I’m such a sap
I really enjoyed It’s a Wonderful Life last night. Much more than I thought I would. Like most of you, I’ve seen it a million times. And it’s not a short movie, coming in at around 2-and-a-half hours. But it had been so long since I had watched it all the way through, I was sort of surprised by the pace of it. At the two hour mark, Clarence the angel first came on the screen. I’m thinking we still had a good hour to go. But they fly through the whole “what if George had never been born” sequence in about 15 minutes. Then, they wrap it up.
Regent Square Theater does a great job with it. It’s totally free all week as a Christmas gift to the community each year. Watching it with a packed house made the film seem much funnier, as the crowd laughed enthusiastically with much of the humor. It was an excellent copy of the film. It was so clear, you could see things in the background that you probably don’t catch on TV unless you have a massive screen. I had forgotten about the strong anti-bank, anti-big business speech in the middle. A lot of the plot lines regarding the Building and Loan and allowing the lower middle class to afford their own homes remain timely today. And darn if at the end I didn’t get something in my eye. Probably just some dust in my contacts. Makes me tear up when that happens. Most of all, I think I love the fact that the screenwriters have George praying from a bar and not a church. And God listens and answers his prayer through the community. It hits all my buttons.
If you’re a fan, here are some fun facts I’ve found about the film…
- Up until that time, movies used painted corn flakes for snow scenes. The crunching got so loud, they usually had to dub in the dialog later. For IAWL, Frank Capra wanted to record the sound live, so a new snow effect was developed using foamite (a fire-fighting chemical), soap, and water. This mixture was then pumped at high pressure through a wind machine to create the silent, falling snow. Six thousand gallons were used in the film. They won technical awards for the snow.
- As Uncle Billy is leaving George’s house drunk, it sounds as if he stumbles over some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped some equipment right after Uncle Billy left the screen. Both actors continued with the scene (“I’m all right, I’m all right!”) and director Frank Capra decided to use it in the final cut. He gave the clumsy stagehand a $10 bonus for “improving the sound.” For years, I’ve used this phrase with Jean whenever I drop something loud in another room. “I’m all right, I’m all right!”
- For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock into the window of the Granville house, Frank Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out for her on cue. To everyone’s amazement, Donna Reed broke the window with true aim and heft without the assistance of the hired marksman. Reed had played baseball in high school and had a strong throwing arm.
- Jimmy Stewart was nervous about the phone scene kiss because it was his first screen kiss since his return to Hollywood after the war. Under Frank Capra’s watchful eye, Stewart filmed the scene in only one unrehearsed take, and it worked so well that part of the embrace was cut because it was too passionate to pass the censors.
- The gym floor that opens up to reveal a swimming pool was real and was located at Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles. Plus, the man spurned by Mary who opens the dance floor is none other than Carl Switzer, best known as Alfalfa in The Little Rascals.
- Jimmy Stewart cited George Bailey as being his favorite character. The part was originally developed at another studio with Cary Grant earmarked for the role. When Frank Capra inherited the project, he rewrote it to suit Stewart.
- Vincent Price was considered for the part of Mr. Potter.
- It was Donna Reed’s first starring role.Jean Arthur was Frank Capra’s first choice for the part of Mary. However, she declined the role since she was already committed to a Broadway play. Ginger Rogers was offered the role of Mary, but turned it down. Laraine Day was offered the role of Mary but had to decline because she was already busy working on The Locket.
- The set for Bedford Falls was constructed in two months and was one of the longest sets that had ever been made for an American movie. It covered four acres of the RKO’s Encino Ranch. It included 75 stores and buildings, main street, factory district and a large residential and slum area. The Main Street was 300 yards long, three whole city blocks!
- Actor and producer Sheldon Leonard said in an interview that the only reason he agreed to play Nick the bartender in this film was so that he would have money to buy Dodger baseball tickets.
- The scene on the bridge where Clarence saves George was filmed on a back lot on a day where the temperature was 90 degrees. This is why Jimmy Stewart is visibly sweating in a few scenes.
- [Jimmy the Raven] appeared in all of Frank Capra’s movies after 1938.
- In the original script, Clarence confronts Potter about what he did to George. It was to take place right after Potter yelled, “And Happy New Year to you, in jail!”
- The movie lost money when it was released. One of the main reasons for the movie’s enormous success is the failure of RKO to renew the copyright. Back then, copyright only lasted for 27 years. So 1946 + 27 years brings us to 1973, when the copyright should have been, but wasn’t, renewed. TV stations quickly noticed this and began to run the movie endlessly, especially at Christmas, which brought the movie to a broad audience, who loved it. Today, it comes in at #11 on AFI’s list of the top 100 films ever made.
That’s all. Some of you probably hate this movie because you’ve seen it too many times. That’s okay. For me, Christmas officially started last night. And wouldn’t you know it? Today, we got our first snow. Atta boy, Clarence!