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Critics reviews
It's a Wonderful Life
Frank Capra United States, 1946
Every time I see Uncle Billy smile and fold that newspaper with the money inside and just hand it over to Mr. Potter I nearly scream. I scream thinking of myself, too. That moment of recognition in yourself – the nightmarish thought of committing some kind of easy blunder that results in consequences so dire, that you wish you’d never left the house that morning.
December 15, 2017
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Barely more than ten minutes into It’s a Wonderful Life I’m already a puddle. The film is still an hour and a half away from settling into its final act, yet it’s reached an emotional crescendo that most films would be hard-pressed to pull off at all. Capra’s masterpiece of America and its discontents is so brilliant at making every moment count that one doesn’t notice that most of the running time is devoted to simply setting the narrative groundwork for its high-concept wallop of a climax.
December 23, 2013
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Way darker than its holiday-classic rep has become a truism since I was a kid, but this viewing (first in 14 years) made me long for the relative cheer and optimism ofThe Turin Horse. Just days later, the beaming smiles and wing-heralding bells of the finale have already faded, whereas I can’t stop thinking of George stalking his house like a caged panther, viciously snapping at innocuous questions from his kids and generally behaving like patriarchy gone rancid.
November 09, 2011
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For all its Hallmark Card familiarity, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is in fact the most despairing movie of Capra’s career—a two-hour tour of an honest man’s failure and bottled-up resentment, softened only intermittently by loving images of Americana. Loving, perhaps, but always tinged with the doubts characteristic of Capra’s most personal films.
December 18, 2009
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The film’s bravura fantasy sequence, imagining the hellishly licentious Bedford Falls that would exist without George, makes the grandest possible case for the importance and uniqueness of individual agency – ‘Battleship Potemkin’ this ain’t. Funny, compelling and moving.
December 10, 2007
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Capra is not an escapist. I’ve never understood how It’s a Wonderful Life is seen as a beacon of Christmas hope. It’s one of the darkest films I know… Having sacrificed everything he has longed for, [George Bailey] is about to become destitute and probably imprisoned as well. He comes to the conclusion, not unreasonably, that it would have been better if he’d never been born. “That’s what you get for praying for help,” he says, black and bitter. A nice family film, huh?
July 01, 1992
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The film Frank Capra was born to make. This 1946 release marked his return to features after four years of turning out propaganda films for the government, and Capra poured his heart and soul into it… Wonderfully drawn and acted by a superb cast and told with a sense of image and metaphor (the use of water is especially elegant) that appears in no other Capra film. The epiphany of movie sentiment and a transcendent experience.
January 01, 1980
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Capra is an old-time movie craftsman, the master of every trick in the bag, and in many ways he is more at home with the medium than any other Hollywood director. But all of his details give the impression of contrived effect. To make his points he always takes an easy, simple-minded path that doesn’t give much credit to the intelligence of the audience.
January 06, 1947
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Much too often this movie appeals to the heart at the expense of the mind, at other times it urgently demands of the heart that it treat with contempt the mind’s efforts to keep its integrity; at still other times the heart is simply used, on the mind, as a truncheon. The movie does all this so proficiently, and with so much genuine warmth, that I wasn’t able to get reasonably straight about it for quite a while.
December 28, 1946
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