It’s A Wonderful Life
Film Length: 133 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Standard (1.33:1)
Audio: DD Mono
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
When originally released Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life was a box office bomb and received bashing from nearly every film critic in America. The movie opened and closed with no attention given to it. Both Capra and star James Stewart thought this could end their career. Thankfully for the film the copyright fell into the public’s hand. Since no one owned the rights that meant any station could show the film however many times they wanted. Since then, It’s a Wonderful Life has become the most loved film in American history.
Everyone knows the story and if they don’t there isn’t a reason to give it away, so I’ll keep this short. George Bailey (Stewart) is what you would call the nicest man in town. He puts everyone else’s problems before his and he hasn’t a problem doing so. His wife Mary (Donna Reed) stands behind him as do his three children. George’s life has gone perfectly except for the fact that he was never able to explore the world like he wanted to. His life’s dream was denied when he stayed home from college so that he could run the family bank and loan.
On Christmas Eve George hits the hardest part of his life. The bank he works for has just misplaced some money and this could send George to jail. Another problem is the mean owner of another bank named Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore). George starts to look at his life and begins to think that he’s nothing more than a failure. At a local bar George says a prayer and decides to kill himself. Just then the prayer is answered by an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) who is trying to earn his wings. Clarence shows George what life would have been like if he had never been born.
It’s a Wonderful Life is the story of a simple man that a lot of people would like to be like. Although the film has become of “Christmas” picture this isn’t the films intent. The movie is about life and the greatness that comes to good people. The movie’s underline message is the reason the film gets shown at least twenty times a year.
The performances by the entire cast are wonderful. James Stewart gives one of his greatest performances as the broken down George Bailey. Stewart brings the kindness of the role and perfectly mixes it in with the pain that the character is feeling. Barrymore is simply evil as the crooked Mr. Potter who wants to see George behind bars. Barrymore’s wonderful performance also puts him into one of the most hated characters in film history. Henry Travers also shines in the role of Clarence.
It’s a Wonderful Life is probably the best loved American film of all time. Year after year families gather around the television to watch this film and each time the movie gets better and better. A lot of older films lose their punch after a while but this film still packs the punch that will leave viewers knocked out. The tale of a great man being down on his luck only to be saved by other’s kindness is something that a lot of films have tried to duplicate but has never reached the level of It’s a Wonderful Life. No matter how many times you see this movie it will never get old. The message of the film is one that will live throughout eternity and that message is why the film will never die.
VIDEO---The movie is shown full (1.33:1) frame, which is the way the movie was shot. The picture has been THX certified and has never looked better. While this isn’t the greatest B&W transfer I’ve seen those who only viewed this on television are certainly in for a mighty shock. The blacks are dark and very solid adding all sorts of detail to the shadows and faces in the film. The whites, unlike previous releases, don’t “glow” and is full of detail.
AUDIO---The sound is Dolby Digital Mono and has also been THX certified. The sound is brilliantly clear with the exception of a few spots where the sound is a bit muffled. I only noticed this during chapter five and it runs for a little over a minute. The rest of the time the Mono track is free of any hiss or pops, which wasn’t the case with previous late night showings and video versions.
EXTRAS---The one bad thing about the disc is that all the extras are on side B. You get the original theatrical trailer, which is also in very good shape. You also get two different documentaries, although both mainly deal with the same things. The Making of It’s a Wonderful Life is a short documentary made a few years back with interviews by James Stewart and others. The second documentary is A Personal Remembrance, which is a tribute to Frank Capra by his son.
OVERALL---One of the best and most loved films in history is given a very special treatment, although I’m sure many fans will be upset that Artisan didn’t take this opportunity to release a Special Edition. Depending on how you feel about extras I personally see nothing wrong with this release. The video quality is stunning and the Mono track is very nice. While the extras are somewhat entertaining, I’m sure most would have liked a commentary or a featurette. This is simply a re-issue (with better artwork) so if you have the previous version there’s no point in buying this one. If you don’t own this film in your collection then the low retail price of $19.95 makes this a must have.
Release Date: September 23, 2003