It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Any time a crappy sitcom wants to do a Christmas episode, there’s about a fifty percent chance they’re going to recycle one of two stock plots. The first of which is a variation on “A Christmas Carol,” in which some asshole is visited by three ghosts that change his life. More often though, TV shows will reference “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That is, they’ll have someone wish they weren’t born, only to have an angel show them what the world would be like if they never existed. It’s such a common cliché that it even has a TV Tropes page. Yet none of that would have happened without Frank Capra’s 1946 original. Though it took a long road to being a classic, the movie really is good enough to deserve that status.
Prayers for a man named George Bailey rise all the way to heaven. God recruits an angel in training and shows him George’s life. As a boy, he rescued his little brother from drowning in a lake, at the price of loosing hearing in one ear. Though George dreamed of adventure and travel around the world, his hometown of Bedford Falls kept pulling him back. His father’s early death meant he had to stay home and take care of the family business, so that the greedy Mr. Potter wouldn’t buy it up. George finds his own form of happiness, marrying a good woman and fathering four kids. Yet a recent screw-up at his buildings and loans business, George is overcome and considers taking his own life. That’s when Clarence the angel intervenes and shows George what Bedford Falls would be like without him.
I’ll admit I haven’t seen very many of Capra’s films beyond this one. (I imagine it’s that ways for lots of people.) Obviously, “Capra-esque” is a phrase with its own connotations. When people imagine the idyllic American small town, they probably see Bedford Falls. Something that makes “It’s a Wonderful Life” so powerful is that there’s nothing cloying or saccharine about its portrayal of the town. The movie is entirely sincere. It loves this place and the people in it. Though an awfully nice place to live, Bedford Falls still seems realistic. The people have their troubles but they also have each other. Something else Capra has a talent for is capturing the small moments in people’s lives. How George makes a wish on a lighter, or the look on his face as he slowly realizes he can't leave the town, are given special attention. The school dance, which transformed into a pool party, is another example.
Admittedly, the most famous sequence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” only comprises a small portion of its run time. After he’s ready to toss himself over a bridge, Clarence jumps into the waters below, forcing Bailey to rescue him. Though the fantasy elements are introduced from the first scene, they don’t become immediately apparent until the end. Like I said, the last act of the film is so widely parodied, it’s slightly difficult to take seriously. Bailey’s home town filling up strip clubs and bars, his brother dying, his friends becoming jerks… This isn’t what pushes George over the edge. No, it’s his wife becoming a librarian that unnerves him above anything else. Still, the sequences of Bedford Falls (Or Pottersville, rather) are appropriately hellish, in a way. George’s joyous run through the restored town is certainly infectiously fun and, though well known, that conclusion also warms my heart.
the public domain for a few decades. Because it was free to show and related to the holidays (Starring a cinema icon like Jimmy Stewart probably didn’t hurt either.), it frequently cropped up on television around December. The film was rediscovered this way and, by and by, eventually became a seasonal classic. Unlike “A Christmas Story” though, “It’s a Wonderful Life’ is actually a really good movie. [9/10]
The Big O: Daemonseed
Here’s a random-ass thing I pulled out of my collection. Despite what the title might indicate, “The Big O” is not a show about orgasms. Instead, it’s a Japanese animated series from 1999, combining elements of classic giant robot anime with American superhero cartoons. The premise is a little tricky to unpack but I’ll do my best. It takes place in Paradigm City, a place where the rich live in domed cities and the poor exist in slums outside. Forty years ago, everyone lost their memories. Roger Smith, the show’s hero, is referred to as a negotiator but he’s actually more like a private detective, consulting the police on various cases. When Paradigm City is attacked by giant monsters or machines, Smith pilots a giant robot named Big O. Also, he has an android sidekick/love interest named Dorothy and a badass butler named Norman.
You might be wondering what any of this has to do with Christmas. Turns out, “The Big O” has a holiday episode! As December ends, a holiday called Heavens Day approaches. A holiday invented by the Paradigm Corporation, the corporation that owns most of the city, Heavens Day is devoted to decorating trees and giving gifts to your loved ones. Alex Rosewater – Paradigm’s leader – receives threatening letters, promising that the world will end on the 25th. Roger and Dorothy encounter Oliver, a street musician and saxophonist, and his blind girlfriend Laura. Oliver becomes connected to the case when he meets the mad scientist responsible for the threats. He’s given a necklace containing a seed by the strange man dressed as Santa. On Heavens Day, the seed sprouts, a giant Christmas tree attacking the city. Looks like a job for Big O!
When the giant Christmas tree sprouts, “Daemonseed” finally gets to the action. Roger summons the Big O and attempts to attack the tree. However, there’s not much he can do. Any time Big O tears part of the tree off, it just grows back. After destroying a few buildings and bursting through the city’s dome, the tree stops growing. So what did the villain accomplish? He created a big, pretty Christmas tree and allowed snow to fall on the city for a nice, white