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    It was the story I had been looking for all my life!  A good man, ambitious. But so busy helping
    others, life seems to pass him by. Despondent. He wishes he had never been born. He gets his wish.
    Through the eyes of a guardian angel he sees the world as it would have been had he not been born.
    Wow! What an idea.  The kind of idea that when I get old and sick and scared and ready to die --
    they'll say, 'He made The Greatest Gift.'
              -Frank Capra

I'm sure your family does it too, sit around watching It's a Wonderful Life and speaking all of the lines moments ahead of the characters.  Younger folk may not recall that in the early 80's, before Republic Pictures reclaimed the copyright to the movie, it was on literally dozens of times from Thanksgiving to New Years every year.  And we all watched it, every single showing.    Somehow the upbeat message about the individual's capacity to change the world for the better achieved a special resonance in those heady Reagan Era days of promise.  Now it's shown on a network just once a season as an attempt at Event programming, but every red blooded American family owns a videotape and pops it in at least a few times over the holidays.

Turns out, the movie was based on a story by respected Civil War historian, Philip Van Doren Stern (one assumes he's from The Van Doren family of Quiz Show fame).    The story sprang full blown from Van Doren's head while he was shaving on the morning of  Feb. 12, 1938.  He rewrote it several times and then in 1943 sent it to his agent to see if he could get a magazine to buy it.  Unbelievably, they all turned it down.  So he had a couple hundred copies made and sent them to friends in their Christmas cards.  Someone showed the story to Frank Capra when he was looking for a project after the War ended and, if the quote above is to be believed, he instantly realized that he had an American classic in his hands.

The story itself is much more spare than the movie.  Characters like Uncle Billy, Violet Bick, Ernie and Bert and even Mr. Potter are all missing.  But the essential tale, of George Pratt contemplating suicide and a guardian angel intervening to show him the effect he has had on the lives of others, remains.  This is one of those rare instances where a movie actually improves upon the written version, but the story is still quite affecting and has obvious historical interest.

MOVIE GRADE: A+

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

Websites:

See also:

Christmas
Book-related and General Links:
    -OBIT: PHILIP VAN DOREN STERN DIES; A SPECIALIST ON CIVIL WAR ERA (HERBERT MITGANG, NY Times)
    -IAWL Bibliography (annotated bibliography of Frank Capra's masterpiece1946 film It's a Wonderful Life)
     -ARTICLE: Christmas classic had an unpromising start (Bob Thomas, Associated Press Writer)
     -BOOKS GO TO WAR: IX. COLLECTING ASE'S ARMED SERVICES EDITIONS

FILM:
    -It's a Wonderful Life Tribute (Alyssa)
    -IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) (Elizabeth's Reel Classics)
    -LEONARD MALTIN's 100 MUST-SEE FILMS OF THE 20th CENTURY (Film Site)
    -ARTICLE : Wonderful It May Be, but Not to Everyone : The authors of "It's a Wonderful Life" never forgave Frank
Capra for having others rework it. (David L. Goodrich, 12/02/01, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: It's A Wonderful Life (1946) (Tim Dirks, Film Site)
    -REVIEW: It's a Wonderful Life (A Film Review by James Berardinelli)
    -REVIEW: It's a Wonderful Life US (1946): Drama (CineBooks' Motion Picture Guide Review: 5.0 stars out of 5)
    -ARTICLE: Jimmy Stewart Remembers: "It's a Wonderful Life" (Jimmy Stewart, Guideposts Magazine)
     -ARTICLE:   IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (ROGER EBERT, Chicago Sun Times)
     -ARTICLE: Holiday Movie full of irony  Author's work was 'Greatest Gift' to Jimmy Stewart, Frank Capra (MARK DAWIDZIAK,  Beacon Journal critic-at-large)
    -ARTICLE: It's a Wonderful Life' hits the big 5-0 with screenings and a celebration ( John Hartl, Seattle Times movie reviewer)

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