I am a film lover from 'way back, having even served a stint as a newspaper movie critic. Entries in my personal list of Greatest Films of All Time include "Fantasia," "To Kill A Mockingbird," "Casablanca," "Singin' in the Rain," "North by Northwest," and "The Sound of Music. But sitting atop all of them, as undisputed champ, is "It's a Wonderful Life."
I have seen it hundreds of times (dating back to, oh, when I was a teenager I suppose, and our local PBS station ran it as part of a pledge drive). I drive my wife and family to distraction when we watch it together because I quote all the dialogue along with the actors.
I cry every time--and this is after viewing upon viewing--when Harry Bailey toasts his big brother George as "...the richest man in town." The emotions in that scene are so true and pure that I can't help but be affected by them.
The performances are unparalleled. Stewart is brilliant as a small-town dreamer who loses and finds his way. His superlative acting abilities cause us to identify strongly with him (how many of us have lamented--even to ourselves--that no one seems to notice the sacrifices we've made?), which is, I think, why the movie bears up under so many repeat viewings. Reed is just lovely here, the epitome of sunny girlfriend, caring lover, devoted wife, dedicated mother.
Capra's talent as a screenwriter are all over this script. He knows just how hard to tug the heartstrings without becoming overblown or phony. And his technical wizardry is evident too. I've never seen--before or since--more natural-looking onscreen snow.
Watching IAWL has become a tonic, a pick-me-up when I really need one--whether it's the Christmas season or not. Its message--that each one of us is important and has *something* to contribute to the greater good--is one about which the world could use some reminding from time to time.