It's a Wonderful Life

Newcity Chicago

DIRECTED BY: Frank Capra

REVIEWED: 12-15-97

Directed by Frank Capra. By virtue of a bureaucratic foul-up, a little-seen commercial flop fell out of copyright over a decade ago and onto the schedules of every TV station in America that could snag a tape for a royalty-free showing. About the time its frightening omnipresence on the holiday scene reached the choking point, Republic Pictures, partially owned by Blockbuster, which is owned by Viacom, which also owns Paramount Pictures, bought the underlying literary and music rights. They announced the fable was theirs. The colorized versions have been cast aside, and now each season, there's only a single NBC primetime showing (December 20), larded with good cheer and plenty of commercials. The enshrinement of the greatest Twilight Zone episode never made as a yuppie icon and feel-good weepie overlooked the fact that it's one of the darkest, most self-abasing stories ever told in Hollywood. David Thomson's wonderful fiction, "Suspects," weaves major real and fictional figures of the 20th century into a warped, Borgesian fable, suggesting, among things, that Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey was in fact the father of Travis Bickle from "Taxi Driver" and that his "weekend with the angels" was in fact spent with the title character of "Laura" in New York during her own disappearance. "Wonderful Life" is worthy of this kind of knotty imagining; a rich, dark, contradictory film noir, as tortured as any of the post-World War II movies more commonly tagged with that label. For those who are lucky enough to be near a movie theatre willing to screen "Wonderful Life" this season, Joseph Walker and Joe Biroc's cinematography is a revelation on the big screen. 129m.

--Ray Pride

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