Home Video Picks & Passes 10.30.16

Celebrating its 70th anniversary, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is deservedly enshrined as an untouchable classic.

(photo: Shutterstock and Amazon)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — PICK

Celebrating its 70th anniversary with a “Platinum Edition” Blu-ray, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is deservedly enshrined as an untouchable classic. Like another popular Christmas story, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life is in part about an oppressive relationship between a cruel rich man and a sympathetic, less-well-to-do family man that results in supernatural intervention and an alternate vision of reality. 

But where A Christmas Carol was about the redemption of Scrooge, It’s a Wonderful Life is about its Bob Cratchitt, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), his heroic virtue and consistently selfless choices, his “dark night of the soul” and his ultimate vindication.

Darker and more subversive than its reputation as cheery holiday “Capra-corn” would suggest, It’s a Wonderful Life is also more robustly hopeful than cynics and hipster deconstructionists would have it.

At heart, it’s not a film about an artificial crisis with a happy ending, a good man in dire straits rescued by a cherubic angel and by those who love him. It’s about a lifetime’s worth of frustration, sacrifice, compromise, oppression, temptation and loss — and also about how such a life can be a life well lived. 

It’s hard to pin down It’s a Wonderful Life to a single genre. There are rollicking scenes of slapstick comedy and dark scenes evocative of film noir. There are elements of religious fantasy, romantic melodrama, fictional biography and morality play or “message picture.” It’s a veritable pastiche of the tones and styles of its time.

Bonus features: A must-have if you don’t already own the film on Blu-ray, the 70th anniversary edition offers only a pair of extras recycled from previous editions: the original trailer and a single recycled featurette, a 23-minute 1990 making-of featurette hosted by Tom Bosley, with brief appearances by Capra and Stewart.

Bonus Picks: Shaun the Sheep (Seasons 1 and 2); Monk (The Complete Series).

Steven D. Greydanus is the film critic for the Register.

Caveat Spectator: It’s a Wonderful Life: Some tense family scenes; contemplation of suicide; brief inebriation.

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