Family Movie Night
By Karyn Bowman
Some times a new book can shed light on an old subject.
This week a friend shared an article about how Jimmy Stewart was affected by his service during WWII and how that brought something new and raw to his post-war movie career. That and many similar articles were based on the new book, Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe.
Having read the article from the Chicago Tribune, I was curious to look at the movie again and see what hidden depths I could glean. After all, this book asserts that Stewart suffered from PSTD from his desire to keep his men safe, not a possibility for men bombing Europe in planes.
After two years of service in the Army Air Corps, Stewart came home for some R&R at his parents’ home in Pennsylvania and back to Hollywood. After being gone for many years, Stewart was no longer leading man material, his spot had been taken by Gregory Peck. Finally, Frank Capra offered him the role despite Stewart really wanting a comedy. But this was the only offer he had at the time.
Stewart imbued his portrayal of George Bailey with desperation. He is a man who wants to travel the world, become an engineer who builds things, and get out of Bedford Falls forever. He sees his friends and neighbors and even his little brother get opportunities that George knows will never fall his way. And yet he has a great life with his wife, Mary, and their four kids.
Well, it takes time for him to recognize that, which is the basis for the movie. With the help of Clarence, George’s guardian angel, we find out that George helped more people than he ever realized. From saving his brother from drowning to providing loans to people to have nice homes and businesses, George has helped many people in his town.
Watching it this time around, I saw the fear in Stewart’s eyes. I saw the desire of a young man to not be stuck as he believes his father was. I also saw a man who passionately loved a woman and how their relationship would be the end of his hopes and dreams of leaving.
The word that came to me during various scenes was desperation. In the lowest moments, George seems desperate to solve his company’s money problems through the years, he is desperate to leave town and go on adventures, he does every last-minute trick to save the business after his father’s death. But the word that comes to mind whenever Mary is in the scene is hope. Mary is the beacon of light that guides George back to clearer thinking.
She saves him more than once in this movie, she saves him when all seems lost. Even coming home from the office on a terrible day, Mary knows something is amiss. She is his touch point, the center point, the sanity is a world gone mad.
Donna Reed would report that this was not a happy set. It was not a set filled with laughter and jolliness as was ‘Miracle on 34th Street was reported. But they are two different movies. The latter told of the joy of Christmas that can be found all around us, it’s underlying message is of faith. But the former is about a man who sees no way out of trouble but to jump in the river and freeze to death. This movie is about the glory of the unknown blessings we can be if we choose.
As much as we need the simplistic joy that is Miracle on 34th Street, we also need the heart-rendering, soul searching agony that is It’s a Wonderful Life to remember that we touch many people in a day and we might be the only good interaction they have.
Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.