It’s a Wonderful Life, released in 1946, examines the life of a hard-working, self-sacrificing man who is framed for embezzlement. This in America, of all places, a country that went to war to fight tyranny.
Today, the film is revered by millions, including yours truly. But in 1946, the film was on few Top 10 Lists. Audiences, fresh from the war, weren’t in the mood to see Jimmy Stewart yelling at children or walking out on Donna Reed.
It’s a Wonderful Life ranks 30th on the list of top-grossing movies of 1946. It’s well behind the #2 movie on the list, The Best Years of Our Lives, a drama about WWII soldiers returning to civilian life in the U.S.
Both are excellent films, and both – rightly – were nominated for Academy Awards. In the end, Best Years won eight Oscars, including an Honorary Award for disabled war veteran-turned-actor Harold Russell.
Wonderful Life didn’t win anything. Not that it really matters, but this has always bothered us.
Look at some of the influential films released in 1946: My Darling Clementine, Notorious, Brief Encounter and The Killers. None of these won Oscars, either.
You could argue Best Years was the Academy’s safe, patriotic choice. After all, it’s a great film that honours soldiers who fought for their country. It certainly deserved to win Oscars – but not, in our opinion, at the expense of Wonderful Life.
Here are the five categories for which Wonderful Life was nominated, and lost.
|Best Picture||The Best Years of Our Lives|
|Best Actor in a Leading Role||Fredric March, The Best Years of Our Lives|
|Best Director||William Wyler, The Best Years of Our Lives|
|Best Sound, Recording||John Livadary, The Jolson Story|
|Best Film Editing||Daniel Mandell, The Best Years of Our Lives|
We agree with the following awards from the above list:
- Best Director Some of William Wyler‘s images are the most powerful of the 1940s.
- Best Sound, Recording Admit it – Al Jolson has never sounded better.
However, in our opinion, Wonderful Life should have been given at least two of the following three awards.
Best Actor in a Leading Role As much as we adore Fredric March, we feel Stewart’s performance of a trapped, frantic man is haunting. It’s unnerving to see Stewart like this; he’s the man who rescued the American political system in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, for pete sake!
Best Film Editing Film editing is hard (for us) to judge, so we turned to a cheat sheet: What Makes Good Editing?. “Even though each individual edit may be brilliantly executed,” it reads, “if you can’t tell a story well, you haven’t done your job.” We feel Wonderful Life editor William Hornbeck knew how to suck audiences into Stewart’s anguish.
Best Picture You may disagree with us here, and that’s OK. After all, there are worse choices than Best Years, which is an insightful look at America rediscovering itself. However, Wonderful Life has a much larger scope; it speaks to everyone, not just post-war Americans.
Here’s the thing: Discussion about the Oscars is ultimately about what we want our “best” movies to say. Movies are like hieroglyphs, in a way; they’re messages about us and for us, but they’re also meant for future generations.
The next time you watch It’s a Wonderful Life, let us know if you agree.
Click HERE for the list of 1946 Academy Award-nominated films.
It’s a Wonderful Life: starring James Stewart. Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore. Directed by Frank Capra. Written by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Frank Capra. RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., 1946, B&W, 132 mins.
This post is part of The Oscars Snubs Blogathon hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and Silver Scenes. Click HERE to see today’s fab entries.