Every year Hollywood releases a slew of Christmas-themed movies, most of which barely make a ripple in our collective memory. It’s a Wonderful Life is different. This 1946 movie is a perennial favorite even though it is darker, heavier, and more profound than we typically associate with fluffy Christmas movies. After all, this is a story about a middle-aged man who believes his dreams have passed him by. He fails to attain his grand childhood aspirations, endures a business failure and a scandal, and contemplates suicide. Why does such a heavy theme resonate with us, especially at Christmas?
Christmas is a time when we are supposed to be riotously happy. The media blasts us with images of happy families, glittering lights, lavish gifts, and the implication that the rest of the world is living in a warmly-lit, Norman Rockwell-like world. Then comes the New Year’s holiday, which prompts us to take stock of our lives and examine our accomplishments. Is it any wonder that many of us fall a little short of this idealized world?
I think this is why Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George Bailey has made such a lasting impression. George is an ordinary man who nurtures such huge dreams and works hard to make them happen. As he moves into middle age, he is forced to conclude that most of his grand hopes will never come to pass.The magic of It’s a Wonderful Life is that it celebrates the extraordinary beauty and dignity of an everyday, commonplace life. George Bailey proves to us that our lives need not be lived on an epic scale or with material wealth to have profound value. George Bailey is the salt of the earth, and his tireless devotion to his family and community—even in the face of his own thwarted ambitions—deserves to be memorialized.
It’s a Wonderful Life is a soaring hymn to the Christian values of honor, community, and compassion. I love that it celebrates the quiet dignity of a good man, stressing that each life has value. In a world that often overlooks such people, it elevates the life of a hardworking man into one of shining heroism.
Merry Christmas, everyone! Like George Bailey, I am grateful for my house with the sometimes-leaky roof. I am grateful for the ten-year-old car that gets me to work every morning. I’m grateful to wake up each day with a sound mind and two eyes that can see the glory of God’s world. It truly is a wonderful life.
It’s a Wonderful Life Trivia
And, for a bit more light-hearted take on the movie, here are some behind-the-scenes facts (because I can never get too much of that movie at this time of year!)
- It’s a Wonderful Life was never intended to be a Christmas movie. RKO Studios had a big budget feature (Sinbad the Sailor) slated as their blockbuster Christmas film, but it wasn’t ready for release. They moved It’s a Wonderful Life into the holiday slot, where it turned in a mediocre performance at the box office.
- When RKO Studios acquired rights to the story, they originally intended it to be a Cary Grant movie, but after the script was finalized, director Frank Capra knew Jimmy Stewart was the only person who could do the role of George Bailey justice.
- Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart both served overseas during World War II, and It’s a Wonderful Life was the first film for each of them following the war.
- The role of Mary Bailey was offered to both Jean Arthur and Ginger Rogers. They turned it down, and it became Donna Reed’s first starring role.
- It’s a Wonderful Life did not become a cult classic until 1974 when the film’s copyright expired and television stations had the right to air the movie for free…which they did with abandon. Anyone growing up in the 1970s or 1980s will remember that this movie seemed to air around-the-clock. That came to an end in 1994 when NBC purchased exclusive rights to the movie, and they choose to air the movie only once or twice each year.
- This exclusive contract with NBC is why you still can’t stream It’s a Wonderful Life from Netflix or any other streaming service.
- It’s a Wonderful Life is ranked as the American Film Institute’s #1 most inspiring movie of all time. I agree!
Does your family watch It’s a Wonderful Life? If so, what’s your favorite part of the movie?
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