Play It Again – It’s A Wonderful Life

Play It Again – It’s A Wonderful Life. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

It’s the go-to film of Christmas, and for good reason. Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, and centres on a not so-Christmassy catalyst: George Bailey’s (James Stewart) contemplation of suicide. Yes, nothing says Christmas like a desperate man on the brink of suicide. However, it is this act that conjures George’s guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers), who shows George all the good he has done and what life would have been like had he never existed.

Taking over the management of Bailey Building and Loan Society after his father’s death, we learn George gave up his dreams to stay in his hometown of Bedford Falls. Wealthy Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) owns the entire town, and in turn, the people. The only thing out of his grasp is the Bailey Building and Loan Society, but he has it in his sights and will do anything to get it.

Eventually the pressures put upon George mount, and the threat of financial ruin looms. Clarence, desperate to earn his wings, shows the despondent George, in a style similar to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, an alternate reality where he doesn’t exist: his brother drowned because he wasn’t there to save him; his love Mary (Donna Reed) is a spinster; and Potter owns everything. George then realises, yes, It’s a Wonderful Life indeed.

This film strikes a chord with so many because inherently we are all George Bailey; someone down on his luck and at times loses sight of what their life is worth. Eliciting feelings of passion, joy, despair and hope, Capra’s classic was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, but ultimately gained popularity in later years on television and home video. James Stewart admitted this was his favourite role he ever played and who can argue with that. After all, it’s George Bailey who reminds us all that we can be rich in more ways than our bank account – something we should all remember whether it’s Christmas or not.

Discuss: It’s A Wonderful Life!

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