George and Mary Bailey, played by James Stewart and Donna Reed in the film It’s A Wonderful Life, RKO Radio Pictures, 1946
Voted by the American Film Institute as the most inspirational movie ever made, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life has been a beloved Christmas classic for generations. The snowbound streets of Bedford Falls, the desperate travails of George Bailey, and the discovery of Zuzu’s petals have long become traditional parts of the holiday season.
Yet when the film was released in 1946, it was a box-office flop, won no Academy Awards, and was largely forgotten—until it was rediscovered through endless airings on local TV stations beginning in the 1970s and on annual Christmas Eve broadcasts on NBC starting in 1992.
Brian Rose, a professor emeritus at Fordham University, examines the fascinating story of It’s a Wonderful Life, looking at the challenges of how it was made, its surprisingly dark portrait of small-town life, and how it became the ultimate portrayal of holiday goodwill and cheer.
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