It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946.
Directed by Frank Capra.
Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond, Frank Faylen, and Gloria Grahame.
Perennial holiday favorite It’s a Wonderful Life was reissued on 4K UltraHD Blu-ray this year in a SteelBook that includes a vintage poster. Aside from that, it’s the same as the 4K released last year, but it’s a worthwhile pickup for fans, with stunning image quality and a code for a digital copy. A handful of extras round out the disc, and there’s a Blu-ray with a colorized version if that’s your thing.
This isn’t It’s a Wonderful Life’s first time on 4K disc. It was actually released for the first time in that format last year, but this edition arrives in SteelBook packaging and includes a vintage mini poster. Given what a year it’s been, though, I welcomed the opportunity to indulge in some feel-good escapism, courtesy of director Frank Capra, who was at the height of his powers when this film was released in 1946.
This isn’t an obscure film, given its long-running status as a holiday favorite that’s been on TV at this time of the year for decades, but in case you don’t know the story, here’s the rundown. Sadly, this is a tale that may hit people harder this year than in more recent years.
James Stewart stars as George Bailey, who was born in Bedford Falls, married his childhood sweetheart (Donna Reed) there, and expects to die there after a life of scraping by. On Christmas Eve, George decides he’s going to end things early and finds himself at the brink of committing suicide.
The angel Clarence Odbody is assigned to save George and finally earn his wings in the process. Before he can intervene, however, he must watch flashbacks of George’s life and see how George saved his brother Harry from drowning during childhood and later postponed his dream of traveling to help protect his father’s savings and loan from board member Henry F. Potter, who seeks to dissolve it.
Time and again, George puts others’ needs ahead of his own, and when he makes a costly mistake that threatens to destroy the family business, he finds himself on a bridge contemplating suicide and wishing he was never born. With the story caught up to the beginning of the film, Clarence intervenes to show George what would have happened if he had never been born.
Spoiler alert: It turns out that life would have been much worse for many people, and George realizes that he did have an important impact on the small town of Bedford Falls. Sure, the story is sappy, and it’s very much a product of its time, especially those post-World War II years when many people wanted to move past that awful conflict and feel positive about life. But I’ll admit that I’m a Jimmy Stewart fan, and this movie gets me every time, even as I’m wondering what a guy married to Donna Reed has to feel bad about.
Like the 4K version released last year, this edition of It’s a Wonderful Life features image quality that’s probably about as good as this film has looked since 1946. Paramount clearly put a lot of effort into restoring the movie, and it shows. Also included is a Blu-ray that houses a colorized (gasp!) version of the film. I’ll admit I’m not as much of a zealot about colorization as I was way back when it was a big controversy in the 80s, but it still bugs me.
This edition includes the same bonus features found on the 2019 4K disc, although my understanding is that there are some extras that weren’t ported over from other releases. You’ll find:
- Restoring a Beloved Classic (13 minutes): A pair of Paramount executives talk about the extensive process that the film went through to restore and preserve it in 4K resolution. There’s plenty of technical detail here for folks who enjoy that kind of thing.
- Secrets From the Vault: It’s a Wonderful Life (22 minutes): Ben Burtt, the sound designer and editor who’s known to many fans from his work on the Star Wars movies, and Craig Barron, a visual effects supervisor and historian, dig into Capra’s career in the context of the making of this film. They cover a lot of ground, including, unsurprisingly, the sound design and cinematography, but they also discuss such topics as the film’s box office failure and its resurrection as a perennial holiday favorite.
- It’s a Wonderful Wrap Party (8 minutes): The Secrets From the Vault featurette also includes some home video footage from the movie’s wrap party, and here that footage is included in full. There’s no sound, and it’s, unsurprisingly, in bad shape, but it was shot in 1946 and likely sat in someone’s basement or attic for decades before being discovered.
Finally, there’s a code for a digital copy of the film. Yes, it’s the black-and-white one.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★