Newswise — A walk down the street in December is filled with familiar sights. Colorful lights outline houses. Wreaths hang from light posts and doors. And, if you look closely, windows are awash with the glow from the family television, screening one of hundreds of classic holiday movies.
One film that has taken its place among the cream of the Christmas crop is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” More than seven decades after its release, the film is now a staple of the season. But it wasn’t always that way.
“While not a complete failure at the box office, the high production cost and mediocre ticket sales actually put Capra's production company, Liberty Films, out of business,” explains Deron Albright, M.F.A., associate professor of film at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “Only when it fell out of copyright in 1974, and was shown constantly on broadcast TV every December for nearly two decades, did it become the classic that it is now considered. The film became part of the Christmas tradition itself.”
Beyond its familiarity via repeat viewings, Albright says that the film remains popular because it uses elements that are common to other holiday classics.
“Successful Christmas films share the common themes of family, humanity, kindness and gratitude,” says Albright, who received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 2012. “They are, in a sense, aspirational — tapping in to what we hope we might be, or what we like to remember ourselves as being.”
Like other films of the season, Albright, who teaches classes in screenwriting, film making and film studies, notes that “It’s a Wonderful Life” balances the uplifting with the dour.
“The movie presents a very dark view of humanity, evident in the Potterville sequence,” he explains. “That view is made better only by the virtue of one man's goodness in the world. How much more aspirational can a film be than that?”