Forget Love Actually, Home Alone, Elf, Scrooged and all the others because It’s a Wonderful Life is arguably the greatest Christmas film ever made. And yet it was a flop on release. Written and directed by Frank Capra the film had originated from a short story in a Christmas card that a writer had sent to 200 friends. Bought by RKO and intended for Cary Grant who eventually opted to appear in another Christmas favourite, ‘The Bishop’s wife’ it was Frank Capra who saw story’s potential and developed it into a script for James Stewart seeing a darkness in the actor not utilized before and realizing his potential to show a good man sliding into suicidal despair.
A proudly sentimental film with an ending that never fails to raise a tear the film was released in 1947 and yet it flopped badly not getting anywhere near to making its money back having garnered mixed reviews So how did it become the revered and ultimate Christmas film it is today?
It all started in 1974 when the copyright for the film had expired due to a clerical error meaning that it could be broadcast on TV without any licensing fees being incurred. The appeal for TV stations was obvious and they leapt on the opportunity to broadcast It’s a Wonderful Life pretty much every Christmas and having ignored it on initial release the film soon found audiences quickly beginning to warn to the films theme that no man is a failure as Clarence the angel demonstrates to Stewart’s suicidal character George Bailey showing him what the world would be like if Bailey had not been born. It was a typically Capra-esque theme about the importance of the individual and its showing at Christmas had audiences re-evaluating the film and its ultimately uplifting and undeniably tear jerking ending and quickly established itself as a Christmas favourite
It is at times an unashamedly sentimental film but always relevant at a time when suicide rate climbs and is a reminder that each life impacts on others and as we enter economic uncertain times it’s a reminder that we all matter to someone which makes It’s a Wonderful Life a truly inspirational film.