It isn’t often that a movie from the first half of the twentieth century will make it to our review table, though It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is a worthy selection. The movie reflects a clever retelling of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol in a more current time, though the era is still in the past. It’s A Wonderful Life ages well. We recommend that you see the film.
(Donna Reed as Mary Hatch, left, & James Stewart as George Bailey)
James Stewart stars as George Bailey opposite the character Mary Hatch (later Mary Bailey) as portrayed by Donna Reed. The story of George Bailey along with a myriad of disappointments and successes, in part, makes George a reluctant hero for the fictional town of Bedford Falls. George takes over the work of his deceased father, Peter Bailey as portrayed by Samuel S. Hinds, at the family business called Bailey Brothers Building and Loan.
(James Stewart as George Bailey, left, and Samuel S. Hinds as Peter Bailey).
George sacrificed his own dreams to run the business at the time of his father’s death, sending his brother to college with the money that would have been his to attend school. Both father and son struggled against the miserly banker Henry F. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore. Potter aimed to gain financial control of the town against the interests of the lesser educated and well-to-do, whereas the building and loan was a champion for that very class of people and cause.
(Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Henry F. Potter).
Three months after the death of his father, the board atop the Bailey Building and Loan voted to install George as the head of the institution. Without George at the top, George’s drunk paternal uncle likely would be left out of work as the board would then turn to the miser Potter to take control.
(Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy).
It was at this point where we see George working through his acceptance that there was no place like home to make the ambitious plans for the future a reality. Mrs. Irene Bailey, George’s mother as portrayed by Beulah Bondi, knew this as well as any when she prodded George to walk to the home of Mary Hatch. It was Mary that was crushing on George as George pined for the love interest named Violet. George would propose to Mary that night.
(Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Irene Bailey, left, and James Stewart).
All this has been introduced to the audience with the notion that George would need the service of one guardian angel named Clarence Odbody. Clarence Odbody, as portrayed by Henry Travers, sees all of this past with the audience. We know that George would want to commit suicide before the film was out. The stark moment emerges when drunk Uncle Billy was returning the day’s deposits to the Building and Loan one morning when encountering the miserly Mr. Potter. Getting confused by way of drunkenness, the $8,000 in funds under Billy’s control lands in the hands of the Potter.
(Henry Travers as Clarence Odbody).
The uplifting outcome one would expect of a Dickens novel, or The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern that directly inspired It’s A Wonderful Life, turns on the intervention of angel seeking wings Clarence Odbody. The turn occurs when, in the midst of George’s grief over the misplaced $8,000 and a bank auditor in town, Clarence grants George a glimpse into the Bedford Falls, ney Pottersville, without the life of one George Bailey.
The true satisfaction of the turn comes from the awareness of the declined decay of the change from the Bedford Falls of George Bailey to the Pottersville of the unborn George Bailey. George as well as the audience see a stark, Dickensian contrast that spurs George to take stock of the wonderful life he has had while saving many through the sacrifice turned to the generous outcomes of his generous spirit. The message of his despondency is transmuted to the joy of a soul saved, a building and loan saved, a brother, family, and town saved. Clarence Odbody gains his wings. The town acts with honor. George finds hope once again and the spirit of Christmas is renewed.
It’s A Wonderful Life presents as an uplifting tale of the human spirit and community. Sure there is symbolism of a political nature within the storytelling. The feel good outcome, the redemption, and the fact that the theft of the $8,000 by Mr. Henry F. Potter are not reconciled are the larger points that I choose to see in my consideration of the film ranking. I give It’s A Wonderful Life a rating of 4.5-out-of-5 stars.
Matt – Wednesday, December 12, 2018