It is a wonderful life

It is a wonderful life

It is a wonderful life

On Christmas Eve 1945, in Bedford Falls, New York, George Bailey contemplates suicide. The prayers of his family and friends reach Heaven, where Angel 2nd class Clarence Odbody is assigned to save George in order to earn his wings. Clarence is shown flashbacks of George's life. He watches 12-year-old George save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning, but lose hearing in his left ear. George later prevents the distraught town druggist, Mr. Gower, from accidentally poisoning a child's prescription. one place ahead of another Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street. The film was supposed to be released in January 1947, but was moved up to December 1946 to make it eligible for the 1946 Academy Awards. This move was seen as worse for the film, as 1947 did not have quite the stiff competition as 1946. If it had entered the 1947 awards, its strongest competitor would have been Miracle on 34th Street. The number-one grossing movie of 1947, The Best Years of Our Lives, made $11.5 million.


An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed. George Bailey has spent his entire life giving of himself to the people of Bedford Falls. He has always longed to travel but never had the opportunity in order to prevent rich skinflint Mr. Potter from taking over the entire town. All that prevents him from doing so is George's modest building and loan company, which was founded by his generous father. But on Christmas Eve, George's Uncle Billy loses the business's $8,000 while intending to deposit it in the bank. Potter finds the misplaced money and hides it from Billy. When the bank examiner discovers the shortage later that night, George realizes that he will be held responsible and sent to jail and the company will collapse, finally allowing Potter to take over the town. Thinking of his wife, their young children, and others he loves will be better off with him dead, he contemplates suicide. But the prayers of his loved ones result in a gentle angel named Clarence coming to earth to help George, with the promise of earning his wings. He shows George what things would have been like if he had never been born.

The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his personal dreams, in order to help others in his community, and whose suicide attempt on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). 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. Convinced that Clarence is his guardian angel, George begs for his life back. The original reality is restored, and a grateful George rushes home to await his arrest. Mary and Billy have rallied the townspeople, who donate enough to cover the missing $8,000. Harry arrives and toasts George as "the richest man in town.” George receives a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a gift from Clarence, with a note reminding George that no man is a failure who has friends, and thanking him for his wings. When a bell on the Christmas tree rings, George's youngest daughter, Zuzu, explains that it means that an angel has earned his wings. George, his family and friends sing "Auld Lang Syne" as they celebrate Christmas Eve. (Source: en.wikipedia.org)


Made in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Capra’s film initially failed to connect with audiences that were used to his prewar movies known for their snappy dialogue and light comedic touches. Postwar moviegoers were in the mood for joviality, so despite being a critical success, the film was a box-office disappointment. It was only after It’s a Wonderful Life temporarily fell out of copyright and was broadcast routinely on television at Christmastime that the film built a widespread following. George Bailey, Mr. Potter, and Clarence are among the most well-known characters in film history, and names and dialogue from the film have become common references in popular culture. After showing the 12-year-old George saving his brother’s life in the frozen ice of Bedford Falls, New York, Capra takes the audience, via Clarence’s eyes, through the ripple effects of the heroic moment. George catches a bad cold from the rescue; the resulting infection costs him his hearing in one ear and prevents him from returning to his job at the drug store for weeks. When he does, he finds his boss, Mr. Gower, despondent, irritable and drunk in the back room, a common theme in a film that, despite its prominence as a Christmas movie, is quite dark.

More than once every year, and not always around Christmas, I sit down to watch my all-time favorite film, Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life. The film tells the story of George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, who encounters a crisis on Christmas Eve when his elderly uncle misplaces $8,000 from the shareholders of the family business, leading George to believe he is a failure—worth more dead than alive. A guardian angel, sent from the heavens to protect him, gives George a glimpse of what the world would be like without him. Persuaded of his value to his community, he breaks out of his suicidal depression, returns home to his family and realizes that the love and fellowship of others is what makes one’s life truly wonderful. Beyond the inspirational qualities and memorable moments that make the movie a beloved holiday staple, It’s a Wonderful Life can be explored and viewed in another way: as a presentation of history on the screen. In 2015, staff at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History started the History Film Forum to explore film as public history. Many Americans and people from all over the world learn history from movies; the discussions we’ve hosted among scholars, filmmakers and audiences explore that dynamic in valuable and meaningful ways. This year, the forum examined both narrative and documentary films ranging from Questlove’s remarkable Summer of Soul on the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival to The Courier with Benedict Cumberbatch, which looks at the thrilling tale of a Cold War-era spy. Every year, films such as these are explicitly intended to present historical stories and impress upon viewers a little-known narrative of the past. But other films that don’t have that educational intention nevertheless end up edifying (or miseducating) their viewers about history, particularly when watched decades after their release. In fact, as my colleague, the museum’s entertainment curator Ryan Lintelman, said in our recent discussion on It’s a Wonderful Life, “Some of the movies that are seen by the most people around the world probably have had the most impact even though they’re sometimes not directly dealing with weighty political issues.” (Source: www.smithsonianmag.com)


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