IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – CAPRA’S BEST
It’s a Wonderful Life was Capra’s own favorite film of all the features he directed, and it was James Stewart’s favorite as well. It received a goodly share of praise from the critics, although some were unmoved by its moments of fantasy and earnest Americanism. The public, nevertheless, greatly admired the picture, which earned five Academy Award nominations, but no Oscar; the major share of the Oscars went to the superb The Best Years of Our Lives, directed by William Wyler for Samuel Goldwyn as Wyler’s last film before he joined Liberty Films.
As many times as a filmgoer sees It’s a Wonderful Life, he cannot fail to be moved by certain sequences, in particular the scenes of the high school dance held iR the school gymnasium. The sequence was shot at Beverly Hills High School, and when somebody in the crew mentioned that the dance floorwas movable and that underneath it was a swimming pool, Capra could not resist taking advantage of the unique circumstance. Thus was born the gimmick of the Charleston contest: one of George’s rivals pulls the switch which moves the floor apart, until George and Mary Hatch, performing a hectic Charleston on the very edge of the separating floor, finally tumble down into the water, followed by nearly everyone present, including the principal.
It’s a Wonderful Life is still a much-loved film, with its theme that no man is a failure as long as he has one friend, and that every man’s life touches everybody he knows, so that no man ever lives alone. Many fans have made a practice of viewing it on Christmas Eve, just as Capra himself still does in his own home. It is a true holiday film, intended to spread good will and cheer, which it does liberally; it is, in fact, a kind of modern morality movie, not unlike Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with James Stewart playing a character similar to Bob Cratchit, a worthy hero whose faith is put to the test, and Lionel Barrymore portraying a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge.