It’s A Wonderful Life
Since three is a magic number, since Jimmy Stewart is one of the only men in competition with Cary Grant in my ranking of 1930s and 40s actors, and since I just had the immense privilege of watching this film at the Michigan Theatre (Read: breath-taking, vintage, perfect and all other adjectives that could possibly be used to describe a theatre standing for film preservation, culture, and just about everything this writer loves about Ann Arbor [it even serves previously-mentioned Bell's Best Brown Ale- a true Christmas Miracle,]) I’ve selected perhaps my favorite holiday movie, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, as the third recommendation for the ‘Tis the Season series.
Say what you will about its transformation from an under-performing box-office release to its status as “America’s Christmas movie,” about the financial and legal implausibility of its resolution, about Donna Reed and Mary Bailey being absolutely gorgeous, about the silent tears that somehow find their way down my face every time I watch this film; It’s a Wonderful Life simply IS Christmas for this writer. The genius life-story-plot lulls you into a friendship with George Bailey, a sympathetic, understanding relationship that you can’t help but admire and adore. The humor, especially at the start of the film with the prom-night swim and Mary’s refuge in the convenient bush, produce some of my favorite, and most-oft quoted, lines (“Oh, why don’t you stop annoying people,” and “I could sell tickets…”). The scene when the soon-to-be plastics baron Sam Wainwright phones from New York in Mary’s parlor, and Jimmy Stewart yells, “I wanna do what I wanna do” replays in this writer’s mind ever-more-often as he makes his own decisions and values. The close-up shot later in the film of Jimmy Stewart slowly turning his deeply-shadowed face as he realizes how crazy his present situation is, is absolutely and unequivocally beautiful. And this is only the surface of a poorly and quickly conducted film criticism.
The moral impact of the film is equally incredible. I’ll let you, viewer and reader, draw your own conclusions, learn your own lessons, interpret your own symbolism, and take from it what you may; suffice to say look for the needle-point quote, “All you can take with you is what you have given away,” hanging beneath the portrait of Peter Bailey in Jimmy Stewart’s office. Perhaps, yes it is over-simplified, yes it is emotional, yes it is a classic “Capra-corny,” but in this writer’s viewpoint, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
And as this is a classic Christmas film, I suggest a classic Christmas drink: egg-nog. Serve this warming, indulgent, sweet nectar chilled in an Irish coffee glass and combine with gold rum, or, for an interesting change of taste, Gosling’s Black Seal spiced rum, and finish with a dusting of ground nutmeg. You can also try this BOMB Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Nog. No words. Trust me.
So mix some eggnog, pack your loved ones into the family room, throw another log in the wood-stove, enjoy the It’s A Wonderful Life, and bask in the warmth radiating from of all four. Cheers, and enjoy!
J. Frank Quinn
P.S. As a side and almost unrelated note, listen to Clarence. My junior year of undergrad at Michigan I was fortunate enough to take a poetry class focusing on “Fork Theory.” This is an area of study popularized by the professor that centers on the “ripples,” each and every person makes with his or her simplest actions. When I first began studying “Fork Theory” the scene where Clarence at last reveals to George Bailey why he has granted his wish of never having been born was the first thing that I thought of. I think that this is a perfect, and incredibly complex and thought-provoking, example. Again, perhaps wait until school starts again in January for analysis, but please really do take three-to-five minutes at some point and think about this scene’s implications in your own life.