IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – CAPRA’S BEST
It’s a Wonderful Life is not just one of the greteat holiday movies of all time – it is one of the all time best movies period!
The story behind It’s a Wonderful Life begins when Frank Capra returned to Hollywood from his service in the Army during World War II, he was a colonel and had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He had left Hollywood, one of its foremost directors, to make films at home and abroad for the War Department. He worked on all seven pictures in the Why We Fight series, including the Oscar-winning Prelude to War; another series beginning with Know Your Ally and Know Your Enemy; the Army-Navy Screen Magazine; The Negro Soldier in World War II; The Battle of Britain; Two Down and One to Go; and several other films which he codirected. Now, in the spring of 1945, he was a civilian once again, back in Hollywood looking for a new project. Together with three other colonels who had seen service in the war—William Wyler, George Stevens, and Samuel Briskin—he formed Liberty Films, of which he was President; and the company committed itself to make nine pictures for release through RKO/Radio.
As of yet, Capra had no film in mind to make as his first for Liberty Films.
One day Charles Koerner, head of production at RKO, came to his office to tell him about an original story, “The Greatest Gift,” which he had purchased for RKO from Philip Van Doren Stern. It had been written as a Christmas card to be mailed to Stern’s friends, but Koerner saw a full feature film in its few paragraphs, bought it, and had already spent a fortune hiring three writers—Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets—to make a screenplay of the story. So far none of their efforts had come to fruition, and Koerner wanted Capra to read the story and see what he thought. Capra read it and was overjoyed; it seemed to him to be the story he had been looking for all his life. Liberty bought “The Greatest Gift” for the fifty thousand dollars Koerner had paid for it, and Koerner threw in the three previous screenplays as part of the bargain. Capra, however, wanted a fresh start; he hired Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett as writers, and later wrote some scenes on his own. The new title for the venture was It’s a Wonderful Life.
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