Historical Background -World War II 1939~1945 -Distribution 1946
Setting Clues Harry was born in 1911 (we could see this on the grave of Harry in George’s nightmare) World War II broke out (1939) Harry got a Medal of Honor for his exploit during the war, and came back to Bedford Falls after WWII had finished(1945).
James Stewart also enlisted as an air force during WWII. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was his first movie after the war. For Stewart, also recently back in civilian clothes, the movie was a chance to work again with Capra, for whom he had played Mr. Smith.
Building and loan Men came from War, and they needed money to re-build their life. Banks (like Potter’s) reaped profits from the high interests. (Building and loan was similar to “ 互助會 ” in Taiwan.)
Distribution It was actually a box-office flop at the time of its release, and only became the Christmas movie classic in the 1970s due to repeated television showings at Christmas-time when its copyright protection slipped and it fell into the public domain and TV stations could air it for free.
Director Frank Capra (1897~1991), Bisacquino, Sicily, Italy Capra was nominated six times for Best Director Oscars, and took home three of the statuettes over the course of his career. Only John Ford ever bettered this record-- he won four.John Ford
Director Capra never quite believed in his own accomplishments, and in his Catholic way seemed to suffer most when he was most praised. After a record critical and commercial success with It Happened One Night and Broadway Bill (both 1934), Capra had a breakdown that required lengthy hospitalization. His life and career were marked by both milestones — helping start the Directors Guild, transforming Columbia Pictures from poverty row to major studio — and catastrophes. Among the latter were serious bouts of depression, nagging guilt over being wealthy when the rest of society was suffering, and being investigated as a communist by HUAC.
Director Before World War II, Capra’s personal demons were largely held at bay by a kind of natural buoyancy and a gratitude for what he believed America had done for him. During the war he made a series of propaganda films called collectively Why We Fight and in the process had to examine reams of unedited atrocity footage shot by the allies. These images seemed to bring Capra’s anxieties to the fore in his first postwar film, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). This grim portrait of small-town America enslaved by its capitalist masters is as black as any film noir, and redemption is no longer possible through the initiative of a single principled individual, as it had been in the earlier films. Only supernatural intervention — in this case, an angel — could save Capra's fantasy of small-town America and his beloved "little man" George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) from killing himself. (http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/23/capra.html)http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/23/capra.html
Director As James Agee put it in a review in 1947, "Capra’s chief mistake or sin," and he called it that, "was his refusal to face the fact that evil is intrinsic in each individual and that no man may deliver his brother or make an agreement unto God for him." (http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/vol2no1/Carter2.html)http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/vol2no1/Carter2.html
Crushing a Classic It's a Wonderful Life --MaryAnn Johanson Its two main characters -- George Bailey and Mr. Potter -- are stereotypes, respectively, of the poor, eternally put-upon ordinary guy and the mean-spirited, rich old bastard. The conflicts the film sets up couldn't be more black-and-white.
George Bailey may think the deck is heavily stacked against him his entire life, but the audience can see that it isn't. Sure, everything that can possibly go wrong for poor George does -- he's forced to skip his long-planned summer in Europe, ends up passing up his dreamed-of college career, doesn't get to have an exciting time during WWII like the other men in his town do (and how likely is that?), and even has to cancel his honeymoon. But he does it all in the cause of the eternal battle his family -- which runs the local building and loan society, serving the working-class people of Bedford Falls.
... but something about this has always bothered me, too, and I've just realized what it is: George deferred and eventually lost all his dreams in order to help other people fulfill their dreams. A noble cause, surely, and helping others is certainly something we should all be doing... to an extent. But who's going to help poor George realize his dreams?
It bothers me, too, that Potter -- whose sneaky act is finally what drives George to suicide -- gets no comeuppance and suffers no consequences as a result of his contemptible act. Sure, we're supposed to see Potter as a loser because he has no friends -- unlike George, beloved by the entire town -- but Potter seems quite happy with himself. (http://www.flickfilosopher.com/christmas/flicks/wonderfullife.shtml)
Something More Than Night tales of the noir city Frank Krutnik
Film Noir Hollywood Thrillers of 1940s and early 1950s. Individual in the Noir City which is a shadow realm of Crime and Dislocation Fears of the Second World War. Stylistic features and urban atmosphere (P.83)
Film Noir City is a Threat to American Community. Small Town won’t be a redemptive alternative. City of Strangers may hold attractions barred from the restricted orbit of small-town America. (p.88)
Abysmal City in It’s a Wonderful Life A Hybrid of Supernatural Fantasy, drama and comedy. If George has never been born, the city will be a nightmare version of America- a vision of Noir City.
Bedford Fall － George A Folk Community Building ＆ Loan Thomas Jefferson’s Pastoral Ideal. Criticism- retreats from their passionate engagement.
Pottersville － Capitalist Potter Dominated by the commercialized Leisure ( A Riot of Neon and Jazz. Burlesque halls, Dance Joints, Pawnbroker’s Stores, Numerous Bars.)(p.85) Corrupt City is just like the Crippled Potter. The horror of Pottersville comes not simply from the transformation of those George knows but form the Dislocation of his own Identity.
Cynicism-conversion-faith Prewar- conflict between the hero and the modern city is mediated through his relationship with an urban career-woman. The women’s trajectory crystallizes the general process through which the hero restores faith and integrity to an urban world under the sway of cynicism, exploitation and corruption. Wonderful Life- central female characters play more passive supporting roles and vital male-female contest of Capra’s prewar films is replaced with a conflict that takes place within the male protagonist.
Christmas Rebirth Sanctifying the small-town and the individual’s place within it. R. Dyer’s “Entertainment and Utopia” from Only Entertainment. The idea of “escape” and “wish-fulfillment”
Entertainment and Utopia Social Tension/ inadequacy/absence Scarcity Exhaustion Dreariness Manipulation Fragmentation Utopia Solution Abundance Energy (Pastoral Return) Intensity (drama) Transparency (Nature) Community
It’s A Wonderful Life and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance It’s A Wonderful Life
Three Basic Oppositions Central To American Culture In General: AdventureDomesticity Individual Community Worldly Success Ordinary Life
Adventure vs. Domesticity Columbus Eric Ericson Tocqueville The truly subversive point about It’s A Wonderful Life
Tom Sawyer = George Bailey Romantic Inspirations On a World That It Does Not Apply It’s A Wonderful Life’s connection with Mark Twain Taxi Driver
Individual vs. Community Attacking Classical Hollywood Myth Costs of Helping Others Classical Hollywood Solution America In WWII
Worldly Success vs. Ordinary Life America Attitude Toward Success Potter, Wainwright, George Paradoxical Nature of Democracy Baseness of Worldly Success & Desperation of Ordinary Unsuccessful Life George’s fear leads to Suicide
The Overt Intent of It’s A Wonderful Life Reaffirm The America Dream * Wedding Night Surprise * Saving Building & Loan * George’s House
The Vision Solves the individual-community contradiction Solves the adventure-domesticity contradiction Solves the Worldly Success- Ordinary Life contradiction
Anxieties Unsolved 1. Potter Left Unpunished 4. Narrow Escape 2. George’s Extraordinariness 3. Money & Friendship