There must be something seriously wrong with you if you haven’t seen It’s A Wonderful Life, the 1946 Christmas masterpiece starting Jimmy Stewart. On the off chance you haven’t, Stewart plays George Bailey, a man who is about to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge before Angel Second Class Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) intervenes.
Bailey is weighed down by recent troubles and wishes that he had never have been born. Clarence gives him that opportunity, and naturally, for as bad as George thinks the town of Bedford Falls is with him, the alternate reality is much worse for nearly everyone.
A frantic George finally comes to his senses, running toward the same bridge, shouting “I want to live!” He is granted his wish, and all is restored to the way it was, and an outpouring of love causes all his troubles to be alleviated.
It’s a Wonderful Life is the ultimate feel good holiday movie because it reawakens the joy in the little everyday things in life. It lets us pause for a moment and reflect on the ways the world would have been different had we not been a part of it, and it forces us to keep our chin up and embrace the here and now and not what might have been.
We all want to be like George Bailey, a man who’s life touches others in a positive way; even the Angel Second Class for whom he helps to get his wings through his own redemption.
It’s a Wonderful Life was based on the short story “The Greatest Gift” written by Philip Van Doren Stern and was nominated for five Oscars without winning any, although the film has since been recognised by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, and placed number one on their list of the most inspirational American films of all time.
Next up is 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street, starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. It is the story of a man who calls himself Kris Kringle, and happens to be a white-bearded rotund fellow who has been hired as a replacement Santa Claus by Macy’s after their original Santa is caught drinking.
Kris does such a great job at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that he’s hired to work through the holidays. The fact that he believes he is the real Santa Claus eventually lands Kris into a legal situation in the New York Supreme Court, where the validity of his claims are tested.
The question of faith in Santa Claus in the film works thanks to the performance of the adorable 9-year-old Natalie Wood. We can see her trepidation and eventual acceptance that perhaps Kris really is Santa. Miracle on 34th Street is a Christmas classic, but was originally released in May by Darryl Zanuck, citing the fact that more people went to the cinema during the summer than the winter.
This apparently caused some problems for promoters and marketers who tried to keep the Christmas theme a secret, but it didn’t stop the film from winning Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay.
The film is an interesting coda to an editorial featured in The New York Sun in 1897 which has come to be known as “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” and can be read here: www.newseum.org/yesvirginia/
Happy holidays, my friends. WH