“Is he sick?” – “No, worse, he’s discouraged.”
So begins the story of It’s a Wonderful Life. Yes, by the conclusion of this movie, life is shown to be wonderful. But on the way to that conclusion, we see: a youth beaten by his drunken boss, a man’s goodness continually repaid with trouble, a once loving nephew threatening his beloved uncle with jail over an embezzlement scandal, a once loving husband and father verbally abusing his family, and an attempted suicide. It’s a Wonderful Life? Really?
Really. Despite scenes reminiscent of a Dicken’s serial, adversities are overcome by unselfishness, integrity, family, friends, and faith. We are reminded that good people make mistakes, and sometimes the villain remains the villain. Which reminds me, remember at the end of one of the Star Wars movies, where Darth Vader has a sudden conversion, saves the day, and ends up in Star Wars heaven? Really? The guy blows up planets, kills millions, cuts off his son’s hand, and suddenly has a change of heart? Please! How happy we are that George Lucas hasn’t remade It’s a Wonderful Life.
But I digress. Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and every actor major and minor are perfect. Not a line of script is wasted. Overlapping dialogue and deft camera work make us feel like we’re eavesdroppers.
Two scenes to watch and study: the long camera shot following Stewart’s face as he contemplates another act of self-sacrifice, and Stewart and Reed sharing a phone and traversing the path from loathing to love before the conversation ends.
Frank Capra produced, financed, directed and co-wrote the movie. Most of his well-known comedic classics were made before World War II, and it seems that the horrors he saw in that war affected him to the point that movies about the basic goodness of people were harder to make. He made only a few movies after the war. Was he sick? Worse, he was discouraged.