It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from MIB of MIB’s Instant Headache. He previously reviewed this film HERE. Thanks for joining in, MIB! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about It’s A Wonderful Life, IMDB rank 30 out of 250…

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**WARNING: SPOILERS (but everyone has seen this, right?!) 🙂

It’s A Wonderful Life

US (1946) Dir. Frank Capra

Confession time: despite this being an all time classic that regularly appears near the top of every “Greatest Ever Films” poll and is as much a pre-requisite at Christmas as turkey and presents, this is my first time viewing this film. I know, that is regarded as heresy for a film buff but I’m sure we all have some skeletons in our film viewing closets.

As we all know the plot revolves around a man named George Bailey (James Stewart) who has reached the end of his tether on Christmas Eve after a life time of doing everything for the people of his home town of Bedford Falls. With his family business on the brink of collapse and a possible jail term staring him in the face, George decides the best thing for his family is to disappear for good. As his friends and family all pray to a higher power to give George a break, an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers), who has yet to earn his wings, is sent down to talk George out of killing himself by showing him what life in Bedford falls would have been like had he not existed.

By the time this film arrived in 1946, Frank Capra had already built himself a reputation as one of Hollywood’s top directors, having conquered Tinsel Town with such notable hits as It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1938) which also starred James Stewart. However it is this bittersweet Christmas tale, based on the short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, that remains his most regarded and enduring and influential work – often imitated but never duplicated – which surprisingly was not a box office hit.

The story is actually much deeper than any synopsis suggests, with the bulk of the 130 minute run time spent looking back over George’s life, by way of an introduction for Clarence to his client. George is a good guy even from his early days, demonstrated when as young boy he lost the hearing in his left ear after saving his younger brother Harry from drowning. Later on he stops his drugstore boss Mr. Gower (H.B. Warner) from accidentally poisoning a customer. When he turned 21 George was about to go college then travel around the world but the death of his father (Samuel S. Hinds) placing him in charge of their loan business Building and Loan, putting him at odds with the majority shareholder and local moneybags Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), a grizzled and self-centred old man with a long standing grudge against the Bailey family.

Clarence doesn’t appear until the third act by which time, George has married his childhood sweetheart Mary (Donna Reed), had four kids and made many sacrifices to keep the business alive. Meanwhile everyone else has achieved the one thing that George always dreamed of: leaving Bedford Falls and seeing the world. Younger brother Harry (Todd Karns) becomes a war hero while best friend Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson) makes his fortune in plastics, an investment opportunity George turned down! Via duplicity and pernicious manipulation Potter holds George accountable over the absence of $8000 from the company books, pushing him to his wits end. This leads to the Scrooge-esque travel to an alternate reality to help snap George out of his depressive and fatalistic funk.

Admittedly this doesn’t sound like the recipe for a feelgood Christmas movie – then again neither does A Christmas Carol – although the Christmas aspect is only pertinent for the finale rather than the plot as a whole, fundamentally making this is a film for all seasons, even though it seems to have latched onto the Christmas TV schedule (especially in the US) so it has morphed into a “Christmas film”. Everything else is universal in its themes, with the main moral of the story appearing to reinforce the old adage about nice guys finishing last. And for the most part this is the case until the final act flips the whole story on its head to deliver the now iconic happy ending to stop us from joining George from jumping off that bridge.

With years of hype behind this film prior to my seeing it, I had a concern I may not enjoy it or understand why it has become such an evergreen treasure for film buffs. Thankfully I needn’t have been concerned. Firstly the story is so incredibly well crafted, almost ahead of its time, and has a timeless core idea that it could have been set in any timeframe (but don’t tell Hollywood that – we don’t need a modern remake thank you!), making it so relatable to any generation. Secondly Frank Capra clearly has a vision beyond that of any other director of the time you care to name to make this work as a whimsical piece of comedy drama, giving equal weight to both facets rather than pandering to one over the other for commercial appeal.

Thirdly – James Stewart. Could anyone else have taken the role? Cary Grant? Spencer Tracy? Clark Gable? James Cagney? Stewart has a difficult character to inhabit with so many layers to him. Aside from expecting us to believe that the then 38 year-old Stewart was a 21 year old student in the first act (yes really!), his performance is flawless and imbued with the requisite sense of humanity and humility, attacking the role with a perceptive energy and commitment required for such a character that is rarely off screen. He is supported by some of the finest character actors of the time, headed by the legendary Lionel Barrymore, who is almost Churchillian in his portrayal as the malevolent antagonist Mr. Potter.

So, is It’s A Wonderful Life worthy of the high esteem, lofty plaudits and classic status in which it revels? Quite simply – yes! I’m just kicking myself for having waited so long to see it!

Mr Smith Goes To Washington (1939) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Ruth of Flixchatter and was originally reviewed HERE as part of the BlindSpot series. Thanks for joining in on my IMDB Challenge, Ruth! 🙂 Now let’s see what she has to say about Mr Smith Goes To Washington, IMDB rank 108 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

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**WARNING: SOME SPOILERS

I didn’t realize that I’m doing another Frank Capra film back to back in the BlindSpot series! Well, I had initially wanted to do a James Stewart marathon after the Gregory Peck one, but I never got around to it. Well, I finally got to see it on President’s Day last weekend, what a fitting time it was and this film certainly lived up to its classic icon status. According to IMDb trivia, it’s ranked #5 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time (2006), and #26 Greatest Movie of All Time (2007) also by AFI.

It’s always wonderful to see when ‘the actor and the role meets,’ that is when a role seems to be tailor-made for an actor that it’s as he disappears into that character. I felt that was the case with Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and here, Stewart seemed to have become Jefferson Smith despite not being the first choice for the role. The role was for Gary Cooper who’s supposed to reprise a similar one he did in Mr Deeds Goes To Town (also by Capra), but he was unavailable. Having seen this film, I can’t picture anybody else but Stewart in the role.

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What’s interesting about this film is that even though the subject matter is about American politics, it doesn’t concern a specific party, we’re never told if Jefferson Smith was a Republican or Democrat. The state that he and Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) come from was never mentioned, either. It’s a classic David vs Goliath story as Smith was a nobody in the grand political scheme when a governor of the unnamed western state picked him to replace a deceased senator. He’s picked because of his wholesome Boy Scout (or Boy Rangers in the film) image, the corrupt political boss Jim Taylor and his minions think Smith’s lack of experience think he’d be easy to manipulate. Of course things don’t go exactly to their plan.

The word ‘filibuster’ seems to have become a dirty word in Capitol Hill. Frankly I don’t know much about the intricate and twisted world of politics, so it was fascinating to see Smith getting lectured from his own secretary Clarissa Saunders on how to get a bill passed. It’s certainly one of my fave scenes from the entire film:

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This is the first time I saw Jean Arthur in anything and her portrayal of Saunders is brilliant. Nice to see a smart and sassy female character, not unlike another heroine in another famous 1939 film, which took the Best Picture that year, Gone With The Wind. Now, Saunders is nowhere near as manipulative as Scarlett O’Hara of course, but she’s also beautiful and knows her way around a man’s world.

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The whole conflict revolves around building of a dam by the Willett Creek, which is the same area of land where Smith wants to build his national boys camp. Naturally Smith is no match for the Taylor Machine in terms of money and clout, and the political Goliath is determined to crush David by any means possible. Having been *crucified* (that’s the exact word used by Rains’ character) by the Taylor Machine, Smith was ready to give it all up when Saunders persuaded him not to. That propels him to launch a filibuster to clear his name just before he’s kicked out of the Senate.

I was totally engrossed in the story from start to finish, and the third act is certainly the most rousing part. It’s certainly an inspiring story told with an unapologetic sense of virtue. A dissenting voice against this film is perhaps that it lacks subtlety. At times perhaps the audience, especially those on the cynical side might feel they’re being hit over the head with the morality lesson. But you know what, I happen to think it’s great to see a film that celebrates goodness and everything we should aspire to as a human being. I wrote in this post that people may find a hero that stands for truth, justice and the American way so darn boring. I beg to differ on that front. Smith is no superhero, he has no superpower of any kind, but he certainly has the power to inspire others to stand up for what’s right no matter what the cost. In essence, that’s what a true hero is all about.

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As I mentioned before, Stewart is perfectly cast as Smith and he certainly makes for a protagonist worth rooting for. The supporting cast is superb all around. Speaking of GWTW earlier, well, it’s fun to see Pa O’Hara here, aka Thomas Mitchell as journalist Diz Moore who’s in love with Saunders. My favorite is Claude Rains as the Senator whom Smith looks up to but ends up betraying him. His emotional struggle throughout the film is palpable and fascinating to behold and Rains has the charisma and gravitas to own a scene. I’ve only seen him in Casablanca before this, so I’m hoping to catch more of his films.

This film is full of rousing scenes as well as humorous moments. Smith’s obvious naivete is amusing and endearing but never ludicrous. There’s a hint of romance between Saunders and Smith, but yet it never took over the story which I thought was refreshing.

The ending doesn’t end with a neat little bow as our protagonist collapsed in exhaustion after talking non-stop for 24 hours, but he remains defiant and even hopeful to the end.

Jefferson Smith: I guess this is just another lost cause Mr. Paine. All you people dont know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for and he fought for them once. For the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule. Love thy neighbor. And in this world today of great hatred a man who knows that rule has a great trust. You know that rule Mr. Paine and I loved you for it just as my father did. And you know that you fight harder for the lost causes than for any others. Yes youd even die for them. Like a man we both knew Mr. Paine. You think Im licked. You all think Im licked. Well Im not licked. And Im gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies like these. And the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me.

The change of heart of the antagonist may seem abrupt here but I think Mr. Paine have been convicted that what he did was wrong long before he finally had the courage to confess it.

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Well, this is the third film from Frank Capra and I definitely see a definite pattern in his films. There’s a timeless quality about it, as his film seems to be relatable for any era because its message and its ideals are not confined by a specific time frame. No matter what year it is, greed, oppression and exploitation are never a good thing, and we’ll always root for someone who perseveres to rise above improbable odds.

I’m so glad I finally caught Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It’s definitely enjoyable and thought-provoking. A true classic that I certainly don’t mind watching again.

4.5 out of 5 reels