Friday, December 19, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life NOT

Wendell Jamieson writes about IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE for the NY Times. He points out that not only is the title, at best, ironic, but also, the story is a complete downer. I've read this kind of story before, by Mr. Jamieson ticks off a good number of horrors. Here are just a few:
"George’s brother, Harry (Todd Karns), almost drowns in a childhood accident; Mr. Gower, a pharmacist, nearly poisons a sick child; and then George, a head taller than everyone else, becomes the pathetic older sibling creepily hanging around Harry’s high school graduation party. That night George humiliates his future wife, Mary (Donna Reed), by forcing her to hide behind a bush naked, and the evening ends with his father’s sudden death."
Another good point: Bedford Falls is the kinda sleepy place where they roll up the sidewalks at night, while the parallel universe Bedford Falls, "Pottersville," is full of hot jazz, hot women and booze all night.

I love this movie too, as does Mr. Jamieson, who gives a lot of food for thought. Some good movies, like WONDERFUL LIFE, just get better and more nuanced as we age. Certainly its evil rich banker guy, played by Lionel Barrymore, is a prescient caricaturization of our current Vice President.

The only lesson I take from the movies is that there are other people in this world, people who love you, who will take advantage if you don't speak up and tell 'em you're gonna go after your own dreams now.

My favorite image from the movie.


Brian Fies said...

No doubt, despite Capra's reputation for producing cheery Capra-corn, it is a bleak, bleak film. Every time George and Mary cancel their honeymoon to save the Savings & Loan with their nest-egg money, I yell at them to keep driving. George is a suicidal, incompetent businessman and an idiot to leave Uncle Billy in charge of the books. As I got older, I always thought Earth-2 Potterville looked like a pretty happenin' town and Potter himself not a bad guy to work for. The scene where Potter sizes up George and offers him a job stings because Potter's basically right. Still, if you don't get a tear in your eye when George finds Zuzu's petals in his pocket . . . well, you're not someone I care to know.

Bonnie said...

I agree, it's bleak, and as time goes on (I'm almost 52), I interpret the title more and more ironically. When watching this movie as a child, I mostly enjoyed Clarence, and above all the dance scene. What's wonderful about the movie is watching everybody jump in the pool, even the adults! The view of adult life it gives was/is depressing. But true for many. My own father flew into rages like George did. It was frightening.

As a child I didn't really understand how trapped George was. As an adult, I do, and so while I still always watch the movie at Christmas, it troubles me more each time. Is it honest? Is there no in between life, some happy medium between George's constant self-sacrifice and Harry's (and Potter's) self-interest?

I think I am most troubled by what I feel is dishonesty in the movie's premise. A movie is always made by a director, a writer, actors, and many other folks. By nature of their professions, such people cannot be as self-annihilating as George. You have to go after what you want to get a movie made. In a world like Bedford Falls, and a life like George's, would a movie ever get made? Somebody has to take a risk, and be a little selfish, to make movies happen.

Unknown said...

I don't know why we have to talk about and over analyze movies like this. The premise is simple: that one man's life - even a man who thinks he would be more helpful dead - can have a positive effect on and even save many others. I agree it's sad that George never got to see the world, but at the end when he realizes all the things he has to be grateful for - and when all of Bedford Falls turns out to help him in his time of need - it always makes me believe in the inherent goodness of man. At least until Christmas is over...