There could not have been a better Christmas movie this year than It's a Wonderful Life! I saw this classic B&W movie starring James Stewart at a screening at the university. It is Christmas time in the small town of Bedford Falls, and George is a depressed man. The bank he manages has lost a lot of money right at the time when auditors have arrived to check its books. Seeing no way out, George decides to end his life so that his loving wife and kids and the bank will be saved by his life insurance money. His suicide is interrupted by his guardian angel, who proceeds to remind him of the selfless sacrifices and help he had made to family and townspeople in his lifetime. George ends up having a wonderful Christmas after all when the people he had helped in his lifetime come back to redeem his bank.
Directed by Frank Capra, more than 60 years after its release It's a Wonderful Life seems all the more pertinent today. George starts out as a boy full of aspirations to get out of his small town, study, travel and see the world. His grandiose dreams are repeatedly crushed by the death of his father, the needs of his younger brother and the evil intentions of Mr. Potter, the town villain. He ends up marrying his childhood love and staying back in his town, running the small bank left by his dad. The redemption for his misery comes in the climax when he realizes that thought he could not fulfill any of his dreams, he had earned the love of people and that mattered the most.
This movie is supposedly staple fare now on American TV channels during Christmas. I wonder how much of the US audience who watch it will understand the movie's message that the holiday is not about Black Fridays or splurging money on gifts, but about having a good time with family and friends who care. The movie depicts a time when hard work, determination, courage and good spirit mattered more than the blind pursuit of money. Bailey's bank helps hardworking people get their own roof by providing home loans. And Mr. Potter, the villain of the movie, runs the slums of the town and is (understandably) always plotting ways to ruin this bank. Bailey's bank survives bankruptcies only because of the good will of the people and the sound financial judgement with which it is run. Quite unlike today's Wall Street wizards who screwed around with people's hard-earned money for their selfish gain. Ironically, Mr. Potter does ask Bailey about this in the movie: "What've you been doing George? Playing the market with the company's money?"
It's a Wonderful Life appears in any Top 10 movie list. Understandably so, the movie has a great story to tell, a fantastic message and some excellent acting. James Stewart as the protagonist George Bailey, Donna Reed as his dashing wife and Lionel Barrymore as the villainous Mr. Potter are simply unforgettable in their roles! Especially Potter, whose huge menacing frame and his interlocked chubby fingers are sure to cause nightmares to kids! ;-) Despite dealing with a serious (sometimes tragic) plot, there is humour all along due to the presence of the funny guardian angel. A few scenes left me misty-eyed and the final climax is sure to bring tears of joy, as it did to me. It's a Wonderful Life is probably the best Christmas movie ever made, with the message that the greatest gift a man can have is the love of his friends.