George Bailey [James Stewart] has always wanted to leave his home town and travel the world and be somebody, but throughout his life he’s always found an excuse not to go and to stay home and care to some business or another. One Christmas Eve he and his business partner find themselves $8000 short on their books and in desperate need of money. George in a moment of fear of incarceration and the evil Mr. Potter [Lionel Barrymore] finally gaining access to everything in the town he wishes for death and that he was never born. His guardian angel, Clarence [Henry Travers] appears to show George how the world would be if he never was.
Here is the granddaddy of all Christmas films, and this serves as a double-post since it is also an entry in my 1001 films reviews that I recently started. This was planned from the beginning of December to be the end of my Yule Tide Marathon and then by some coincidence it was also suggested as a review for the 1001 films You Must See Club so here it is in a two-fer-one scenario.
This movie is more than just a classic it is timeless. Yes it is funny nowadays to hear people talk about $45 dollars as if it’s a reasonable salary and it’s even funnier to see how straightforward some characters were in films back then, George did 99% of the things he did because it was the right thing to do and nothing more. He may have sulked about it from time to time but he knew it was right and it’s what he should do so he did it which is why I love it. However, at the same time, as much as I enjoyed seeing a man with principles doing the right thing it was so obvious and (sadistically) enjoyable to see his frustration as it grew and grew from scene to scene and he tries to keep his family and the town out of Mr. Potter’s grasp. I literally jumped for joy along with George as a lady said she only needed $17.95 rather than do what I would’ve done which is empty my account right then and there.
With one of the biggest ideas of Christmas being generosity I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more giving character in film (at least not one that knew exactly what he was giving up so to give to others). Whether it was his summer abroad so that he can help his father’s business not go under or his education so that the town won’t go into the wrong man’s pocket or his hearing so that his brother can live, he has no qualms with giving it up knowing that it’s right. That is not only commendable but totally bitter-sweet to see because you immediately feel great that he did such a great thing but then you think to yourself what he’s given up himself to allow for this great gift.
One of my biggest worries I had while watching this movie was that after being treated to this great life story of George Bailey and the (obviously) wonderful life he has lived that when we finally catch up to current time and we see him staring at the bottom of a bottle contemplating suicide that what would follow couldn’t compare to the previous ninety minutes of film that I’ve seen so far. However, I found myself even more emotionally affected by this alternate reality where George never existed than anything he had already done before. I found myself even tearing up at the end of the movie when George realised that life was definitely worth living (even if it was in a jail cell) and when he came back to see his children.
This is a fantastic movie and if you pretend to like movies and great tales then you MUST see this movie. This is a classic for a reason and the reason is as easily said as it’s brilliant.
IMDB says 8.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes says 94%
I say 10/10