The most I’d ever seen of this movie are the brief moments in Gremlins (1984), when the Mother is watching the final scenes on TV. Other than that I knew that it was a Christmas movie and that James Stewart was in it. Recommended to me by friend and fellow film student, Jacob Topen, I settled down with my wife amidst our freshly tinsel festooned living room to get into the old Christmas spirit. I expected a fairly good festive film, what I did not expect was to laugh, cry and applaud my way through this masterpiece of cinema.
Put simply, this film is breathtaking. Director Frank Capra seemingly effortlessly takes us on a journey of joy, despair, social commentary, ambition, frustration, love and redemption. James Stewart is mesmerising as he plays a role spanning three decades. This acting masterclass is something to behold. We engage with Stewart immediately, and our emotional attachment to the character of George Bailey deepens as the film progresses. His comic timing is impeccable, as is his ability to hit and communicate every emotional beat of the character.
Capra’s direction is frighteningly contemporary. The film is essentially a clever inversion of A Christmas Carol. It’s not the Scrooge of the piece (Henry F. Potter, brilliantly played by Lionel Barrymore) that requires a heavenly intervention here, it’s Bob Cratchett.
I’ll be going to see It’s a Wonderful Life at the Grosvenor Cinema in Glasgow later this month. I strongly suggest that you take the opportunity to check your local cinemas listings and see if this film is showing over the Christmas period.
If the swimming pool scene doesn’t have you grinning like an idiot, then I’ll eat my hat.