Tag Archives: Christmas

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It's a Wonderful LIfe

To be frank, the odds were very much against me liking this this film- the sometimes painfully old-fashioned values, the copious amount of sentimentality- but I have to say it just got to me. And that’s the mark of an effective movie isn’t it… it touches people who aren’t exactly it’s target audience. That said, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is timeless, earnest, and well-made in all respects. And it is certainly a movie that does not need a big budget makeover (keep on walking, Hollywood.)

George Bailey (James Stewart) is a good man, certainly not a perfect man, but a person who is basically devoted to the business of doing the right thing. You see, George wanted to go places- travel the world and become a renowned architect- but life had other plans, keeping him indefinitely in the one-horse town of Bedford Falls, where the corrupt moneylender Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) is vying for power.

George marries his true love, Mary Hatch (Donna Reed,) but the drudgery of middle age and the upkeep of his father (Samuel S. Hinds)’s building and loaning business turn George depressed and bitter. On Christmas Eve, a crisis inadvertently caused by George’s slightly dim and hard-drinking Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) and his own personal woes leave George standing on the edge of a bridge, contemplating suicide.

A angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) stops George from throwing away his life and shows him the disaster that would have fallen upon everyone George knows if he hadn’t been born. The climax is bittersweet but life-affirming and touching. Some of the gender themes are woefully outdated (like the portrayal of the unmarried Mary Hatch in the George-less reality as a frumpy old maid  and a librarian, none the less!) but the general tone of the movie is good.

James Stewart does a great acting job in this, playing a well-developed ordinary guy with a challenging life and a good heart. Donna Reed backs Stewart up nicely in a supporting love-interest role. Some of the scenes are emotionally tough and so more effective (Bailey is not above occasional cruelty, even to his adoring wife.) The only real weakness I see present is the child actor’s performances; they seemed a little fake to me.

I sincerely hope the alleged ‘sequel’ to this movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Continued Story” is a hoax, though I also found out that there is TV remake called “It Happened One Christmas” featuring a female George Bailey. Both films are wrong-headed on every account. You don’t mess with the classics. I picture the quintessential modern-day remake to be directed by that Madea guy, starring the obligatory all-black cast (we’ve got to be inclusive now,) and featuring poo-poo and fart jokes. “Madea’s It’s a Wonderful Life.” Horrors.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is so effective to this day because George is not the perfect person, because no one is an ideal human being. He struggles with the moral crises and questions that plague everyone. He’s an everyman, but he comes up on top and keenly aware of his own worth, which is a happy ending anyone can root for. Because we all want to believe we matter, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” reinforces this belief.

Everyone shouls see “It’s a Wonderful Life” at least once in their lives, especially if they’re feeling down (though learning that George Bailey saves a whole town might make you feel worse, in retrospect.) It’s a classic for a reason, and it has a wonderful cast, though I’ll be damned if little Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes) does annoy the bejeezus out of me (her high-pitched squeak of “Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets it’s wings!” is enough to give anyone pause.) But mostly, it is a timeless commentary on the beauty and fragility of the human condition.

It's_A_Wonderful_Life

A Christmas Story (1983)

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“A Christmas Story” is, and always will be, a perennial holiday favorite at our house. It is a film low on plot, but high on belly laughs and great quotes. Don’t expect a lot of big drama or major events in the story, it’s very much a movie that encapsulates a time and place, that of 1940’s Indiana. It’s nostalgic without minimizing the woes that seem huge to us when we’re kids, of which nine-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) has many.

All Ralphie wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun he has seen advertised in his small Midwestern town. Seems simple and wholesome enough to us, right? In a world where ultra-violent video games and nifty new electronics are in high demand, a BB gun seems quaint, innocent even. But all Ralphie hears from the people in his life is “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Ralphie’s dad (Darren McGavin) is a traditional father and husband with a good heart, who nevertheless seems to be a little on the dim side. The gruff way he treats Ralphie’s ‘s mother (Melinda Dillon) wouldn’t fly by today’s standards, but it fits it’s old-fashioned time frame. Ralphie’s mom dotes on her boys and if she’s fed up with her worn role as mother and housewife she certainly doesn’t show it. She does. however, prove herself on multiple occasions to be smarter and altogether more competent than the ‘old man.’

Ralphie’s little brother Randy (Ian Petrella) is a bit on the whiny side and takes a lot of looking after. Ralphie does not always get along with his brother, and rarely rises to the occasion of really keeping tabs on him. The very episodic plot revolves around triple dog dares,  truculent Santa Clauses, and one very nasty bully by the name of Scut Farkus (Zack Ward,) who torments Ralphie and his group of friends regularly. Meanwhile, Ralphie aspires to drop the great hint that will lead to his parents’ purchase of the legendary BB gun.

Director Bob Clark doesn’t just know how to direct kids- he excels at it, drawing a excellent performance from every child actor in the cast. Both the classic stars who play Ralphie’s parents are brilliant, but Ralphie’s dad in particular reduces me to breathless giggles every time I watch the film. Jean Shepherd (the author of the autobiographical book this movie is based on, ‘In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash’) serves as the self-deprecating voice-over of the adult Ralphie.

I think I died inside a little when I found out about straight-to-DVD, woebegone ‘sequel’ to this film, “A Christmas Story 2.” I wonder now how such an atrocity came to exist, raping the classic original will also having it’s way with little pieces of our hearts at the same time. All this from watching the tragically misguided trailer.

My family watches “A Christmas Story” every year when the Yuletide season comes around, and the film never fails to be hysterical. Ralphie’s imagined ‘wishful thinking’ sequences are a highlight. I think I like this a little bit better than “It’s a Wonderful Life,” my other favorite Christmas movie (“Love Actually” is also a worthy choice.) I am happy to say that “A Christmas Story” stands as one of my all-time favorite movies of any genre and I hope to continue the tradition of seeing it every Christmas for years to come.

A Christmas Story