George Bailey (James Stewart) always dreamed of living an exciting life, but finds himself living in his hometown Bedford Falls with his wife Mary (Donna Reed) and their children. The day before Christmas George has serious financial problems and realizes he might go to jail for bank fraud. He thinks everybody would be better off if he is dead and contemplates suicide. But the prayers of his loved ones result in an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) coming to earth to help George by letting him see what his hometown would be like if he had never existed.
James Stewart - George Bailey
Donna Reed - Mary Hatch
Lionel Barrymore - Henry F. Potter
Thomas Mitchell - Uncle Billy Bailey
Henry Travers - Clarence
Beulah Bondi - Mother Bailey
Frank Faylen - Ernie Bishop
The original trailer:
- It’s A Wonderful Life is based on the short story The Greatest Gift. The story was originally bought by RKO who wanted to turn it into a film for Cary Grant. But after three unsatisfactory scripts, they sold the rights to director Frank Capra.
- It was the first film made by Frank Capra’s production company Liberty Films. Capra also directed, produced and co-wrote the film.
- It is said that the role of Mary was first offered to Jean Arthur, Ginger Rogers, Anne Dvorak, Olivia de Havilland, Laraine Day and Martha Scott before Donna Reed got the part.
- James Stewart had doubts about accepting the part of George. He had served in World War II and didn’t know if he was up for such an up-beat film so soon after the war. Lionel Barrymore, who played Mr. Potter, convinced him to take the part.
- The script underwent many revisions throughout pre-production and even during filming. For instance, it originally ended with Ode To Joy and not Auld Lang Syne.
- The famous ‘phone scene kiss’ was filmed in one unrehearsed take. But parts of it were edited out because it was considered a bit too racy for censors at the time.
- Although it is now considered a classic, It’s A Wonderful Life was not so successful when it first opened in theaters. 3,78 million was spent on the film, but only 3,3 million was made at the box-office. The Best Years of Our Lives was released at the same time and made 11,3 million.
- In 1947 the FBI issued a memo, an addition to a running memo on ‘Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry’, that stated that the film’s ‘obvious’ attempt to discredit bankers ‘is a common trick used by Communists’.
- According to James Stewart this was his favorite film of all the films he had done.
- The film became a (holiday) classic when it became a television staple in the 1970s and 1980s during Christmas seasons. The film’s copyright protection ended and it fell into the public domain in 1974, so stations could air it for free.
- It’s A Wonderful Life takes the number one spot in a lot of polls and lists. For instance: it was voted the #1 inspirational film of all time in AFI’s “100 Years, 100 Cheers” and number 1 Most Powerful Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute in 2006.
Best Director – Frank Capra – 1947 Golden Globes
Best Foreign Film – Liberty Films – 1949 Cinema Writers Circle Awards Spain
Best Actor in a Leading Role – James Stewart - 1947 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Director – Frank Capra – 1947 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Film Editing – William Hornbeck – 1947 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Picture – Liberty Films – 1947 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Sound, Recording – John Aalberg – 1947 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Picture – Liberty Films – 1947 National Board Of Review
It’s A Wonderful Life is seen as a classic. Especially in America where it is a traditional film to watch during the Christmas season. In 1990 it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry. But overseas it’s also popular, in 2011 it was voted Favorite Christmas Film in Britain in an online poll. Although the positive message of the film is seen as ‘cheesy’ by some, in general people find It’s A Wonderful Life a warm and inspiring story.