Monday, May 29, 2017

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

Jimmy Stewart has lived his entire life in the small town of Bedford Falls, New York.  As a child his main goal in life was to escape the town and explore the world.  That never happened.  Life and Fate prevented his ever leaving, but maybe that wasn't so bad because he ended up marrying the beautiful Donna Reed, having some cute children and giving the townsfolk a banking alternative to the wicked Lionel Barrymore who is a slumlord and runs the towns biggest bank. (I always get a kick out of seeing Lionel play an evil character, since, in my mind, I always see him as Kringelein from GRAND HOTEL.)  Things are actually going pretty good for Stewart...all the way up until Christmas Eve, 1945.  That's when Stewart's banking partner, Thomas Mitchell, makes a foolish mistake which could destroy Stewart's life and pretty much the hopes of the entire town.  Stewart is beside himself with fear and decides to throw himself into the river to make it look like an accidental drowning.  That way his family could cash in on his life insurance.  But then, right as he's about to jump, some blinking star creatures send an angel down to talk some sense into him and show him what life would be like if he had never been born.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a wonderful film with great acting from an impressive cast.  It also looks really nice, but one of the things that always bothered me is when Stewart turned down his childhood friends offer of investing in plastics.  His friend ends up filthy rich and Stewart ends up literally one mistake away from suicide!  I felt that twist in the story was unneeded.  Another thing that bothered me: the last act went completely over the top with the unrealistic sentimentality.  And Lionel Barrymore never got any punishment for being a total asshole for decades or for stealing the other banks money!  And while the "never been born" part was very entertaining, it was (for somebody like myself who cannot see that my being alive is beneficial to anybody) kinda depressing.  If an angel-in-training was ever sent to talk me out of suicide with this "never been born" bullshit, he'd have to walk home defeated and still wingless.

That said, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is still required viewing for anybody who loves Cinema...mainly because of the acting.  Also (for anybody keeping score), I fully believe that THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES was the correct choice for Best Picture of the Year.  It's simply a better film than IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.