I’ve written more than once here about what I consider to be hands-down the greatest Christmas flick of them all, and probably ran this clip from it at some point also.
Jimmy Stewart, of course, has long been hailed as one of the finest actors ever, and rightly so. As it happens, though, that scene may well not have been one hundred-percent acting.
The movie was Capra’s idea, and he knew from the start that he wanted Stewart to play the iconic role of George Bailey. But Stewart, an Army Air Corps squadron commander who was grounded by PTSD after 20 combat missions over Europe in a B-24, wanted to do a comedy.
Stewart told reporters when he returned to Hollywood that the world had seen enough death and misery, and when Capra approached him with the story of a family man nearly driven to suicide, he balked and left the meeting.
But Stewart, who at the time was sharing an apartment with fellow veteran Henry Fonda, wasn’t getting any other offers. He eventually agreed to take the role.
After learning the history behind the film, I watched it again with new eyes — and I saw Stewart battling his personal demons in every scene.
I saw his heart and his head at war as he chose the woman he loved over his lifelong desire to leave Bedford Falls.
Army veteran Alex Plitsas told the Daily Caller that it was only after returning from Iraq that he truly understood Stewart’s performance in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“I was able to understand the movie and [Stewart’s] performance in particular much better after coming home from Iraq. It’s as much of a war film as ‘Die Hard’ is a Christmas movie,” Plitsas said, adding, “Jimmy Stewart’s performance in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ during the throes of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) is recognizable to many veterans. PTS was referred to as “shell shock” back then and wasn’t really spoken about nor was there good treatment available. Stewart appeared to use acting as therapy to get through it, and it’s visible in his performance.”
The above article first appeared back in 2020; I seem to recall doing a post on it then, but didn’t bother checking to confirm. It’s well worth a rerun anyhoo, methinks.