Last time on Queue Your Netflix with Class(iscs), I shared the political tale with a heart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But since is the season of giving, I’m giving another look at that other (other than You Can’t Take It With You) Stewart-Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.
The original box office flop came on the heels of WWII. America, high on victory, was not keen on watching the weepy movie about doubt and self-worth. And around Christmas? Bah-Humbug! The picture faded into obscurity, a bitter mark for Capra’s career. But in the mid-fifties, when programmers were looking for old movies to shove onto television screens across the nation, they found this gem and rebroadcasted without permission for years. Despite its ensuing copyright-wrangling, It’s a Wonderful Life has remained a Christmas staple, making its annual appearance on your TV tonight at 8p.m. on NBC.
This year however, I believe this tradition means much more than your average prime time garland. This one has meaning, one that in the face of recession, political unrest, and corruption, resonates with audiences possibly more in present times than it did back during its first release.
The movie is about the good-hearted George Bailey, who through good times and bad has always stood to do what is right not what was easy. After facing one too many disheartening events, especially one that may end his father’s business in ruins, George decides that he is worth more dead than alive and sets off to end his life. He is saved by an angel, who leads on him ” A Christmas Carol”-esque trip to show him how much he means to others around him.
One of the most important themes in the movie is kind of like a possible answer to what’s the meaning of Christmas. It’s family, it’s friends, and it’s the community that lift George in his troubled times. Sure he’s imperfect, but so are they, and they are willing to forgive each other for that. Inept family members stay loyal and round up help for George when things go awry. His wife manages to stay by his side and his kids still love him even if he’s a man in trouble.
And how similar the troubles. Through George’s life we see that other financial crisis, The Great Depression, as it nearly destroys his business and annihilates almost every other business in town that does not belong to Lionel Barrymore’s greedy Mr. Potter. This Mr. Potter is the personification of greed, cutting bad deals with an uglier attitude. Looks a bit like Bernie Madoff doesn’t he? He is everything we don’t like about financial corruption: the coldness, the heartlessness, and the meanness. Despite his flaws, George Bailey looks like a saint next to this guy. Ethics need not apply, as we see Potter steal outright from our protagonist. Not to mention this slimy businessman poses as the dark seductress of temptation that offers Bailey what he’s worked for all his life: a way out of his hometown. But surrendering the only business to stand up to this evil extortionist is too much for George, who instead sacrifices his dreams for the well beings of others. It’s a moral stance against the man with dollar signs for eyes.
It’s because of the Mr. Potters of the world today, we should recognize the George Baileys around us and let them know just how much they mean to us. Not just during the holidays, but throughout the year, however long times are bad and beyond. They do not need to have sacrificed for a town full of people. But if anyone has ever helped you get to where you are today, you know who to thank.
Give a little once in awhile; you never know when the bells are ringing out for wings.
Check out the trailer here:
A fun read on just how manly George Bailey is-tears and all.
From the New York Times, a different look at the classic-what if George Bailey had never been born and more.
There are multiple versions online, but the annual broadcast takes place tonight (12/24) at 8 p.m. on NBC. Don’t miss it!