Friday, 9 December 2011

AFI 100 Movies #11 It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

Frank Capra's 1946 opus has divided opinion in our household.

I love it, but Amy can't bear to watch it.

So I took the opportunity of a day at home to sit back and enjoy.

Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a thoroughly good man, whose early days are covered at the start of the film. As a youngster he rescues his younger brother from drowning after he falls through the ice while sledging near a pond, and as a consequence of his brave act he is left deaf in one ear.

Moving the story on a little, George forgoes his own life goals in order to allow his younger sibling to pursue his ambitions.

As George's life progresses, his dreams of moving away from the little town of Bedford Falls and exploring the great wide world gradually diminish as he is forced to stay on in order to do the right thing by his co-workers and family.

Although he is happily married to the lovely Mary (played by Donna Reed) and has four children whom he loves dearly, the viewer is left with the distinct impression that George feels that the life he had planned has passed him by.

Things take a turn for the worse as George's nemesis, Henry F. Potter, who has sought to close down the Bailey family business for years, takes advantage of a very costly mistake made by George's absent minded uncle Billy, who manages to lose $8,000 from the company funds just as the tax inspector makes his visit to look over the company books.

Unable to cope anymore with the mounting pressure, George considers ending it all by jumping off a bridge, at which point Clarence, his guardian angel steps in tasked with trying to convince George that the world would be a poorer place without him in it.

It's described as a feel good movie, and I would go along with that, but I think that Amy has a valid point when she says that one of the reasons that she can't watch it is that George has to go through a lot of torment before there is any chance of a happy ending.

That's not to say that the film lacks humour, far from it, the scene at the school reunion with the swimming pool is tremendous fun, as is the scene following it when George and Mary walk home in clothes borrowed from the mens locker room.

I am a big fan of Jimmy Stewart, I think he personifies the everyman, and his portrayal of George is superb, you care for his character and when he reaches that lowest point of desperation you feel his pain.

One of the better films from the AFI list so far for me.

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