It’s A Wonderful Life at 75 -

It isn’t every year a cherished cinematic classic turns 75, but this year is one of those. Released in December 1946, Frank Capra’s perennial holiday classic It’s A Wonderful Life is one of the most beloved films of all time and the quintessential “Capraesque” comedy/drama. Ironic considering it was considered a flop when it was released, having cost $3.7 million to make, but only earning back $3.3 million during its initial run.

Boasting the return of James Stewart to acting, after serving in World War II (in a role originally slated for Cary Grant), it had a significant impact, despite its initial earnings. Critics loved the movie, and it was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. Unfortunately, the Christmas spirit was not kind to the film, and it was shut out. Even so, every year that the movie was trotted out for holiday release, it gained new fans. Ultimately, the miracle of television was where it found its true audience.

It was a movie that struck a chord with the average American. With Stewart in the role of everyman George Bailey, a family man who has spent his entire life giving of himself to the people of Bedford Falls, they saw themselves. They related to his angst in watching his youth, dreams and opportunities pass him by, while the richest man in town got richer and threatened everything he, and they, believed in. And they lamented the sad situation that found Bailey contemplating suicide, believing that his wife and young children would be better off without him.

The conceit that an angel might come down and show him what the world would have been like without him has become a well-trod trope in Hollywood, but this was the first time it had been examined in cinema and audiences grew to love it. Adding delightful turns by the luminescent Donna Reed as George’s wife Mary, the legendary Lionel Barrymore as skinflint Mr. Potter, and a host of character actors already well known at the time, only added to the magic. The fact that this premise would hold up for three quarters of a century is nothing short of astonishing, and yet this perennial classic never grows old.

This year, you can rush out and buy any of the merchandise being pumped out by Paramount Pictures, including the lavish Blu-ray, filled with commemorative swag, or the Official Bailey Family Cookbook, boasting such delectable dishes as Pastry Snails, Home Blessing Salad, Clarence’s Angel Food Cake and Mama and Papa Dollar cocktails. You can even watch it when it airs on NBC, as tradition dictates. However, if you want the full impact, the Rio Grande Theatre will be screening It’s A Wonderful Life Saturday, December 11, at 7 p.m. Which means, for only $5, you get to relive the glory of a magical movie celebrating its Diamond Jubilee the way it was intended.

Happy Holidays!

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