Christmas Movies That Don’t Suck: It’s A Wonderful Life

EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Christmas 2013, I’m offering a list of the only Christmas movies worth watching. I recognize that there are some movies that you may like (Elf) and I don’t (Elf). That’s just the way it is. Check out last year’s Christmas Songs That Don’t Suck.

My mother forced The Sister and I watch a lot of black-and-white movies when we were children. As a result, we developed a sibling rejection of all movies made before 1970 (with the exception of Pride of the Yankees, because WPIX showed it every time the Yankees were rained out).

Naturally, The Wife embraces all things ancient and counts It’s A Wonderful Life among her favorite movies. It’s timeless, cliched, hokey and a lot of other adjectives. But, it’s Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reid. And it’s Frank Capra, who made a career of selling redemption stories. Personally, I think his Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is a superior movie, but this is Christmas.

Unlike The Wife, I’m not a fervent fan of the movie. We will watch if it is on, but it comes in behind tomorrow’s entry on this list as the preferred Christmas movie at Al Dente HQ.

There is an alleged local connection to the movie. Seneca Falls, a town 45 minutes to the west of HQ, is rumored to be Bedford Falls. Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu, makes an annual appearance there each year for the town’s commemoration of the movie and many of the events take place at the Hotel Clarence (named for the angel). During the festival weekend, mail sent from the U.S. Post Office in town is postmarked as coming from Bedford Falls, N.Y. The George Bailey Award is given out to a local that embodies the spirit of its namesake and the area in front of the local bank is renamed Bailey Park for the weekend. It’s quite a thing.

The architecture of the town (apparently) resembles the fictional Bedford Falls, and festival organizers offer the following explanation:

Seneca Falls’ claim begins with geography. It’s hard to dispute that Capra set Bedford Falls in New York State. Rochester, Buffalo, and Elmira are mentioned in the script and referenced as being relatively close. All three are an easy drive from Seneca Falls. And, a reference to Cornell University in Ithaca, just 40 miles south, was taken out of the script by the studio’s rights clearance lawyers.

Two towns north of New York City — Bedford and Bedford Hills — lay their claim, but the pro-Seneca Falls rebuffs this:

There’s something else against the Bedfords being Capra’s inspiration. Both of these towns are just 45 miles from New York City. Even in 1945 train and automobile travel times, neither Bedford nor Bedford Hills resembled the remote spot that has Jimmy Stewart’s character feeling hopelessly isolated from the world. (A check with the local historian and townspeople revealed no evidence or local legend of Capra visiting the area or any knowledge of the towns’ connection with the movie.)

So, there you go.

Recently, there has been a tussle between Paramount studios and an enterprising screenwriter planning a sequel. The studio, either sensing a stinker or widespread public backlash, is refusing to allow the new project to proceed on copyright grounds. It’s nice to see Big Hollywood make the right choice. If they could have only done something about the Grown Ups franchise. Or any Adam Sandler movie after Happy Gilmore, really. Digressing…

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