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Peter T Chattaway

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

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: Of course, Harry getting married changes George's priorities too.

Quite so. Which is just one reason why I'm not fond of people springing surprise spouses on their kin like this. When someone gets married, they don't just marry an individual, they marry into a FAMILY. And if the whole point of Harry's life to date has been to take George's place -- at school, at work, etc. -- then it's profoundly insensitive of him to introduce a major change like this to both his life and George's without even notifying, much less consulting, George in the first place.

Bah. It reflects a Protestant American individualist sensibility, certainly, but Harry's actions are in no way contrary to his own ethos. How you or I would feel about it is beside the point; the question is how George feels about it. The banter on the train platform tells you all you need to know about that.

Nobody knows better than George that all's fair in love and war -- or, as Ma Bailey amends, "I don't know about war..." Sam Wainwright is in New York and George is in Bedford Falls with Mary; that's all part of the hand George has been dealt too. "Insensitivity" is neither here nor there in these matters.

Edited by SDG

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I've never cared for IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but having just read through this thread, I have to say that it's a more than worthy read even for a non-fan like me. Not that it converted me, mind you, but it certainly forced me to rethink some of my anti-WONDERFUL LIFE arguments.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Is someone allowed to write a penetrating, insightful analysis of this film that acknowledges the darkness and ambiguties of the film without debunking the hero? Is it permitted to compare and contrast Frank Capra with Ayn Rand, It's a Wonderful Life with Atlas Shrugged, George Bailey with Howard Roark, and conclude that Roark is a boring, small man and Bailey is far more interesting and attractive?

Joe Carter of First Things takes a stab at it. It's brilliant stuff -- overly jaded/harsh in the last paragraph, maybe, but with a will to believe.

Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s book, is an idealistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision by conforming to the needs and demands of the community. In contrast, George Bailey, the hero of Capra’s film, is an idealistic young would-be architect who struggles in obscurity because he has chosen to conform to the needs and demands of the community rather than fulfill his artistic and personal vision. Howard Roark is essentially what George Bailey might have become had he left for college rather than stayed in his hometown of Bedford Falls. ...

Not surprisingly, Roark has become something of a cult figure, especially among young nerdy males entering post-adolescence. Although Roark is artistically gifted and technically brilliant, he prefers to take a job breaking rocks in a quarry than sell out to The Man. ...

Rand herself would have certainly envisioned things differently. She would have sneered in disgust at the idea that Roark was anything like the slacker working at Starbucks ... The vast majority of the people who read The Fountainhead might admire Roark, but they’d never emulate him.

Similarly, Capra’s audience flatters themselves by believing the message of Wonderful Life is that their own lives are just as worthy, just as noble, and just as wonderful’ as George Bailey’s. In a way, they are as delusional as the Randian Roark-worshippers. Despite the fact that they left their small-town communities for the city, put their parents in an assisted living facility and don’t know the names of their next door neighbors, they truly believe they are just like Capra’s hero.

Such delusions are the reason these characters have remained two of the most dominant archetypes of American individualism in pop culture. The pendulum of popularity is swinging back toward Rand but it’s Capra’s creation that should be our model for inspiration.

Roark is nihilistic, narrow-minded, and something of a bore. Bailey is far darker, more complex, and infinitely more interesting. ...

This theme makes Wonderful Life one of the most counter-cultural films in the history of cinema. Almost every movie about the individual in society—from Easy Rider to Happy Feet—is based on the premise that self-actualization is the primary purpose of existence. To a society that accepts radical individualism as the norm, a film about the individual subordinating his desires for the good of others sounds anti-American, if not downright communistic. Surely, the only reason the film has become a Christmas classic is because so few people grasp this core message. ...

Capra and Rand authored utterly different narratives, but are guilty of the same sort of sentimentalism. ... Perhaps I’m in such danger myself, but Capra makes me want to believe. While I know it may not always be a wonderful life, it would be better world if there were more George Baileys and fewer Howard Roarks.

Amen, brother. Read the whole thing.

P.S. Ryan, does this at least make becoming a convert more thinkable? :)

Edited by SDG

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P.S. Ryan, does this at least make becoming a convert more thinkable? smile.gif

Even after reading through this thread, given the opportunity, I would still drive a stake of holly through A WONDERFUL LIFE's heart. But I suppose that now I'd do it with a little less glee.

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Dunno if this actually fits Steve's idea of a revisionist reading, but ...

Christopher Campbell wishes that the film hadn't become so associated with Christmas (it's the fifth of his five choices). And he explicitly states preferences for other Capra titles, even in this vein.

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Mike D'Angelo revisits the film in his November 2011 viewing journal:

"Way darker than its holiday-classic rep" has become a truism since I was a kid, but this viewing (first in 14 years) made me long for the relative cheer and optimism of The Turin Horse. Just days later, the beaming smiles and wing-heralding bells of the finale have already faded, whereas I can't stop thinking of George stalking his house like a caged panther, viciously snapping at innocuous questions from his kids and generally behaving like patriarchy gone rancid. Truth is, for all his principles, George can often be something of a dick even before things go wrong: his reaction when Mary loses her robe is awesomely ungallant, and their subsequent love scene (on the phone with Sam) works primarily because he treats her house as if it were a dentist's waiting room, seemingly disgusted by his own ardor. (Capra beat both Mann and Hitchcock in recognizing the potential for seething anger beneath Stewart's folksy persona.) When the happy ending comes, it's moving in direct proportion to the depths of despondency the film has previously tunneled, and George's realization of how beloved he is by the community can't somehow magically erase a lifetime's worth of regret about all the dreams he abandoned to earn that gratitude. (This is one of those films where it can be provocative to imagine what happens the day after it ends.)

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This is one of those films where it can be provocative to imagine what happens the day after it ends.

How about: Uncle Billy finally recalls talking to Potter at the bank, Potter gets nailed & jailed for embezzlement, and the postwar housing boom makes George's real estate business profitable. Does that seem like too much of a stretch?

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This is one of those films where it can be provocative to imagine what happens the day after it ends.

How about: Uncle Billy finally recalls talking to Potter at the bank, Potter gets nailed & jailed for embezzlement, and the postwar housing boom makes George's real estate business profitable. Does that seem like too much of a stretch?

Or there's the SNL Lost Ending.

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I know it's pathetic, but I love the SNL ending so much that it has eclipsed my memories of the actual film. When I think of It's a Wonderful Life, it's Dana Carvey I see and hear.

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I know it's pathetic, but I love the SNL ending so much that it has eclipsed my memories of the actual film. When I think of It's a Wonderful Life, it's Dana Carvey I see and hear.

"Why.... you're not even a real cripple!"

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

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Lionel Barrymore was a "real cripple" at this stage. There's a reason he's on crutches in You Can't Take It with You and in a wheelchair for this film and Key Largo.

Jeffrey -- we'll pray for you. I don't know what else to do. Punishing Potter, be it via the legal system or mob violence, is clearly not what Capra is trying to get us to think about here.

Edited by mrmando

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I've Probably mentioned this already, but I think the ending would be better without the mega whip round at the end, but still appreciating that his life has mde a difference .

Matt

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'Tis the season... for one of my favorite short films. The Oscar winner from 1995. Richard E. Grant in Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life...

(Since we can only add 2 media links per post)

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Truthfully, the only thing that bothers me in the film is the portrayal of the Baily family's housekeeper/maid Annie. It is not simply that the only prominant black person in the story is comic relief...it is that the comic relief is at her expense. She is not even a "Magical Negro", she is...to put it politely, not very smart and just pops up to say something for other folks to laugh at her. I tend to chalk it up to the tims (I don't think they were trying to be as callous about her humanity)...but still, it makes me cringe whenever she steps on screen.

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Yes, that is a blind spot but typical for the times. Donald and Reba get the same treatment in You Can't Take It with You, if memory serves.

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Yes, that is a blind spot but typical for the times. Donald and Reba get the same treatment in You Can't Take It with You, if memory serves.

Agreed. I didn't mean that I will give up watching every year due to it. But it is kind of hard to ignore. Of the film's stereotypes, this one is the one that leaves me a bit uncomfortable. I imagine it must have been tough on black actors of the time, being given mostly very slight roles. I understand why they took the roles (work vs no work)...but it is a sad product of the times.

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Annie is certainly stereotypical and comic, but who says she's not smart? I think she's very sensible and insightful. Certainly her status and treatment bear witness to the endemic racism of the day. Given that intractable reality, though, she pushes back in her own sassy way.

Edited by SDG

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Just watched the first half of this this afternoon with the family, BTW.

I cry all through the film: at broken, drunken old man Gower crumbling in guilty gratitude before the weeping George whose ears he has just boxed as he realizes how narrowly George saved him from tragedy and disaster; at George's father's quiet speech to his son about the "important work" he believes himself to be doing in his "shabby little office"; at George's spectacular speech to the Building & Loan board after his father's death; at the moment during the run on the banks when heroic Mary pulls out the honeymoon money to save the Building & Loan; at the look on Mary's face as she welcomes George to the broken-down old Granville house on their wedding night.

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I really like that moment where George and Mary's eyes meet at the dance. It is the look of surprised joy on Georges face upon seeing the woman Mary is becoming and the look of anticipation in Mary at seeing the guy she has had a crush on since childhood. It just works so well.

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I cry all through the film: at broken, drunken old man Gower crumbling in guilty gratitude before the weeping George whose ears he has just boxed as he realizes how narrowly George saved him from tragedy and disaster; at George's father's quiet speech to his son about the "important work" he believes himself to be doing in his "shabby little office"; at George's spectacular speech to the Building & Loan board after his father's death; at the moment during the run on the banks when heroic Mary pulls out the honeymoon money to save the Building & Loan; at the look on Mary's face as she welcomes George to the broken-down old Granville house on their wedding night.

Big thumbs up to all of these noted moments.

I got to share my annual viewing tradition this past Christmas Day with someone who had never seen the film, and found myself moved to tears throughout-- still.

This year I noticed for the first time that in the closeup shot, when George is brooding alone outside his mother's house after Harry's return from college, he hears a distant train whistle blow right before throwing the travel brochures to the ground. Touching shot. George Bailey mirrors the frustrated paralytic trying desperately to get to the healing pool in John 5. Every time the water is stirred and he eyes his freedom, another steps in before him.

I really like that moment where George and Mary's eyes meet at the dance. It is the look of surprised joy on Georges face upon seeing the woman Mary is becoming and the look of anticipation in Mary at seeing the guy she has had a crush on since childhood. It just works so well.

One of the most stunningly beautiful closeups of a woman in any film, imo. Edited by Greg P

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This year I noticed for the first time that in the closeup shot, when George is brooding alone outside his mother's house after Harry's return from college, he hears a distant train whistle blow right before throwing the travel brochures to the ground. Touching shot.

Oh yes. One of the three happiest sounds in the world, remember?

George Bailey mirrors the frustrated paralytic trying desperately to get to the healing pool in John 5. Every time the water is stirred and he eyes his freedom, another steps in before him.

Nice.

One of the most stunningly beautiful closeups of a woman in any film, imo.

Yes. But it's a particular kind of beauty. It's not the untouchable glamor of a Grace Kelly or an Ingrid Bergman. It's not a smoldering, come-hither beauty like Lauren Bacall (though there's certainly a wholesome, eligible sexiness there). It's not a frivolous fantasy beauty like Marilyn Monroe.

Mary Hatch is the kind of girl who will actually be good for you -- who "can help you find the answers." The kind you bring home to mother. The kind who bears your children. The kind who'll stand up to you when you're wrong, and stand by you come hell or high water. The kind whose love and support is part and parcel of being the richest man in town.

The kind I married.

Edited by SDG

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I really like that moment where, as George's life seems to be crashing down upon him in cruel fashion, he is clutching one of his children in a most desperate fashion-like if he does not let go-somehow this will stop time, or make the problems just fade away. Mary sees this, and you can see that while she has no idea what George is actually facing, it's this look of concern and compassion as she see instinctively, George is coming apart at the seams about something-even if he is unwilling to share what it is. She is compassionate towards him, even when he is ungracious and narrowly focused on his problems, not fully seeing how that focus is causing him to hurt his family.

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I really like that moment where, as George's life seems to be crashing down upon him in cruel fashion, he is clutching one of his children in a most desperate fashion-like if he does not let go-somehow this will stop time, or make the problems just fade away.

And all the while, his son is dropping Christmas tree tinsel on his head. Something about the desperation of that moment really struck me too, on this viewing.

Another one for me this year was the Martini house-warming scene... after George and Mary have poured themselves out for others and the neighborhood celebration is over, after Sam Wainwright pulls away and they've had to to turn down a trip to Miami because they're so broke, we get this silent, lingering shot of the couple standing in the dusty road arm in arm. It's a poignant moment, but it's rescued from anything sentimental or syrupy as they turn back slowly to their old jalopy and George gives the broken, driver-side door a swift kick in frustration.

This year I noticed for the first time that in the closeup shot, when George is brooding alone outside his mother's house after Harry's return from college, he hears a distant train whistle blow right before throwing the travel brochures to the ground. Touching shot.

Oh yes. One of the three happiest sounds in the world, remember?

Absolutely. And one more journey he'll never be taking. Edited by Greg P

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