- It's a Wonderful Life review by Steve Mason
Capra's perennial classic didn't make its costs back, and was released to a critical shrug. Strange that a film that is essentially about sacrifice should so underwhelm a world coming out of war. But now just the names, Harry Bailey, Bedford Falls, Potter/Pottersville are paradigms. Now it's just as curious that eventually America embraced so tightly such a nakedly socialist film.
The plot reads like proto-Twilight Zone. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) has reached the end of himself. Having sacrificed his life for others, he faces financial destruction and decides that suicide would be the best way out. After a bang on the head, and a couple of drinks, Bailey is confronted by a guardian angel and the world as it would have been had he never lived...
So far, so whimsical. The film though manages to absorb its undoubted sentimentality in the utter desolation of its premise. We see Bailey squeezed of his dreams until he is empty and standing on that bridge in the dark of his home town, staring down with fear into the void of the river.
Hard to imagine that anyone but Capra could have carried it off. And that cast... It's a Wonderful Life is a wonder; an extraordinarily emotional experience, a sustainedly bleak encounter that ultimately offers up an overwhelming catharsis. But it is also the film where Capra finally got swallowed up by the darkness. His ending is an act of mercy on his audience. We are all living in Pottersville now.
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