It's a Wonderful Life (1947)

 ●  English ● 2 hrs 11 mins

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This classic tale delves into the value of honesty, integrity, love, generosity and sacrifice through the trials and triumphs in the life of George Bailey, who has spent his entire life giving of himself to the people of Bedford Falls. He has always longed to travel but never had the opportunity in order to prevent rich skinflint Mr. Potter from taking over the entire town. All that prevents him from doing so is George's modest building and loan company, which was founded by his generous father. But on Christmas Eve, George's Uncle Billy loses the business's $8,000 while intending to deposit it in the bank. Potter finds the misplaced money and hides it from Billy. When the bank examiner discovers the shortage later that night, George realizes that he will be held responsible and sent to jail and the company will collapse, finally allowing Potter to take over the town. Thinking of his wife, their young children, and others he loves will be better off with him dead, he contemplates suicide. However, the prayers of his loved ones result in a gentle angel named Clarence coming to earth to help George, showing the depressed and suicidal George how his beloved town would have been if not for him. Can the guardian angel restore George's faith and give him the confidence to live and save his company?
See Storyline (May Contain Spoilers)

Cast: Donna Reed, James Stewart

Crew: Frank Capra (Director), Joseph Bailey Walker (Director of Photography), Dimitri Zinovievich Tiomkin (Music Director)

Rating: U (India)

Genres: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Release Dates: 07 Jan 1947 (India)

Tagline: They're going steady...straight to your heart!

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Did you know? Films made prior to this one used cornflakes painted white for the falling snow effect. Because the cornflakes were so loud, dialogue had to be dubbed in later. Frank Capra wanted to record the sound live, so a new snow effect was developed using foamite (a fire-fighting chemical) and soap and water. This mixture was then pumped at high pressure through a wind machine to create the silent, falling snow. 6000 gallons of the new snow were used in the film. The RKO Effects Department received a Class III Scientific or Technical Award from the Motion Picture Academy for the development of the new film snow. Read More
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Camera and Electrical

Director of Photography


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Film Type:
Feature Film
Colour Info:
Black & White
Sound Mix:
Frame Rate:
24 fps
Aspect Ratio:
2.35 : 1
They're going steady...straight to your heart!
It's a wonderful laugh! It's a wonderful love!
They're making memories tonight!
The most loved Christmas film of all time!
Frank Capra's..."It's a Wonderful Life".
Wonderful news...about wonderful people! a wonderful picture! It's a wonderful love! It's a wonderful laugh!
In the first scene where George finds his brother Harry's grave, the year of death (1919) is clearly visible. The next scene, it is obscured by snow and George has to dig it out to find the year his brother died.

When the "old maid" Mary is closing the library door, she has a wreath in her right arm. The wreath disappears in the next shot.

Revealing Mistakes
When Mary (Donna Reed) throws her rock at an upstairs window of the dilapidated old house, the rock disappears a split second after leaving her hand, and then reappears in the distance just before crashing through the glass. The roof of the house was a matte painting, added after principal photography by the visual effects department. When Ms. Reed threw her rock (and it was her throwing it, not a stand-in), the arc of its flight was a bit too high, and it crossed the matte line for most of its travel. Consequently, it was covered up by the painting, which was added later. Apparently the live-action crew did not notice the potential problem when filming the shot.

Revealing Mistakes
In the drugstore when Mary leans over the counter to whisper in George's ear, a piece of tape suddenly appears on the edge of the counter between George's and Mary's heads. This was most likely done as a reference mark for the young actors so the focus puller could accurately pull focus.

Revealing Mistakes
James Stewart's toupee falls off after he and Donna Reed fall into the pool during the Charleston contest.

Revealing Mistakes
On the tombstone, Harry Bailey's years of life are show as 1911-1919, which would make him, at the oldest, eight years old when he died. However, immediately before George Bailey brushes away the snow to reveal the dates, Clarence states that Harry died when he was nine.

Factual Mistake
1919: No National Geographic Magazine mentions "Fiji" and "coconuts" in the same subject.

Errors in Geography
At the scene showing the new houses at Bailey Park, California hills are visible beyond the houses. The film is set in New York state, which only has much gentler, rolling hills.

When George and Mary are throwing rocks at the dilapidated house on the way home from the dance, when George throw his rock, the window that Mary is supposed to throw a rock at is missing. Then when Mary gets ready to throw her rock the window is there.

When George crashes his car into the tree, there's not much snow on it, when he gets out of the car to have a look at the damage, there's lots of snow on the car.

When everyone is jumping into the pool during the dance, the same person jumps in twice.

Just before George speaks to Harry on the phone, George removes a wreath from his arm and places it on a table. The wreath immediately reappears on his arm.

After Clarence disappears while being wrestled by Bert the Cop, you can see the shadow of Ernie the Cabdriver, shaking his finger. However, when the camera shows Ernie, he has both hands on the tree, and then he begins to shake his finger.

When George and Clarence are drying off in the bridge keeper's shack the postcard hanging by the thermometer on the wall, next to the door repeatedly disappears and reappears between shots.

On Christmas Eve when he is hugging Tommy, George is clean shaven. By the time he climbs the stairs to check on ZuZu he has a heavy 5 O'clock shadow on his face.

When Mary puts on "Buffalo Gals" on the phonograph, she starts a ten-inch, yellow-labeled record, but in the next shot, a dark-labeled record is playing. Also, when Mary breaks the record after the conversation with George, she breaks a twelve-inch, yellow-labeled record instead of the original ten-inch record.

Character Error
Clarence presents himself to George as "AS2". When George inquires what AS2 stands for, Clarence states "Angel Second Class" - which makes no sense.

Character Error
At one point George (James Stewart) calls Violet (Gloria Grahame), Gloria.

Audio/Video Mismatch
George jumps into the river to save Clarence. As he is rescuing him Clarence is screaming "help" but his mouth is not moving.

Audio/Video Mismatch
When Mary and George are walking down the street after the dance, she asks him, "Well, why don't you say it?" The next shot George is heard saying, "I don't know. Maybe I will say it," but his mouth is not moving at all.
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 score was issued by Telarc on an album which included music from two other Christmas favorites: the 1947 "Miracle in 34th Street" (Cyril Mockridge) and the 1951 "A Christmas Carol" (Richard Addinsell). David Newman conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from Tiomkin's reconstructed score.

The song "Buffalo Gals" was an old vaudeville song. The "gals" who were asked to "come out tonight" varied according to whichever town the song was being performed in. It could "New York Gals" "Chicago Gals" or any other town name that would fit. "Buffalo Gals" became the favorite.

"Screen Director's Playhouse" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on May 8, 1949 with James Stewart reprising his film role.

Many of Dimitri Tiomkin's cues from the score were replaced with excerpts from the RKO music library. It included cues from Roy Webb, Leigh Harline and Alfred Newman's "Hallelujah" from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

Jimmy Stewart refers to his daughter, Zuzu, as "my little ginger snap." This is a reference to the brand name of ginger snaps that was made by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) at the time.

The name of Bedford Falls was combined from Bedford Hills, in Westchester County, New York, and Seneca Falls, a small town midway between Rochester and Syracuse. The town of Elmira, mentioned by the bank examiner, is a real town in New York, not that far from the actual Seneca Falls.

The galaxies used to depict the angels' dialogue in the film are a group of galaxies which astronomers call Stephan's Quintet.

The husband and wife writing team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett found Frank Capra disagreeable and difficult to work with and were angered when they found he had rewritten their script. They filed an arbitration with the Writer's Guild to have Capra's name taken off, but it remains on.

The movie was originally slated for 1947 release, but when Technicolor was unable to deliver prints in time for RKO's Christmastime 1946 release of Sinbad, the Sailor (1947), Frank Capra's film was rushed into theaters. The titles were not reshot, and thus bear a 1947 copyright.

The film passed through several hands, including Howard Hughes, who expressed an interest.

One of the reasons H.B. Warner got the part of drugstore owner Mr Gower was because he actually studied medicine before going into acting. He was also in some of Frank Capra's other films, including Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), You Can't Take It with You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). The character's name Gower derived from Capra's employer Columbia Pictures, which had been located on Gower Street for many years. Also on Gower Street was a drugstore that was a favourite for the studio's employees.

After the war Frank Capra set up Liberty Films with George Stevens and William Wyler to make more serious, soul-searching films. This and State of the Union (1948) were Liberty's only productions.

When composer Dimitri Tiomkin's original score for the finale (featuring "Ode To Joy") was eliminated, tracks of Alfred Newman's score from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) were used instead, most notably the chorus singing "Hallelujah".

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.

According to Robert J. Anderson, H.B. Warner really was drunk during the scene in which Mr. Gower slaps young George. Warner's slaps were real and caused real blood to come from Anderson's ear. After the scene was finished, Warner hugged and comforted Anderson.

The Main Street of Bedford Falls, including the Bailey Bros. Savings and Loan and the Bedford Falls Trust & Savings, was located on the RKO Encino Ranch, west of (but not on) the playing fields of what is now Balboa Park in Encino, California. The actual location of the Bedford Falls Main Street ran east-west from what is now the east side of the 5900 block of Ostrom Avenue, Encino, California. The area is now a residential neighborhood.

Gloria Grahame was cast as Violet Bick after MGM casting director Bill Grady showed some of her screen-tests to Frank Capra.

James Stewart and Donna Reed reprised their roles in 1947 on radio, first on "The Lux Radio Theatre" and then on "Camel Screen Guild Theatre." In the Lux version, instead of putting Zuzu's petals in his pocket, George has a bell that Zuzu likes to play with. The "Lux" version aired in March; the "Screen Guild" version aired December 29th.

Both James Stewart and Donna Reed came from small towns; Stewart from Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Reed from Denison, Iowa. She demonstrated her rural roots by winning an impromptu bet with Lionel Barrymore when he challenged her to milk a cow on-set.

Vincent Price was considered for the part of Mr. Potter.

In 1947, an FBI analyst submitted, without comment, an addition to a running memo on "Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry," recording the opinion of an industry source who said that the film's "obvious" attempt to discredit bankers "is a common trick used by Communists."

Ginger Rogers was offered the role of Mary, but turned it down.

During the scene when Uncle Billy knocks over a trashcan, his cries "I'm all right! I'm all right" were ad-libbed by Thomas Mitchell. The actual noise was made by a clumsy stagehand knocking over equipment but it sounded so authentic to Frank Capra he left it in; he still had it augmented though with added sound effects.

Debuted a week after William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which explained why this movie was a disappointment at the box office and at the Academy Awards.

Originally ended with "Ode to Joy", not "Auld Lang Syne".

The story spans 27 years, from 1919 to 1946.

Frank Capra strove to make scenes as real as he could for actors. Thus the first kiss between James Stewart and Donna Reed was shot at the same time as the other end of the phone conversation, with Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson) on a different set (Wainwright's New York office) at RKO's Pathe studio.

There are several examples of product placement in Gower's drugstore; Coca-Cola; Paterson tobacco pipes; La Unica cigars; Camel cigarettes; Lucky Strike cigarettes; Chesterfield cigarettes; Vaseline hair tonic; Penetro cough syrup; Pepto-Bismol; Bayer Aspirin ("for colds and influenza"), and The Saturday Evening Post.

After the film was finished, it was broadcast coast to coast by CBS and in other parts of the world by the state department. It premiered at the Globe theatre in New York, for the benefit of the Boys Club. Many people loved it and watched it over and over, but although not a box-office success, it became immensely popular and a Christmas classic.

The Greatest Gift, the short story that inspired It's a Wonderful Life (1946), was first published in 1944. Clarence's boss uses that line in one of the opening scenes.

Potter and his bodyguard are always dressed the same. The exception is the scene when Potter's bodyguard wheels Potter into the bank; Potter's bodyguard is wearing a scarf while Potter isn't. Potter's wagon driver also dresses like him.

In the scene where George Bailey runs through the streets wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, there's a shot of a theater marque advertising for The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). Henry Travers, who plays Clarence, had co-starred in the film the previous year.

This film is one of five times Beulah Bondi portrayed James Stewart's mother, The others are: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Of Human Hearts (1938) and Vivacious Lady (1938), and once on his television series, The Jimmy Stewart Show (1971).

Despite being set around Christmas, it was filmed during a heat wave. It got to be so hot that Frank Capra gave everyone a day off to recuperate.

Ranked as the #1 Most Powerful Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute (2006).

In 2004 the BBC TV listings magazine "Radio Times" conducted a poll into the Best Film Never to Have Won an Oscar. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) came second (The Shawshank Redemption (1994) was first).

In the version of this film which aired on TV in the late 1950s and early 1960s, George Bailey (James Stewart), by phone, accuses the teacher of "sending my kid home from school in the rain". In the most recent version aired on NBC,12/24/12, George's line is "You sent my kid home from school half naked." Quite a stronger accusation. This would give the teacher's husband a more ample reason to "take a poke" at George, as he did, later in Nick's tavern.

According to an interview with Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played Zuzu, the name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. George makes reference to this near the end of the movie when he says to Zu Zu at the top of the stairs, "Zuzu my little Ginger Snap!"

Pharmacist Gower's son's death at college is attributed to "Influenza" in the telegram that Young George reads, dated May 3, 1919. Around that time, there was the "Spanish Flu" worldwide epidemic that claimed millions of lives.

The only film in history to originate from a greetings card.

The year that Potter offers George a $20,000 annual salary is unclear, but assuming that this scene takes place in 1939, that amount is equivalent to $310,567 in 2010 dollars.

This was the first and last time that Frank Capra produced, financed, directed and co-wrote one of his films.

42 rings are heard in the film, so if Clarence is right, 42 angels get their wings.

Frank Capra estimated the film would be shot within 90 days; he was right and the whole cast and crew threw a party to celebrate.

Donna Reed's first starring role.

The instant that George says "God" on the bridge, it starts snowing, showing that he is back in the real world.

Lionel Barrymore convinced James Stewart to take the role of George, despite his feeling that he was not up to it so soon after World War II.

The film has two lines of "secret dialog" - spoken quietly through a door. (They can be heard when amplifying the volume, and are also explicitly depicted in the closed-captioning.) The lines occur at the end of the scene set in Bailey's private office with Bailey and his son George, and Potter and his goon present. After George raves to Potter that "you can't say that about my father", he is ushered out of the room by his father, then George is shown standing outside the office door. At that moment, George overhears the following two lines of dialog through the glass pane of the door behind him: POTTER: What's the answer? BAILEY: Potter, you just humiliated me in front of my son.

The Bedford Falls set made use of 20 transplanted oak trees, and for the Winter scenes, 3000 tons of shaved ice, 300 tons of gypsum, 300 tons of plaster, and 6000 gallons of chemicals. It made use of sets originally designed for Cimarron (1931), and it had a working bank and a tree-lined center parkway. Pigeons, cats and dogs were allowed to roam the mammoth set to give it a lived-in feel. Because the story covers different seasons and an alternate town, the set was extremely adaptable. Filming began on April 15, 1946, and ended on July 27, 1946, exactly on schedule for the 90 day deadline to shoot. The set was later razed in 1954, and only two locations survived; the gymnasium at Beverly Hills High School which is still in operation today, and the Martini house, at 4587 Viro Road in La Canada Flintridge, California.

Two of the writers called the finished film "horrid" and refused to see it when it was released. The only one of Clifford Odets' ideas to appear in the finished script was George saving Mr Gower from poisoning a boy with pills.

Frank Capra filmed a number of sequences that were later cut; the only remnants are rare stills that have been unearthed. A number of alternative endings were considered, with Capra's first script having George fall to his knees saying The Lord's Prayer (the script called for an opening scene with the townspeople in prayer). Feeling an overly religious tone didn't have the emotional impact of family and friends coming to George's rescue, the closing scenes were rewritten.

Films made prior to this one used cornflakes painted white for the falling snow effect. Because the cornflakes were so loud, dialogue had to be dubbed in later. Frank Capra wanted to record the sound live, so a new snow effect was developed using foamite (a fire-fighting chemical) and soap and water. This mixture was then pumped at high pressure through a wind machine to create the silent, falling snow. 6000 gallons of the new snow were used in the film. The RKO Effects Department received a Class III Scientific or Technical Award from the Motion Picture Academy for the development of the new film snow.

The scene on the bridge where Clarence saves George was filmed on a back lot on a day where the temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why James Stewart is visibly sweating in a few scenes.

Frank Capra often said that this was his favorite of all his films.

James 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.

A photograph of James Stewart at the age of six months donated by his parents was included in the Bailey home set.

While filming the scene where George prays in the bar, James Stewart has said that he was so overcome that he began to sob right then and there. Later, Frank Capra reframed the shot so it looked like a much closer shot than was actually filmed because he wanted to catch that expression on Stewart's face.

James 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.

James Stewart said that of all the films he made, this was his favorite.

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!

The film was a flop when it played theatres in 1946.

The gym floor that opens up to reveal a swimming pool was real and was located at Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles.

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 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.