It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life

Synopsis of Movie

“You've been given a great gift, George… A chance to see what the world would be like without you.”

A family favorite. A holiday perennial. An American classic. Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life was all these and more, a crowning achievement of both the director and his leading man, Jimmy Stewart. Capra and Stewart had recently returned from World War II, and both wanted to make a film reflecting the unsung hero, the small-town common man who endured hardship after hardship in search of the good life. Capra found his inspiration in “The Greatest Gift,” a story written by Philip Van Doren Stern as a Christmas card to the author’s friends. Under the banner of his new production company, Liberty Films, Capra debuted It’s a Wonderful Life just before Christmas, 1946.

The story concerns small-town Bedford Falls resident George Bailey, who always seems just one step short of his dreams. In the heavens, the angels recount George’s life, and how it has led him to the brink of suicide. In flashback, a young George saves his kid brother Harry from drowning after a sledding accident, losing his hearing in one ear as a result.

Still a child, George stops his boss, drugstore owner Mr. Gower, from accidentally mixing up a poisonous prescription for a customer. Later, the adolescent George is all set to go off to college and away from Bedford Falls, but his father’s death forces him to stay and protect the family Building and Loan business from mean old Mr. Potter, the richest man in Bedford Falls. George uses his savings to send Harry to college instead.

George ends up marrying childhood sweetheart Mary Hatch, but with a Depression on, he can’t even make it out of Bedford Falls for a honeymoon. George stays in town, working the Building and Loan as Harry goes off to become a Medal of Honor winner in World War II. On Christmas Eve, George’s forgetful Uncle Billy accidentally loses $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s money, which Mr. Potter secretly keeps. Without that money, George may end up in jail. Finally fed up, George tells off everyone from Uncle Billy to his own wife and kids, then runs off to get drunk and throw himself from a bridge.

Instead, George meets Clarence Oddbody, Angel 2nd Class. Sent from heaven as a guardian angel, Clarence gives George his fondest wish: that he had never been born. As a horrifying object lesson, George is sent on a trip to an alternate reality Bedford Falls (now Pottersville), where he learns just what makes up a wonderful life.

Despite its reputation as a warm-hearted holiday film, It’s a Wonderful Life had a fairly dark view of small-town America. George’s life was indeed wonderful, but the world around him kept trying its best to bring him down. Audiences apparently weren’t prepared for this kind of lesson, at least not from Capra and Stewart. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, but it was a financial disappointment.

It’s a Wonderful Life largely disappeared over the next few decades. Capra and Stewart both considered it among their finest work, but the world was less appreciative. In the early 1970’s, however, the movie’s copyright expired, and its rebirth began. Now in the public domain, It’s a Wonderful Life could be aired for free by any television station that could find it. Stations began airing the film every Christmas, and families across America made It’s a Wonderful Life part of their holiday tradition.

Today, the film is one of the most beloved motion pictures on the planet. It’s a Wonderful Life is still a tradition in households across the country, and the picture has earned a high spot on many “Greatest Films” lists. And somewhere in the heavens, this little film’s guardian angel is surely sporting a very nice pair of shiny, new wings.

Movie Release History

1946 - It's a Wonderful Life

Movie Sub Categories

live-action
drama

Movie Studio

Liberty Films, RKO

Cast

George Bailey  James Stewart
Mary Hatch Bailey   Donna Reed
Mr. Henry F. Potter  Lionel Barrymore
William 'Uncle Billy' Bailey  Thomas Mitchell
Clarence Oddbody  Henry Travers
Mrs. Bailey   Beulah Bondi
Ernie Bishop, Taxi Driver  Frank Faylen
Bert, the Cop   Ward Bond
Violet Bick  Gloria Grahame
Mr. Gower  H.B. Warner
Harry Bailey  Todd Karns
Peter 'Pa' Bailey  Samuel S. Hinds
Cousin Tilly  Mary Treen
Sam Wainwright  Frank Albertson
Ruth Dakin Bailey  Virginia Patton
Cousin Eustace   Charles Williams
Mrs. J.W. Hatch  Sarah Edwards
Mr. Giuseppe Martini  William Edmunds
Annie, the Maid   Lillian Randolph
Mrs. Martini  Argentina Brunetti
Little George  Bobby Anderson
Little Sam  Ronnie Ralph
Little Mary  Jean Gale
Little Violet  Jeanine Anne Roose
Little Marty Hatch  Danny Mummert
Little Harry Bailey   Georgie Nokes
Nick  Sheldon Leonard
Potter's Bodyguard   Frank Hagney
Joe, Luggage Shop Salesman  Ray Walker
Real Estate Salesman  Charles Lane
Tom, Bldg. & Loan Depositor  Edward Keane
Janie Bailey  Carol Coombs
Zuzu Bailey  Karolyn Grimes
Pete Bailey   Larry Simms
Tommy Bailey  Jimmy Hawkins
Ed, Bldg & Loan Depositor  Ernie Adams
Mr. Welch  Stanley Andrews
Nervous Banker  Sam Ash
Sheriff  Al Bridge
Mrs. Jane Wainwright  Marian Carr
Man   Lane Chandler
Dr. Campbell, Chairman of Board of Directors Harry Cheshire
Miss Davis, Bldg. & Loan Depositor  Ellen Corby
Man on Porch  Dick Elliott
Tollhouse Keeper  Tom Fadden
Bldg. & Loan Director   Frank Fenton
Horace, a Bank Teller  Eddie Fetherston
Man  Lee Frederick
Carter, the Bank Examiner  Charles Halton
Bldg. & Loan Depositor  Herbert Heywood
Mr. Partridge, School Principal  Harry Holman
Bldg. & Loan Depositor  Eddie Kane
Bldg. & Loan Director  Milton Kibbee
Marty Hatch  Hal Landon
House Owner  J. Farrell MacDonald
Bouncer at Nick's  Bert Moorhouse
Bill Poster  Garry Owen
Mickey  Bobby Scott
Potter's Secretary  Almira Sessions
Counterman  Charles Sullivan
Freddie Othello  Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer
Cashier/Assistant Bouncer at Nick's  Max Wagner
Charlie, Bldg. & Loan Depositor  Charles C. Wilson
Unknown Jean Acker
Unknown Monya Andre
Unknown Mary Bayless
Unknown Beth Belden
Unknown Joseph E. Bernard
Unknown Buz Buckley
Unknown Michael Chapin
Unknown Tom Chatterton
Unknown Edward Clark
Unknown Tom Coleman
Unknown Bryn Davis
Unknown Harry Denny
Unknown Sam Flint
Unknown Herschel Graham
Unknown Carl Eric Hansen
Unknown Art Howard
Unknown Bert Howard
Unknown Carl Kent
Unknown Effie Laird
Unknown Mike Lally
Unknown Irene Mack
Unknown Wilbur Mack
Unknown Charles Meakin
Unknown Phillip Morris
Unknown Frank O'Connor
Unknown Netta Packer
Unknown Franklin Parker
Unknown Cy Schindell
Unknown Cedric Stevens

Other Movie Links