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DVD – It’s A Wonderful Life

As much as I have grown to loathe the commerciality of Christmas as I have grown up (old?), this is still one festive favourite that always manages to warm my usually frosty approach to the season of good will to all men. So a DVD release in time for this Christmas is very welcome indeed. 

Made in 1946, ostensibly to try to raise the spirits of American cinemagoers after World War II, Frank Capra’s beautifully told film tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a man who has always put others before himself. On Christmas Eve, however, he finds himself in the depths of despair, having seen the unexpected events of life dash all of his dreams. He sits on a bridge, seriously contemplating suicide, believing his life to have been worthless. Not very festive and ‘feelgood’ so far, I grant you. However, a bumbling, loveable angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), is despatched from Heaven to show George how much his life has meant to the people of his hometown, Bedford Falls.  

The story unfolds in flashback as we see George as a young boy, saving his brother’s life after falling into a frozen lake; we see an older George preparing to leave for college to pursue his dreams of becoming an architect, only to have his plans dashed when his father is taken ill. George takes the decision to stay and take over his father’s Credit Union until his brother is old enough to take control. However, fate and circumstances conspire to thwart his best-laid plans and George sees other people’s lives take shape as he sees his own dreams fade. 

Now, on paper, this seems like the most depressing movie you can imagine but in the hands of Capra, it becomes almost magical. The message is very simple, as Clarence the angel puts it - "Each man's life touches so many other lives. If he wasn't around, it would leave an awful hole." Sappy sentimentality? Not a bit of it, in Capra’s hands and with a plethora of spot-on performances we get a story that touches and explores every emotion a human being can feel and the viewer is left uplifted at the end of each viewing (and I defy you to try and watch it just the once!) 

James Stewart gives the performance of his life. Forget his Oscar Winning turn in ‘The Philadelphia Story’, seeing him take George Bailey from the giddy heights of young love to the depths of middle-aged despair truly has to be seen to be believed. The supporting performances, too, are exemplary but particular note should be made of Lionel Barrymore’s turn as the film’s ‘villain’, Mr Potter. The polar opposite of George Bailey’s everyman, Potter is the archetypal money-grabber, hell bent on success and power at any cost. The fact that Barrymore never once lets the character stray into the realms of a panto-style baddie speaks volumes about the talent on display. 

And then, of course, we have Capra’s contribution. In this day, it may be easy to dismiss Capra’s most famous works as being too sentimental. But, in my view, it’s much harder to make a film that makes people feel good about themselves whilst avoiding the obvious clichés and tugs at the heartstrings in order to do so.

Is it possible for a film to change your life? I’m not sure about that but if you ever need your faith restored in your own life, then this is the film to do it. 

Perfect – in every way.


DVD Extras

A 23 Minute 'Making of It’s a Wonderful Life' narrated by Tom Bosley and A Personal Introduction and Interview by Frank Capra Jr.


Film – 10/10

Extras – 5/10

Sean G