The Extraordinary Censorship of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

With Notes on Its Academy Awards Snub in Favor of The Best Years of Our Lives; and the Film’s Striking Parallels to Another Inspiring Classic

9 January 2019

JAMES PERLOFF — Although the holiday season is behind us, I believe there are some remarks long overdue concerning the suppression of It’s a Wonderful Life, arguably America’s most beloved Christmas film of all time.

I first became aware of the movie nearly half a century ago when I was around 20. A local station happened to air it, in no connection with Christmas. It’s a Wonderful Life was, at that time, just another piece of forgotten cinema, not regarded as “a holiday classic.”

Yet even though I was a jaded agnostic youth, I found myself weeping uncontrollably as the life of Jimmy Stewart’s character fell apart. And I was a person who almost never cried at the movies. But there was something so endearing about George Bailey, it transcended the emotional barriers of all but the most hardened cynic.

When the movie was over, I knew I had experienced something special, several cuts above “standard Hollywood fare.” For me, the breaking point was when George began kicking and smashing things in full view of his children. It was a display of vulnerability that just wasn’t seen in Hollywood, where heroes were perennial tough guys with none of the everyday human “chinks in the armor” that the rest of us have. […]

2 Comments on The Extraordinary Censorship of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

  1. I was a close to the same age when I first watched this film and wept as well, similar sentiments of ominous significance and eninence of a some sort I couldn’t isolate and identify also.

    It became a go to for me often in the years that followed if only for the reason of its emotive effect and use in accessing and guaranteeing emotional expression in me. Like a lot of men when it comes to the weird salty discharge that can sometimes lead to temporary vision impairment, iI’ve barely a clue. Like many men, I knew is that it is essential to remove any and all outward evidence of moisture trails and capillary betrayals to anyone, friend, lover, or foe.

    In other words, the film was a way to effect catharsis. That’s big stuff.

  2. But there was something so endearing about George Bailey, it transcended the emotional barriers of all but the most hardened cynic.

    It was his sincerity and good-heartedness while dealing with the choices life offers, and the struggles it brings.

    From later in the Perloff piece:

    But the remarks by actor Telly Savalas etched themselves most in my memory. … Savalas had largely grown up as a streetwise New Yorker (a background that would later serve him well when he took on his most famous role, that of Lieutenant Theo Kojak). According to Savalas, he and his buddies entered the theater showing It’s a Wonderful Life in their accustomed manner—sneaking in the side exit without paying. However, the film’s impact was so great, that when it finished they all sheepishly went to the ticket window and paid for their admission. It’s a Wonderful Life had a way of bringing out personal integrity, and personal integrity is something you just don’t mess with.

    I also recall how it disappeared from TV, apparently (as I later found out) after some copyright issue was resolved — one more reason to hate big media.

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