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It's a Wonderful Life - it was a HIT


Ray Faiola
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So Ben M. was on POTUS Pop Politics yesterday musing political nonsense about Capra and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and repeated the hoary old misnomer that the film was not a hit when it came out yadayadayada.

 

First, the film made an easy profit in its first release.It was also a critical success and garnered great reviews and several awards including five Oscar nominations (including Picture, Capra and Stewart).  It was dramatized on radio several times (each time with Victor Moore playing his intended film role as Clarence).

 

The film was not buried until it went public domain in 1974.  M&A Alexander reissued it in the 50's and NTA syndicated it on television throughout the 1960's and early 70's. Then PD status and the picture exploded on every indy station in the country. The rest is history.

 

But IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE was always a wonderful movie with a solid reputation.

 

life_bo.jpg

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Robert Matzen (Fireball, Errol and Olivia) has written and just had published Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe.

 

He says that It's a Wonderful Life was a prestige picture that performed well at the box office and nearly made its money back. The problem, though, was that it had been an expensive film to make so it was difficult for it to make a profit.

 

As a result of Stewart thinking of IAWL as bad or, at least, disappointing box office, he nixed Donna Reed being his co-star in The Stratten Story, regarding her as the weak link in the Capra film's "lack of success." This was something for which I understand Reed never forgave him.

 

Matzen discusses IAWL in his blog this week:

 

https://robertmatzen.com/2016/12/18/a-jagged-edge/

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Robert Matzen (Fireball, Errol and Olivia) has written and just had published Mission: James Stewart and WWII.

 

He says that It's a Wonderful Life was a prestige picture that performed well at the box office and nearly made its money back. The problem, though, was that it had been an expensive film to make so it was difficult for it to make a profit.

 

As a result of Stewart thinking of IAWL as bad or, at least, disappointing box office, he nixed Donna Reed being his co-star in The Stratten Story, regarding her as the weak link in the Capra film's "lack of success." This was something for which I understand Reed never forgave him.

 

Matzen discusses IAWL in his blog this week:

 

https://robertmatzen.com/2016/12/18/a-jagged-edge/

 

I dunno, perhaps the following might be a little interesting side note to some around here, but the only movie memorabilia that I own is a framed original lobby card from a scene of IAWL, and it's autographed by both Stewart and Reed.

 

It was given to me probably 20-some years ago by my wife's sister as a Christmas present because she knew how much I've always loved this film. She said she found it at some shop along Hollywood's Melrose Ave.

 

(...and no, if anybody's wondering, I've never had those autographs checked for their authenticity...who knows, maybe Antiques Roadshow will hit Sedona one day, and maybe I'll have them check that out) 

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I still get a kick out of the Saturday Night Live spoof of It's a Wonderful Life.  Dana Carvey plays George Bailey.  Jon Lovitz played Mr. Potter.  I think Phil Hartman was Uncle Billy, and I can't for the life of me remember who played Mary (possibly Jan Hooks?).  When it's discovered that Old Man Potter has in fact stolen the money from the Bailey Building and Loan Company, he is attacked by all three of the injured parties and tossed out of his wheelchair and maimed while the crowd in the background is singing Christmas Carols!  Pretty priceless.  I think it's still on YouTube.

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Yeah, that alternate ending was pretty funny alright, midwesty.

 

Ya know though, this skit wasn't included in the annual SNL Christmas Special this year.

 

Btw, you may also remember another "revisioning" of a classic film that the very first SNL cast did in year one of the show. It's this send-up of CITIZEN KANE here. And although it's fairly clever, it's not quite as funny as the IAWL take-off. Perhaps the funniest thing about this one is when Chevy Chase and Buck Henry begin chuckling at how lousy the play-on-words is...

 

https://vimeo.com/106674774

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The film was not buried until it went public domain in 1974.  M&A Alexander reissued it in the 50's and NTA syndicated it on television throughout the 1960's and early 70's. Then PD status and the picture exploded on every indy station in the country. The rest is history.

 

Like the similarly PD-inundated Capra "Meet John Doe", I'm assuming the PD was because IAWL was produced by independent Capra production companies (Liberty Films), and only distributed by RKO?

The new status of RKO re-owning the rights to the picture in the 90's only came about from a piece of music, not from any theatrical studio hold on the production that would have renewed the copyright if the production company was still around.

 

And yes, it didn't really sink into the public consciousness until the PD status let cheap TV stations show it for free.

And remake it for free, in the case of the Marlo Thomas version--I didn't think I'd ever HEARD of the original when the TV-movie version came out.

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It was Republic (formerly NTA) that reclaimed ownership. RKO never had ownership of the picture.  The music in question were four cues that were not published by Tiomkin, whose estate owns all the music he wrote for the picture (including deleted cues).  Republic also established ownership of the Van Dorn story that inspired the film.

 

And yes, the lawyers blew it with MEET JOHN DOE too.  The film was under distribution by Screen Gems (Columbia) at the time the film went P.D.  By the way, in addition to a reduction print made from Capra's personal print, I have a Screen Gems print.  The Screen Gems is gosh-awful, apparently made from Krellberg reissue materials.Yuck. The new restoration shown on TCM was done by Sony/Columbia (they obviously retain their ownership despite the film being P.D.) and hopefully it will be released on home disc some time.

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Like the similarly PD-inundated Capra "Meet John Doe", I'm assuming the PD was because IAWL was produced by independent Capra production companies (Liberty Films), and only distributed by RKO?

The new status of RKO re-owning the rights to the picture in the 90's only came about from a piece of music, not from any theatrical studio hold on the production that would have renewed the copyright if the production company was still around.

 

And yes, it didn't really sink into the public consciousness until the PD status let cheap TV stations show it for free.

And remake it for free, in the case of the Marlo Thomas version--I didn't think I'd ever HEARD of the original when the TV-movie version came out.

 

Probably not, Eric. And that of course is because you're just a freakin' KID...well, compared to me anyway. ;)

 

Ya see, I first stumbled across this gem after returning home from junior high a few days before Christmas in the mid-'60s and when it was being broadcast on a local L.A. station's "matinee movie" type program.

 

I still remember like it was yesterday being mesmerized and totally taken in by it, and especially by the scene where after his own mother doesn't know him, George Bailey walks away from her house and right up to the camera, and you see the look of sheer terror on his face in extreme close-up.

 

(...as I've said before around here recently, Jimmy Stewart's acting in this might perhaps be one of the greatest performances by any actor in any movie ever made)

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@ the OP:  I looked on Youtube and didn't find it in a reasonable amount of time, but I distinctly remember Andy Rooney filling out one of his 60 minutes segments on the woes of  It's A Wonderful Life, saying that it wasn't a success until it dropped into PD because someone forgot to renew the copyright for some small amount of money.  So this version of that story has been going around for some time it would seem.  I remember him as being hit or miss, but usually an entertaining old curmudgeon.

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And yes, it didn't really sink into the public consciousness until the PD status let cheap TV stations show it for free.

And remake it for free, in the case of the Marlo Thomas version--I didn't think I'd ever HEARD of the original when the TV-movie version came out.

 

Sure Eric.  And I know some who never even heard of "Miracle on 34th Street" until seeing the TV remake with SEBASTIAN CABOT.

 

And me, like Darg, also didn't come across it until I was Jr. high age or so.  I came across it past the mid-way point, just as George and Clarence got tossed out of NICK'S place.  Had NO idea what was going on, and quickly picked up the TV book to see what the hell is THIS movie?   It was also the first time I learned that DOBIE GILLIS'S dad made MOVIES before being on TV.  ;)

 

Sepiatone

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And me, like Darg, also didn't come across it until I was Jr. high age or so.  I came across it past the mid-way point, just as George and Clarence got tossed out of NICK'S place.  Had NO idea what was going on, and quickly picked up the TV book to see what the hell is THIS movie? 

 

Ah, the days when you COULD serendipitously stumble across the mysterious middles of movies on local stations, and either grab your TV Guide, or literally wonder for the rest of your life...

(Which I already homaged on my blog:  http://movieactivist.blogspot.com/2016/07/july-11-2016-what.html  Nothing educates you in movies like jumping in at the deep end.)

 

First time I ever came across this movie, the family was switching channels during the Christmas-rush season, saw the same finale where Mary doesn't recognize George, and he goes back to the bridge, and we thought "Okay, it's eerie, everything's changed and it's in black-and-white...I don't know this Twilight Zone episode."

And then he runs back, shouts Merry Christmas to everyone, and we realized, "Oh, it's a...Christmas movie, I think."

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And yes, it didn't really sink into the public consciousness until the PD status let cheap TV stations show it for free.

And remake it for free, in the case of the Marlo Thomas version--I didn't think I'd ever HEARD of the original when the TV-movie version came out.

 

This was true for me as well.  I read an article in the Sunday paper about Marlo's version and her love of the original which made me want to see hers.  I enjoyed it and watched again the next year.  Then the movie began running and I finally saw what inspired Marlo so much.  I'd like to see hers again.   

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Probably required no explanation.  Not really pertinent to the storyline anyway.  Besides, there ARE some people who have their trademark "thing", be it an expression, hand gesture or whatever.

 

I knew a guy in Jr. and high school who's "thing"  was to flap his hand so fast his first two fingers would make a "snap" sound.  Did it while he walked along.   Didn't see him for 15 years until he came home from Cali to visit his mom, who lived the next block over from me.  He dropped over and I saw him approach my house STILL doing that "hand jive" of his!

 

Notice in the movie, when Clarence is watching George's history and they're all gathered at the top of that hill waiting to slide down on coal shovels, that one of the kids, apparently Sam, shouts the familiar "Hee-Haw!".  It's just something he did.  The reason doesn't matter.

 

 

Sepiatone

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I have always liked this movie and for me it gives out a great message about love and friendship and recognition that all of us are able to contribute to the world for better in any small manner.  This movie also gives me that small town feel that I grew up with and miss even today.  I despise malls, big box stores and grocery and drug stores that are open on Christmas Day as well as Sundays. 

 

Politicians bemoan the loss of family values and community citizenship but fail to recognize that many of the policies they have chosen contribute to this social demise.

 

For me this movie and "Miracle on 34th Street" are two great Christmas movies that demonstrate both love and faith and what family really means. 

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Yeah, that alternate ending was pretty funny alright, midwesty.

 

Ya know though, this skit wasn't included in the annual SNL Christmas Special this year.

 

Btw, you may also remember another "revisioning" of a classic film that the very first SNL cast did in year one of the show. It's this send-up of CITIZEN KANE here. And although it's fairly clever, it's not quite as funny as the IAWL take-off. Perhaps the funniest thing about this one is when Chevy Chase and Buck Henry begin chuckling at how lousy the play-on-words is...

 

https://vimeo.com/106674774

 

:D

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Probably required no explanation.  Not really pertinent to the storyline anyway.  Besides, there ARE some people who have their trademark "thing", be it an expression, hand gesture or whatever.

 

I knew a guy in Jr. and high school who's "thing"  was to flap his hand so fast his first two fingers would make a "snap" sound.  Did it while he walked along.   Didn't see him for 15 years until he came home from Cali to visit his mom, who lived the next block over from me.  He dropped over and I saw him approach my house STILL doing that "hand jive" of his!

 

Notice in the movie, when Clarence is watching George's history and they're all gathered at the top of that hill waiting to slide down on coal shovels, that one of the kids, apparently Sam, shouts the familiar "Hee-Haw!".  It's just something he did.  The reason doesn't matter.

 

 

Sepiatone

I thought you were going to say that you saw him after 15 years and he only had one hand. He had done that so many times that his hand had fallen off.

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So Mr. or Ms. Moderator, as the case may be. Lemme see if I've got this straight here, then.

 

You're going to keep ND's obvious politically themed video intact down there, BUT you just deleted my request to him to please keep this sort'a thing in the Off-Topic forum, RIGHT?!

 

(...okay okay, so I said "otherwise lately known as 'Darkblue's Let's Bash America Forum'", but REALLY?!...you're JUST gonna delete MY post???....well, I guess as always it IS your decision around here that's the final say, huh) ;)

 

LOL

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