George Bailey (James Stewart) always wanted to leave his hometown of Bedford Falls and see the world. Circumstance and his own good nature prevented George from realising his youthful ambition. On Christmas Eve the now middle-aged husband of Mary (Donna Reed) and father of four believes his life has amounted to nothing. As he contemplates suicide, God despatches second class angel Clarence (Henry Travers) to convince George that he has indeed led an important, wonderful life.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
More than one of the best movies not to win an Oscar, Frank Capra's post-war classic is an American institution watched by half the nation during its annual Christmas TV broadcast. There are hokey moments galore and the ten minutes preceding the final five are almost too corny but nothing can diminish the overall effect of this heartwarming tribute to an ordinary man.
Stewart, a national hero after aerial combat duty in WW2, is perfectly cast as the everyman who stays in the small town he wants to leave but never can while there are good folks who need help and injustices to be fought. The magic ingredient of the drama is not George Bailey's kindness but the dark side of his character. He's shown to be angry and even violently frustrated at being stuck in a Nothingsville like Bedford Falls. It's what makes him human and makes us in believe in everything the film champions - the value of the individual and the strength of community ties.
Bailey's stand against Potter (Lionel Barrymore at his best), the miserly old capitalist slumlord who owns all of Bedford Falls except the part Bailey has helped build, strikes a powerful metaphorical chord today as one American corporate giant after another collapses in a corrupt heap.
A film is only as old as it seems and It's A Wonderful Life transcends the times because it believes in all the good-hearted dreamers before and after George Bailey. The full-frame transfer on this no-frills disc is good with the exception of a few speckles during reel changes. It's a pity Australian DVD buyers aren't being offered the glorious remastered collector's edition released on Laser Disc and DVD overseas but for a budget purchase ($10-15 depending where you buy it) this local pressing represents decent value for your embattled Australian dollar.
Published August 1, 2002