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An American Christmas Carol
by Jon Schuller

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Falling in love

Falling in love
I thought I'd reprise my column about George Bailey with a few new updates and thoughts about this cinema classic. The film turns 65 this year and its relevance to American life has not dimmed as it reaches this milestone.

It must be obvious by now I love movies and amongst my favorites is It's A Wonderful Life. This 1946 Frank Capra film is a post-World War II classic that gives us a glimpse into the Depression-era life of a small, upstate New York town, its citizens, and one man in particular, George Bailey, played by James Stewart. From childhood dreams and dramas we watch George as he keeps thinking about all the faraway places he's going to visit and somehow never does. The real world keeps intruding on his dreams of travel to exotic locales.

The Bailey Building & Loan is his Father's business until Dad dies and George inherits it. Not exactly what he was planning for his future. No. He's going to see the world. Look at the size of that suitcase he just bought. He dreams what we all dream. Reality does intrude, sooner rather than later.

This is not necessarily the American Everyman story but it has its roots
Keeping the faith

Keeping the faith
in the iconic American Dream story we all know so well. Everyone wants the good things in life while we daily work diligently to earn money and provide for our families. With differences of geography and time it's what every immigrant has wanted who comes to the United States. George Bailey, like all of us, is affected by forces outside of his world that sooner or later visit Bedford Falls, his friends, his family and himself.

This movie could easily be remade today because America is once again affected by those large, impersonal forces at work outside and inside our country. Every one of us is acting and thinking differently, our dreams are on hold, our plans delayed. George Bailey thinks the world would have been better off without him: He's a failure, everything he's tried and dreamed of is gone. He has disappointed his wife and children, and his friends.

Clarence, the Angel-In-Training, is assigned to George and gives him a dark, brooding, cinema-noir view of Bedford Falls as Pottersville; old man Potter owns everything, everyone; Ma Bailey, suddenly a nasty widow with a scary boardinghouse; no one, absolutely no one, knows George
Descent into darkness

Descent into darkness
Bailey; Mary (his wife) never married, is now a lonely librarian-spinster. Capra turns a seemingly predictable tale into an eerie Halloween story that can scare adults. As George descends into this darkness we must follow him. I daresay we've all had these moments occasionally ourselves. Everything we've worked for is apparently gone in an instant: Lose your job, lose your house, lose your self-confidence and self-esteem. The American Dream turns nightmarishly real and is played over and over on the nightly news. Sometimes we forget that American coins have two sides.

The cast of characters may bring A Christmas Carol to mind. George Bailey and his struggling family look a lot like Bob Cratchett and his family. Mr. Potter could be no one but Scrooge before his visitations. Clarence Oddbody represents the ghosts who visit and transform the story. Maybe this is a stretch but I think you get the picture. It is never too late to fix what's been broken. At the very least, let's all try to fix it.

We are all valuable even when we cannot see beyond our present pain and drama. George Bailey never stopped to look at what he'd really done for friends and
Atta boy, Clarence

Atta boy, Clarence
strangers because he was too busy helping them when they were in trouble. Is that an American trait reflected so well in this movie: Think and help others first before we help ourselves? Is 2011 so different from 1930? I believe the similarities are striking. Look around and see how many people you've influenced in your life; how many positive things you've done without thinking about consequences or benefits to yourself. How long have you known your friends, helping them, comforting them, standing by them? America has so much to offer anyone who comes here or lives here. We must all remember that no one deserves what he gets - he must work for it. At least, I'd like to think that's how this all works most of the time.

Frank Capra created a microcosm of a troubled country on film. But it did have a happy ending. One man, surrounded by friends and family, realizes how much he's given and how much he's received. As I've said before we can use some everyday heroes today, every day. All of us, in our own unique way, are everyday heroes even if we don't know it. My advice: don't wait for the holidays to watch this movie. It just might make you feel good in March or August too.

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Mike Thomas
Dec 29, 2011 12:49 AM
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This is an important film - for me in particular. This is one of the very few movies I'll watch whenever it's on.

Great column!
Dec 29, 2011 7:07 AM
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Thanks Mike. It is an important film

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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