It’s a Wonderful Life – Review


by Ken B.

In 1974, the Frank Capra Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life fell into the questionable universe of the public domain. While an absolutely rubbish colorized version emitted from that event, the chance of entire new generations experiencing such a wonderful and uplifting story also came into existence as the crisp black-and-white version could be shown everywhere throughout the 1980s. By 1995, Republic Pictures was able to side the Supreme Court’s ruling of Stewart v. Abend to technically hold copyright, however NBC makes it a holiday tradition to show this movie multiple times each year (still – I watched this thing off YouTube in one fair resolution 2 hour video).

We all know the story. George Bailey (JAMES STEWART) is greatly depressed by the state of his life – he believes it would have all been better had he never existed to begin with. An angel-in-training named Clarence (HENRY TRAVERS) attempts to earn his wings by showing him the negative effects that would resound had he never been born.

That segment, the most memorable, is the last quarter of the film. The other chunk of the movie traces George’s life from 1919 on to the Christmas Eve of which the movie itself begins and ends. Each segment, or era of life presented of the film never exists too long, it moves forward in a contempt and expert matter.

The cinematography from Joseph Walker is something to be admired as well. Each shot is splashed with lush detail and decoration, further plunging the viewer into the frames that pass by for 130 minutes. On another technical note, the “chemical snow” developed for this movie made sure that instead of noisy cornflakes, artificial snowflakes fell quietly, and did not interfere with the dialogue or other important sounds. The main street of the fictional town Bedford Falls was a giant set piece stretching 300 yards with over fifty buildings, explaining the then-massive $3.2 million budget (equivalent to $36 million today). The acting, from Stewart, Travers, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, H.B. Warner, and William Edmunds, among others, reflects acting at its best for the era of cinema and style, adding to the total impact over the decades.

It’s a Wonderful Life is an enduring classic for a reason. It teaches virtues of hope and happiness, and how small positive actions have large positive conclusions, like one big happy butterfly effect (weird). Never especially dated, considering it’s over 65 years old, it can be shown again and again to different generations, an un-remake-able (hopefully) tale that lives and breathes with culture itself, and must remain preserved in its original form. Frankly, this review itself seemed unnecessary, since I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at least heard of this movie, but hey, I got to complain a little bit about colorization, so it all completes.