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It's a Wonderful Life

"It's a Wonderful Life" on DVD

Makes a Wonderful DVD

Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" has a well-deserved place in the hearts of millions and has become a holiday season staple.

The story of George Bailey, a bright young man with lots of potential who keeps getting sidetracked from his preferred path through life, is a tale that takes its characters - and the audience - from the heights of joy to the depths of despair and back again.

James Stewart is the unsinkable George, whose all 'round decency gets him through a life in which his choices are often forced upon him by circumstance. Many times he could have chosen his preferred path, but he always chooses the path that ended up seeing him submerge his own ambitions in favor of doing right by others.

Life is good for George, though he doesn't know it, until one Christmas eve when his uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) misplaces $8000 of their Savings and Loan's money and it looks as if George's reward for his years of selfless hard work will be a trip to jail.

Here, the movie takes a decidedly ugly turn as a desperate George lashes out at everything near and/or dear to him. Then, realizing he's worth more dead than alive (thanks to his life insurance policy), he decides to jump off a local bridge as the solution to his insurmountable problem.

Enter Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers), George's guardian angel, whose task it is to not only save George's life, but to save his soul as well. He accomplishes this by showing George that, rather than being the failure he thinks he is, he has had a Wonderful Life in that he has people he loves and who love him even more in return - as well as an important role in a world that, without him, would be a decidedly uglier place.

James Stewart is wonderful as George Bailey as he runs the gamut of emotions from joy to despair and desperation. Donna Reed is perfectly cast as Mary, George's eventual wife. She's smart, sexy, and strong - just what George needs to make life in the straightjacket of Bedford Falls bearable. The chemistry between Stewart and Reed is magical; the telephone scene where they first really get together is one of the sexiest scenes ever filmed - yet there's nothing even close to nudity or sexual content (in fact, they only kiss and embrace at the very end), just palpable sparks that positively leap from the screen.

The supporting cast is equally outstanding. Not only do Travers and Mitchell turn in remarkable performances, but Lionel Barrymore's villainous Mr. Potter is probably the best screen baddie since Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West and until George Lucas/James Earl Jones/David Prowse' Darth Vader.

The fullscreen DVD has been lovingly remastered to the Lucasfilm THX standard, and it really shows. Images are crisp and sharp. For a comparison, check out the two "making of" documentaries on side B to see how the film looks unrestored. The movie has also been restored to its "original, uncut" version.

The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0, which sends the sound to the main stereo speakers. We prefer the Dolby Digital mono, which directs audio to the center front speaker (so the voices appear to come from the TV regardless of where you sit), but this isn't a huge criticism. Strangely, though, the documentaries on side B have Dolby Digital mono audio.

Those documentaries are pretty good. The first one is a 22 minute (a half hour TV show, sans commercials, we assume) feature hosted by actor Tom Bosley and it gives some nice insight into the film. The second feature is hosted by Frank Capra Junior. It's a tad shy of fifteen minutes in length and, while it covers much of the same ground, it's also worth watching.

You also get the theatrical trailer and a decent liner essay inside the package.

The digital remastering of "It's a Wonderful Life" is a welcome touch, indeed, and fans of this classic can finally see it in a version that does it justice.

It's a Wonderful Life, from Republic Home Video
132 minutes, fullscreen black and white, Dolby Digital 2.0
Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, Thomas Mitchell
Screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra
Produced and Directed by Frank Capra


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Updated May 13, 2006