Frank Capra once called It’s a Wonderful Life “the picture I waited my whole life to make.” In the end he created a masterpiece that has stood the test of time and become a staple of the holiday season. The story was developed out of a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern titled The Greatest Gift. Frank Capra made all the right moves with this film and it started with casting Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. As casting continued stars like Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and Henry Travers all joined what would become an all-star cast.
For Jimmy Stewart this role was a gift from Frank Capra who thought of no one else when he cast the lead. The two had worked together on You Can’t Take it With You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Like Mr. Smith this film would ask Stewart to push his dramatic acting skills to the limit while keeping the hometown charm he was known for. This was also Stewart’s first film following his return from service in World War II. Having won an academy award for The Philadelphia Story this would be a chance for Stewart to relaunch his career in post-war Hollywood.
The film was filled with some of the most legendary character actors Hollywood had to offer. Each person in the cast was meant to be a memorable addition to the city of Bedford Falls where the film would be set.
It’s a Wonderful Life is the story of one man’s effects on the world. George Bailey (Stewart) is a regular hometown guy. He’s a man who has given of himself for his entire life. Now as an adult he’s forced to confront a life he sees as a failure and the thoughts of suicide that come with it. Thanks to some help from an angel named Clarence Odbody (Travers) he’s going to see what life would’ve been like if he wasn’t in it. The film is a magical journey that travels from the early part of the 20th century all the way to post-World War II America. In the end George Bailey is forced to see the effects of his life on the world.
Here is the original trailer for this classic film.
The film is a great work by a number of amazing people. Through his independent film company Liberty Films, Frank Capra was able to create the world he dreamed up without studio interference. By luck and skill he was able to create an American classic. It’s a Wonderful Life was not a huge commercial success but it earned five Academy Award nominations. The real success is the generations of people who still sit down to watch this film more than 60 years later.
For Jimmy Stewart this was a second start to his magnificent career. During filming he was apprehensive and unsure at times due to his time away from the cameras. Despite this he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, his third nomination, and received many of accolades for his portrayal of George Bailey.