Saturday night my husband and I sat in our recliners and watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time on network television. At the beginning, the network flashed the ubiquitous disclaimer , “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen and to run in the time allotted.”
We knew full well that the longer the movie ran, the more frequently the commercial breaks appear. The disclaimer means that a two-hour movie will run in a three-hour space, so that more Lexus and Kay Jewelers commercials can run. (I really don't want a leased car as a Christmas gift, nor do I believe that a kiss begins with Kay, but that's just me.)
Like a moth to a flame, we can’t help ourselves and we rewatch this classic. It’s the same electronic magnetism that draws us each year to “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with its quirky 1964 animation and Burl Ives songs.
In my humble opinion, Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a treasure. The movie premiered in December 1946, and while not a box-office failure, legend says it was a disappointment to the studio with stiff competition in that first post-war year. The film was nominated for five Oscars and beaten by the also wonderful "The Best Years of Our Lives" for Best Picture.
The film has gained in popularity over the years because of television viewing. The American Film Institute has it on the list of 100 Best American Films, and #1 in the Best American Inspirational Films.
I love its message of what is truly important in life. I love the romance of the original “Bert and Ernie” singing “I Love you truly” outside the rain-soaked house while the beautiful Donna Reed and James Stewart enjoy their wedding night dinner.
A few things bug me every year....
· The director wanted to show the beautiful Donna Reed aging, but why does she have to wear her hair up in a bun that makes her look like one of those Wagnerian opera singers?
· Was the run on the Bailey Savings and Loan on Black Friday? Did people get married on a Friday while other people were at work? (Remember, Uncle Billy missed the wedding, because he forgets to check for the string around his finger.)
· How does the new Mrs. Bailey, even with the help of George’s friends, get the old house in good enough shape in only the few hours between their wedding and the bank closing at 6 p.m.? Movie magic.
· And Zuzu’s teacher. Zuzu apparently catches a cold coming home from school. How does her teacher know this, if Zuzu caught the cold coming home from school? Of course George goes ballistic on the phone with the teacher, and then the teacher’s husband gets on the phone. Later at Martini’s (Nick’s in the alternate reality), George gets punched in the face by the teacher’s husband. Ironically, one of the most famous lines in the movie is from Zuzu at the end when she quotes her teacher, “Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
· My family has one scene that makes us roar with laughter and drives us crazy. As George’s alternate reality builds to a climax, we learn what has happened to all his loved ones because he never lived. George shakes Clarence and says, “Mary, I’ve got to see Mary.” Dramatic music plays in the background. “You won’t like it, George,” says Clarence, but he finally relents and says, “She’s closing up the library.” Oh, no, not that! It’s true, Mary Hatch works at the library, a fate obviously worse than death.
Having shared the moments that drive me crazy, I’ll also share what I feel are the loveliest moments (in addition to the “I love you truly” scene.)
· Violet Bick flirts with George and his friends next to the taxi cab. The camera shows the curvy Gloria Grahame (remember she was also the “Girl Who Cain’t Say No” in Oklahoma) walking away, shaking it for all to see. One of the men mumbles something about going home to see his wife, and George says, “Family man, eh?”
· The suitcase scene when George is given the suitcase Mr. Gower bought him, and put his name on.
· Mary Hatch and George Bailey are talking on the telephone to Sam Wainwright who is calling from New York. Romance takes over and George fights it and shakes Mary and then kisses her, while Sam is still talking on the phone, and Mrs. Hatch is listening in on the extension phone at the top of the stairs (Was there such a thing as an extension phone in the thirties, when this scene would have taken place?)
· The scene in which the newlyweds visit Mr. Martini and his family in their new home, and bring gifts.
Mary: Bread... that this house may never know hunger.
[Mary hands a loaf of bread to Mrs. Martini]
Mary: Salt... that life may always have flavor.
[Mary hands a box of salt to Mrs. Martini]
George Bailey: And wine... that joy and prosperity may reign forever. Enter the Martini Castle.
[George hands Mr. Martini a bottle of wine] (quote from IMBD.com)
- George and angel Clarence Oddbody in the bar when Clarence orders a "mulled wine, light on the cinnamon and cloves." Shortly after Nick throws them out in the snow with the charming, "You two pixies get outta here!"
Each time we watch this classic, we bawl like babies at the end. It's always the same. The man from Elmira who wants to get home to see his family goes to the Bailey home and throws money in the pot. The auditor called in by Mr. Potter tears up the criminal complaint. Annie gives the money she was "saving for a divorce, if she ever gets married." And Harry Bailey flies in a blizzard from Washington DC to toast his brother, "the richest man in town."