Do You Think It’s Wonderful?

Its_A_Wonderful_Life_Movie_Poster

When you think about how many films you have viewed during your lifetime, have you ever wondered why some remain timeless? They can be watched over and over again without losing their impact.

It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my favorites. Somehow this Christmas tale produced and directed by Frank Capra has kept its relevance every year since it was released in 1947. It still is #1 on the American Movie Institute’s list of most inspirational films. The movie is based on a short story written in 1939 by Philip Van Doren Stern called The Christmas Gift.

I am about to start on my last rewrite of my novel and examined this movie in a completely different way. Not as a movie-goer, but as a writer. I  discovered its magic and why it has left audiences spellbound for the last 66 years.

The first scene sets the tone for the movie. It starts on Christmas Eve with prayers being said for George Bailey while the snow floats down on Bedford Falls, New York. Then it cuts to the stars in the sky where Saints are discussing how to keep George from ending his life through the help of Clarence the guardian angel who wants to earn his wings.  

Guardian_angel_clarence

The story’s climax is introduced in the first scene. Whoa! What a concept. Even before meeting the protagonist, George Bailey, we learn that he is loved by many, is in trouble and wants to end his life.

We have compassion for the protagonist. My eyes still well up with tears when young George is cuffed in the ear by the pharmacist after he refuses to deliver pills accidentally filled with rat poison. And that is in the first ten minutes! After that scene, I am hooked into watching the movie all over again.

In the beginning, each scene has its own climax and ending. What a great idea! Flashbacks show Clarence the events leading up to that fateful day and how George impacted many of the people in Bedford Falls. This also introduces the characters. They are told like individual stand-alone stories so Clarence can fully understand George’s motivation and so can we.

The plot is clear and relatable. The mystery of why positive and lovable George Bailey would want to end his life keeps audiences glued until the climax. Even though I know what is going to happen, the structure and drama of each scene keeps me watching. We learn about the lives he changed through his own sacrifices and why he is loved by so many. Donna_Reed_with_James_Stewart_(1946)

The protagonist is a quirky and likable character. George is direct and speaks his mind. He is filled with enthusiasm and gumption in hopes of traveling the world someday. His positive outlook is infectious and his out-going personality shows courage even as a young boy. We admire George’s willingness to risk his own life and eventually his livelihood. In the end of the story he wants to take his life so his wife can use the life insurance money to pay off the bank’s loan.

The antagonist is introduced early. Mr. Potter is a lonely and greedy old curmudgeon confined to a wheel chair. He owns a competing bank and wants to take over the Bailey Building and Loan so he can take control of Bedford Falls. When Potter insults George’s father, twelve-year-old George Bailey defends him and gives Potter a shove as his father guides him out of the room. This sets up the tension for the story.

The climax of the story rocks! In the last half hour of the movie, George wishes he had never been born. Clarence shows him what life would be like if he got his wish. The town is in shambles and no one but greedy old Potter shows any happiness.

The protagonist learns something. George realizes that he does have a wonderful life and he wants to live.

It's_A_Wonderful_Life

“Every time you here a bell, an angel gets his wings!”

There is a moral to the story. You impact so many lives in ways you will never imagine. No matter how bleak life gets, there are people who love you and would be willing to help if you let them. Brilliant! It also introduces the comforting idea that there is a guardian angel watching over us.

I cried again while watching this movie before writing this post and will gladly watch it again on Christmas Day. It makes me wonder what life would be like if I had never been born. I have a pretty wonderful life too.

It is ironic that the history of the film also has a message for writers, movie makers and anyone else trying to accomplish a goal. Never give up. It didn’t meet box-office expectations when it first came out, but eventually became a Christmas classic.

What is your all-time favorite movie?

Do you ever analyze them?

Photos by Wikipedia

Click on this link to watch the film on YouTube

110 thoughts on “Do You Think It’s Wonderful?

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  1. It’s A Wonderful Life is one of my all time favorites. I didn’t see it for the first time until a high school film class (guess my parents didn’t love me), and it was one of those movies that first got me thinking about writing movies, rather than novels when I grew up…

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    1. Cool! Do you only write screenplays? I have one already outlined that I would like to work on after this first book.

      It really makes me think there is some magic in those few words to get us to empathize so quickly. I hope I learn how to do that!!
      Thanks so much!

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            1. It’s much different, though. With screenwriting, everything has to be shown or relayed through dialogue. You can’t have an omniscient narrator tell us what’s going on, or what a character is thinking…

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              1. I have never written anything with a narrator’s voice. I tell stories through a character’s eyes. Isn’t there a whole way of writing the dialogue and including blocking or passages of narration to know how is coming and going from a space?

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                1. You can use some screen direction, but that’s it. Remember, you can’t even say things like “The room is cold”. You have show it with frosty windows, a low thermostat, etc. If a character says it, it’s just too on the nose…

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  2. I love how you broke it all down. The first time I saw this movie was with my husband when we were first married. He went out and purchased it so we could watch any time of the year. There are so many messages to be had within this story….thanks for the huge reminder.

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    1. Thanks so much!
      It definitely has many messages and I only mentioned the two, but there is a big one there about taking responsibility.
      Even if it wasn’t your plan, doing the right thing will bring great reward..
      I don’t think the movie was shown that often when I was growing up. But later it really hit me. That’s great that you have a copy. And now it is on YouTube too!

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  3. There are some movies I analyze. Mostly I’m content to just watch them.
    Wonderful Life’s influence is still felt, for instance at the end of Groundhog Day where the snow starts falling at the end.

    Once heard a guy do an absolutely brilliant breakdown of Field of Dreams that made the movie even better.

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    1. I had never thought of breaking down a film, but now that I have, it makes me think there is a lot to learn from these brilliant writers and directors.
      I never thought of the snow at the end, but you are right. Love Groundhog Day and Scrooged!
      Thanks Guapola!

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      1. The teacher of a film class I took in college said that there was nothing in a film frame that the director didn’t put there for a specific reason(while discussing The Hustler).

        Wrap your head around that!

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        1. That is so interesting! It makes me think of the staging they do for the inside of homes.
          That would be such a fun class to take. Maybe my daughter wouldn’t mind if I signed up for a film class with her… Hahaha!

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  4. Thanks and yes, I love that movie and it moves me every time, although haven’t watched it in a couple years, moving etc. Probably time for my kids to see that as things are starting to sink in. I got goosebumps as I read your last two lines, so very good. I remember turning the pages of Bridges of Madison Co. and crying like instantly, somehow, I just love when moments like that hit!

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      1. It is amazing how some films have the ability to pull at our hearts. That is exceptional writing.
        I know! At least it is snowing here on my site! YES! Let it snow!
        Thanks so much Lilie!

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        1. I had to go back and see which lines. Thanks! I think that is what gets me the most in that film. Everyone asks themselves that question at some point and I only hope that they realize they would leave a huge hole in everyone’s life… 🙂

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  5. Susie, I love I’s a Wonderful Life… A cute story: when my nephew was 4 (he is now 7) we were watching the movie. Now he was a pretty smart cookie for his age and he was totally engrossed in the movie and it was as quiet as a mouse. Well we were at the scene where George hits the tree with the car and Gabby yells out “Man that’s gonna hurt” We started cracking up.. One of my favorite Christmas memories

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  6. Like El, I have struggled with depression along with anxiety most of my life. Watching IAWL is always life affirming to me because I often wonder if I really make a difference. Over the last couple of years some of my grown children have told me thank you for different childhood experiences and that they were glad I am their mother. To me that was like George at the end of the movie watching all those people come to his rescue.

    My other favorite Christmas movies are White Christmas (Sisters, Sisters), A Christmas Carol (1935), A Christmas Carol (1938) and Scrooge (1971). My children blame me for them not being able to watch any of the Christmas Carol movies because I marathon every version on Christmas Eve while I finish getting ready for Christmas Day.

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    1. Awww! I am so glad that this has meaning for you! I love those other movies too. How cool that your children gave you that validation. As a parent, nothing could be better than that!
      Thanks so much for the blog love and shout out too!

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  7. This may be my favorite post of yours, Susie. Beautiful! And has me wanting to rush to my TV to view the classic I haven’t seen in years.

    I don’t have a favorite movie I want to watch repeatedly, but there are many I think of often and hold special places in my heart. The Christmas film that knocks me over with nostalgia and gratitude is the Little House on the Prairie’s Christmas special. I adore Silence of the Lambs for entirely different reasons. 😉

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    1. Thanks so much August!
      I would hope that those two movies would be loved for different reasons. Hahaha!
      So many films have messages and yet few hold meaning for so many over the decades. I am not sure that I have seen Little House on the Prairie’s Christmas Special and will have to look it up!

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  8. Love how you’ve deconstructed this, Susie. Right down to the film’s history… something us writer’s need to be reminded of 🙂 I’m no good at listing favourites, but I do remember watching this one on a particularly sad Christmas many moons ago. Pretty sure it moved me beyond words.

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  9. Studying movies is one of the best ways to learn the craft and art of storytelling. It’s so much easier to tune in with a notebook and see how they introduce characters and weave the plot than re-reading an entire book. Studying books is essential, too. 🙂 But I am a huge believer in learning from movies. If it’s a great story, it’s a great story. Period. After I wrote my first novel, and thought, okay, I still have a lot to learn, I spent a lot of time studying my favorite movies and books and asking the same questions you did–why do I like this so much? Why does it resonate? Why can I watch it over and over and over and love it every time? And after I figured out all the common themes to my favorites, then I wrote my second book-The Selkie Spell. And I knew that everything in that story was true to me. 🙂 Write on, Susie! Oh, and my fav Christmas movie is the Grinch. I’m a total sucker for his heart growing three sizes at the end. 🙂 🙂

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    1. This was my first, but I will always look at movies differently after this one. I am glad to hear that you learned so much from them and will be paying close attention the next time I watch a great one!
      Love The Grinch too! There are so many good ones to watch over the holidays.
      Merry Merry!

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  10. I might as well get the screaming over with, “I have never seen ‘It’s a wonderful life'”! No, not once. I am pretty certain I own it, it just never found its way into my watching world. I have promised myself each year to do so and forget or something happens, or… well, that’s it.
    As for my favorite movie, there are several, but the one that I just keep watching and enjoying for the sheer enjoyment is “Bicentennial Man”. It has everything as far as I an concerned: It is sci-fi, has a beautiful co-star in it, is a love story, funny, epic, and has meaning interspersed all through it.
    Scott

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    1. Cool! I haven’t seen that movie. I will check it out.

      If it is too much trouble to tee up your DVD, I left a link to the movie on Youtube. I watched it on my computer before writing this post and am glad I did since my memory put some scenes out of order.
      Let me know what you think of it Scott!

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  11. What an interesting take on the movie…and I think you nailed it! It is one of my favorites, too. Two that come in second and third are Frequency and Late for Dinner (a movie no one but me has ever heard of). I’ve never really analyzed them to figure out why they’re favorites, but they have what it takes to hold my interest-repeatedly. 🙂

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    1. I’ve never heard of those two movies. One of the nice surprises in writing this post was finding out there are a lot of great movies I haven’t seen yet!
      Once you watch again while analyzing through a writer’s eye, you will find out how they hooked you! It is pretty valuable info for us story tellers!
      Thanks so much for coming by!

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  12. I’ve seen this movie a couple of times, including in a film course at college, but it isn’t one of my favorites. Actually, I enjoyed your description of it much more than the movie itself.

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