It's A Wonderful Life

Year of release: 1946.
MPAA rating: not rated.
Run time: 130 minutes.

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      It is the post-war tale of one small-town, savings-and-loan manager who struggles against a greedy banker and his own self-doubting nature.  Do-gooder George Bailey (James Stewart) recognizes his life as wonderful and truly rich, even in its humdrum nature, only after suffering many hardships, mishaps and dark trials (compromised dreams of youth to leave the town and seek fame and fortune, sacrifices, dismay, losses and the threat of financial ruin and suicide).  He is given encouragement by a whimsical, endearing, trainee-angel named Clarence.  The hysterical, despairing, and melancholy family man is shown what the small town (Bedford Falls, now renamed Pottersville after the town's evil tycoon) would be like without him.  It's a frightening, nightmarish, noirish view of the world (at Christmas-time) that brings him back from self-destruction.  He returns to the idyllic, small-town world that he left, with renewed faith and confidence in life itself.  Hence, the film's title: "It's a Wonderful Life".

      This movie has been one of my favorites since I was a teenager.  First of all, Jimmy Stewart is unbeatable in this kind of "everyday, common-man" role.  The message and the moral of this movie is terrific and not just at Christmas.  Also the chemistry between Stewart and Donna Read is undeniable.

      My favorite scene in this movie is also one of the best scenes in any romantic movie ever made.  It's the scene in which Mary and George are on the telephone with their friend, Sam.  This is the scene where Mary and George finally give in to their love for each other.  The text below is from the website and it is a nice explanation and commentary on this scene:

      "The phone conversation sequence has some of the most unforgettable moments of the film.  They share the same earpiece extension, listening and talking on the same phone.  Although the doorway to the parlor slices through the frame, symbolizing the distance between the two of them, they are squeezed together.  George is very conscious of her being close to him, and resists his close proximity to her.  He is romantically attracted and cannot deny that he loves her, but such an admission would mean remaining in Bedford Falls, where he has been forced to stay against his will and give up his other dreams.

      In a long closeup of them ear to ear, they listen to Sam who asks if George is stealing his gal.  Mary is unable to go to a different extension, because her mother listens in on the upstairs extension.  Sam offers George a 'get-rich-quick' job in his new business, telling him of the bright future in plastics.  But Sam wonders if George is available, cheerfully mocking him: "I may have a job for you, that is, unless you're still married to that broken-down building and loan.  Ha, ha, ha.  It's the biggest thing since radio and I'm lettin' you in on the ground floor."  All the while, George squirms and tries to contain himself, standing so close that he can smell Mary's hair.

      Sam tells Mary to encourage George with the offer: "Will you tell that guy I'm giving him the chance of a lifetime?  You hear - the chance of a lifetime."  She looks upward at him and, with her lips almost on his lips, reinforces what Sam has said in a whisper, but she is almost unable to say the words: "He says it's the chance of a lifetime."  The phone suddenly drops to the floor, and instead of grabbing and embracing Mary with a kiss, George holds her fiercely by the shoulders and violently starts shaking her, passionately protesting that he doesn't want to get married: "Now, you listen to me!  I don't want any plastics, and I don't want any ground floors, and I don't want to get married - ever - to anyone!  You understand that?  I want to do what I want to do.  And you're... and you're..."  Then he runs out of words.  She responds by crying helplessly, silently, and then George all of a sudden reverses himself and pulls Mary to himself in a fierce embrace.  George overcomes his resistance to her and starts to kiss her, passionately, all over her face, holding her intensely.  Their undeclared love for each other overwhelms both of them."

James Stewart - George Bailey
Donna Reed - Mary Hatch Bailey
Lionel Barrymore- Mr. Potter
Thomas Mitchell - Uncle Billy
Henry Travers - Clarence
Beulah Bondi - Mrs. Bailey
Frank Faylen - Ernie
Ward Bond - Bert
Gloria Grahame - Violet Bick
H.B. Warner - Mr. Gower
Frank Albertson - Sam Wainwright
Todd Karns - Harry Bailey
Samuel S. Hinds - Pa Bailey
Mary Treen - Cousin Tilly
Virginia Patton - Ruth Dakin
Charles Williams - Cousin Eustace
Sarah Edwards - Mrs. Hatch
William Edmunds - Mr. Martini
Lillian Randolph - Annie
Argentina Brunetti - Mrs. Martini
Bobby Anderson -George (younger)
Ronnie Ralph - Sam (younger)
Jean Gale - Mary (younger)
Jeanine Anne Roose - Violet (younger)
Danny Mummert - Marty Hatch (younger)
Georgie Nokes - Harry Bailey: younger
Sheldon Leonard - Nick
Frank Hagney - Bodyguard to Potter
Ray Walker - Joe, at Luggage Shop
Charles Lane - Real Estate Salesman
Edward Keane - Tom (Bldg. & Loan)
Carol Coomes - Janie Bailey
Karolyn Grimes - Zuzu Bailey
Larry Simms - Pete Bailey
Jimmy Hawkins - Tommy Bailey

Rest of cast listed alphabetically
Stanley Andrews - Mr. Welch (uncredited)
Al Bridge - Sheriff (uncredited)
Marian Carr - Mrs. Wainwright (uncredited)
Lane Chandler - Man (uncredited)
Harry Cheshire - Dr. Campbell (uncredited)
Ellen Corby - Miss Davis (uncredited)
Tom Fadden - Tollhouse keeper (uncredited)
Eddie Fetherston - Bank teller (uncredited)
Lee Frederick - Man (uncredited)
Charles Halton - Carter, Bank examiner (uncredited)
Harry Holman - Principal (uncredited)
Hal Landon - Marty Hatch (uncredited)
J. Farrell MacDonald - Owner of house (uncredited)
Bert Moorhouse - Man (uncredited)
Garry Owen - Bill poster (uncredited)
Bobby Scott - Mickey (uncredited)
Almira Sessions - Potter's secretary (uncredited)
Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer - Othello (uncredited)

Produced by Frank Capra
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by (in credits order)
Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra & Jo Swerling
Based on the story "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern
Cinematographer: Joseph F. Biroc & Joseph Walker
Music Director: Dmitri Tiomkin
Composer: Dmitri Tiomkin
Editor: William Hornbeck
Art Director: Jack Okey
Set Designer: Emile Kuri
Special Effects: Russell A. Cully
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson

Academy Award Nominations for:
Best Picture
Best Actor - Jimmy Stewart
Best Director - Frank Capra
Best Sound Recording - John Aalberg
Best Editing - William Hornbeck

Recognized by the American Film Institute in 1998 as one of the 100 Greatest American Movies.

Capra's Own Words
      "There's more to the picture than I put in it.  There's more to the picture than was written in it.  There are more values in the picture than we knew we were playing with, that we didn't even expect.  There's more to it than we thought we had.  It's the picture I waited all my life to make."
      ~ Frank Capra on "It's A Wonderful Life"

Information gathered from numerous websites including:

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