IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – CAPRA’S BEST
Seldom has a picture been produced with more love. Capra got his old friend James Stewart, who had also been a colonel in the Air Corps, to play the leading role and the rest of the cast fell easily into place. Three actors—Lionel Barrymore, Donna Reed, and Gloria Grahame—were borrowed from M-G-M; the others, for the most part, were enlisted from what Capra has called the Ford-Capra stock company: brilliant character actors such as Thomas Mitchell, H. B. Warner, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond, Frank Faylen, Samuel S. Hinds, Mary Treen, Frank Hagney, plus two talented additions to the ranks—Sheldon Leonard and Henry Travers.
The hero of Its a Wonderful Life is George Bailey (James Stewart), who never planned to be a hometown boy. Born, reared, and educated in the typical small American town of Bedford Falls, George is a victim of circumstances. He had always wanted to travel, to see the world and develop beyond Bedford Falls; but when his father died, George was committed to keeping alive the Bailey Building and Loan Company as the only alternative to allowing Bedford Falls to fall completely under the ownership of greedy and unscrupulous Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore).
George’s sacrifices begin at once. He gives up a trip abroad for which his father had paid in order for his brother to go to college, while he himself goes to work for the Bailey Company. He falls in love with and marries Mary Hatch (Donna Reed), but when there is a run on the Bailey Building and Loan Company, fomented by Mr. Potter, Georg_e is forced to use his honeymoon money to bolster the dwindling assets. Ending the bank day with only one dollar left, George goes home to the dilapidated old mansion which Mary has taken over to begin their future life together.