It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

It has to be said of the film that something must be right for how long it endured. "It's a Wonderful Life" not only fueled a generation of movie goers to be "better people" but it continues to inspire today and reflect the pinnacle of everyone involved: Frank Capra, Jimmy Steward, and Donna Reed. Never has such a movie had such a massive impact for such a sustained period of time in cinematic history. Look at "the greats", you have films that are epic in scope like "Gone With the Wind" still watched and loved today; but your average drama will be harder to keep around. "It's a Wonderful Life" is perhaps the most enduring film and endearing stays for a reason.
At the beginning of the movie, people are praying to God to help a man named George Bailey because they are concerned for him. An angel in training, Clarence (Henry Travers) is summoned to be assigned to George as his guardian angel. But before he is sent down to help out, he has to see what has led George to the point where he might need this assistance. For most of the movie, we see flashbacks with commentary provided by the angels.
In the small town of Bedford Falls we are introduced to George (Stewart), one of the nicest guys and always pitching in. There is some minor backstory to how he became a more well-known name around town, but you probably already knew that.
The magic that happens in the film is that it isn't afraid to go dark immediately. From near drownings to a man mad with grief almost poisoning a family and back. Frank Capra's initial scenes are some of the most haunting in the film.
George is ready to start heading out into the world, leaving ol' Bedford Falls behind him. He wishes to spread his proverbial wings and travel the globe before becoming a famous architect. The one thing that may be holding him back is the people. His family still lives in Bedford Falls and...well, there's this girl. Although the town beauty is a flirt named Violet (Gloria Grahame), George is enamored with a girl named Mary Hatch (Donna Reed). She is poised and beautiful and brainy and she knows that George likes her. Lucky for him, she likes him too.
Eventually it seems like romance will bloom between the two until an unfortunate set of circumstances leads George to be coerced to stay in Bedford Falls. His father owned a bank and now the town crook, the meanest and richest man named Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), is out to seize complete control. George is the only domino that hasn't fallen yet.
The stress of staying open added to WWII puts George in a virtual tailspin and as much as he keeps trying to help people, it always seems to come around and hurt him in the end. But Clarence's work isn't done yet.
"It's a Wonderful Life" is a beautiful example of the golden era of cinema, on visuals alone. Beyond it's physical appeal, it tells a very simple but extremely relatable. Though its antic may seem to optimistic for the nihilist or the realist, the fact is that the movie has stood the test of time and its cultural influence can still be seen today.
You know the "Sesame Street" characters Ernie and Bert? Yeah, their origins are in this movie, seen in the driver and the cop. Perhaps it's too preachy for its own good about the dangers of material possessions, booze, and money; but I don't find this to be true.
Frank Capra's piece is filled with eccentric and believable characters, beautiful dialogue, and it gives the audience perhaps the most iconic Christmas movie to date.
Just look at the backlash the announcement of a long-forgotten sequel got. They pulled the movie and we all could breathe a sigh of relief.
Don't touch this movie because it is a classic, because it is perfect, and because it continues to move us.

Score: ★★★★

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