Student Voice


September 26, 2022




'It’s a Wonderful Life' is timeless classic for all generations

December 13, 2018

There’s a classic saying that people like saying this time of year, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”

Not too many students on a college campus would be hearing this though, unless they’re spending a lot of time around people in their 70s. Anyway, this line was made famous by a film that came out on January 7, 1947, that many consider to a classic. "It’s a Wonderful Life," directed by Frank Capra and starring the dashing star of his time, James Stewart, is a story about George Bailey (Stewart). Over the decades, "It’s a Wonderful Life" has had countless adaptations into plays and remakes both in television and film (which have not been as successful as the original). The story has been a large influence in American Pop culture with numerous references and recreations of famous scenes from the film.

Donna Reed, Jimmy Stewart and Karolyn Grimes starred in the 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life."
Donna Reed, Jimmy Stewart and Karolyn Grimes starred in the 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life."

George Bailey is a man who has spent his whole life in the town of Bedford Falls and devoting it to helping the people in his community. One Christmas Eve, his business faces a serious financial crisis and it drives Bailey to the point where he wants to end his life.

The film opens to a montage of people praying for George Bailey to be alright after he has ran off into the cold winter night in frustration. The voices of people praying for George Bailey plays over long shots of the homes they sit in on that Christmas Eve. The people include his business colleagues, his friends, his wife and children. The camera cuts to a typical 1940’s depiction of space with the moon floating across the screen as the audience is introduced to two new characters, floating, talking galaxies meant to represent angels in heaven.

The angels debate about who’s turn it is to be sent down to Earth to help George Bailey. This brings in Clarence, George’s guardian angel. Clarence is an angel in heaven who still hasn’t received his wings, and hopes if he helps save George Bailey’s life, he can finally earn them. From here, both Clarence and the audience become acquainted with George as “God” shows the person George has been from his childhood, his teenage years, all the way up to the moment of George’s fateful night.

This is where the film drives away from the plot and gets the audience engaged in the story of George Bailey. The plot of the film is to save George Bailey from ending his life, the story is the life of George Bailey’s lifetime of service of putting others before himself. The film spends over half it’s runtime telling the audience who George Bailey is, to get people watching the film to not only attach and relate to George, but his lifetime sweetheart of Mary Hatch (played by Donna Reed), and his younger brother Harry Bailey (played by Todd Karns). Taking all the time to show the audience who these characters are and why they should care for them is one of the best things about "It’s a Wonderful Life."

One theme that the film conveys to its audience is cherish those who always put themselves before others, and if anyone who is that type of person, to really reflect on all the good they have done in their lifetimes for others. George Bailey is the embodiment of putting one’s self before others, and sometimes these people forget to take care of themselves. That’s what happens to George Bailey on his Christmas Eve, and it drives him to the break of self-disgrace. George had planned his whole life out as a kid to see the entire world and build skyscrapers, but when family woes hit, he took on the role of helping his family first instead of himself. These experiences make George relatable to audience members as people sometimes have to sacrifice their dreams to help those they love and care about.

"It’s a Wonderful Life" is not without its flaws. Being a film from 1947, it’s over the top in it’s corniness and the child actors aren’t very good. This does not take away from its fluidity in story and audience to character relations. One thing that has changed in it’s flaws from original release is audience reception. When "It’s a Wonderful Life" came out in 1947, not too many people liked the film. There were mixed reviews from notable publications as well, with the Hollywood Reporter critic favoring the film while the New Yorker critic trashed the film.

Frank Capra as both a writer and film director created many motion pictures convey messages of what it means to be a good person to his audiences. "It’s a Wonderful Life" has become the most famous in American culture due to the film taking place during the Christmas season. The writing and directing Capra conducts in this film brings that meaning of every person having significance to the story. No matter how big or small a role they play, like George Bailey.

The story is what keeps this film alive with audiences over the decades. Every holiday season, NBC airs the film to honor the message it sends to the audiences. And overall, it’s the theme of "It’s a Wonderful Life" is what makes it a timeless holiday classic for the month of December. In a time of year where holiday cheer and spirits help to remind us the good that we as people are capable of. "It’s a Wonderful Life" is a friendly tale for all people to remind us we can all good people at heart, and even through all of its tough endeavours, life is a wonderful thing to live out everyday!

Theodore Tollefson is a student at UW-River Falls.