers business, relieving his incompetent, cheerful, but consistently drunk Uncle Billy from the duty and fighting off the evil businessman Mr. Potter(played impeccably by Lionel Barrymore). He skips out on his honeymoon because their is a run on the bank and therefore a run on his Building and Loan company.  The resentment builds in him until Uncle Billy misplaces all of their money from the business. Feeling disillusioned, trapped and desperate, George wishes he never was born and plans to jump off a bridge and commit suicide.

Clarence, an angel trying to earn his wings tries to save him by showing him what life would be like if he never was born. After seeing the demise of his town, and the terrible turns peoples lives had taken because he wasn't there to help, he has an epiphany leading to the famous scene of Jimmy Stewart running through the streets joyously wishing everyone and everything Merry Christmas.

I've heard it argued, in the Ayn Rand sense, that this movie leads people to believe in a life of mediocrity and to not pursue or excel their own goals and ambitions. I would counter that this movie shows the importance and value of doing good deeds and fostering human relationships. 

Here are the ratings.
Music: 3/5: The music isn't spectacular, but not dreadful.
Cinematography: 4/5: Despite its age, shot very well, and I won't hold NBC colorizing it against the actual film.
Entertainment Value: 7/10: Entertaining flick throughout.
Rewatchability Factor: 7/10: Despite the fact that this movie still gets watched a lot around the holidays, more than one viewing a year doesn't seem to happen.
Acting: 9/10: Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore steal this movie, their clashes and arguments are scenes I've never tired of watching and truly excellent acting.
Great Scenes: 7/10: The final scene gets things a little dusty, and there are a lot of other great scenes. When George says he'll slingshot the moon, when the dance floor opens up into a pool, and one of my favorites, the scenes in the alternate universe bar. Hilarious.


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