It’s A Wonderful Life (1947)

I’m sitting here watching the classic 1947 movie It’s a Wonderful Life, which is one of THE greatest films of all time. Christmas wouldn’t be complete without this film, with some great acting performances from James Stewart, Donna Reid, Lionel Barrymore and the others, an excellent, very entertaining, above average comedy drama, focusing on the remarkable life of an altruistic, but very dissatisfied and unhappy (with his life) young man, George Bailey.

We’re at the point where Uncle Billy has just lost the $8000 (or, rather, the vile Mr. Potter has it, and won’t give it back). The auditor is at the Bailey Building and Loan, and all hell has broken loose. George has just had the big bust-up with the family, and is asking Potter for help, with the loathsome old cockroach gloating and revelling in this opportunity to destroy his opponent. Everything is spiralling out of control, and George is in total despair, contemplating suicide. In answer to his prayer, George will soon be encountering Clarence, his guardian angel, and making his fateful wish – that he had never been born.

We’re just about to enter the next sequence of the movie, and the part which really elevates it to greatness. The film will sidestep into the truly magnificent and altogether darker and more terrifying alternate reality in which George Bailey never existed. His home town of Bedford Falls is now Pottersville (with nobody to oppose him, Potter has taken over the whole town), a complete dive and utter cesspool, where all the town’s inhabitants are much harder and more cruel people, and lead radically different lives under the all-pervasive evil influence of Potter. We get a chance to see just how different, and worse-off, the world would’ve been without George Bailey.

This is the original and archetypal alternate reality fantasy film, imitated (but never bettered) by many films in the almost seven decades since its release. We’ve moved into the alternate reality sequence now, as George is growing more and more frantic with each encounter he has with familiar characters, none of whom know him, and who are now all subtly different and much darker people than those friends that George knows in his own reality. The film is definitely no longer light-hearted or comedic in tone, and the atmosphere has changed totally, to something genuinely chilling. Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a seriously brilliant movie, a landmark cinematic masterpiece which, like George Bailey himself, has sent out ripples down through the decades, influencing countless films that came after it. It still has a powerful effect on me every time I see it (and I must have seen it more than a hundred times). It must have been a truly breathtaking film back in 1947. Any film buff who has never seen this movie seriously NEEDS to see it, as they’ve missed out on one of the all-time great films. An absolute cinema gem.

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