Top critical review
It is moving to watch... the FIRST time
on October 31, 2001
I suppose that, the first time one watches this rather excessively sweet film, even the most hardened cynic would shed a tear at the ending, when George is revealed as one who has a matchless wealth of friends and support. James Stewart indeed portrays George Bailey superbly, but I found that, beyond the first viewing, this becomes rather an annoying film.
Of course, the contrast between George (the sort of man anyone would like on sight, and love all the more with acquaintance), and the dreadful Potter, who makes the pre-converted Ebenezer Scrooge look cuddly, provides much of the action - trouble is, the premise really is not that realistic. The idea that being good-natured, and having a spirit of self-sacrifice that goes from heroic to excessive, benefits one's community is taken to too great an extreme. The Baileys are always on verge of bankruptcy, yet manage to be the saviours of all of the rather poor people who want to fulfil the mid-century dream of owning their own homes. Intending no blasphemy, I found it annoying that George becomes something of a Christ figure... yet never is allowed to think of himself or his family in the process.
George seems a wonderful man, but it became difficult to see his as a "wonderful life." It seemed that everyone was entitled to fulfil their dreams except George... indeed, that he had to make certain that he sacrificed every aspiration (college, honeymoon trip, travelling) entirely so someone else could have them. Considering how, when George sees what the town would be like had he never lived, everyone is in miserable straits, the 'saviour' business is rather macabre, as are the people resident in Bedford Falls!
Romantic though I am at heart, the cynical part of me sighed, knowing full well that, no matter how good anyone was to others, the first accusation of embezzlement would be more likely to make the others think, "now we know how he really is!" Miserable though Potter is, it does not ring true that one with his resources could be totally unsuccessful in acquiring potential homeowners as customers because a good-hearted, impoverished sort simply was more pleasant.
Certainly, watch this once... but don't go back for repeated viewings, since the memory of the first viewing will be far more pleasant than the cloying effects of repeat performances.