It's a Wonderful Lifeis a 1946 American Christmas drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra and based on the short story " The Greatest Gift " written by Philip Van Doren Stern .
The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey , a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel , Clarence Odbody ( Henry Travers ). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and the contributions he has made to his community.
Despite initially being considered a box office flop due to high production costs and stiff competition at the time of its release, the film has come to be regarded as a classic and a staple of Christmas television around the world. Theatrically, the film's break-even point was actually $6.3 million, approximately twice the production cost, a figure it never came close to achieving in its initial release. An appraisal in 2006 reported: "Although it was not the complete box-office failure that today everyone believes ... it was initially a major disappointment and confirmed, at least to the studios, that Capra was no longer capable of turning out the populist features that made his films the must-see, money-making events they once were."
It's a Wonderful Lifewas nominated for five Oscars without winning any, although the film has since been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made , and placed number one on their list of the most inspirational American films of all time.
Christmas Eve finds George Bailey (James Stewart) deeply troubled. Prayers for his wellbeing from friends and family reach Heaven. Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), Angel Second Class, is assigned to save George and earn his wings. Franklin and Joseph, the head angels, review George's life with Clarence. At the age of 12, George ( Bobby Anderson ) saved the life of his younger brother Harry (George Nokes), who had fallen through the ice on a frozen pond, though George lost the hearing in his left ear. Later, as an errand boy in a pharmacy , George saved his grief-stricken boss, druggist Mr. Gower ( H.B. Warner ), from being arrested after he mistakenly filled a child's prescription with poison.
George's dream has been to see the world. However, he repeatedly sacrifices his ambition for others, waiting for Harry ( Todd Karns ) to graduate from high school and replace him at the Bailey Building and Loan Association, vital to the people of Bedford Falls . On Harry's graduation night in 1928, George discusses his future with Mary Hatch ( Donna Reed ), who has had a crush on him since she was a little girl. Later that evening, George's absent-minded Uncle Billy ( Thomas Mitchell ) and Harry break the news to George his father has had a stroke , which proves fatal. A few months later, Henry F. Potter ( Lionel Barrymore ), a heartless slumlord and majority shareholder in the Building and Loan, tries to persuade the board of directors to stop providing home loans for the working poor. George talks them into rejecting Potter's proposal, but they agree only on the condition that George himself run the Building and Loan. He gives his college money to his brother with the understanding that when Harry returns, he will take over the Building and Loan.
When Harry graduates from college, he unexpectedly brings home a wife, whose father has offered Harry an excellent job in his company. Although Harry vows to decline the offer as per their prior arrangement, George cannot deny his brother such a fine opportunity.
George and Mary get married. As they are leaving town for their honeymoon, they witness a run on the bank that leaves the Building and Loan in danger of collapse. The couple quell the panic by using the $2,000 earmarked for their honeymoon to satisfy the depositors' immediate needs. Mary enlists the help of Bert, a policeman, and Ernie, a cab driver, to create a faux tropical setting for a substitute honeymoon.
George and Mary raise four children. George starts up Bailey Park, an affordable housing project. They and the other residents no longer have to pay Potter's high rents. Potter tries to hire him away, offering him a $20,000 annual salary,along with the promise of business trips to New York and Europe. George is tempted, but turns him down.
When World War II erupts, George is unable to enlist due to his bad ear. Harry becomes a fighter pilot and is awarded the Medal of Honor for shooting down 15 enemy planes, two of which were targeting a U.S. transport ship full of troops in the Pacific. Potter runs the local draft board.
On Christmas Eve, 1946,Uncle Billy is on his way to deposit $8,000 for the Building and Loan when he runs into Potter. He proudly shows Potter the front-page article about Harry receiving the Medal of Honor. Potter grabs the newspaper angrily and discovers the money inside; he keeps it. When Uncle Billy realizes it is missing, a frantic search is started. With a bank examiner set to inspect the books that very day, a desperate George appeals to Potter for a loan to save the company, but Potter turns him down and swears out a warrant for his arrest for bank fraud .