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It's a Wonderful Life (1946)


Come now, what on earth am I going to say about one of the most beloved films ever made? Something about how it was originally coined on a Christmas Card? About how a clerical error resulted in it not being copyrighted and contributing to its ubiquity on television — since it was royalty-free? Or should I just go ahead and tell the few people on earth who haven’t seen it what it’s all about.

Okay kids, if you don’t have a TV, It’s a Wonderful Life tells us about George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who lives and loves his small town of Bedford Falls so much he’d die for it. And sure enough, when his tiny Building & Loan (aka bank) starts to fail — thanks to the malicious influence of the local tycoon (Lionel Barrymore) — George heads for his local bridge to end it all.

A la A Christmas Carol, a helpful angel (Henry Travers) intervenes to show George what life would have been like had he never done his decades of good deeds in Bedford Falls. And it ain’t pretty. And so George finally gets another chance to turn things around and, hopefully, sing another rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ before it’s all over.

It’s timeless and perfect in its own way, but people that say Life never wears thin must be in the triple digits… or the single digits. It’s an extremely long film that drags terribly at parts, but which always redeems itself in the following scene — usually thanks to Stewart or Thomas Mitchell as his bumbling uncle. Donna Reed is equally great as Mrs. Bailey, and Barrymore, as always, crafts the perfect villain which has become the archetype for moneybags bad guys throughout the history of film.

Under the helm of Frank Capra — no stranger to sap –It’s a Wonderful Life emerges as undoubtedly his most gooey sweet movie ever. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we need sweetness, like when we’ve just eaten a ration of bitter Neil LaBute or Ridley Scott movies.

Lifewas a bit of a flop on release but it earned five Oscar nominations and, of course, a lifetime of fans. The new DVD adds some tepid extras (on the back side of the disc, no less), but the remastered video — pulled from the original negative — is worth a long, hard look, preferably while recuperating from an eggnog hangover. (Errata: My favorite typo in recent memory is this tragic misquote on the Life DVD press release: ‘Teacher Says Every Time A Bill Rings An Angel Gets Their Wings.’ Artisan, I like your thinkin’.)

The 60th Anniversary edition DVD has the exact same extras as the Artisan edition, but puts them all on one side of the disc instead of making it a flipper. Good move.

The new two-disc DVD set includes the same extras as the 60th Anniversary set, plus a copy of the colorized version of the film (which is strangely like a whole new movie).

Merry Christmas, Building & Loan!