It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

You know the story: James Stewart is George Bailey, a man who has given up everything in his life to help others, while Henry Travers is Clarence Odbody, his guardian angel, here to intervene and show him how different and sorrowful would everybody’s life be if he had not been born. It became an instant classic after it was put into the public domain, but a masterpiece like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) deserves to be owned by everybody. Especially in 2020.

On Christmas Eve 1945, 38-year old George Bailey is thinking about killing himself. It was the Angel 2nd class Clarence who was assigned to save George and thus earn his wings. In times like this, everybody seems to need a guardian angel, but this film might be the closest thing to one we could have. It’s sometimes cheesy, sometimes old-fashioned, but it’s still able to send a message across space and time stating that there’s always something worth living for.

Capra uses lighting to accentuate the inner emotions of his characters.

A traditionalist and a rebel, a conservative filmmaker and an insurgent creator, Frank Capra was one of the most influential directors of all time. Even though It’s a Wonderful Life performed poorly when first released, it soon became a classic among film critics and scholars later on, but also developed into a household tradition after falling into the public domain. Capra himself often stated that this film was one of his all-time favorites. Capra. His stories are not original, but the way he presented them is, and no wonder why film scholar Ian Freer called him “American Dream personified”. There’s always a David fighting against the Goliath, and films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) or You Can’t Take It With You (1938) are both films and parables, showing Capra’s Catholic background, eager to portray human behavior and to provide hope in times of trouble. And even though his films often show people overwhelmed with trials of life, they are at the same time celebrating life itself.

Capra’s elaborate set design included thousands of tons of chemicals to create winter surroundings for the film.

Capra’s directing relied on improvisation. He stated that he did not want his actors to rehearse. For example, when one character were to be asked how much money she needed, he told her to say a weird number, even though the script said $17. Bailey and his uncle were trying to save their establishment and pay back everybody with their own money, and while people were requesting hundreds of dollars, the woman stated she needed $17.50. Stewart’s reaction was genuine and he impulsively kissed her, so Capra decided to leave the scene. Capra cared a lot about cinematography and set design as well. The town of Bedford Falls was built using transplanted oak trees, and winter scenes were made by using thousands of tons of shaved ice, plaster, gypsum, and other chemicals. When Bailey is walking down the streets sweating in drunken stupor and pain, it’s the real sweat on his face since the scenes were filmed during very hot days.

Frank Capra: No. The Audience has to cry, not the actors.

Stern’s novella was, like this film, originally neglected, and since no publisher wanted it, he used it as a Christmas present to his family and friends.

Capra described this movie as an individual’s belief in himself. Philip Van Doren Stern worked on his story The Greatest Gift for years, and he kept showing it to various publishers but no one was interested in it. So he took 200 copies he made for showing the story to the publishers and used them as Christmas presents in 1943. The story eventually got to RKO producer David Hempstead. It seems that not only George Bailey fought against all odds, but also Stern and Capra. And if there’s anything that this film teaches us, it’s to give a shot to something we believe in. Even if it may be in the dark.



Cox, Stephen (2003). It’s a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book. Cumberland House.

Frank Capra interview on filmmaking (1982)

Freer, Ian (2009). Movie Makers: 50 Iconic Directors from Chaplin to the Coen Brothers. London: Quercus Publishing Plc.

Mathews, Jack and Michael Wilmington (1991). The Timeless Gift of Frank Capra. LA Times.

2 thoughts on “It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

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  1. PHAAA “” tengo 84 años y sigo viendo , peliculas “” PERO ESTA HA SIDO MI MIMOSA , PORQUE LA ADORÉ LA PRIMERA VEZ Y ME OLVIDO CUANTAS MÁS ” se las he mostrado a mis hijos y terminaron llorando de emoción , VIVA VIVA “”


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