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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 6.45%
Average: 1.61%
Pretty Bad: 4.84%
Total Crap: 1.61%

2 reviews, 50 user ratings

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It's a Wonderful Life
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by MP Bartley

"The greatest Christmas movie ever. And one of the greatest movies ever."
5 stars

The Christmas movie is usually one of the most horrible movie genres you can find, loaded down with schmaltz and unbearably cute kids befriending grumpy tramps or old people and making them realise the true worth of Christmas and life. So, this Christmas I set out with a heavy heart to try and find at least one Christmas film that's worth seeing. I found three. And where better to start than this honest-to-God classic?

Admittedly, the description doesn't sound great. A small town man, having realised all his efforts throughout life have come to naught, decides to end it all on Christmas Eve. Until his guardian angel comes down and shows him what life would have been like if he hadn't been born. The man then returns to his town with a new found lust for life as he realises that he actually made a difference throughout his time on Earth, and damnit life is wonderful sometimes.

Sounds alternately depressing and sentimantal mush doesn't it? In the hands of a lesser director or actor it would be, but thankfully it's in the hands of two of cinemas true legends: Frank Capra and James Stewart.

It's often said that Spielberg takes a lot of his sentiments from Capra, and it's true that they have shared themes. Both revel in the success of the ordinary man and celebrate domestic bliss. Capra however, understood that the key to 'It's A Wonderful Life' is that for George Bailey (James Stewart) to experience an epiphany in life he has to go through the worst first. And we're not talking about melodramatic twists here, he's never crippled by disease, he's never accused of murder or any other preposterous situation.

Instead he just has to experience the disappointments and drawbacks in life we all have to. He never leaves town to travel, he reluctantly inherits the family business from his dying father to save his town from grasping banker Potter (Lionel Barrymore), in short he never makes anything of his life. And when on that fateful Christmas Eve he faces up to the fact that all his dreams have faded away and his business is on the verge of bankruptcy, it all gets too much.

Capra however cleverly refrains from making George a saint. The small things he does in life are what ultimately makes a difference. He saves his younger brother from drowning as a child, stops the local chemist from sending drugs to the wrong people and lets people buy their own homes through his loan company.

The masterstroke from Capra is not making George a forerunner of Mother Theresa, he's simply a genuine, honest guy getting by. He's certainly not perfect. He's moody and prone to outbursts of temper.

The casting of Stewart is also vital. As the essence of the everyman he's perfect to the part and is the part. He's simply terrific throughout whether it be venting his anger at Potter (one of cinema's vilest villains, with Barrymore terrific) or by charming his wife Mary (Donna Reed), right through to the lump-in-the-throat moment where he runs through the streets in sheer joy. Stewart was never a method or character actor, but he doesn't have to be - it's this sense of not standing out, of being ordinary that grounds George and Stewart's performance draws us effortlessly into his ups and downs.

It's a strangely structured film, in that apart from the opening few minutes we're totally unaware of the upcoming intervention from Heaven into George's life. Instead Capra focuses intently on the domestic life of Bedford Falls and how George fits into the fabric of it. It takes a steady hand from Capra to hold his nerve before showing us and George, Pottersville, the town as it would be without George. When he does however, it's a nasty and haunting moment as old friends and even his wife and mother don't recognise George, and worse still, turn against him (although it has to be said in this more materialistic age, the garish Pottersville doesn't seem half as bad as it would have done in the 1930's). Tim Burton can create 'Sleepy Hollow', M Night Shyamalan can take us into 'The Village', but its George's loving mother transformed into a rat-faced miser and the wind-swept desolate graveyard that are the truly dark places in small town America. But then, the higher you want your uplift to be, the further down you have to go. And while 'It's A Wonderful Life' may stoop to some nasty lows, it also reaches some untouchable highs.

But despite this quaint throwback to an older time, 'It's A Wonderful Life' still works perfectly today. Why? For a start the direction, art design and acting are still magnificent (just notice how darker the film literally gets as it moves along). But most of all, it's the themes that still hold up.You may be seemingly small and insignificant, but who knows what difference you're making to someone? George is lucky enough to find out what he truly achieved on Earth. The rest of us can only hope and dream.

Even writing this review I'm getting teary and another lump in my throat just thinking of the glorious finale - "remember, no man who has friends is a failure" - and of the darkness George went through to get to where he is. Cynics can carp and call it hokey or sentimental. But they're wrong, it's life affirming. And it is wonderful.

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originally posted: 12/29/02 03:21:52
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User Comments

12/17/18 Ajp wales The begining is boring. The ending is great. Watch it anyway. 5 stars
12/25/13 Stewart Michael Hunt Skeptics beware... watch this movie alone... with no distractions...a cinema masterpiece. 5 stars
12/28/09 Dr.Lao Nauseating drivel, there's a reason this movie flopped in its initial release 2 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic Its a wonderful film too! ! ! 5 stars
12/06/07 Pamela White Movie proves that EVERY person is important 5 stars
7/22/07 gr117 A true classic 5 stars
3/28/07 fools♫gold There's not too much of anything, and not too little of anything. THE "christmas" film. 5 stars
3/20/07 Stanley Thai A GREAT family/holiday film. Still remains one of soem holiday classics. 5 stars
3/09/07 David Pollastrini glad only one tv channel shows it now 4 stars
5/18/06 Roy you can't go wrong with this one 5 stars
3/01/06 kelly your great 5 stars
11/08/05 Melanie Platfoot Best Christmas movie ever. Pure classic. During the holiday season, I never miss it! 5 stars
2/17/05 C Vega a christmas time essential ,a great movie 5 stars
1/04/05 HL Perfection! 5 stars
12/28/04 Theresa This movie is absolutely wonderful! It shows us all to not underestimate what we can do. 5 stars
12/02/04 kris it one of the best movies. it is even in Hollywoods top 29 movies 5 stars
6/15/04 T. Maj With friends like his, George Bailey didn't need enemies 2 stars
5/15/04 Gary possibly the greatest film of all time 5 stars
2/17/04 Mr. Blonde It's a wonderful movie. 5 stars
11/29/03 john a sensational piece of work - delightful and honest 5 stars
8/19/03 Hewdam it's a wonderful movie 5 stars
6/10/03 Pinkline Jones Jimmy Wa Wa Stoowart forgets where he left his car 4 stars
3/26/03 Warren Miller Great Film, in every sense of the word. 5 stars
3/02/03 JH Coverse drivel 1 stars
2/05/03 R.W. Welch Still tops the fey genre -- by about a mile. 5 stars
2/05/03 Silverline brought to life when the copyright ran out & TV stations could run it cheap 3 stars
1/28/03 The Aussie Film Reviewer A great message lost a long time ago. A quality film, but there's patches. 4 stars
1/23/03 Monster W. Kung Good, but overrated. The "what if" scene was, frankly, way overdone. 4 stars
1/10/03 Goofy Maxwell (a.k.a. Silly Nelly) "What does it take to be #1?" It takes a lifetime 4 the jaded to truly appreciate it... 5 stars
1/03/03 Jackson Matson What a bunch of limp wristed fags! #1 movie??? Bitch, please. 2 stars
12/18/02 Cezz/ Stewart_Fan a well known tale of the ordinary human with dreams. The film and Jimmy Stewart Rocks!!! 5 stars
12/09/02 Allen Stewart's peformance in fantastic! Reed and Stewart have great chemistry. 5 stars
10/24/02 Charles Tatum Surprisingly dark 5 stars
2/20/02 Xaver George, why must you torture the children? 5 stars
12/31/01 Lorraine wonderful story, intelligent performances 5 stars
11/14/01 Zizzerzazzerzuzz What kind of sick low-life bastard doesn't love this movie? 5 stars
10/30/01 Ray One of the VERY few 'oldies' that is truly great 5 stars
8/07/01 Mr. Hat Obviously great. 5 stars
8/02/01 KC Au Wonderful! It asks a question we often ask ourselves. Very warm and touching. 5 stars
7/28/01 Henry Ginsberg classic 5 stars
5/11/01 R.W. Welch One of a kind, miles beyond anything else in the fey genre. 5 stars
4/12/01 Tyrone Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant movie! 5 stars
2/16/01 Michael Nicholls A bittersweet Christmas classic 5 stars
11/19/00 Scrooge James Stewart and Donna Reed personify charm and grace. An ethereally funny, touching movie 5 stars
11/18/00 salvo The all time best film. This and the xistence of God are the only 2 things I'm sure of 5 stars
10/31/00 Lorraine Doty The all time best film ever made! 5 stars
8/23/00 Matthew Bartley Sheer magnificence 5 stars
4/21/00 yankee great movie, a classic forever 5 stars
11/29/99 Mic It's a wonderful film, by one of the best directors of all time. 5 stars
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  DVD: 31-Oct-2006



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