Merry Christmas! This month just flew by and we are at our last Christmas blog! I saved (in my opinion) the best for last! It’s a Wonderful Life is my favourite Christmas movie and the only movie I’m guaranteed to watch before Christmas each year.
Featuring James Stewart as the oldest 18 year old ever.
It’s a Wonderful Life didn’t become a favourite of mine until high school. I believe I was shown the movie when I was a bit younger than that, but I had no appreciation for it. We owned the classic black and white version of the VHS and I was (and still am) not a huge fan of black and white movies as I find they can lack energy and they lose my interest. It wasn’t until I was reintroduced to it as it being one of my mother’s favourite Christmas films after she had passed away that I gave it a proper chance and of course loved it!
As I mentioned on a previous blog, It’s a Wonderful Life didn’t actually do great at the box office but did receive critical acclaim. It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director but it lost out to The Best Years of Our Lives in all categories except Sound Recording which The Jolson Story won. After losing the awards and not doing great at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life actually disappeared from the public eye for many years. It was until about 30 years later that TV networks started running the film in their Christmas lineups and helped make it a Christmas classic. Since then VHS and DVD sales have continued to grow.
In 1949 the special effects department won a Technical Achievement Award for creating
a new kind of fake snow – so at least the Academy recognized the movie for something!
Something interesting is that It’s a Wonderful Life only has a small portion of the movie actually taking place around Christmas. The movie spans from George Bailey’s childhood until his mid-adult years covering many seasons and times of the year. Because of this, the movie was shot during the spring/early summer and fake snow was created for the winter scenes. Most of the movies we have covered during this blog have taken place leading up to or on Christmas almost inclusively so how is It’s a Wonderful Life a better Christmas movie than the ones actually taking place solely in the season?
For some it might be the religious aspect which is often missing from a lot of major theatrical releases in the modern age – but it is not for me. I’m not religious at all but what makes the movie the best for me is the messages it sends about families, community and self-worth. A Christmas Carol covers a lot of the same messages but what is importantly different about It’s a Wonderful Life is the message of self-worth.
In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge thinks too highly of himself and his money and learns that the value of family and giving outweighs the value of money. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey thinks all hope is lost and that he messed everything up for his friends and family (it was really Uncle Billy’s fault) and that the only way out is to kill himself. An angel helps him understand how he has touched so many lives and how that impact continued to ripple positively out from him and his actions. He realizes that he made a difference by consistently doing the right thing and that his life is important.
This message is so powerful and important for people to experience not just around Christmas but at times when you feel you don’t matter. The holidays are an especially hard time for some people and this movie can speak to these people and remind them that they matter – even if they don’t think so. For me the holidays are a very joyous occasion but I still like to be reminded that it is important to always consider others and do the right thing and you will be rewarded (still not a religious thing).
Always makes me teary!
The downside of this movie is that some of the smaller things have not really aged well. I find the message powerful enough to still love it and watch it regularly despite its drawbacks. Bedford Falls where the movie takes place is basically white people central with the one black character being the maid. There appears to be one Hispanic family which is portrayed as having the most kids of the entire town as well as a goat – which I also think is a bit racist. In the alternate universe without George, he is horrified to learn that Mary has become –GOSH– a librarian and an old maid having never married. I believe the reaction of Mary’s alternate reality is meant to be painful to George because his wife doesn’t recognize him, but it feels more like he is shocked that she would never marry and become a librarian (she even suddenly has glasses because librarians always have glasses!).
The alternate universe is a bit over the top in general. It needed to be to really hit the message of how important George is to his family and community but if you really think a lot of the things through they are unlikely. Harry’s death for example probably would not have happened (at least not the way suggested) because Harry was tagging along with George’s friends so if George didn’t exist, he wouldn’t have been hanging out with those boys. Also, Mary becoming an old maid and living in Bedford Falls would be unlikely. She seemly only came home from New York because she was “homesick” but she made it pretty clear she came home to get George. So if George didn’t exist, she likely would have never come home and would have gotten a job in New York and likely would have married Sam (or any other eligible bachelor there).
Clarence take me back! It didn’t matter when my brother was dead or my mother
didn’t recognize me but god-forbid my wife becomes an old maid!
I consider all of these small issues that I like to just pretend don’t exist when I’m watching the movie. I also just enjoy laughing at a bunch of the time period oddities like the extreme neck rubbing, the actors playing multiple ages throughout the movie with minimal changes (just some grey hair should do it!) and sometimes poor use of green screen (military scenes). Overall the movie sends an important Christmas message that doesn’t involve Santa Claus, or commercialization. If you like the religious theme or can overlook it I highly recommend this movie if you haven’t seen it.
Don’t agree with my opinion? What do you think of It’s a Wonderful Life? Let us know in the comments!