It’s a Wonderful Life

Movie Information

In Brief: I first saw It's a Wonderful Life (1946) when I was in the throes of Frank Capra idolatry — something born of being 18 and having read his autobiography — and I was primed to see it. I also don't think I have ever been more disappointed by a movie in my life. Had Capra built it up too much in his book? Had I built it up too much in my mind? Were my tastes changing in spite of myself? Yes to all three, but there's more to it than that — so much that there's no way to fit it in here. It requires following the whole of Capra's career and the creation of his persona by writer Robert Riskin (not involved on this movie). It hardly matters. It's a Wonderful Life — mostly due to its holiday-season ubiquity on TV during its years as a public domain film that could be run for free — is now an unassailable classic, a Christmas staple and an institution. If you love it, that's fine. It will always be a thudding disappoint to me — one with a whiff of the same insincerity I feel in songs about the virtues of having nothing that are invariably written and performed by millionaires — and that's fine, too.
Genre: Fantasy Drama
Director: Frank Capra
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi
Rated: NR

The Hendersonville Film Society will show It’s a Wonderful Life Sunday, Nov. 22, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

3 thoughts on “It’s a Wonderful Life

  1. sally sefton

    I am curious about something. Did you ever see this film again after the first disappointment? i am not one who adores the movie like some friends and family members, but I do know that after having lived a life, the lens I am looking through is much different. I am more sentimental now. But I am also impatient with anything or anyone that feels like a manipulation. For me, the movie seems longish, and I seem impatient for the angel moment at the end, but to me Jimmy Stewart is endearing. Pretty sure we part company on this.

    And are you implying that your knowledge of Capra’s career and persona has impacted the way you view the film?

    • Ken Hanke

      Yes, I’ve tried the movie on at least three occasions, since I don’t like to leave my assessments to when I was 18. I continued to dislike it. If anything, the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve disliked it. I can be as sentimental as anyone — but not if I feel that the sentiment is dishonest, which I do here. And, no, I do not find Stewart endearing. You’re quite right in that,

      Implying that my knowledge of Capra has impacted the way I view the film? Well, how could it not impact it? I can’t just flush everything I know about Capra and his films. It’s part of a body of work. Maybe that’s even more notable because Capra was one of those rare directors of that era — like DeMille and Hitchcock — whose name was known to the general public. As such he’s more generally known for a body of work than most, which may even play into why this movie was a flop in 1946, losing a lot of money and effectively ending Capra’s career as a major director. I came to it after having seen The Bitter Tea of General Yen, It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, Riding High, Here Comes the Groom, A Hole in the Head, and A Pocketful of Miracles. (I’ve since seen all the rest of the extant films he made.) And I’d read — at least twice — Capra’s autobiography.

  2. Dino

    I first saw this movie in the early 80s, in the summer, before it was a Christmas Classic, so I’ll always love it. Although the more I watch it, the more irritated I am at George’s refusal to believe Clarence is an angel. Also, Burt the cop shoots into a crowd!

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