Friday, December 26, 2008

It's Still A Wonderful Life

I spoke of the "controversial" It's A Wonderful Life essay a few days ago, but this was written on memory. I watched it again and became convinced that the essay is rather perverse, moreso than I initially thought.

In particular, the scene where George and Mary are on the phone with Sam Wainwright must be one of the greatest in history. They're trying to listen to him, but they're trying harder not to kiss. And failing. But Mary knows full well that her wishes are diametrically opposed to his. (It also reminds me of another great Capra scene: In Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, where Jimmy Stewart is trying to talk to the beautiful socialite, and the camera stays on his hands fumbling with hsi hat.)

Mary isn't selfish, however. Even when she instinctively wants to keep going to the airport, she's also there with the honeymoon money to save the bank. And it's important to note that this scene ends with a great victory--not at all the relentlessly dreary life suggested by Jameson.

Besides misunderstanding this love scene (which is tantamount to misunderstanding the whole film), it's a gross conceit to cast Pottersville as a "resort town". Resort towns are potentially successful at times manufacturing towns are not, but I doubt many people would be tramping to upstate New York for the dime-a-dance, pool and bowling, and seedy nightclubs.

This is a stretch. It also reflects a sort of Potter-ization in the modern world, almost as if Jameson is justifying his selfishness by saying the world would be better with it.

As for George, I like to think that he's learned some valuable lessons by the end of the movie. He is too selfless, not as regard to his dealings, but with regard to the fact that he needs to value his own work enough to make a living for himself and be able to send his own kids to college.

Also, no more letting Billy do the deposits.

And while we're on the subject, I really don't see a communist bent in Capra's work. I see a strong distaste for greed, for sure, but his movies were all about a victory of the good-hearted people over the selfish. I realize that's the narrative Communists use, but it was always people who saved the day, or a heroic person, and the government and its agents were often the enemy.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I wonder if everyone would love George for handing out the banks money to the point where the bank could fail if his last name was Madoff?

  3. Madoff was pretty popular for a while.

  4. I love that you revisited this. You're right, by getting these key scenes so terribly wrong, he missed the whole movie.

    I have to share, since you brought the movie up of my favorite scenes is when they're dancing in the gym, and they think everyone is cheering them on because they're so good at the dancing. And of course they're not...the crowd sees the floor opening up behind them.

    I can't help but laugh out loud at this just really fills me with a sort of childish joy.

  5. This is one of those movies--like a lot of Capra--you can rewatch and rehash and look for the details, etc.

    That gym scene is wonderful, and I can't think of a single movie in my lifetime which has a comparable scene.

    A lot of old movies with love stories have their main characters be foolish. Sometimes a silliness, with the joke being on them, as in IAWL, and sometimes actual foolishness, as in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

    I'm sure there must be a more recent movie where a couple had a joke played on them, carried on in good spirit and got everyone else to join in. Yet I can't think of a single one.

  6. I read your last comment last night, blake, and I thought I'd mull it over. I still can't think of one, either!

    I kept trying to make Bringing Up Baby an example, but it really doesn't work.

    Loved Mr. Blandings, and I'm so glad you feel the same way about the gym scene.

  7. I really don't see a communist bent in Capra's work. I see a strong distaste for greed, for sure, but his movies were all about a victory of the good-hearted people over the selfish.

    Agree. Even in "You Can't Take It with You," which is pretty wickedly anti-$$$, Lionel Barrymore doesn't pay his taxes.

  8. I also think a lot of those guys were too smart to be strict ideologues.


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