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Sunday, November 25, 2007

It Is SUCH A Wonderful Life Isn't It?

And no Christmas holiday season would be complete without seeing this classic at least once...twice...298 times. Okay, that is just me who watches it 298 times but then I AM a movie goofball you know! And this movie has so much heart and soul and oh but isn't Jimmy Stewart just phenomenal? Than man could surely show some of today's...well...ahem...what passes for... *stars* in Hollywood a thing or two about acting AND about being a man. But I digress and this is about a film. A classic film, a Christmas treasure, a movie to be watched, absorbed, digested and *felt*. If watching this movie does not make you *feel* something good about life, well, aw gee. You just HAVE to feel something good after seeing it!
"Just a minute - just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You're right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I'll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was - why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn't that right, Uncle Billy? He didn't save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what's wrong with that? Why - here, you're all businessmen here. Doesn't it make them better citizens? Doesn't it make them better customers? You - you said - what'd you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they're so old and broken down that they... Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they're cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you'll ever be." ~George Bailey

"Look, daddy! Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an Angel gets his wings."

It's a Wonderful Life is a 1946 film produced and directed by Frank Capra and based on the short story, "The Greatest Gift" written by Philip Von Doren Stern.

The film takes place in the fictional town of Bedford Falls shortly after World War II and stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose attempted suicide on Christmas Eve gains the attention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) who is sent to help him in his hour of need. Most of the film is told through flashbacks spanning George's entire life and narrated by Franklin and Joseph, unseen Angels who are preparing Clarence for his mission to save George. Through these flashbacks we see all the people whose lives have been touched by George and the difference he has made to the community in which he lives.

The film is regarded as a classic and is a staple of Christmas television around the world, although, due to its high production costs and stiff competition at the box office, financially, it was considered a "flop." The film's break-even point was actually $6.3 million, approximately twice the production cost, a figure it never came close to achieving in its initial release. Here is a brief synopsis of the plot: The story begins on Christmas Eve, 1946, and George Bailey is in a dark place. Faced with the loss of his business and the scandal of bankruptcy, and wanted by the police for misappropriation of funds, he is on the verge of suicide. The prayers of his family and friends alert Heaven to George’s state of mind, and Clarence Odbody, an Angel Second Class, is sent to Earth to save George. Clarence later reveals that he is also being tested; after over 200 years of trying, he still has not earned his wings. In preparing for his mission, Clarence is brought before Joseph, the head angel, to see a review of George's life. Subsequently, much of the film is in flashback spanning George Bailey's entire life to date and highlighting all the good he has done for others.
Here is some trivia of the now classic holiday film!
  • Lionel Barrymore convinced James Stewart to take the role of George, despite his feeling that he was not up to it so soon after World War II.
  • Originally ended with "Ode to Joy", not "Auld Lang Syne".
  • Films made prior to this one used cornflakes painted white for the falling snow effect. Because the cornflakes were so loud, dialogue had to be dubbed in later. Frank Capra wanted to record the sound live, so a new snow effect was developed using foamite (a fire-fighting chemical) and soap and water. This mixture was then pumped at high pressure through a wind machine to create the silent, falling snow. 6000 gallons of the new snow were used in the film. The RKO Effects Department received a special award from the Motion Picture Academy for the development of the new film snow.
  • As Uncle Billy is leaving George's house drunk, it sounds as if he stumbles over some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped some equipment right after Uncle Billy left the screen. Both actors continued with the scene ("I'm all right, I'm all right!") and director Frank Capra decided to use it in the final cut. He gave the clumsy stagehand a $10 bonus for "improving the sound."
  • The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) is showing at the movie house as George runs down the street in Bedford Falls. Henry Travers, who plays Clarence, the angel, starred in that film as Horace P. Bogardus.
  • For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock into the window of the Granville House, Frank Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out for her on cue. To everyone's amazement, Donna Reed broke the window with true aim and heft without the assistance of the hired marksman!
  • James Stewart was nervous about the phone scene kiss because it was his first screen kiss since his return to Hollywood after the war. Under Frank Capra's watchful eye, Stewart filmed the scene in only one unrehearsed take, and it worked so well that part of the embrace was cut because it was too passionate to pass the censors.
  • Jean Arthur was Frank Capra's first choice for the part of Mary.
  • When composer Dimitri Tiomkin's original score for the finale (featuring "Ode To Joy") was eliminated, tracks of Alfred Newman's score from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) were used instead, most notably the chorus singing "Hallelujah".
  • The movie drew fierce criticism for its political statements about post-WWII society when it was released in 1946. Even the FBI labeled it a "subversive" movie and charged that its use of a nasty, Scrooge-like businessman "was a common trick used by communists".
  • The gym floor that opens up to reveal a swimming pool was real and was located at Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles.
  • In 2004 the BBC TV listings magazine "Radio Times" conducted a poll into the Best Film Never to Have Won an Oscar. "It's a Wonderful Life" came second (The Shawshank Redemption (1994) was first).
  • This was the first and last time that Frank Capra produced, financed, directed and co-wrote one of his films.
  • At $3.7 million, this was a very expensive independent production. In its initial box office run, it only earned $3.3 million and was considered a box office flop!
  • James Stewart cited George Bailey as being his favorite character. The part was originally developed at another studio with Cary Grant earmarked for the role. When Frank Capra inherited the project, he rewrote it to suit Stewart.
  • Vincent Price was considered for the part of Mr. Potter.
  • Donna Reed's first starring role.
  • After the war Frank Capra set up Liberty Films with George Stevens and William Wyler to make more serious, soul-searching films. This was Liberty's only production.
  • 350,000 feet of film were used.
  • The Motion Picture Association of America's strict production code in 1946 censored such phrases and words as "nuts to you", "impotent", "dang", "lousy", and "jerk". But Capra managed to bypass the production code stipulating that criminals be punished for their crime: Potter never met justice for stealing the $8,000. Capra noted several times that he had received more mail about this point than anything else in the film.
  • The instant that George says "God" on the bridge, it starts snowing, showing that he is back in the real world.
  • The cigarette lighter seen in this film (the one which George wishes he had a million dollars on) was previously seen in another Frank Capra film, You Can't Take It with You (1938).
  • James Stewart repeated his role in a one-hour radio version for NBC Radio Theater in 1949.
  • The set for Bedford Falls was constructed in two months and was one of the longest sets that had ever been made for an American movie. It covered four acres of the RKO's Encino Ranch. It included 75 stores and buildings, main street, factory district and a large residential and slum area. The Main Street was 300 yards long, three whole city blocks!
  • The Bailey Park scenes were filmed in La Crescenta, California.
  • Dalton Trumbo, Dorothy Parker, and Clifford Odets all did uncredited work on the script.
  • In the original script, Clarence confronts Potter about what he did to George. It was to take place right after Potter yelled, "And Happy New Year to you, in jail!"
  • The raven, named Jimmy, appeared in all of Frank Capra's movies.
  • Two of "Sesame Street" (1969)'s most famous Muppets, Bert and Ernie, share their names with the cop and cab driver in this film, but this is said to be just a coincidence.
  • While filming the scene where George prays in the bar, James Stewart has said that he was so overcome that he began to sob right then and there. Later, Frank Capra reframed the shot so it looked like a much closer shot than was actually filmed because he wanted to catch that expression on Stewart's face.
  • James Stewart and Donna Reed reprised their roles in 1947 on radio, first on "The Lux Radio Theatre" and then on "Camel Screen Guild Theatre." In the Lux version, instead of putting Zuzu's petals in his pocket, George has a bell that Zuzu likes to play with. The "Lux" version aired in March; the "Screen Guild" version aired December 29th.
  • Actor and producer Sheldon Leonard said in an interview that the only reason he agreed to play Nick the bartender in this film was so that he would have money to buy Dodger baseball tickets.
  • The film has two lines of "secret dialog" - spoken quietly through a door. (They can be heard when amplifying the volume, and are also explicitly depicted in the closed-captioning.) The lines occur at the end of the scene set in Bailey's private office with Bailey and his son George, and Potter and his goon present. After George raves to Potter that "you can't say that about my father", he is ushered out of the room by his father, then George is shown standing outside the office door. At that moment, George overhears the following two lines of dialog through the glass pane of the door behind him: POTTER: What's the answer? BAILEY: Potter, you just humiliated me in front of my son.
  • Pharmacist Gower's son's death at college is attributed to "Influenza" in the telegram that Young George reads, dated May 3, 1919. This is probably a reference to the "Spanish Flu" worldwide epidemic that killed millions of people around that time, and would have still been fresh in many people's minds when the movie was first released.
  • The name of Bedford Falls was combined from Bedford Hills, in Westchester County, New York, and Seneca Falls, a small town midway between Rochester and Syracuse. The town of Elmira, mentioned by the bank examiner, is a real town in New York, not that far from the actual Seneca Falls.
  • The scene on the bridge where Clarence saves George was filmed on a back lot on a day where the temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why James Stewart is visibly sweating in a few scenes.
  • Frank Capra often said that this was his favorite of all his films.
  • James Stewart's performance as George Bailey is ranked #8 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
  • Voted the #1 inspirational film of all time in AFI's "100 Years, 100 Cheers" (June 14th, 2006)
  • Ranked as the #1 Most Powerful Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute (2006).
  • In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #20 Greatest Movie of All Time.
  • Debuted a week after William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which explained why this movie was a disappointment at the box office and at the Academy Awards.
  • When Officer Bert shoots at George, the "s" in the electric "Pottersville" sign far away in the distance, goes out.
  • Despite being set around Christmas, it was filmed during a heat wave. It got to be so hot that Frank Capra gave everyone a day off to recuperate.
  • According to an interview with Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played Zuzu, the name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps.


PAT said...

This is my all time favorite Christmas movie...just ask my family!

I will be back to read your post again...right now, I'm on my way to watch another favorite...A Christmas Story...known in our family as, the BB gun movie! Love it!

I'm done with decorating...left a link to photos, at the back porch...!


Janet said...


Please ell me that you had to look SOME of that up!! I've been reading your archives and my Dr. had that same lollipop box when I was growing up. No dum dums( I loved the pineapple coconut ones) but large regular lollipops. Nice trip down memory lane. He was a great Doc and I went to him from the time I was 3 until I was 34. Can't do that anymore in this age of specialization. Back to football now.

Gretchen said...

I luuurve this film. Ranks up there with A Charlie Brown Christmas for me. So...what i want to know is what part did Brian Dennehey play? Surely in a movie you love this much, he had to have some role? :) :)

Valerie said...

i so love that movie.

Mom2fur said...

Awesome! Who knew there was so much else behind one of my favorite movies?

Cheryl Wray said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this movie!!! It is my favorite Christmas movie by far, and one of my favorite movies in general!!!! I have seen it a zillion times and still cry everytime I watch it!!! (So does everyone else in the house!!)

Strawberry Lane said...

That movie is a must!
Every year, at least twice! Amazing info you gave on the history of the film.