“WONDERFUL LIFE” : Hit or Miss

Is it true that  when IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE was first released in January 1947, it was a box office dud, a flop, it bombed ? That it only became the iconic film it is when it showed up on television in the 1970s?

Well, it certainly made a loss for RKO who released it , and it did herald the end of the short lived company Liberty Films which had been set up by Frank Capra, William Wyler and George Stevens after the Second  World War.

But it was 26th (out  of 400 films) in box office revenues for 1947. And had five Oscar nominations.

So what were the reviews like when it was first released. Well, the Hollywood Reporter called it “wonderful entertainment “. 

Variety said “It’s A Wonderful Life “ will enjoy just that at the box office.”

Bosley Crowther for The New York Times  called it “a figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes”.  (But Mr. Crowther didn’t like many films.)

Time magazine praised Capra’s  inventiveness and humour.

But the film had the misfortune to open a few weeks after the wildly successful THE BEST DAYS OF OUR LIVES.

At the Oscars, It’s A Wonderful Life was up against William Wyler’s blockbuster which took most of the main awards.

It was of course television showings of the out of copyright film which made it a national treasure, but it was well received on first release. Unfortunately it was an expensive film to make and did lose money at the box office.

Frank Capra only made 5 more films after this. The great hope for independent film making, Liberty Films, was sold off to Paramount.

The film became public domain in 1974 when copyright was not renewed . But in 1993, Republic ,who still owned the rights to the original story the film was based on (“The Greatest Gift”) managed to acquire the TV rights and only NBC could screen the classic film.

And then ,in 1998, Paramount bought Republic!

Big  business is complicated!


Lionel Barrymore, in his best ‘Scrooge’ character, as ‘Mr.Potter’.

I was amazed to read that the film was considered by the FBI to have communist propaganda by its portrayal of miserly banker Mr.Potter – discrediting bankers and American values such as wealth and free enterprise.

(And what  was just around the corner.? – you guessed it – the McCarthy witch hunt.)


Lionel Barrymore

And here’s another young photo of Lionel Barrymore. A Best Actor Oscar winner for A FREE SOUL in 1931, Lionel sustained  two broken hips in 1936 and 1937 (the latter during the filming of SARATOGA).

Suffering also from severe arthritis, he started using crutches and a wheelchair and by 1938, in his films, he was either seen sitting, or in a wheelchair. An MGM player since 1926, the studio stood by him and he had great success as Dr.Gillespie in the DOCTOR KILDARE films.


Lionel Barrymore, Lew Ayres.


Humphrey Bogart, Lionel Barrymore, Lauren Bacall.

Rather a sad scene from KEY LARGO.


And using crutches in DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS:

Dean Stockwell, Lionel Barrymore. DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS



. By Lionel Barrymore

Lionel was a reluctant actor. He had studied art in Paris and was also a composer. In 1935 he was praised for one of his works by the American Society of Sketchers.

For information on Lionel, a very good site is Lionelbarrymore.blogspot.com.

The Famed Barrymores, John, Ethel and Lionel.


Back to It’s a Wonderful Life.

Scenes of the new house for the Martinis in ‘Bailey Park’ was in fact a housing development in the city of La Canada Flintridge, CA.

I was curious about that name ,La Canada  Flintridge.

Canada ( with an umlaut above the first ‘A’)  is the Spanish word for canyon or ravine.

La Canada and Flintridge were two adjoining communities in Los Angeles county which combined into one city.

Donna Reed, James Stewart


Now a private residence.


Ward Bond, Frank Faylen.

Was the newspaper headline an in-joke, reference to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?


Looks like Lionel’s birthday on the set, with Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart. (Jimmy wearing the black arm band in character as ‘George’ whose father has died.)


Frank Capra with his cast.






2 responses »

  1. 1) I never understood the “communist propaganda” thing, other than movies love to show crooked businessmen, which Potter and Bailey BOTH are. The ratio of crooked business guys depicted in movies as compared to all those great kleptocrats dictators in the world is WAAAY off…
    2) People either love “It’s A wonderful Life” or they hate it. I’m clearly in the latter camp. https://dubsism.com/2018/11/24/movies-everybody-loves-that-i-hate-episode-1-its-a-wonderful-life/

  2. I have to agree with the above comment. The films magic just doesn’t work for me. I am not a James Stewart fan and dislike his self pitying over the top performance in the last third of the film. It might have been more successful if it had been made in the thirties.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s