Don’t judge a book by its cover, nor a movie by its initial reception. It’s A Wonderful Life was initially a flop. It came out in 1946 just after WWII ended and unlike Frank Capra’s earlier films, for which he won 3 Oscars, it was not a success originally. However in later years people, including film critics took another look and it skyrocketed in approval and became one of those films you watch every year, usually at Christmas time.
Why? I think part of the reason might be that touching on the Depression-era struggles was too soon. After all, it was released less than two decades after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and after coming out of the Depression in part by WWII buildup maybe people didn’t want to be reminded of those dark days. Movie watchers often just want an escape when they go to the theatre, not a reminder of the dark.
But the movie had timeless themes of family, sacrificing for others, and the importance of even one solitary soul. We often do not realize the importance of our presence and actions. Every one of us can make a difference in other’s lives often just by being there. Little things can be turning points that send someone in a better direction, or stop them from making big mistakes.
Of course, having Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in the lead roles was great casting. There have been discussions about how much of Jimmy’s acting was not just lines on a page. He had gone through traumatic experiences in his military service and in some ways mirrored the feelings of George Bailey. His experience with acting in the film helped in his recovery.
This is the anniversary of the death of the director of the film – Frank Capra. It is good to remember that time can bring changes to our initial reactions to books, movies, and people. I can think of several artists that I have come to admire after they were gone more than when they were alive. Time has been good to Frank Capra and “It’s A Wonderful Life”.