Director: Frank Capra
Stars: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
Plot: George Bailey never got a chance to fulfill his life's ambitions of exploring the world and building skyscrapers. As he watches his friends and family become success stories he dreads on running his fathers building and loan business, rivaling the grumpy old Mr. Potter. When a financial discrepancy puts George in a difficult position, an angel comes to show him what life would have been like if he had never been born.
For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock into the window of the Granville House, Frank Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out for her on cue. To everyone's amazement, Donna Reed broke the window with true aim and heft without the assistance of the hired marksman. Reed had played baseball in high school and had a strong throwing arm.
The gym floor that opens up to reveal a swimming pool was real and was located at Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles.
As Uncle Billy drunkenly leaves the Bailey home, it sounds as if he stumbles into some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped a large tray of props right after actor Thomas Mitchell went off-screen. In reaction, James Stewart began laughing and Mitchell quickly improvised "I'm alright, I'm okay!". Director Frank Capra decided to use this take in the final cut, and gave the clumsy stagehand a $10 bonus for "improving the sound."
James Stewart was nervous about the phone scene kiss because it was his first screen kiss since his return to Hollywood after the war. Under Frank Capra's watchful eye, Stewart filmed the scene in only one unrehearsed take, and it worked so well that part of the embrace was cut because it was too passionate to pass the censors.
While filming the scene where George prays in the bar, James Stewart has said that he was so overcome that he began to sob right then and there. Later, Frank Capra re-framed the shot so it looked like a much closer shot than was originally filmed because he wanted to catch that expression on Stewart's face. This is why this shot appears rather grainy compared with the rest of the film.
Frank Capra often said that this was his favorite of all his films.
A photograph of James Stewart at the age of six months donated by his parents was included in the Bailey home set.
James Stewart cited George Bailey as being his favorite character. The part was originally developed at another studio with Cary Grant earmarked for the role. When Frank Capra inherited the project, he rewrote it to suit Stewart.
The film was a flop when it played theatres in 1946. But it became a cherished holiday tradition in the US. This was because it was repeated dozens of times on many local stations during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
During the bank run scene, Frank Capra rehearsed the scene between James Stewart and Ellen Corby several times. When Corby's character was asked how much money she needed, she replied $17, which was in the script. Just prior to the first actual take, Capra took Corby aside and told her to give Stewart an odd number. He thought it would be funnier. When she said "17.50" to Stewart; he was taken off-guard and impulsively kissed her, which was not in the script. Stewart's spontaneous reply was so genuine that Capra left the scene in the final film.
According to Robert J. Anderson, H.B. Warner really was drunk during the scene in which Mr. Gower slaps young George. Warner's slaps were real and caused real blood to come from Anderson's ear. After the scene was finished, Warner hugged and comforted Anderson.
In 2004 the BBC TV listings magazine "Radio Times" conducted a poll into the Best Film Never to Have Won an Oscar. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) came second (The Shawshank Redemption (1994) was first).
42 rings are heard over the course of the film, so if Clarence is right, 42 angels have gotten their wings.
The iconic scene where James Stewart's character runs through a snow-swept Bedford Falls was actually filmed on a scorching July day.
The instant that George says "God" on the bridge, it starts snowing, showing that he is back in the real world.
Mr. Potter is never caught as the thief who embezzled $8000, which he apparently gets to keep. This was very unusual for a Hollywood film of at the time; the Hays Office--the censor--code required that criminals must always be shown to be either punished or made to repent at the end of every film.
Mary tells George she married him to keep from being an "old maid". When George sees the alternate Mary in Pottersville, this comes to pass.