A year and a half ago I started a project on this blog called Media Update that was meant to be an outlet for me to blabber about things I like. As it continued, I started a self-imposed rule that every week I must watch three new things and write about them. This has caused me to watch a lot of things I would have dismissed or just go back to binge watching shows and movies that I have already seen. Lately, I have been inspired by Tamara Chambers‘ Tamara’s Never Seen show to go back and watch movies that practically everybody has seen but I missed. Some of those movies have been parodied and referenced so much that I feel that I have seen them but I never sat down and watched them. This movie is one of those movies. I have seen Clarence and George on the bridge done in parody so many times that I had to actually try and remember whether or not I had seen this movie. When I mentioned it offhand, my mom pounced on it and asked that we watch it. Initially, I wanted the streak to continue but that is a foolish and weird reason not to watch something.
I started watching The Twilight Zone when I was a teen when I caught late night episodes and holiday marathons. The combination of the simple life of the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties and the supernatural was an interesting one for me. Most episodes are about somebody’s life going crazy and how they deal with the supernatural or extraterrestrial influence. This movie very much has the feel of a solid Twilight Zone episode. The movie is in black and white and done in a very theater-like style. It also has the combination of the normal life and intervention from a supernatural force. Without the supernatural aspect, the movie would probably have been a little more run of the mill and the movie may have never become a holiday classic. I could not dismiss the feeling as I watched the movie and I had to make reference to that comparison as it is inescapable.
The first part of the movie deals with a trip through George Bailey’s life so that we can see what kind of man he is and what kinds of choices he makes. Jimmy Stewart, often parodied but never truly imitated, was a really solid actor. He has a great earnest quality to him but his character is just as much at ease with joking around. He gets emotional as he fights for his family and friends and what he believes is right. We also see Donna Reed as Mary. Rather than just being a side piece to the hero, she is a great person on her own. She is far funnier than Stewart (which is saying a lot) and is extremely smart. Her character is shown to have a very rich imagination but is also grounded enough to make her dreams come true. We also have the legendary Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter who uses his experience playing Ebenezer Scrooge in radio plays. He is a man hard as iron and sneaky as a deadly spider. There is a whole cast of bit players who do a ton with short scenes and fewer lines.
The last part of the movie is when the Twilight Zone aspect kicks in. We get to see an alternate reality where an important man is absent from history and we see the damage that causes to the timeline. It is interesting to see the butterfly effect and how one life can affect so many. Of course, we see all of George’s actions earlier in the movie so we can easily see their absence. George is one of those guys who actually would be missed and I am a little envious of that. He sacrificed himself over and over for the benefit of his friends and family and the town he loves. Obviously, he wonders where other paths would have led to and that causes a restlessness. In his darkest hour, that restlessness rises again and he wishes everything away. It is a totally understandable feeling. The alternate timeline is really well done and fits together pretty well with lines and events from earlier in the movie.
Overall, I thought it was a really good movie. It is very interesting and the acting and direction were some of the best I have seen from an older movie. Frank Capra knows how to make a small town seem inviting and familiar. Jimmy Stewart was freshly home from the war and his emotions are very raw in the movie and, I am told, his tears are real in the movie. The writing is intricate enough to fit together like a puzzle but simple enough to understand without too much thought. Of course, I do not really think of this movie as a Christmas movie. That holiday does not show up until a little more than thirty minutes before the end of the movie and it is not the central theme of the movie. But it is still a pleasant movie that I recommend.