a truly fantastic film. capra took the lemons of the depression and made lemonade in the form of some of the greatest films of all-time (mr. deeds goes to town, mr. smith goes to washington, and it’s a wonderful life). this one, though, goes to a darker place than the other two. sure, mr. smith shows the corrupted political machine, but none of the capra films i’ve seen go to that dark place that stewart inhabits so well in the film’s penultimate act. stewart is just as excellent as the dark drunk as he is minutes later as the effervescent, smiling, laughing, boyish man in the end. an extreme few film actors have the range and effectiveness exhibited throughout stewart’s career, much less within a single film as great as this one. to watch his desperate eyes when he appeals to the board of directors to vote to keep the building and loan business afloat or when he begs mr. potter (what a wonderful villain he is!) for the $8k he needs to keep the business afloat, is to watch an actor, a professional, a human at his peak. it doesn’t get much better than stewart’s performance here.
that said, i would be remiss if i didn’t mention capra’s role in selling this story for the perennial favorite that it is. look, the work of the beatles and capra and michelangelo don’t have any inherent qualities that make it great in any absolute sense. rather, they brought forth a talent and artistry that happens to speak loudly and deeply to a great number of people across a great range of backgrounds. critics and street dwellers alike can appreciate the works of these artists and that’s ultimately what matters: they appeal to just about everyone, in a deep fashion, throughout time. capra’s direction in the aforementioned three films is about as good as anyone’s work in any three films. they’re life-affirming, positive, strong pictures which, to me anyway, are amazingly uplifting without being cliché or mawkish. to toe that line so effectively and do produce those films during a time when the country needed them is inspiring.