A couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:
Some people say (they’ve been saying it since 1946) “It’s A Wonderful Life shows that every person’s life turns out okay in the end.” It doesn’t. It’s A Wonderful Life shows that George Bailey’s turns out okay in the end; and George Bailey is really not such a common “common man.” After all, if Mr. Potter (or even the man who pushes Mr. Potter’s wheelchair) had been shown Bedford Falls as it would have been if he’d never been born, he’d have seen a far different picture than George sees (which, by the way, is the plot of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol). I saw clearly that George Bailey’s life was wonderful because he was wonderful�wonderfully and exceptionally good. It’s not circumstance or fate that keeps George chained to his “shabby little office.” He has had one grand opportunity after another to leave town: a ticket to college. $2000 for a honeymoon. Sam Wainwright’s “ground floor in plastics.” Mr. Potter’s $20,000 a year. George stays stuck in his hick town for one reason only�he cannot bring himself to sell his soul to get out of it. Though he doesn’t know it (indeed, he can only see himself as a sucker for having done it) George has sold his dreams to keep Bedford Falls from becoming Pottersville. It’s A Wonderful Life is a passion play; George Bailey’s sufferings have saved all those he loves best; he loses his dream so that Martini and Mary and Violet Bick and Uncle Billy may have theirs. George Bailey’s love has been his defeat and his defeat has been his victory. When the tests came “Slacker George… the miserable failure” was able to do the Greatest Thing in the World; Greater love hath no man than this�that he lay down his life for his friends.
I didn’t know much about Capra. Bennett explains that he studied chemistry in college, not film making. Bennett also explains that Capra is as much a cynic as a true-believer:
In fact, Frank Capra’s skeptical outlook is so unmistakable that one can profitably consider the whole filmography of the scientist-turned-motion picture director as a series of scientific experiments. Out of his lifelong experience wrestling with this conflict in his heart, Capra has devised a series of demonstrations�demonstrations designed to present his hypothesis, apply his method of testing it, and produce his challenging result.
Far from finishing in that “happy-ending-land” of Mom and God and Norman Rockwell that he has been supposed to inhabit so blithely, Capra actually begins there. That world of family and democracy and human dignity is his hypothesis. Can it be believed? It is certainly warming and attractive but is it sound? Does it correspond to reality? We want to know. We need to know before we can be asked to stick our necks out for it. And so, faithful to his training, Capra the Chemist begins dispassionately and systematically turning up the Bunsen-burners of doubt, despair, and tragedy. He turns them up until that hypothesis is boiling in a beaker of betrayal and disillusionment so hot that the test simply cannot fail to uncover whether this “Capra-corn” he grew up believing can actually stand as a viable picture of the way things really are�or whether it will be revealed to have been, as Copernicus revealed the Ptolomeic cosmology to have been, nothing but a comforting fantasy.
Read the whole article here.