Combustible Celluloid
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With: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, H.B. Warner, Frank Albertson, Todd Karnes
Written by: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling, based on a story by Philip Van Doren Stern
Directed by: Frank Capra
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 130
Date: 12/20/1946

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Angel Wings

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

By now everyone knows Frank Capra's holiday classic and the tears it so effortlessly conjures up year after year -- but it's easy to forget how truly vicious the film is, and how brilliantly James Stewart rises to the challenge. As George Bailey, he reaches into the ultimate depths of despair, unable to leave town or make ends meet, and often unable to get a simple break. It's a truly wrenching performance that Capra pays off beautifully. Directors Anthony Mann and Alfred Hitchcock noticed this dark side of Stewart and capitalized on it in later films like Winchester '73 and Vertigo.

Donna Reed is George's girl, Mary, Lionel Barrymore is the serpentine Mr. Potter, Thomas Mitchell is wonderful, as usual, as George's Uncle Billy, and Henry Travers is the angel Clarence. Gloria Grahame is very sexy in an early role as the town hottie ("this old thing? I only wear this when I don't care how I look!")

It's a Wonderful Life received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, as well as Best Sound and Best Editing, but lost all of them. It was apparently not a success upon its initial release. It fell into and out of the public domain and was colorized. But thanks to repeated TV showings during the holiday season, it became a beloved Christmas classic.

Artisan/Republic's beautiful DVD -- mastered in THX from the original film negative -- is still the one I have in my library.

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