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Frank Capra's Wonderful Film Gave America Hope When We Needed it Most
Part 3 of 3: It's a Wonderful Life
Continued from page 2
by Cookie Curci
It's a Wonderful Life is arguably America's most beloved holiday movie. In the film, actor James Stewart portrays small town banker George Bailey who grows up in the town of Bedford Falls. He dreams of a life filled with adventure and travel, but life had other plans for George Bailey. Loyalty and responsibility conspire to keep him at home. Then, one Christmas Eve, amid an impending scandal, frustration with his life and the American dream gone badly, George reaches a bleak moment where he contemplates taking his life. Enter Clarence, (Henry Travers) a heavenly angel who arrives on the scene to show George a vision of life had he never been born. George comes to understand his difficulties and disappointments are a small price to pay for his cherished values, love of family, enduring friendships and individual achievement.
To me one of the most important aspects of this film's "good vs. evil" concept is George Bailey's unwavering faith in the town's immigrant population, especially Mr. Martini the owner of Martini's café. Bailey's social conscience inspires him to give the hardworking Martini family a loan based solely on their good work ethics and their promise to pay. Opposing this form of charitable goodwill is the town's most powerful banker, the mean spirited Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who dislikes and distrusts the ethnic minority and refuses to give the struggling immigrants any financial aid. His prejudice is clearly revealed when he refers to the Italian community as "George bailey's garlic eaters" Potter's attitude keenly represented the prejudicial attitudes that prevailed in America at the close of W.W.II.
Because filmmaker Frank Capra was himself a young Italian immigrant, he was sensitive to this issue and to all the Mr. Potter's of the world. As the son of a fruit picker Capra's own success story is a tribute to the enterprising immigrant and a true Horatio Alger story. His service documentaries during W.W.II earned Colonel Capra the Distinguished Service Medal (the highest American military decoration for noncombat service.)
It's a Wonderful Life was released to a post war America who were in need of an uplifting film. Wartime battles, tragedies and a growing prejudice had touched everyone's lives with a grim reality. America – and the whole world- had changed. Capra's film renewed old hopes and faith in ourselves and in each other. During the dark decade of the 1930s, Frank Capra became America's most popular filmmaker.
In his films Capra mingled depression-era despair with the laughter of irrepressible optimism and created a winning formula. He packaged hope to the hopeless and a goodwill that lifted national morale as much as FDR's "fireside chats".
Perhaps to the newer, more cynical generation, Frank Capra's work is saccharinely simplistic and too idealistic. Generations of moviegoers would disagree. To us the film is a statement of America's essential beliefs; its opportunities and the basic hopes that spring eternal in each and every one of us. Granted, we often fall short of these lofty goals, but never do we stop trying to achieve that universal pursuit – to live la dolce vita - the sweet life - the wonderful life.
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