Some good friends recently handed me a bundle of DVDs they had inherited from a loved one who sadly passed away. I feel it’s my duty over the coming months to honour the gentleman’s impeccable taste in motion pictures by watching, reviewing and donating them to a charitable cause.
It’s A Wonderful Life
George Bailey is a man who has given up on his dreams in order to help others. While teetering on the brink of despair, the very notion of a suicide attempt brings George to the attention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. It’s then down to this quirky, otherworldly chap to show George all the lives he’s touched and the effect of his selflessness upon the town.
The third-time Frank Capra worked with James Stewart and arguably the best feature the director and actor collaborated on, It’s a Wonderful Life delivers an ambitious story with some oddball stylistic choices, but still warms the heart with great performances from Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers and Lionel Barrymore. This film is like a hot, comforting soup for the soul but it’s not without its share of strangeness. There’s a weird, intangible alchemy here as the manipulative plotting, witty dialogue and assured momentum are exactly what Steven Spielberg would attempt replicate with varying amounts of success over the past 40 years.
The pacing is wonky; the tone gets achingly morose and the angels are represented by flashing sci-fi, space-orbs but somehow it all works. We’ve seen elements of this story told in other Christmas films many times since but the narrative here plays out like Charles Dickens writing an episode of The Twilight Zone. James Stewart adds his usual humble charm to a character the audience truly grows to care for. After Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Harvey and Rear Window, this is the fourth Jimmy Stewart film I’ve covered for this series and I sincerely hope it won’t be the last.
It’s a Wonderful Life gets away with its (almost) Dickensian premise and bonkers execution via the Christmas miracle that is its exceptional cast… and a heavy helping of schmaltz. As disjointed and bizarre as this movie is at times I couldn’t help but let the festive spirit wash over me. The peculiar mix of joyousness and underlying darkness makes this a more interesting offering than Capra and Stewart’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and a film I’ll be re-watching many Christmases to come. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to finally see it!
It’s a Wonderful Life is playing in several cinemas across the country over the holiday season. If you’re in need of a festive pick-me-up, then this is a big ol’ recommendation from me. Also, we are covering It’s a Wonderful Life, Gremlins and The Long Kiss Goodnight on the Christmas episode of our podcast, Sudden Double Deep on Thursday 15th. Come find us on iTunes and all good pod-catchers.
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