Why’s It Classic?: It’s a Wonderful Life


by Joey Halphen

Every era or generation has classic movies, but how do they remain so over time? Against such movies as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or  Some Like It Hot or Bringing Up Baby, why does It’s A Wonderful Life remain timeless? I watch more screwball comedies and dramas than anything else. I love movies like it’s a wonderful life greatly. I watched these movies that will live past this generation likely years to come.

It’s a Wonderful Life did not start life as a beloved classic as it was not well loved when it came out. This film is a timeless classic that’s a holiday tradition for many families today, but it was sadly overlooked for ages until it aired on TV. It is now a family tradition.  Its’ decade is set in the 1940’s under wartime united states.

The message in this film is one of courage and sacrifice for the greater good as George Bailey, a man with big ideas about seeing the world, continually forsakes his own desires to do what is right for the town. The second message is that each life important. No matter how insignificant we feel we are, we are all inextricably linked to each other and play an important part in the fabric of one another’s lives. Frank Capra’s direction really crafts a very human tale about a man fearing his life is meaningless and worthless. We all have felt this same feeling at some point until we figure out we have a truly good life. 

James Stewart is wonderful as George Bailey. Stewart’s wide-eyed enthusiasm and boyish charm, coupled with an unbending strength of character made him the perfect folk hero. Donna Reed is lovely, charming, and attained the right balance between being supportive and kindly. She really is a good-natured spirit that wants to make George see that he has a wonderful life. Lionel Barrymore plays Mr. Henry F. Potter who is a ‘scrooge-type’ role that really views his place as above everyone else in town. He plays it very greatly and respective to his character. Thomas Mitchell plays as the bumbling Uncle Billy in probably his most memorable role. Beulah Bondi is stellar as Mrs. Bailey, the mother to George Bailey. Gloria Grahame does a wonderful supporting role as Violet. Henry Travers as Clarence is similarly good as the angel sent to help George Bailey find out he means something to the world. All of this cast gives us such respectively great roles.

The lighting effects of It’s a Wonderful Life really do have such a great black and white that gives its respective hue and look. Its soundtrack is very great but one can notice how It’s a Wonderful Life uses many silent movie cues to help it along. That being said, many of the song choices fit the mood of the scene so much that its timeless soundtrack has a charm of its own. Visuals & Effects are some of the greatest assets to this wonderful classic. Still, the greatest visuals come from the art department in the construction of the entire town of Bedford Falls. The set was built over two months, as the town was a real town in every way. One can notice a overuse of pictures as a reminder to things long past – that is one of the many things that really work in hand. Its cinematography works with all of these effects to create a wonderful depth of its town and the people and the many effects, such as the angel showing up etc. It truly creates the magic of this wonderful classic.

This film is number eleven on AFI’s list of best films of the century. It was nominated for five academy awards and won none. It was swept in 1947 by The Best Years of Our Lives, a great film that won seven Oscar that was equally as wonderful as this classic. It’s a Wonderful Life is an enduring classic that is viewed and loved by generation after generation after the injustice of being overlooked for ages as this movie has such a charm and depth that makes it able to convey many messages throughout its tale to you. It has many references to the many eras past around that time. It is a timeless classic with all the charm That is why it remains a classic.


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