It's a Wonderful Life (1946) ***

Anything left to be said about this perennial Christmas favourite?
Everyone knows it, everyone knows what's great about it, everyone knows the story of how if was little-favoured at first but became cherished on tv because it fell into public domain. All I can add is that it's worth noting just how much of it takes place before Clarence turns up: like all Capra films it is structured in his patented unequal-thirds: first long and lazy, second snappy and magnificent, third unduly hurried.
That it is his style seems inarguable - it transcends mere screenwriting credit. Not sure if it's a good thing or not: sometimes it works very well, sometimes - Mr Smith for instance - I really do find myself feeling a little short-changed by the haste with which it pays off our initial investment and says goodnight. Nonetheless, Wonderful Life is an interesting watch indeed if you imagine you have no idea of just what kind of a turn it's going to take at the halfway mark. Are we genuinely engrossed in Bailey's story, or are we just looking for the things Clarence will exploit when he finally shows? My own feeling is that the first half does contain some truly beautiful moments: the dance floor opening into a swimming pool, and the scenes by the old house, in particular. It is precisely because we do feel we are watching a perfectly charming and satisfying film in its own right in this section that the finale plays as powerfully as it does.