Some facts you might not no about everyone’s favourite christmas flick.
It’s A Wonderful Life is a true christmas classic – I count myself among one of the thousands who watches the film and gets a little misty eyed every festive season. It can hardly be accused of being subtle, and there is no doubt that it can be a little sickly sweet for some, but I see the film as essential yuletide viewing. It’s been 59 years since Frank Capra’s film came out, and much of the story surrounding it is common knowledge – based on short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, it initially flopped at the box office before being revived due to the copyright expiring in the 1970s – but there are also some lesser known fun facts about It’s A Wonderful Life, five of which I have compiled here…
5 – IT INVENTED A NEW KIND OF ARTIFICIAL SNOW
The film was nominated for five oscars back in 1946, but unfortunately didn’t win any. It was however awarded a Technical Achievement Award for its innovation in creating a new method for artificial snow. Before It’s A Wonderful Life, films featuring snow usually used cornflakes that had been painted white. This meant that any scenes featuring both snow and dialogue had to be redubbed due to the racket from walking over cornflakes. This situation wasn’t ideal for a film set in a town in the depths of a snowy winter, so RKO’s Head of Special Effects Russell Sherman worked together with Capra to come up with a quieter form of fake snow. This was achieved by mixing together famine – the material used in fire extinguishers – sugar, water and soap flakes, creating a sprayable and totally silent type of artificial snow. Chances are the makers of cornflakes weren’t too happy at this innovation – there must have been quite a drop in sales in the Hollywood area post 1946.
4 – IT’S AN EARLY EXAMPLE OF PRODUCT PLACEMENT
Product placement is something that is generally thought of as the bane of modern filming (yes we are all looking at you, Jurassic World), so it is surprising to see that it actually dates back decades, and even wholesome classics weren’t immune from its wily ways. Mr. Gower’s drugstore is a hotbed of product placement action – ever wondered why you always have a hankering for some Coca Cola when you watch that scene? (you probably don’t have such cravings, but roll with me here). Coke is only one of numerous products which are on display in the background of the store, which mostly features brands of cigarettes and cigars. Sweet Caporal cigarettes were the biggest benefactors however – George looks at their advertisement, which reads ‘Ask Dad. He knows”, as inspiration to go talk to his father. See what they did there – product placement done right. Take note, modern day Hollywood.
3 – BEULAH BOND WAS JIMMY STEWART’S MOTHER FOR THE FOURTH TIME
By the time Beulah Bondi came to play Mrs. Bailey she was no stranger to playing Mum to James Stewart – she had already done so three times. The actress, who made a career playing maternal roles, played Jimmy Stewart’s mother in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts and Vivacious Lady. She went on to do it one last time on The Jimmy Stewart Show: Identity Crisis (1971). Despite her reputation for playing motherly roles, Bondi never married or had children, but she is warmly remembered for being a twice oscar nominated character actress who was particularly active through the ‘classic Hollywood’ era of the 1930s to 1950s.
2 – UNCLE BILLY WASN’T AS DRUNK AS YOU THOUGHT
Remember that scene where Uncle Billy drunkenly makes his way home, only for a big crash to sound out and him to yell “I’m all right, I’m a llllll right!”? Believe it or not, that little chunk or hilarity was not in the script. In reality, a crew member dropped a large piece of equipment and Thomas Mitchell, who played Uncle Billy, went along with it by coming out with the line. Jimmy Stewart followed suit with his reaction, and Capra enjoyed the segment so much that he kept it in the film, enhancing the crashing noise and giving the stagehand who dropped the equipment $10 for “improving the sound”. Whilst only a small moment in the film, it is a great example of the charm that has made it so enduring, and is made all the funnier by the fact that it was unintentional.
1 – IT WAS CAPRA’S FILM THROUGH AND THROUGH
Frank Capra generally both wrote and directed his films, but he took things a step further with It’s A Wonderful Life. Capra directed, produced, financed and co-wrote the film, making it a true passion project for the director. In his autobiography he stated that he believes it to be the best film he ever made (a sentiment now shared by the masses, it would seem), and it is clear that he believed in the project wholeheartedly. This makes it all the more tragic that the film did so poorly in it’s initial run. After the Second World War Capra’s films became less popular – his work was deemed to be overly idealistic and simple for the prosperous post war climate, and was seen as better suited to the Depression and pre-war era that he had found such success in. On the bright side, Capra lived to see the film gain the iconic status that it has since afforded itself, and much of his later work has been reassessed as being excellent, so it wasn’t a total Van Gogh situation.
What are your favourite facts about It’s A Wonderful Life? Let me know in the comments section!