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It's a Wonderful Flick

Posted Wednesday, December 24, 2008, at 11:41 PM

The holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life" transcends generations as one of the most beloved movies of all time.
About 25 years ago, I stayed up with my dad on Christmas Eve while my mother and brother went to bed. For some reason, although television was never really something we paid much attention to during the holidays, we decided to flip through the channels. We came across this old black & white movie that had just started, so we decided to watch it.

It was about a man that never seemed to get what he wanted out of life. He spent all of his time helping other people, often at the sacrifice of his own desires. On a particularly bad Christmas Eve, he tries in desperation to take his own life after he prays to God for some help and is answered with a punch in the mouth. Interrupting his suicide attempt, however, is the real answer to his prayer--an angel who shows him what would've happened to the people in his life had he not been there for them. Through this vision he discovers what a wonderful life he has.

Of course, most people know the story of Frank Capra's 1946 classic "It's a Wonderful Life". In the past twenty years it has become a perennial television holiday staple. It has lived a second life, thanks to video and television distribution, after spending decades as a forgotten Hollywood Silver Age gem. And its premise has been reproduced in countless movies and television shows.

But on that Christmas Eve when my father and I stumbled across it on PBS, it had just begun to be remembered. I had never seen it. I don't think I had ever watched a black and white movie before, or one that had been released before 1968. My dad was familiar with the movie by title but had never seen it before either. So we sat there until well past midnight watching this movie that was well outside of our individual film tastes--there were no car chases, or gunfights, or space ships, or dragons. We sat there and fell in love with a movie.

I have returned to "It's a Wonderful Life" every year since my father and I made that Christmas discovery so many years ago. For many years, the two of us continued to watch it together every Christmas Eve, including the rest of our family members in our new found holiday tradition. By the time I moved away from home and settled with a family of my own, it had become a tradition for many American families.

While my father and I no longer had the opportunity to watch it together every Christmas Eve, I continued to watch it with my own family, never going a year without seeing it. And my father and I continued to watch it together whenever we could each holiday season.

Finally, this year we were together for Christmas Eve once more, this time with my children and his grandchildren. Now, the three-year-old is still a little too young to care, but my seven-year-old has already started to develop a healthy appreciation for movies. But still, this one didn't have the cartoon characters, or the talking dogs, or the friendly robots that meet his criterion for what makes a good movie.

When we asked him to watch it with us, he said, "No." But then we put it in and by midway through the movie--even after that yucky kiss between Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed--he was hooked. We asked him if he wanted to stop and go to bed so Santa could come, and he looked at us with sad doe eyes. "Will Santa still come if I stay up to finish it?" Well, certainly he would.

The poor kid never did make it to the end of the movie, though. He fell asleep just as Clarence the angel got to what happened on the day George prayed for help. But until his hard day of playing with his cousins got the best of him, he was as wrapped up in George Bailey's wonderful life as I was the first time I saw it and have been ever since. I just know that when I go to watch it next Christmas, he'll be right there by my side waiting to see one of the most magical movies ever made.

Visit A Penny in the Well for merchandise and a clip from the movie.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Andy, my family and I watched this very movie this afternoon. Reminds us just what a wonderful life we have. Thanks for the posting.

-- Posted by writerintraining on Thu, Dec 25, 2008, at 6:08 PM

Andrew my wife and I watched it on December twenty third this year. She wanted to watch it a few days earlier. I wanted to save it to give me that extra burst of Christmas spirit for the holiday. It worked.

It is my favorite Christmas movie, and I uncharacteristically give in to its sentimental schmaltz, and charm every time I watch it. Of course as a radical old populist I couldn't help but enjoy it anyway because of Capra's heartfelt passion for the populist cause.

Was it not especially meaningful this year as the big nasties were bailed out by their brethren, and the little guy took it on the chin?

In this day it seems a work of pure fiction. In earlier times when we working stiffs had our voices amplified by strong unions, and the Rooseveltian practices of trickle up instead of trickle down its message was taken as an inspiration. Sadly, we now see it as a conveyor of warm feelings, its pragmatic purpose lost to the most of us.


-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Sat, Dec 27, 2008, at 1:27 AM

I love this movie and watch it every year. Saturday Night Live did an "lost ending" skit to this movie one season. Dana Carvey played Jimmy Stewart's character, George Bailey. After everyone chips in to help George and they all sing in the Bailey family living room, Uncle Billy remembers that the $8,000.00 was in the newspaper he handed to Mr. Potter. George then goes with all the townspeople to Mr. Potter's office and kicks the crap out of him, calling him a scurvy little spider! It is hilarious! Here's a link to the video: http://videogum.com/archives/alternate-e...

-- Posted by Typesetter on Tue, Jan 6, 2009, at 4:14 PM

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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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