George Bailey feels that he has never achieved anything that he ever wanted to do. He decides it might be better to commit suicide because he feels he is worth more dead than alive. Before he commits the act, his guardian angel leaps into the cold waters and is saved by George. George makes the offhanded comment that he wishes he had never been born and this wish is fulfilled, so he can see what the world would be like if he had never existed.

The Lowdown

“A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town.”

Frank Capra’s masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life might be the best known, most beloved holiday movie of all time. Much of that might be due to the fact that it has been shown numerous times every year thanks to the fact that it slipped into the realm of public domain in 1974. It is not shown as much as it once was thanks to Paramount winning a court decision to regain the ancillary rights to the movie. However you are bound to catch it playing quite a bit as the holidays grow near. Here we get its second special edition release in the last two years, the difference here being the addition of the colorized version.

Frank Capra left a legacy of movies that showcased the everyman and usually were sentimental and inspirational. Titles such as Mr. Smith Goes to WashingtonIt Happened One NightMr. Deeds Goes to TownMeet John Doe and Arsenic and Old Lace stand prominently on the lists of greatest movies of all time. However if you want to watch a movie that showcases all Capra’s sensibilities and ideals, you need look no further than It’s a Wonderful Life.

James Stewart stars as George Bailey, a man who seems to be giving so much in his life that it feels like he never has anything left for himself. When he was ready to leave his home town of Bedford Falls and go tour the world, his father died and he was left to run the family building and loan business or risk losing it to the town’s miser Mr. Potter. After getting married to his sweetheart Mary, he was kept from going on his honeymoon because the building and loan business is on dangerous ground and he decides to donate his money to help the townspeople. Yet every time it seems that he has done everything he can to help other people, things continue to stand in the way and it seems the world is always out to keep him down.

The movie would not have been the same without James Stewart in the lead role. Stewart emphasizes the everyman that was needed to make a film like this succeed. On top of Stewart, the rest of the casting of the movie was just as ingenious. A then unknown Donna Reed was cast as Mary and worked well as a fresh faced companion to Stewarts likeable George. In casting the evil Mr. Scrooge like character of Mr. Potter, Capra cast Lionel Barrymore, who worked well as the evil character. With lesser performers, even the great script would not have been successful.

The look of the set was almost a character in itself. Bedford Falls was the idealistic community, with the library, the building and loan, the theater and more. It was a small town that was comfortable and filled with likeable souls who were always there to help one another. When George is thrown into a town where he had never been born it was full of bars, dance clubs, brothels and more. The character of the ideal town was replaced by a town filled with lust, envy and evil. Capra used sentimentality to show the overall goodness or people and while it sometimes could have seen as going overboard, Capra was able to pull it off without ever feeling schmaltzy.

The story is what Capra was most interested in. What he wanted was to make a story that showed a normal person, facing what seemed to be insurmountable odds, and persevering in the face of those odds. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stewart played a small town man who stood up for his small community values in the face of a politically corrupt government. In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Gary Cooper plays a small town man who inherits a fortune, yet never turns his back on his home grown values. It’s a Wonderful Life takes that same characteristic and amps it up with Stewart playing a man who always puts the needs of others above his own. What is so heartwarming about this tale is that we see how this decision can play on a man’s psyche and how he must fight to persevere in the face of despair.

The black and white presentation of the film is the classic version and many people are completely against transferring classic black and white movies into color. This movie might be the exception to that rule. The color version of the movie is so clear and so beautiful that I really have trouble watching it now in black and white. The contrast of the white falling snow with the dark blues and reds is simply amazing. The fact that this set allows the viewers to choose which version they want to watch is a bonus to me.

It is a Christmas staple and many people do not give it the credit it deserves because it has been overplayed for years. That should not take anything away from the perfection of this Capra film. The movie is sentimental, but anyone who doesn’t find Capra’s form of sentimentality endearing needs to search for a heart. With superb acting from a great cast, wonderful direction by a master filmmaker and a story that can warm the cockles of any scrooge’s heart this movie stands as one of the best, and most honest, holiday tales.

The Package

We get both versions of this holiday staple, the black and white classic and the colorized version. The black and white version received a really good transfer. I remember the original version of this classic to be very dull looking and bordering on ugly. This has received a restoration that was just amazing in contrast to the version you grew accustomed to seeing over the years on TV. The colorized version is beautiful as well. The colors are crisp and stand out. It just looks spectacular and is one of the best looking colorizations I have ever seen. It is presented in full screen and has Dolby mono sound.

The extra features are all on the first disc along with the black and white version. First there is a making of documentary hosted by Tom Bosley. It is a nice feature but very short. The most interesting trivia is about unplanned “accidents” that remained in the final version. A Personal Remembrance is hosted by Frank Capra Jr. and in it he gives a tribute to his dad. He mentions that It’s a Wonderful Life was his father’s favorite movie and moved him more deeply than any other of his movies. There is also the theatrical trailer and a preview of another movie.