It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), the Frank Capra picture, is a strange work of art. Perhaps never has sentimentality been so smartly and lovingly filmed, never has facile optimism been so impressively crafted.
Patently the film is faulty. Indeed, it’s stupid about money lending practices, i.e. those of the Bailey Building and Loan Association. Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) is callous, but he’s right to say, “It isn’t fair to the little people to encourage them to live beyond their means.” Still, it is the humane family man, George Bailey (James Stewart), and not Potter, who must triumph, who—in truth—must be on his way to being as content as his father was. It’s an enticing trip—with images as lovely as those in The Magnificent Ambersons. I’m not sure it’s one of Capra’s best movies, however, although it is clearly more personal than, say, It Happened One Night.