Tag Archives: It’s a Wonderful Life

Film: It’s a Wonderful Life

 

In the movie's climactic scene, George Bailey runs to his family down the street of Bedford Falls in the snow. But the performers suffered - it was 90 degrees the day the scene was filmed. Uploaded by movieforum.com.

(Originally posted December 1, 2009)

This movie is shown on TV at Christmas, but it’s not really a Christmas movie. It just happens that its climactic scenes take place during the season. It’s a film about – well, about the goodness of ordinary people. And second chances. And sacrifice.

It’s a Wonderful Life was originally planned as a vehicle for Cary Grant. But he was never pleased with the scripts developed, and decided to make another

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Christmas movie, The Bishop’s Wife, instead. Frank Capra then bought the rights, but still had a difficult time getting a script he liked. Though he may not have known it at the time, when he cast Jimmy Stewart (Great American Things, April 8, 2009) as George Bailey, he ensured that his film would be revered forever.

The box office wasn’t kind to the movie, however. It had the bad fortune to be released one week after The Best Years of Our Lives (Great American Things, May 25, 2009), which turned out to be the highest-grossing film of the decade, and which also took most of the Academy Awards for which It’s a Wonderful Life was nominated.

The American Film Institute named it number 11 in its 100 Years…100 Movies awards. And Jimmy Stewart’s performance was chosen as the eighth greatest performance of all time by Premiere magazine. Both Stewart and Capra said that It’s a Wonderful Life was their favorite film. “The film has a life of its own now,” Capra said in 1984, “and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

Director: Frank Capra

Not only did Capra win three Best Director Oscars, he propelled the careers of Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, and Cary Grant.

Frank Capra saw himself as a member of the “gee whiz” school of filmmaking, and made no apologies for it. Capra’s movies featured what is good in humanity, and have even had a word coined to describe their world view — capraesque. He said, “To some of us, all that meets the eye IS larger than life, including life itself. Who can match the wonder of it?”

Capra got his start in movies as a gag writer for silent film comic Harry Langdon at Mack Sennett’s studio. Langdon promoted Capra to director, but the erratic actor soon fired him. It wasn’t long before the struggling studio Columbia Pictures hired Capra, who, following a series of modestly successful small pictures, hit it big with It Happened One Night. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert sparkled, the movie won five Academy Awards (including Gable’s only Oscar), and Capra’s reputation was sealed.

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Capra was declared the hottest director of the 1930s in a Time Magazine article. In addition to It Happened One Night (Best Picture, Best Director), prior to World War II Capra directed Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Best Director), Lost Horizon, You Can’t Take It With You (Best Picture, Best Director), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Best Picture, Best Director), and Meet John Doe.

Following the war, Capra created what’s considered his masterpiece, though it wasn’t perceived quite so well at the time of its initial release. It’s a Wonderful Life (Great American Things, December 1, 2009) rode the wave of American post-war optimism and is the ultimate “capraesque” film. In addition to Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, Capra was instrumental in the careers of Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant, and Jean Arthur. (Capra once called Arthur his favorite actress.)

My favorite Frank Capra quote: “I thought drama was when the actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.”

Film: Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a brilliant movie. Once you get past its quirky premise, that a man has to live one day – Groundhog Day – over and over and over again, you begin to see a film that’s not only funny, but smart, and romantic, and redemptive.

Bill Murray (Great American Things, April 25, 2009) does an exceptional job as weatherman Phil Connors. This role is the bridge between his broader comedies and the more sophisticated parts he played in Rushmore and Lost in Translation. Andie MacDowell does a serviceable job as the female lead, but this is Murray’s movie.

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Harold Ramis co-wrote and directed Groundhog Day, but nothing he did before or has done since would hint that he had this movie in him. I consider it the It’s a Wonderful Life (Great American Things, December 1, 2009) of our generation. Consider: both fantasy stories, both with a protagonist who’s frustrated by his life, both of whom end up doing what’s right despite the personal cost to them. And both of whom are rewarded with joy and satisfaction as a result. In It’s a Wonderful Life, it starts to snow when Jimmy Stewart (Great American Things, April 8, 2009) says he wants to live again; in Groundhog Day, it starts to snow when Murray realizes that whatever happens in the future, he’s happy now.

The American Film Institute named the movie its number eight fantasy movie of all time, and number 34 comedy. But perhaps the film’s greatest tribute is how the phrase “Groundhog Day” is now a part of the language, indicating any experience that’s repeated time and again.