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It’s A Wonderful Life: 70th anniversary

Heart warming finale to Its A Wonderful Life
Heart warming finale to Its A Wonderful Life

As festive film classic It’s A Wonderful Life celebrates its 70th anniversary, Michael Alexander examines its timeless appeal and asks – what it would take for 2016 to have a similarly happy ending?

“Look, Daddy. Teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.’”

Who can forget that heart-warming observation from six-year-old Zuzu Bailey in the closing scene of the classic Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life?

It’s the 70th anniversary of the Frank Capra classic, which premiered at the Globe Theatre in New York on December 20, 1946.

After initially being a box-office flop, it became something of a Christmas movie classic due to repeated festive TV showings in the 1970s, and went on to be chosen as No. 1 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 most inspiring films of all time.

The movie tells the story of George Bailey (played by James Stewart) – a small-town man whose life seems so desperate he contemplates suicide.

As he prepares to jump from a bridge, his guardian angel intervenes in somewhat Dickensian fashion to show him what life would have become for the residents of Bedford Falls if he had never lived.

Buoyed by a renewed confidence in himself and his small-town ways, the final scenes restore faith in human nature when he is reunited with his wife and children, and the townspeople rally to donate more than enough money to cover an $8000 loan he owes and for an arrest warrant to be torn up.

“Remember NO man is a failure who has friends,” a card left by his Guardian Angel Clarence says.

But with the film having been re-released at selected cinemas just in time for its 70th birthday, what would it take to restore faith in 2016?

For many people, it’s been something of an Annus Horribilis – and certainly far from wonderful.

From David Bowie, Prince and Alan Rickman to Muhammad Ali, Victoria Wood and Sir Terry Wogan, it’s been a striking year for celebrity deaths.

More importantly, add to that uncertainty surrounding Brexit, a Trump presidency and the perpetually awful scenes emanating from wars in Syria and the wider Middle East, and it might be fair to conclude that the world has gone mad. Again.

Yet for others, at this time of reflection, 2016 has brought a renewed sense of hope and freedom.

Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Alex Rowley, who is deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party, told The Courier he has watched It’s A Wonderful Life several times and he is reminded of the “unsung heroes” who work tirelessly and selflessly in every community to make a big difference to people’s lives.

From teachers, doctors and nurses, to food bank volunteers and youth centre staff, he said there are lots of things to be positive about in 2016.

But when it comes to international affairs he says there needs to be more discussion about world events and our input to them – because people can make a difference and alter the actions of government.

“It is true that as we put on our tellies at night there are many sad events taking place around the world and in particular the Middle East,” he said.

Alex Rowley
Alex Rowley

“The actions of governments in the West have not helped and I have tabled a motion in Parliament highlighting the crisis in Yemen after I saw a documentary about the numbers of children starving to death as a direct result of the conflict.

“We and other western countries are supplying arms that are being used in these countries and my hope would be that more people take an active interest in our policy in other countries and our willingness to sell arms to states who seem to have little regard for the life of others.”

Fife Provost Jim Leishman said 2016 had personally been a good year for him. But his thoughts were with those less fortunate in the world – including Syrians.

He said: “It’s A Wonderful Life is a film about someone who can make a difference to other people’s lives.

Fife Provost Jim Leishman
Fife Provost Jim Leishman

“That’s what I would like people to do. Stop, take a look and ask themselves how can I help here – even if it’s just a small thing that could change someone’s life for the better.”

Christmas Island nuclear test veteran Dave Whyte, of Kirkcaldy, who has been campaigning for years to get to the “truth” about the health implications of nuclear exposure said he would like to see “honesty and truth spread around the world”.

“I know of no religion that advocates killing non-believers yet we have Muslims killing Muslims because they belong to a different sect,” he said.

“We have had numerous wars of Christians against Christians, most of which could have been avoided had honesty and truth been given its proper place.”

Dave Whyte of Kirkcaldy.
Dave Whyte of Kirkcaldy.

Former Broughty Ferry minister Rev John Cameron, now of St Andrews, said: “The charm of It’s A Wonderful Life’s ending conceals a deeper message of entrapment, the harsh compromises required by unfulfilled dreams and of the need to cope with the grinding realities of life.

“As regards 2016, Brexit was a tragedy and devolved Scotland hit the wall. But no year in which Castro died is all bad while Trump’s superb cabinet suggests a better tomorrow.”

President-elect Donald Trump. A good or bad end to 2016?
President-elect Donald Trump. A good or bad end to 2016?

North East Fife MP Stephen Gethins, who is the SNP’s Europe spokesman, said: “I am a big fan of It’s a Wonderful Life and one of my earliest Christmas memories is sitting watching the film with my grandparents in Dundee.

“I could do with watching the film again this Christmas after quite a year in 2016 where we lost far too many good people, the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere took more innocent lives, and a tumultuous political year.

“Sometime we can all do with its uplifting message! Here’s hoping that we can make some amends in 2017 and it is always good to look to a New Year with some optimism.”