I watch Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life nearly every Christmas. Sometimes not all of it, as I usually stumble upon it some Saturday night on one of the major networks on a specialty movie channel (if I recall, I believe NBC aired the movie last year). If not, then I watch it on an old VHS my parents picked up ages ago. Regardless, every year, I watch it. Not only that, but countless shows seem to reference the movie, too. This may sound bizarre, but I first heard of the movie, as a child, through the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Christmas With the Joker.” Robin coaxes Batman to watch the movie after scouring the city for crime. After the usual crime-themed hilarity, the episode does eventually end with Batman and Robin sitting down and watching the movie (to which we only see a “The End” credit after the duo watch the film). What I’m trying to say is this movie is a not only huge part of the holidays, but also our culture and lives, and it deserves to be.
George Bailey has so many problems he is thinking about ending it all – and it’s Christmas! As the angels discuss George, we see his life in flashback. As George is about to jump from a bridge, he ends up rescuing his guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence then shows George what his town would have looked like if it hadn’t been for all of his good deeds over the years. Will Clarence be able to convince George to return to his family and forget suicide?
Pretty grim synopsis, eh? After such an unwieldy first paragraph, it’s hard to believe we’re talking about the same movie – but we are. Frank Capra, who produced and directed this movie, made one of those films that, even if you watch it once, it stays with you. Who can forget Clarence? Who can forget the heart-warming ending? Who can forget the classic line, “Every time a bell rings an angel gets their wings.” It’s all classic stuff, from start to finish. And yes, it’s a bit of a dark movie that, in the end, gives one of the most important and refreshing lessons about life in general – that we make a difference. No matter what, no matter what our situation is or how we feel, whatever it is, we make a difference. And even if you haven’t seen the movie, there’s a good chance you know of it through the countless references and mentions of it you’ve seen in other shows in movies.
It’s A Wonderful Life has become so ingrained in the Christmas holiday season that it’s hard to imagine a year without it. It’s hard to imagine a year where it doesn’t play on TV or see it available to rent or own on video in some store. It’s just everywhere, and it’s mentioned everywhere, and it’s been spoofed countless times along the way. Much like A Christmas Story, it’s earned it’s status as not only one of the best holiday films, but just a great film all around. I still find it hard to believe that upon theatrical release, this movie was a flop. Only after time had pass did the film not only gain in popularity, but it got the recognition it should have got on release.
And what’s not to like about this film? The script is pure magic and the actors themselves really sell not only what could be a difficult concept to understand, but they make it fly. Say what you want about this film, but this is a true gem of a movie, and an inspirational and touching film about who were are not only as a person, but how we affect others, too. How can you not love the scene when, after realizing what it would be like if he did not exist, and seeing his own wife not recognize him, he runs back to the bridge he originally wanted to jump off and begs Clarence, and then to God, to let him live again. As he sobs, it starts to snow again, and he is back to reality. When the snow starts to fall . . . man . . . how can you not appreciate that scene? It’s so symbolic and flat-out brilliant. Using snow to symbolize his return? Just a smart move and a stunning visual. And, at the end, the message inside the book that Clarence leaves for George, “Remember that no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings,” just gets me. Hats off to Frank Capra for making a flat-out uplifting film.
But, like I said, we all know these scenes, whether we know it or not. We’ve all seen this movie in one form of another, maybe not entirely, but we’ve all seen it. And now, Paramount Home Entertainment has re-released it on a new two-disc special edition. Dubbed a “2-Disc Collector’s Set” and re-packaging last year’s 60th Anniversary Edition, the first disc is the exact same release as last year’s, but the second disc is new, offering a colorized version of the film without any special features. The extras remain the same as last year’s edition, with “A Making of” feature with Tom Bosley and “A Personal Remembrance” with Frank Capra Jr. giving us a tour his father’s life and the production of this movie. Both features provide a nice heaping of information on how this film came to be and spotlight the (sometimes) troubled production. The first disc is rounded out with the theatrical trailer. The second disc holds the colorized version which, like many colorized movies, looks odd and unnatural. Stick with the Black & White version. And please note that both versions of the movie are exactly the same, save for the coloring. The audio and video for both versions look great given the age of the movie. With the price and nice helping of extras, this is the DVD release of It’s A Wonderful Life you want to go with.
It’s A Wonderful Life truly belongs in every home, whether you’re a movie buff or casual viewer. It’s more than a “mere” holiday movie, but it’s a classic movie that is both important and inspirational in its message. It’s one of those movies that just wouldn’t be made today, not by a longshot (which makes me happy, as I could only imagine how horrible a revised or updated version would be like). It’s an enthralling and classic movie, one that just gets to you. When the movie goes into the third act, as he sees what life would have been like in his community if he was not around, as he puts in his life into perspective, it’s just an emotional roller-coaster from there. Besides, we can all relate to George. As he’s wishing to break out of this town and do what he’s been dreaming of, we’ve all been there, wishing for something more. But when he comes to appreciate what his life, his friends, his family, what’s he’s accomplished, that itself is such a powerful message, a message that perhaps we need to take into account for our own lives. When he sees what his town would have been like without him, it’s just horrifying, but the message we get from that, and in the end, and just how damn powerful it is, makes for such a huge, universal statement, that no matter who you are, you make a difference. Capra plays this movie as a human drama, even keeping the more fantastical aspects low-key, and that, I believe, really helps sell the timeless message, a message we need to be reminded of.
If you don’t own this movie, now is the opportune time to pick it up. It’s A Wonderful Life comes Highly Recommended. This movie is one we can all relate to and the message it sends it truly inspiring. This is a truly timeless movie that everyone should see, and if you haven’t, what’s stopping you? It’s a masterpiece, plain and simple.
It’s a Wonderful Life: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition is now available on DVD.