It's a Wonderful Life (1946) (part 1 of 2)
I have to admit, I kind of can’t stand It’s a Wonderful Life.
I’ll explain why in more detail shortly, but first, I’d like to discuss a man who somehow became one of the most famous directors in American history. In fact, he even got his own adjective: “Capra-esque” (the “esque” makes it sound fancy!). It’s been used in recent times to describe movies like The Majestic, Serendipity, Field of Dreams, Forrest Gump, and of course, Heathers.
I’m talking about old-fashioned, feel-good movies that recall a kinder and gentler time. Or, if you’re a cynical bastard like me, shallow, manipulative drivel that basically tells you to keep your mouth shut, never question anything, and eventually everything will go your way.
As dramatically empty as these kinds of movies are, there was a time when things were so bad for the country that people actually liked them. And no one dry humped the formula more relentlessly than Frank Capra.
I know as a film buff, I’m supposed to regard Capra’s movies as sacred, like It Happened One Night or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But the thing is, unlike his contemporaries like, say, Howard Hawks, Capra’s movies haven’t aged well at all. Pretty much everything Capra did was the cinematic equivalent of a Mitch Albom book: peppy, upbeat glurge designed to distract you from the fact that day to day life mostly just sucks.
This was never more obvious than in 1946’s Christmas themed It’s A Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart as a guy constantly fucked over by fate, and Donna Reed as his oppressively perfect wife.
Unfortunately, the movie came out just as our nation was entering the longest period of peace and prosperity in its history. So no one was all that interested in wallowing in misery at the time. As a result, the movie flopped worse than Dee Dee Ramone’s rap album.
So, why is It’s a Wonderful Life considered a classic? Because the programmer at your local UHF station was a cheap son of a bitch, that’s why!
You see, the movie was kind of forgotten, and the rights fell into limbo for a while, and by the ‘70s it started showing up on TV because they needed cheap Christmas programming. And there isn’t enough cocaine in the world to justify running Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny.
Eventually, it became one of the most beloved, copied, emulated, and spoofed movies of all time, despite not really being that good. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?