It’s a Wonderful Life: A Christmas Classic for 70+ Years (Day #24)

Title: It’s a Wonderful Life

Release: 1946

Director: Frank Capra

Writer(s): Philip Van Doren Stern (story), Francis Goodrich / Albert Hackett / Frank Capra (screenplay)

Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers

*Warning, this review may contain spoilers.

It’s a Wonderful Life, the beloved Christmas classic that has adorned TV screens for almost 75 years, is once again upon us for yet another review. Considering its tremendous staying power, I feel confident in saying that you have probably seen this movie at least once in your life. Some of you see it every December while others of you catch it occasionally around the holidays. Regardless, it is beyond telling that a movie from 1946 still harnesses such magic and awe. That the film has yet to lose interest, despite its age, is proof of its quality storytelling, but also a testament to the real power of Christmas.

Storytelling Through Strong Acting

Telling the story of a down-and-out suicidal man is easy. Anyone can do that. But to redeem this man with such power and dignity in front of his peers, his family, and the audience is a marvel in film-making. The more I watch It’s a Wonderful Life, the more I fall in love with its characters and their impeccable performances. Everyone from lead George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) all the way down to Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), the acting is spot-on and masterfully directed.

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.

Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George Bailey is a thing of beauty. Director Frank Capra has Stewart render an incredible range of emotions unlike most actors I’ve seen from that era. Watching his courtship with Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) as he romantically skips down the road and promises to lasso the moon and give it to her…. Sigh. These are the moments that make cinema historic and heart-moving. To build this character with such unbridled love only to tear him down and throw him in a pit of despair is gut wrenching, to say the least. So when Director Capra brings him back to life, you cannot help but cry your eyes out as he holds his daughter in the famous final scene by the Christmas tree. Redemption is one of the strongest emotions a storyteller can harness, and It’s a Wonderful Life delivers it with gusto.

Like a Fine Wine

Have you ever noticed that It’s a Wonderful Life improves with time? That’s because as we become adults, and get married, and start having children of our own, only then do we begin to appreciate the heaviness of Bailey’s plight. You can’t help but feel for this man as he frantically scurries about town trying to find anyone who will love him and care for him – or at the very least to even just remember him! Capra taps into the deepest parts of our humanity: the desire for love. Bailey has it all-along, but he loses his way when he falls on hard times, and he chooses to end it all. By the graces of God, he is shown the impact he had on the people of his town, and eventually brought back to his family where everyone is happy to see him and love him. Heck, I’m crying right now as I type this up.

The iconic concluding scene.

Conclusion

Overall, It’s a Wonderful Life is still a marvel in both Christmas movie fame and historic cinema. I will say, however, that its adult themes make it a tough watch for younger audiences. I don’t mean “adult themes” in an “R-rated” kind of way, just in the sense that children may not grasp the heaviness of the situations at hand. Alcoholism, child abuse, a child drowning, tough financial situations, suicide, etc. For these reasons alone, It’s a Wonderful Life will never be a classic kid’s Christmas movie. To put it bluntly, it’s a pretty darn boring movie for kids. I do think one day its legacy will fade, especially as the baby-boomers begin to pass away, but we have a long time until then.

Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

What makes It’s a Wonderful Life so brilliant and timeless is the human nature within its story. While not entirely without Christmas magic and fantasy, it definitely lends a little more realism than most Christmas classics. The miracle of redemption and second chances is one that very few of us will experience, but it makes for a compelling story. The fact that 70+ years later, new generations of families are diving headfirst into this happy-sad-happy triumphant cinematic masterpiece is the true Christmas miracle.

Thanks for reaching the end of the article! This piece is apart of our Modern Neon Christmas Bonanza, where we are looking at 25 of our favorite or well-known Christmas movies.  So click through to see the previous and next movie, or go back to the home page to find your favorite movie!

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David Berry

David "Nerdberry" is the proud founder and owner of Nerdbacon.com, a video game reviews and news website. Nerdberry owns a local pressure washing business in North Carolina, has a family, and a little house. With a college background in film and a personal love for dissecting movies, he feels aptly suited for Modern-Neon. The jury is still out on whether or not Modern-Neon wants him. We'll see. But he is excited to be part of the team here in an effort to help it grow!

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