Movie Wednesday: It’s a Wonderful Life
George Bailey has big dreams of seeing the world and going on adventures, but happenstance keeps him in his hometown of Bedford Falls where he takes over his father’s company and marries the woman he loves, Mary. But things abruptly take a turn for the worse when George’s company misplaces a large amount of money and a warrant is put out for George’s arrest. Desperate and at the end of his rope, George feels it would have been better if he had never been born. To his amazement, an angel grants him his wish and George gets to see what life would be like without him, but it may not be the improvement that he envisioned.
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It’s a Wonderful Life began as a short story, called the Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, printed onto Christmas cards. The rights were bought to make it into a motion picture, but though several attempts were made to turn the story into a script none of them succeeded. Until eventually Frank Capra purchased the rights and It’s a Wonderful Life was born.
Capra was known for making sentimental, feel good movies, and he brought that sensibility to what would become a national holiday staple. But believe it or not, the film was not actually immediately successful and was considered something of a flop. The longevity it has enjoyed as a holiday classic did not come about until years later!
The film’s main location of the fictional town called Bedford Falls was built as a practical set and was one of the longest over built. It was three whole city blocks! They even transplanted real trees.
The falling snow that characterizes some of the film’s most pivotal scenes was made especially for the movie, since the technique typically used at the time (painting cornflakes white) was a health hazard and made it impossible to record dialogue. And even more interesting, It’s a Wonderful Life was filmed during a heat wave in summer! So, when you watch all that snow falling as characters dash across wintry roads, the actors and crew were actually battling the heat. That is movie magic at its best.
- It’s a Wonderful Life has a lot to say about ethical business practices and how to treat your fellow man. What do you think the central moral of the story is?
- The vile Mr. Potter, who schemes to get George arrested, is never punished for any of his wrong-doing. Why do you think this is and what might the film be trying to say by not giving Potter a stereotypical nasty end to match his nasty deeds?
- When George gets a glimpse of life without him, he encounters Mary who in this alternate reality is unmarried and works in a library. This is meant to be the crowning horror of George’s experience of alternate events. Do you agree that Mary being unmarried and working to support herself is a terrible fate? Why or why not?
- At the end of the film, it is implied that Clarence, George’s unlikely guardian angel, finally received his wings by the ringing of a bell on the Bailey Christmas tree. How do you imagine Clarence reacted upon receiving his wings?
DIY Fake Snow (that can also be made to erupt like a volcano!!)