“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”


Frank Capra’s now-beloved classic, his first post-war film, only reached its current status decades after release when it left copyright and became a staple on TV networks. It’s a Wonderful Life falls into the cadre of films set at Christmas but not really about the holiday, despite the film’s structure serving as an inversion of A Christmas Carol ⁠— George Bailey is a generous man who, in a fit of suicidal despair, needs to be shown by an angel how much worse off the town would be without him. This could easily have been saccharine but James Stewart deftly portrays George as a charming dreamer who struggles against his familial duty and is frustrated by his inability to escape his hometown. His idealism in supporting regular folk, pitted against the avaricious mogul Henry Potter, sets a moral tone without browbeating the audience. Although remembered for its final act, much of the film’s strength lies in seeing George’s earlier years, including his slowly blossoming romance with Mary — it is evident though unspoken that George’s reluctance lies in the fear that she will be another anchor tying him down to the town he wants to leave. It’s a Wonderful Life is deservedly a classic, and one that remains every bit as enchanting today.