Friday, December 24, 2010

12 films of christmas: it's a wonderful life

"George Bailey, I'll love you 'til the day I die."

It's a Wonderful Life is more than a great Christmas movie; it's a great movie period.  In fact, I think it's status as an oft-played Christmas classic distracts from what a masterpiece of film-making it really is.   We're so familiar with the broad brush strokes that we forget just how rich and textured the story is.

George Bailey is a thoroughly modern hero; a man with great potential and great ambition who has, he believes, been thwarted by fate at every turn.  Blind to all the good he's done and all the lives he's touched, he's in the throes of a very dark night of the soul.  This was Jimmy Stewart's favourite role and it's hard to imagine anyone else in it.  Loyal, earnest and humble, George is perfectly imperfect.  There is a great post on The Art of Manliness on "Lessons on Manliness from It's a Wonderful Life" - well worth a read.

Donna Reed is luminous as Mary Hatch Bailey.  Legend has it that Ginger Rogers turned down the role as "too bland."  Hardly.  The girl has gumption.  Would that I could be the type of woman to turn a run-down house into a vacation paradise after my new husband spent our honeymoon money keeping the family savings and loan afloat.  And don't forget that while Clarence may have engineered George's spiritual recovery, Mary was the one who rallied the neighbours 'round to save the old Building and Loan.

I've always loved the telephone scene between Mary and George - it's tense, complex and passionate.  According to iMDb, "Jimmy Stewart was nervous about the phone scene kiss because it was his first screen kiss since his return to Hollywood after the war. Under Capra's watchful eye, Stewart filmed the scene in only one unrehearsed take, and it worked so well that part of the embrace was cut because it was too passionate to pass the censors."

You've got to keep the tissues handy for this one. After countless viewings, I usually start sobbing during the scene with young George and the pharmacist and stop somewhere around the credits.

My Christmas to-do list is done and I am looking forward to curling up with cider, knitting, a box of Kleenex and George Bailey.

Merry Christmas to all!

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