BP’s Top 100 Challenge #29: It’s a Wonderful Life, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I have a tradition with my family where we watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year at Christmas time and I have probably seen it at least twenty times. Given how much I love this film, I am thrilled to see it not only on the Battleship Pretension Top 100 Movies List but also how high it is on the list. It is a film I appreciate more as I get older. I think it is human nature to take stock of where you are in life and wonder if it would be different if you had made a few different choices. It’s A Wonderful Life takes that to the extreme of seeing what life would be like if George Bailey had never been born. He quickly realizes that he had an incredible impact on his friends, family, and the entire town of Bedford Falls.
It’s a Wonderful Life has become synonymous with Christmas even though very little of the film takes place at Christmas time. I think this has happened for a number of reasons but the overall theme of kindness towards your fellow man connects very strongly to Christmas. Clarence’s final lesson (and ultimately director Frank Capra’s) is that ‘no man is a failure who has friends’. George had a purpose and it was important whether George was able to see it or not. That is a theme that I have always connected to. If we don’t impact the world what is the point of living, most people probably don’t leave as big a mark as George Bailey but that’s not the point.
There are a number of fantastic performances in the film, led by Jimmy Stewart. Stewart captures the many faces and phases of George Bailey from the dutiful son and brother, to the community leader, to the loving husband and father, to the worn-out penny-pincher. He expertly handles the physical comedy and delivers the funny lines when the film needs it but he also played the dark dramatic parts making George seem truly lost. Henry Travers plays Clarence, George’s guardian angel. Travers is memorable like Stewart as he is able to play the comedy beats in the film as precisely as the dramatic beats. Donna Reed plays the headstrong and loving Mary with grace and commitment. And of course, Lionel Barrymore excels as the sad, lonely “villain” Mr. Potter.
While some of the effects (the angels with their blinking stars) may feel a little cheesy by modern viewing standards, they make the film charming. It’s A Wonderful Life is full of scenes that filtered into the modern consciousness and have been remade, referenced, and paid homage over the years. The most famous is probably the Charleston contest on the dance floor with the pool underneath. George Bailey running down the street wishing everyone a ‘Merry Christmas’ after his experience with Clarence is another iconic scene. My mother and I quote Uncle Billy lines to each other every Christmas, things like that have given It’s A Wonderful Life a special place in my heart over the years.
It’s a Wonderful Life was made right after World War II and I think the sentiment of the film being about reflection, our ability to make the world better, and how important our choices are would have really resonated with the movie goers back then. To the films credit, those themes still resonate today and make the film very rewatchable (at least to me). According to the internet, James Stewart had to be convinced to do the film because he was unsure of himself after the war. Hopefully George Bailey gave him some confidence back. Director Frank Capra made many wonderful films in his career. It’s a Wonderful Life might be his best and it absolutely belongs on the Battleship Pretension top 100 films.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
It’s a Wonderful Life ranking: Carrier