The script started as a short story called "The Greatest Gift" by Phillip Van Doren Stern. He enclosed it in a Christmas card after he failed to find anyone who would buy it from him. A studio finally bought it for $10,000 and tried to turn it into a workable script by several writers and directors. After many failed attempts, it was finally put into the hands of the brilliant Frank Capra and the rest is history. Frank Capra is the talented director of such classics as "Mr. Smith goes to Washington", and "It Happened One Night".
The story lays out the life of George Bailey (played by James Stewart) in the small town of Bedford Falls. We start early in his childhood with different pivotal moments where he has made huge impacts on other peoples lives. In this time we are introduced to Mary Hatch who is secretly and passionately in love with George, but can't seem to tell him. Another important scene is George saving his little brother Harry from drowning in a freezing lake.
We then move forward to George as an adult and are introduced to his father, Pa Baily (Samuel Hinds) who runs Bailey Building and Loan, a community business for loaning money and offering investments for very little profit. His father is a wonderful, idealistic man who is full of generosity, but shallow pockets. There is a scene at the dinner table with George and his father that's very touching as George tells him how wonderful he thinks he is. George is full of passion and lofty dreams of leaving Bedford Falls to build citys and discover the world, but when his father dies he finds himself compelled to stay and take over the Building and Loan business after a threat of takeover by the heartless Mr. Henry Potter, (Lionel Barrymore) the main man behind most of the commerce in Bristol Falls. Meanwhile George sees his brother Harry getting all the glory, excitement, and adventure while George remains stuck at home.
George and Mary re-unite as adults and the sparks begin to fly. As their relationship develops there are many truly magical moments together that brought tears to my eyes. Donna Reed who plays the wholesome sensuous Mary Hatch is truly an angel. She was mesmerizing in this role. George and Mary eventually get married and have four kids. This goes against George's original plans of seeing the world, but he is smitten with Mary and can't resist her. George's brother, Harry Bailey (played by Todd Karns) comes back from the War and is decorated by the president for saving several men in a very heroic act. Harry is also married and has plans to live away from Bedford Falls despite George wanting to leave him in charge of Bailey Building and Loan while he goes off to college and lives out his dreams.
After a series of events that leads george into despair and further away from his dreams, he entertains the idea of suicide. An angel looking to get his wings, Clarence Oddbody (played by Henry Travers), is sent to show George what the world would be like if had never been born. Coming as a wake-up call to George, he immediately turns his despair into an outpouring of emotional gratitude as he runs back home to his family waiting for him at Christmas. This wonderful heart-tugging ending will have you in tears as George discovers just how valuable he is and what's really important in life.
I can't say enough good things about this film. I am looking forward to viewing it again. This is film making at its finest...truly brilliant. The characters and relationships are wonderfully crafted and leave nothing out. I'm sure this film must have influenced other films such as "Mr. Destiny" and "The Family Man".
VIDEO: 1.33:1 black & white full screen and looking really great. A complete digitally re-mastered feature from the original film negative. Certified by THX labs for superior sound and picture.
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital mono, French, Spanish, and English audio tracks and subtitles are present.
MENUS: The menu designs are static and look good.
BONUS MATERIALS: There is a 28 minute documentary featurette, "The Making of ..." hosted by Tom Bosley as well as a special tribute to Frank Capra, "A Personal Remembrance" narrated by his son Frank Capra Jr.. Original theatrical trailer is also included.
Final Thought: This was my first viewing of "Its a Wonderful Life" and its a solid treasure. Very appropriate for Christmas time. Its a wonderful message of morality, values and principles and whats really valuable in life. I am not really much into classic films, but this film did enough to completely change my interest in them. Just remember...no man is a failure that has friends.