a Wonderful Life" on DVD
Makes a Wonderful
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"
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.
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
Screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra
Produced and Directed by Frank Capra
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