Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Top 25 Christmas Movies List: #18 It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

   In the middle of a financial crisis, George Bailey (James Stewart) finds himself contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. Friends and family say prayers for the troubled man which result in an angel named Clarence being sent down to earth to earn his wings.

   George has always desired to see the world but he constantly sacrifices his own dreams so that those around him can fulfill their own. He settles for a life in the town, running the Building and Loan. He marries his childhood sweetheart, Mary (Donna Reed) and together they have four children.

   After Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) misplaces the Building and Loan's $8000 deposit, George is threatened to be arrested for bank fraud by the heartless Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). He then blows up at his family and heads to the local bar to drown his problems. Due to his intoxicated state, and a severe snowstorm, he drives his car directly into a tree. Leaving the scene, he staggers over to a bridge and contemplates the value of his life. Since he has a $15,000 life insurance policy he realizes he is "worth more dead than alive". But before he can jump to his death, Clarence, the angel appears. Clarence jumps first then pretends to drown and George has no choice but to rescue him.

   Once the two are safe on dry ground, Clarence reveals his true identity to George, but he does not believe the stranger. He comments that he wishes he had never been born, and Clarence gives him just that. He takes George into an alternate reality and shows him what the town would be like if he never existed. There are seedy nightclubs and pawn shops on every corner. Uncle Billy has been committed to an insane asylum, George's own brother Harry, is dead, since George was never around to save him when he fell through a frozen pond as a child. And Mary, his wife is a spinster librarian.

   These realizations have truly shaken George and he runs back to the bridge, searching for Clarence and begging God to let things be as they were, he wishes to live again. God answers his prayer and he heads home joyously wishing a "Merry Christmas" to everyone in town.

   Upon arrival, he finds that Potter kept true to his threat and the bank examiner and police are there to arrest him on the charges of fraud. But just then, Mary, Uncle Billy and the townspeople arrive bearing donations they have collected to replace the missing money and save the Building and Loan. George also receives a check from a friend in the amount of $25,000 by telegram. And George's own brother, Harry arrives from Washington D.C. (having left a banquet in his honor and travelled through a blizzard) just to help. Harry then leads the town in a toast and rendition of Auld Lang Syne in George's honor.

   George finds a gift among the donations from his new friend, Clarence. It's a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and included the inscription: "George: Remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings! Love, Clarence."

  At that moment, a bell on the Christmas tree rings and George's daughter Zuzu announces: "Look Daddy, Teacher says: 'Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings'." To which George responds with a look upwards, a wink and "That's right...that's right. Atta boy, Clarence!"

   This is a timeless Christmas movie. It reminds us of the impact we can have on those around us and the value of friends and family. It also shows that even the little we can give or do can greatly help those in their time of need. And regardless of the trials we are currently struggling with, God has a plan for each and every one of us. I hope you take the time to enjoy watching it this holiday season. It's a Wonderful Life truly is a wonderful film.

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