Festivus Retro Squad: It's A Wonderful Life
This is my favorite movie of all-time. It's really a perfect film, not just in the quality but in the way it's the ultimate slice of Americana.
You know the story by now. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) longs to get out of his small hometown of Bedford Falls and see the world. He's been striving for it since he was a kid. But through a series of events, he's forced to stay in Bedford Falls, and when a financial mistake puts him on the brink of going to jail, he decides to end his life. But an angel steps in to show him what life would be like if he had never been born.
OK, that's a very simplistic summary of the movie. It's a lot more complex than that.
The cast is fantastic, from Stewart to Donna Reed to Lionel Barrymore to the actors playing the leads as kids (check out the scene where George is placing Zuzu's petals in his pocket - the girl playing Zuzu sees him do it even though her character isn't supposed to) to the character actors playing best buds Bert and Ernie (Sesame Street denies they were the inspiration for the Muppets of the same name, but many have their doubts) to Clarence the Angel. Bedford Falls is rendered beautifully, and not enough is said about how dark this film gets when it's turned into Pottersville and it's filled with booze, crime, and hookers. That's a pretty scary sequence.
All the credit in the world goes to director Frank Capra. This was one of his best films (and Stewart's favorite of all the films he made). Interestingly, it didn't do well at the box office at first, but when it was shown a gazillion times a day in the 70s and 80s (due to the copyright ending and every station in the country able to air it), it became a classic and quite possibly the most universally loved picture of all time. NBC bought the rights in the 90s and now they show it exclusively.
This is an uplifting film and just a damn entertaining one from start to finish. Like Miracle on 34th Street, if you're channel surfing and you come across it, you have to keep watching it.
It's A Wonderful Life airs tonight at 8 on NBC, and is repeated on Christmas Eve. And to enjoy the movie even more, make sure you go out and buy The Essential It's A Wonderful Life by Michael Willian. It's a scene by scene, minute by minute guide to the movie, jam-packed with trivia and observations about every aspect of the film. It's a fantastic read.