Capra's Christmas classic gets a new life on video


November 08, 1991|By Josh Mooney


Republic Home Video


To commemorate the 45th anniversary of "It's a Wonderful Life," the timeless holiday classic by Frank Capra, the film is being re-released in a version touted as the only one duplicated from the original film negative in a new state-of-the-art video transfer. This means a sharp, clear picture and soundtrack.

This version also includes a four-minute short on the making of the film, including interviews with Capra and Jimmy Stewart, as well as the film's original 1946 trailer -- nice perks, but, after all the film's the thing.

Hollywood has done heaven and angels to death (if you'll pardon the expression) but no one's done them better than Capra, who combined wit, intelligence and the finesse required to make a story truly heartwarming without going over the top into schmaltz (a rare skill indeed in the film biz).

This down-home American fantasy provided Jimmy Stewart with one of his most memorable roles, as George Bailey, the small-town boy who grows into a man who dreams of making it big. Trouble is, he's been doing good deeds all his life and ends up suicidal because of it ("Nice guys finish last," as Leo Durocher would later say).

His travails and ultimate triumphs, from childhood on, are vividly depicted in classic, Golden Age Hollywood fashion. Capra's behind-the-camera team included top-notch talent like screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, musical director Dmitri Tiomkin and art director Jack Okey.

And no one who's seen the film can forget the acting of Donna Reed as George's wife, Lionel Barrymore as the evil Potter, or Henry Travers as Clarence Oddbody, angel second class, who shows George what life would be like without him.

Cynics tend to have a field day putting down this film as a naive, sentimental feel-good movie about middle-of-the-road America in the post-war years. More simply and appropriately put, it's a film for Everyman -- clearly Capra's primary goal. He thought it was his best work, and Mr. Stewart always called it his favorite, and that's got to count for something, anyway.

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