It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - Classic Christmas Movie Review #7

Growing up, George Bailey had big plans to travel the world. But after the stock market crashes, George steps in to help the people in his father's building and loan business, planning to get away after things are settled. The years pass and George marries a schoolmate and soon his dreams are nothing but dreams. The town Scrooge bares down on the generous business his father worked hard to keep running and before long it's all he can do to stay on his feet. Run down and at his wit's end, George begins to wonder if it would have been better if he had never been born. Then he receives a gift he never expected, and it changes his life!

When this film first came out in theatres it was practically a flop. But as the years have gone by, people have realized what a treasure it is. And now it's one of the most watched Christmas movies ever! Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and many other talented actors, this is a must-see! Not only does it hit close to home for many of us at one point or another, it shows the importance of family and friends, and the blessings we receive from helping others. It's guaranteed to lift your spirits!

Read on for the full review and behind the scenes trivia.

Full Synopsis

When prayers are heard for a man called George Bailey from the town of Bedford Falls, an angel second-class and still not having earned his wings, is schooled for the job of helping him. Clarence, the angel, watches important scenes from George's life. As a child, George saved his younger brother after falling through the ice one winter and loses hearing in one ear because of it. Another time, he worked for Mr. Gower, the druggist, and saw the man make a terrible mistake. Realizing Mr. Gower was too sorrowful over the news of his son's death to see his mistake, George showed him what he'd done and then promised never to tell a soul.

Years later, after George is grown and ready to leave for college, he goes with his brother to his highschool graduation party and meets Mary Hatch, an attractive young woman from his school days. They hit it off well but when news comes that his father has had a stroke, life changes for him. Against his will, he is elected manager of his father's business, but he still hopes that one day his brother will take over and he'll have the chance to travel the world. Time goes by and he marries Mary Hatch hoping to spend their honeymoon in Europe. Then the stock market crashes and George saves the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan business by the skin of his teeth.

Time goes on and through the Building and Loan's generosity and good faith many of Bedford Falls citizens are able to move to nicer homes than their current one's owned by the towns iron fist, Mr. Potter. This angers the old man more and more and he works harder to bring the Bailey's down than ever before.

World War Two comes and goes, making heroes of many of the town's own, such as Bert the cop, Ernie the cab driver, and even George's own brother, Harry. But due to his injured ear, George is left stateside.

One day, right before Christmas, news of the Bailey's wartime success is all over town because of Harry's return. George is thoroughly proud of his brother, but then something happens that turns the happy day to horror. Uncle Billy loses the Building and Loan's $8,000 while at the bank preparing to deposit it. With the bank examiner already there, George sees no way to save them from the inevitable.

George comes home that night in turmoil. Mary realizes something is wrong when his frustrated fits turn the house upside down. Leaving the house, he stops by Mr. Potter's to see if he can't help him somehow and the bitter old man calls to have him arrested. In utter despair goes to Martini's for a drink. With no one else to turn to, George begs God to help him. Now it's time for Clarence to go to work.

He leaves the bar after been punched by an angry customer and makes his way to the bridge. He is contemplating suicide when suddenly another man jumps into the frothy water instead. George jumps in to save him and the two dry off at the bridge's toll house. Still in despair over his circumstances, George sulks over his coffee while the man introduces himself as Clarence Odbody, his gua
rdian angel. George doesn't believe him and eventually insists that he wishes he'd never been born. Seeing this statement as a chance to open George's eyes, jovial Clarence grants him his wish.

Suddenly things change for George. He is able to hear out of his ear, his busted lip is no longer bleeding, and his clothes are no longer wet. Confused, George says he needs a drink and he makes his way back to Martini's, with Clarence following. He finds Martini is gone, and a foul-tempered Nick in his place. Then Mr. Gower comes in. When George goes to him, Nick says he's nothing but a rummy, having spent time in prison after poisoning a child. George and Clarence eventually get kicked out.

Finally George begins to realize that something is not right. He refuses to listen anymore to Clarence and goes off on his own. That's when he sees just how bad everything has become. Bedford Falls is now Pottersville, the town is full of bars and gambling joints, and everyone George knows doesn't know him. Before long he's frantic and wants to find his family. Clarence tells him that since he was never born he was never married to Mary and hence, he has no children. George makes Clarence tell him where Mary is and finds her an old
spinster closing down the library. He calls to her, trying to make her realize that he is her husband but only succeeds in terrifying her and arousing the town's inhabitants. When Bert the cop appears to arrest him, he runs back to the bridge where he first met Clarence. In tears he admits that he wants to live again and in that instant everything returns to normal. Bert as he knows him shows up just then and tells him that Mary has all their friends and family out looking for him. Relieved beyond belief, George runs home, rejoicing to see life back to the way it was.

He arrives home and gathers his children in his arms, smothering them in kisses. Mary arrives soon after with nearly the whole town following behind. He doesn't understand at first but soon friends and family start pouring in and offering what money they can to help George save the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan. Thoroughly humbled, George doesn't say a word as they joyfully give and the money steadily grows. Even the grumpy bank examiner gets into the spirit of the moment and offers his own donation. With his youngest daughter in one arm and his wife wrapped in the other, an immensely grateful George joins his friends in singing and celebrating the season.

You May Or May Not Know

In one scene, an inebriated Uncle Billy is leaving the Bailey's home after a party. He asks George to point him in the "right" direction and stumbles out of view. With a slight smile, George turns to go back to the house, but then suddenly a great crash is heard and you hear Uncle Billy call out, "I'm all right! I'm all right!" George's smile broadens at amusing Uncle Billy and he returns to the porch. But behind the scenes this was completely unintentional. What really happened was a crew member clumsily knocked equipment over during filming but an extremely talented Thomas Mitchell, and James Stewart as well, saved the shot by adlibbing. No one knew better and that poor crew member with that clumsy moment not only kept his job but received a $10 bonus.

In another scene, Mary Hatch throws a rock at glass in the old Granville place and actually hits her target. Originally, Frank Capra hired a marksman to shoot the glass at the right moment to appear as though she hit it. But the marksman never had to take a shot as Donna Reed, having played baseball and earned a strong throwing arm, hit it herself.

For more trivia, see IMDB. There's a lot more!

My Thoughts

This is one of my most favorite Christmas movies. I don't know if it's because of the friendly atmosphere or the wonderful actors, or if it's because it makes me feel hopeful. Probably all of them combined. George does what he knows it right with a love for helping others. No, he never gets his dream but when you see how worthwhile all those years of thinking of others were it makes it seem more important. Maybe that's something we should think about. The idea of someone never achieving their dream is sad but what's more important is what they have achieved. What would you really like to achieve?

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my review and will come back for more. But in the meantime, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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