It’s a Wonderful Life (US, 1946)

Standing against the capitalists

It’s ten years since I’ve seen this classic and, in the aftermath of the banks-inspired economic crash, the evil capitalist of the film, played with wonderful malevolence by Lionel Barrymore, takes on added resonance. Whilst the hero, played by the wonderful (if we ignore his private politics) Jimmy Stewart, stands for the people with his mutual lending company, Potter represents the businessmen who are only interested in money. Hence  he is the same as the bankers who ignored the accountancy rules of prudence and simply went for ‘money at all costs’ to inflate their own pay and bring destitution to many.

I’m reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Slow and Fast in which he explains that investment brokers are actually no better than a throw of the dice in deciding where the smart money should go. Hence their massive salaries and rewards (increasingly called ‘retention’ bonuses rather than ‘performance’ bonuses) are a con trick created by the mythical ‘market forces’ (ie a market set by themselves). I suspect that if all bankers were forced to watch It’s a Wonderful Life they wouldn’t recognise themselves as Potter because they are so totally divorced from reality.

As to the film: if you haven’t seen it then do so. It has a sizzling script, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hacket, as well as director Frank Capra. Superb performances, with stalwart support from the likes of Thomas Mitchell, Gloria Grahame and Ward Bond (another with dubious personal politics). There are also some virtuoso long take-static camera scenes were the performances are allowed to shine beyond the editing (see the dining table discussion and the dancefloor opening).

I recently wondered whether it’s a bit grim for a Christmas film but actually it’s perfect for our times of austerity. Millionaire Cameron’s bleating that ‘we’re all in this together’, when he scuppers Europe’s attempt to resolve the Eurozone crisis in the interests of the City, is simply the height of hypocrisy. The ones at the bottom of the heap are the ones that should benefit from state support not the bankers. Merry Christmas!

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