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The 2010 Glen Workshop In Santa Fe, NM

It's a Wonderful Life
Movie Poster for Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet
Directed by Frank Capra
Produced by Frank Capra
Written by Frank Capra
Frances Goodrich
Albert Hackett
Music by Dmitri Tiomkin
Cinematography by Joseph Walker
Joseph F. Biroc
Editing by William Hornbeck
Release Date 1946
Running Time 130 min.
Language English
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It's a Wonderful Life

“No one is born to be a failure. No one is poor who has friends.” These platitudes, plastered across the packaging of home-video editions of Frank Capra's evergreen Christmas classic, embody the film's popular but misleading image as sentimental, schmaltzy “Capra-corn.” Yet the film itself is leavened by darker themes and more rigorous morals about self-sacrifice, disappointment, and the fragility of happiness and the American dream. 

Like another popular Christmas story, Dickens' A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life is in part about an oppressive relationship between a cruel rich man and a sympathetic, less well-to-do family man, that results in supernatural intervention and an alternate vision of reality. But where A Christmas Carol was about the redemption of Scrooge, It's a Wonderful Life is about its Bob Cratchitt, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), and his heroic virtue and consistently selfless choices, his dark night of the soul, and his ultimate vindication. 

Like many Christmas films, It's a Wonderful Life has little to do with the real meaning of Christmas, apart from St. Joseph in heaven appearing in voiceover. The movie even perpetuates the popular religious confusion about human beings becoming “angels” when they die. Still, the movie's milieu is more recognizably spiritual than A Christmas Carol and most of its ilk. The story is set in motion by the prayers of men and women all over town offered for George Bailey. And while George himself confesses to God in his darkest hour that he is “not a praying man,” what he does in its own way reflects the Christmas story: He empties himself out of love, becoming poor for the sake of his people, the citizens of Bedford Falls. 

—Steven Greydanus

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