“It’s a Wonderful Life” is the kind of film everyone loves to see (and see again) no matter what time of year it is. It seems like the more things change, the more a film like this stays the same. It provides a kind of film-watchers’ comfort food as we hurtle at breakneck speed through the ensuing decades of personal, societal, and cinematic evolution. Perhaps some of us are not so sure anymore of why exactly we like this movie, how the tradition of watching it got started or if the film is really all that good in the first place. We know that it’s a part of a well-worn tradition (like eating fruitcake and turkey giblet gravy at Christmas). For that reason, if for no other, we are bound to see it again some time.
There’s just something terribly likeable about that everyman character, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart). It’s not that he’s all that good looking or extremely clever or exceptionally charming or anything else. He’s just supposed to be an ordinary “nice guy”. In this big old mean old world, even nice guys can have some pretty big problems. At a certain point, George’s charmed life comes crashing in upon him and he finds himself about to jump off a bridge to put an end to it all. George Bailey wonders out loud if his life has really been worth living. A guardian angel (played by Henry Travers) is immediately dispatched from the heavenly realms in order to put things to rights. With the help of the unearthly messenger, George comes to realize that his life has had a tremendous impact, not only on his immediate family members, but on the whole community.
Wholesome is a good word to describe this film. It’s not a type of picture that you would see made today. Maudlin might be another word employed by some detractors of the film who would have little patience for such a cinematic work. But then, such people might not really appreciate how things work and what exactly goes on around the family dinner table each Christmas at our house. There are just certain dishes that Mother makes for every Christmas dinner (like the orange jellied salad or the buttered spicy squash). If you come as a guest for the dinner every year, you know that you are going to have to eat those dishes. It does no good to complain. You might as be reconciled with the traditional menu offering and find the virtues of the said salad. You’ll enjoy things a lot more if you do. And after all, what’s so bad about being good? Milk is wholesome too. It can be quite pleasant if you are used to it. And you would probably miss it if you could no longer have it. That’s kind of how I feel about “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
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See the three minute summary of "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). Also see the scene where George lassos the moon.