The Mournful Heart of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is now 75 and as Timely as Ever

Some movies should never be forgotten. As generations turn over, it’s important to look to the past and remember the films our parents and grandparents grew up watching and falling in love with, The Mournful Heart of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of them. They not only give us experience but is a learning process about our roots.

The ’40s were the peak of Hollywood’s Golden Age, at least for Christmas movies. Standards like It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas in Connecticut, and Remember the Night all debuted during the decade. Just playing one of these movies in the background during the holidays conjures the spirit in the air. It’s not old-fashioned, it’s classic. 

 Hundreds of millions of people have seen the classic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, which turns 75 this year. For decades, families have gathered around the TV to watch Jimmy Stewart’s frustrated small-town hero learn the value of a life lived with integrity. George Bailey is as much a fixture of the modern holiday season as Santa Claus or Rudolph.

It’s A Wonderful Life: Seventy-Five Years Later

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is now recognized as one of the greatest American films of all time. But it was a failure when it was originally released and was only able to achieve the popularity and recognition it now enjoys because it fell into the public domain in the 1970s. 

The accessibility afforded by its public domain status allowed new generations to easily experience the film and enjoy its classic Capra narrative of an American individual triumphing over adversity. The film is now considered an indisputable classic and is an integral part of the holiday celebrations of millions of Americans, seventy-five years after its original 

It’s a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas fantasy drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra, based on the short story and booklet The Greatest Gift, which Philip Van Doren Stern wrote in 1939 and published privately in 1943. The film is one of the most beloved in American cinema and has become traditional viewing during the Christmas season.

 The Plot of the Film

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is one of the favorite films of every generation. The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams to help others in his community. On Christmas Eve he attempts suicide. He is stopped by his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. Clarence shows George how he has touched the lives of others and how different life would be for his wife Mary and his community of Bedford Falls if he had not been born. George realizes how important his contribution is. It’s a powerful and positive message. Perhaps that’s one reason it has become an all-time Christmas favorite

All the dialogues in the film were very deep and thought-provoking. It inspired people to realize themselves and love each other. People started looking into the inner core and thought about the different perspectives of emotions.

Clarence says to George:

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

”It’s a Wonderful Life” is the story of how one man never had the chance to leave his hometown to chase his childhood dreams, but accepted happiness in the twists and turns his life took. What follows is the story of a Fall River man who did leave his hometown to pursue his dreams, and discovered his path to happiness.” 

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 War and “It’s a Wonderful Life” 

Although regarded as a Christmas movie, there is a much deeper meaning than most realize, especially when it comes to the military and those that suffer from PTSD( Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

The Mournful Heart of "It’s a Wonderful Life"
The Mournful Heart of “It’s a Wonderful Life”

James Stewart served during WWII as a Bomber Pilot and Commanding Officer of the 703rd Bomb Squadron “The war had changed Jim down to the molecular level,” Matzen writes in the book “Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe”. “He could never begin to articulate what those four-and-a-half years, including fifteen months in combat, had done to him. One thing he could do was express a bit of it on-screen.”

Frank Capra, the Director of “It’s a Wonderful Life” also saw the front lines of WWII as an Army Officer and Film Director for the noteworthy Army seven-film series “Why We Fight”. 

Both men, Stewart and Capra struggled to re-assimilate in post-WWII Hollywood, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” was their entry back into their pre-war selves.

 WHAT IT TEACHES US?

Despite hardships, things will figure themselves out if we ask for help. At the end of the movie, we see George surrounded by his family, friends, and the townspeople; when they hear he is in trouble, they all gather together to help him. His compassionate and giving nature rang with the people that he helped and when it was him that was in dire need of help, they were at his side in an instance.

In the end, It’s a Wonderful Life is about life and community and the way we treat ourselves and others. It’s about the interpersonal relationships that we get into and how we choose to contribute to our communities. Capra’s Christmas classic strikes at our hearts, especially this time of the year, and reminds us that life may be difficult and confusing, but at the end of the day, our lives are valid. It’s the most beautiful part of the movie that we should hold dear.

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