Reflections on a variety of films and topics - Seven Samurai, It's a Wonderful Life, Don Quixote, We're no angels, War for the planet of the apes, Dunkirk, The African Queen, Babette's Feast, Dances with Wolves, The Prisoner (1967), Inherit the wind, humour in drama, nature of regret, the influence of multimedia, memoirs of a teacher of French.
Please scroll down or find on the right links to articles, pages of reflections on films, books, TV series (including "Public Eye", "Existentialism in society today", "Seven Samurai", "It's a Wonderful Life", "Don Quixote", "We're No Angels", "The African Queen", "Babette's Feast", "War for the Planet of the Apes", "Dunkirk", “Dances With Wolves”, “Inherit The Wind” and “The Prisoner”), and occasional pieces of flash fiction. These are additions to similar pages which may be found at www.stuartfernie.org .
A link to my YouTube channel with video presentations of a number of my pages.
Having retired from teaching fairly recently, I thought I’d write my memoirs, “What have I done?”, and present them online. Please find links to the various chapters on the right, though chunks of the text (but perhaps not all) may also appear below. If you suffer from insomnia, this may help!
Click on the arrows to access links to 2016 and then December.
I can be contacted through the comments sections or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reflections on aspects of existentialism in “Public Eye” (TV series 1965 – 1975)
Created by Roger Marshall
and Anthony Marriott
Starring Alfred Burke as
A video presentation of this material is available
“Public Eye” was a TV drama
which ran for seven series from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies. It
revolved around the investigations of Frank Marker, a slightly down-at-heel but
highly principled inquiry agent, usually into low-key, familiar and “realistic”
problems and situations.
Produced during the same
period as shows such as “The Avengers”, “The Saint”, “Department S” and
American shows such as “Kojak”, “Cannon” and “Hawaii five-0”, “Public Eye”
represented a significant and deliberate departure from these flashy, highly dramatic
and exciting shows. It focused on more human, recognisable and identifiable characters
and situations that were nonetheless intriguing and involving, and allowed the
viewer to engage with others’ lives and see possible outcomes, problems and
complications arising from those lives.
Marker’s inquiries touch
upon human relationships, social attitudes, legal and moral challenges and
above all the choices people make in their lives and the consequences of these
choices. His tales accentuate the fact our lives are interwoven and actions and
decisions we take will impact on others.
We all experience problems
in our lives and for the most part we turn to friends, family or the
authorities for help. Frank Marker is there if these avenues are not readily
open. He offers his services to look in to situations and at the same time
enables the viewer to do so as well. He is a sort of impartial observer with a
voice of reason and objectivity who seeks truth and clarity where emotion,
anxiety or anger may cloud judgement.
He walks a dangerous and
difficult path as his genuine willingness and desire to help his clients mean
that he will become embroiled in their situations. Faced with this existential
conundrum, he behaves like a human being – he cannot stand back and allow
circumstances to develop if he has some insight or thinks he can offer some
positive input. We all muddle through life impacting on one another’s lives but
Marker seems willing to recognise and accept responsibility for his actions,
sometimes paying a heavy price for his “interference”.
Marker is not driven by ambition
or a desire for money but rather a wish to help his clients while seeking truth
and clarity. Of course, he doesn’t do it out of the goodness of his heart – he is
paid for his services as, like all of us, he has to make a living, but his primary
concern is to do his best for his client. His fee is simply a fair recompense
for his time and effort. Ultimately, Marker seems to value the help he can
offer his clients above personal financial gain, highlighting the importance of
personal input and support in society as opposed to mere commercial
In terms of social
interaction, he is fiercely independent, sure of his own ethics and is not at
all keen on personal or romantic involvement. His strength of conviction and
clarity of thought and perception make the compromise required for a close
relationship or friendship very difficult for him.
The show offers insight
into the human condition and, generally speaking, the problems and situations
of clients are the centre of attention while Marker’s character is cleverly
drawn through his reaction to events and interaction with other characters.
Marker and, at times, his friend Detective Inspector Percy Firbank, uncover
truth which may have consequences but these consequences are always down to
choices made by those involved, though Frank and Percy occasionally have
trouble living with the influence they exercise as a result of their inquiries.
This show may be the
purest exploration of the principles of existentialism yet seen on TV. It
examines closely the interwoven nature of our lives, the impact we have on one
another and the responsibility we may (or may not) feel for this.
It is beautifully written
and produced (given its age), focusing on the ordinary and characters, problems
and choices we may all encounter, one way or another. The acting is of a high
standard throughout but Alfred Burke and Ray Smith deserve particular praise
for their portrayals of Marker and Firbank. Both bring authenticity, sincerity
and vulnerability to their roles and Alfred Burke manages to impart, seemingly
effortlessly, humanity and genuine soul-searching in his portrayal of the
relatively impoverished but highly principled and dedicated Frank Marker.
My thanks for taking the
time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.
It seems to me that in
the wake of the two World Wars there was a general upsurge in the principles of
equality, justice, democracy and fraternity. Naturally, changes were far from
instantaneous, but the old order (based primarily on class superiority, assumed
authority and position) was challenged and largely overhauled due principally
to a spirit of entitlement, openness and impartiality in recognition of the
fact that members from across the spectrum of society had defended its
fundamental values and then participated in its post-war reconstruction.
This may be viewed as a
practical embodiment of the philosophy and values upheld by the Enlightenment
Movement wherein the principles of equality, reason and accountability are held
However, as time passed
and the direct threat of injustice and subjugation for all mostly subsided, the
intense flames of the fight for freedom and integrity calmed to mere embers and
a large swathe of people have come to adopt an almost existential acceptance of
political, social and commercial chicanery (perpetrated by those unfettered by
a sense of rectitude and responsibility for impacting on others’ lives),
provided the quality of their own lives remains intact or is even improved.
Schemes and conspiracies
have been conducted behind the scenes, often involving hardship and injustice
for many who oil the machinery of such commercial enterprises and political
machinations, while maintaining a façade of political and commercial correctness
and legitimacy which most are more than willing to accept.
As one-time military and
political conquests and subjugations have been insidiously replaced by
commercial acquisition and financial control, values and principles once
considered worth defending are in danger of being invisibly but steadily
eradicated, swallowed by an existential fog of self-centred apathy and
abandonment. Careerism and hedonism appear to be steadily replacing
professionalism and purpose, yet apparent impassivity, lack of direction and lack
of positive action are being recognised and rejected by some and this is
evidenced by a trend toward independence and self-determination. This is born
of frustration and discontent in the face of apparent inability or
unwillingness on the part of governing bodies to tackle ongoing urgent social,
political and economic issues, exacerbated by the perception that an
influential minority seems to actually gain through their protraction.
In the past, when people
faced common external issues and threats (crushing social injustice leading to
the French Revolution, industrialisation and its attendant social pressures and
reforms, and attempted subjugation leading to two World Wars), they united to
fight for a cause, for values and for a common purpose, reflecting the spirit
of the Enlightenment Movement.
However, after the
immediate post-war period there followed a turbulent period in the sixties and
seventies, characterised by confrontation over workers’ rights, conditions and
wages, social and political upheaval, huge economic pressures and rising
unemployment. As a result, there was a return to more conservative policies in
the eighties, involving the re-establishment of traditional working practices
and an emphasis on market freedom, and the suggestion that the individual
should act in his/her own best interests, with the view that this would
strengthen society overall. This philosophy was reflected in the famous line
“Greed is good” in the film Wall Street (1987).
Today, it might be said
the problems we face are increasingly internal as we encounter political,
administrative, financial and socially divisive issues. We appear to have lost
the perspective of “the bigger picture” and focus instead on individual
satisfaction, maintaining our own standard of living or making our way in the
society we have built. We appear to be losing sight of values, purpose and the
common good, opting instead for a self-centred path toward “success”. This may
be said to reflect the spirit of existentialism wherein the existence of God,
morality and principles are refuted and we are invited to think only of
ourselves and the place we can make for ourselves in society.
This attitude has led to
inward-looking and defensive governance, administration and law-making which
conceal inaction, indifference and lack of comprehension and empathy and this
has, in turn, led to frustration and discontent, causing some to want to break
away from traditional and accepted government.
However, as I have suggested previously, existentialism is not the same as nihilism. If we accept
responsibility for one another and our impact on one another, we can achieve far
more together than if we limit ourselves to what is best for individuals or
small groups with shared interests.
self-gratification and a blinkered outlook have insidiously crept in to our
political and administrative systems and this has led to many sections of
society feeling disenfranchised and willing to pursue change, any change, as an
alternative to a system they feel has failed them. That is not, however, a
reason to reject the structure itself. Structures and systems can be re-invigorated
and re-imagined with fresh, practical and positive ideas put into practice by
constructive and conscientious personnel resulting in tangible change and
improvement for all instead of apparently incessant discussion and pompous
focus on procedure and position resulting in inaction and indolence.
Threat and danger have
previously united people in a common cause. Today need be no different, but now
the threat lies within our society and the loss of perspective we have
developed by encouraging members of society to focus on individual success. We
need to develop an awareness of and a sense of responsibility toward others if
we are to evolve as a society.
Even if principle,
morality and values have no celestial authority, the concept exists and
therefore we can create, adopt and enforce values when dealing with fellow
human beings. Success does not necessarily mean self-serving. While a degree of
selfishness may be required to inspire or stimulate action, that action should
ultimately serve others if it is to have any lasting value, and that precept
may be seen as one of the corner-stones of a healthy and enduring society.
My thanks for taking the
time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.
Written by Akira
Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni
Starring Takashi Shimura,
Toshiro Mifune et al.
notes are based on the 190 minute BFI DVD presentation.
A video presentation of this material is available here.
“Seven Samurai” is
frequently referred to as the film against which all action films that have
followed it should be judged. With its carefully calculated combination of
exciting yet emotionally engaging action scenes, exploration and development of
character and a storyline that appeals to the heart and mind, “Seven Samurai”
was successful not just in its own right but it established a form of template
for numerous ensemble cast adventure films in the 1960s, 70s and beyond.
As I settled to watch
this action/adventure film for the first time in some twenty years, it struck
me that a key element that spans the film and informs the character development
so essential to its success is the code by which these samurai live.
Although by tradition
social movement between castes and classes was impossible, during the Sengoku
period (our film takes place in 1586) there was some loosening of samurai
culture and some born in other castes could make a name for themselves as
warriors, thus becoming de facto
samurai. However, a true samurai was not just a warrior but was one who aspired
to live by a code, a code that set them apart, the code of Bushido, and this same
code seems to underpin the very structure of “Seven Samurai”.
After a little research,
I found Inazo Nitobe’s list of eight principles of Bushido – justice, honour,
benevolence, courage, manners, honesty, self-discipline and loyalty. The
closeness in number between the eight values of Bushido and the seven samurai
(on top of which you might include the farmers they defend) was quite
irresistible to me and as I watched the film I tried to identify connections
between the two.
Eventually, I reached the
conclusion that although our seven display nearly all the virtues, six samurai
seem to lack at least one of the virtues and the seventh allows one of them to
take precedence over the others. In the course of defending the village, each
will have the opportunity to embrace that which is lacking or consider that
which overwhelms him, and we witness the resultant changes in the individual
and benefits for the group. The farmers provide the cause for which our seven
fight but they also learn to defend themselves and in so doing embrace the
qualities personified by our seven.
Our seven are in fact
Ronin (or masterless) and so lack the element of loyalty. Loyalty to one to
whom you owe a debt (usually a member of the Shogunate) seems to have
overridden all other principles of the samurai code and thus led to the
committing of many crimes against common humanity in the name of extending
one’s master’s influence and power.
When Kikuchiyo uncovers
weaponry stolen from defeated and murdered samurai, the farmers are accused of
being underhand, cunning and murderous. However, Kikuchiyo defends them, saying
they have been made this way by the samurai themselves and their own acts of
theft, rape and murder all done through blind loyalty to their Shogun masters
who ruled by force and only exercised humanity on a whim or if it served their
own purpose. The remaining six samurai are stunned and shamed as they are
forced to face the injustice of samurai acts and recognise they have behaved in
much the same way as the very bandits they have been hired to confront.
Although they had collectively found purpose in defending the farmers against
marauding bandits, they are now united in a cause for justice (while perhaps righting
their own injustices) and this may well be seen as filling the gap left by
their loss of loyalty to a master.
In a way, losing loyalty
has allowed them to follow a different path based on other virtues such as
justice, benevolence and honour. And then there is the possibility of a
new-found loyalty they develop toward one another.
Although this change
affects all seven, it is perhaps best personified by Gorobei who initially gets
involved in the scheme purely because of Kambei. He pays little heed to the
whys and wherefores of the venture – he shows faith in and devotion or loyalty
to Kambei alone, but he goes on to discover the value of fighting for fairness,
helps plan the defence of the village and even loses his life while fighting
for a cause rather than for a potentially unscrupulous individual to whom he
felt he owed a debt.
In the case of Shichiroji,
there may be some doubt about his sense of honour. He is an old friend and
former lieutenant of Kambei whom Kambei thought lost. When asked how he escaped
in a previous conflict, Shichiroji replies that he hid in a ditch as the castle
collapsed around him. This may reflect a perfectly sensible and practical
attitude toward survival but this, along with the fact he fails to answer
Kambei’s next question about whether he is ready for another fight, rather
suggests we are being led to doubt the importance Shichiroji attaches to
However, emboldened and
heartened by the cause for which they are fighting and perhaps the unity of
spirit in the group, Shichiroji makes no attempt to conceal himself when the
going gets tough and he dies making a spirited defence of the village.
Heichachi, the spirited
and enthusiastic woodcutter, suggests in a conversation that one can’t be
expected to kill all one’s enemies and if one is outnumbered by 20 or 30
bandits, it is perfectly reasonable to run away. Once again, this may be viewed
as a survival reflex but I think we are being invited to doubt Heichachi’s
courage in the face of adversity.
Once again, however,
strength due to belief in a cause, combined with unity of spirit, enable a
potential weakness to be overcome and allow Heichachi to willingly participate
in a raid on the bandit encampment where the bandits greatly outnumber our
heroes. He dies but has proved himself worthy of the term samurai and the code
Kyuzo, the stone-faced
swordsman who initially turns down Kambei’s invitation to join them because he
simply wants to perfect his skill rather than kill, may be viewed as lacking
the virtue of benevolence. It appears that martial skills are everything to
him, to the point where he kills a man to prove his mastery (though he was
severely provoked and threatened by the man he eventually killed), and so the
others are surprised when he joins them, and he offers no explanation for his
change of heart.
Yet, after seeing Katsushiro share his rice with Shino and
offer to find food for other hungry villagers, it is Kyuzo who offers to do
without his own share of rice in order to help the villagers and he later
volunteers to enter the enemy camp in order to retrieve one of their guns.
Clearly then, Kyuzo has been influenced by the company and purpose of his
fellow samurai and has gained the virtue of benevolence, benefitting both the
villagers and his comrades in arms.
Katsushiro is the
youngest of the group and he displays many of the principles of the samurai
code but he lacks self-discipline. On a number of occasions, he is directed or
advised by Kambei and the others as his enthusiasm and willingness to take
action may not be the best option. It is, however, in a matter of the heart which
overflows into social politics and the mixing of castes that Katsushiro reveals
his lack of self-discipline. Katsushiro and Shino yield to temptation and fear
to make love shortly before the final battle. This causes considerable social
strife among the conservative farmers who think of this as an act of dishonour
and social disgrace. Katsushiro learns to put aside his guilt and personal
feelings for Shino to make a valuable contribution to the final battle,
displaying discipline while fighting for justice.
It should be noted that
Shichiroji (already associated with honour) points out that it is, perhaps,
preferable that Shino should have been “dishonoured” (so to speak) by a samurai
than by a bandit, inviting Manzo (Shino’s father) to keep events and his
attitude to honour in proportion. It should also be noted that at the end of
the film it is unclear whether Katsushiro will pursue his association with his
new-found friends or a relationship with Shino. Perhaps he will value love more
highly than a career as a samurai.
Kikuchiyo is perhaps the
most interesting, engaging and entertaining of the samurai. He is also the one
with the most complex background and the one least likely to qualify as a
When Kikuchiyo witnesses
Kambei’s actions at the start of the film, he is clearly deeply impressed and,
making something of a noisy fuss, he runs up to Kambei, presumably in an
attempt to engage in a friendly conversation or perhaps even to suggest
accompanying him. However, Kikuchiyo doesn’t have the verbal skills to put into
words his feelings and he is even angered when Katsushiro expresses himself
eloquently, doubtless expressing the very sentiments he himself would have
liked to communicate. Reacting badly and with some anger and frustration, he
incites distrust and caution in Kambei and Katsushiro. Kikuchiyo appears to be
lacking in the virtue of manners. He finds it difficult to judge the feelings
and reactions of others and he has some difficulty communicating his own
On top of this, Kikuchiyo
lacks another virtue – that of honesty. He makes quite a fuss of the scroll he
carries, a scroll that validates his family claims and background, but which
the others quickly and easily disprove. Interestingly, it is shortly after this
truth has emerged that he finds acceptance among the others as he also angrily
reveals the truth about the farmers’ attitudes, the guilt of the samurai in
creating these attitudes and his own farming background.
His deep-felt and
long-harboured bitterness and resentment concerning the treatment of peasants
by Shogun and samurai alike feed an eloquent and perfectly reasoned speech
after which the samurai are shamed into seeking justice and Kikuchiyo can
rightfully take his place among them. Honesty has thus led to greater
compassion and clarification of purpose and motivation among the seven. It has
also given Kikuchiyo greater confidence in terms of self-belief and
occasionally abrasive communication as he combines training the farmers with
entertainment and compassion, showing a genuine understanding and regard for
their situation. He has thus gained the two virtues he lacked and this benefits
the group as a whole.
Kambei may be viewed as
the virtual embodiment of samurai principles though he himself points out he is
a Ronin. When freed from subjective loyalty to an individual, Kambei is able to
recognise and commit to objective justice. His actions and manner near the
start of the film suggest he possesses all the values of Bushido and his
benevolence in taking on the farmers’ cause, combined with lack of loyalty to a
master, lead him to a reinforced adherence to justice, if only as compensation
for injustices he is forced to recognise by Kikuchiyo.
At the end, with four of
their number dead and Katsushiro tempted to join Shino in village life, Kambei
concludes that they have in fact lost once again. With their land, the farmers
are the victors and not the samurai who defended them. The cause may have been
won, but the combatants have gained little or lost everything. The farmers have
retained their physical legacy of eternal land (representing growth and
development) and have undoubtedly gained in spiritual strength through their
collaboration with the seven, while the defenders must content themselves with
the knowledge they have preserved the intangible but elemental values by which
My thanks for taking the
time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.
Screenplay by Frances
Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling
and Frank Capra
Starring James Stewart,
Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers
A video presentation of this material is available
The entire premise of
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is rooted in Depression and pre-war issues and
attitudes. Times were hard for working people after the Wall Street crash of
1929, the effects of which continued to be felt for the following 25 years, and
it only served to accentuate and exacerbate social and financial divisions of
With this context in mind
we arrive at Bedford Falls, a small American town, to follow the story of
George Bailey, a small-time American businessman, at various points in his
life, leading to the moment of crisis where he feels he can’t go on …. and
receives help from Clarence Oddbody, angel second class who has yet to gain his
After a couple of
flashback sequences, we pick up George’s story when he’s about to head off for
college which he sees as his gateway to future success. He expresses youthful
ambition and aspirations, wanting to build imposing structures, bridges and
towns, making a concrete and visible mark on life and gaining varied and
valuable experience of life and the world.
combined with a sense of duty and obligation, mean that George’s dreams of
experience and success will be constantly postponed ….
This contrasts somewhat
with the most successful businessman in town, the ageing banker Henry Potter.
For Henry Potter, the
people and businesses to whom he lends money or rents accommodation are merely
a means of developing his wealth, power and influence. He is portrayed as
opportunistic and devoted to self-aggrandisement, failing (or refusing) to
recognise that building a successful business can be viewed as the means of
developing, supporting and reinforcing society, and not simply as an end in
In contrast to Mr
Potter’s hard-hearted approach to business, we have Bailey Bros. Building and
Loan Association, founded by George’s father Peter and his uncle Billy. These
businessmen do not seek to get rich but are content to make a modest profit
while helping their neighbours and customers escape the clutches of potentially
heartless and greedy landlords by offering them loans which allow them to
become independent home-owners.
The variance in approach
and attitude between the two is summed up in the scene where Potter proposes
the liquidation of Bailey Bros. He mocks and belittles taxi driver Ernie Bishop
and refers to the working class as a potentially discontented and lazy rabble
if they were to gain access to the means of home-ownership. This stirs George
to respond that the “rabble” are largely responsible for the everyday workings and
smooth running of society and that it’s not too much to enable them to enjoy
decent living conditions and help them leave Potter’s slums. He also suggests
that home-ownership makes for better citizens and better customers.
This scene, perhaps more
than any other in the film, may be said to articulate and encapsulate director
Frank Capra’s views of the social and financial situation of the time. There
had been vaguely similar challenges in some of his previous films but none, I
think, quite as clear-cut in its observations and criticism as this one. It is perhaps
unsurprising that the FBI listed this film as suspected communist propaganda
from 1946 to 1956.
The suggestion appears to
be that there are two types of capitalism – one based on pure financial
commercialism wherein anything goes in an attempt to maximise profit and
minimise accountability, and the other in which social awareness and
responsibility are taken in to account. Bedford Falls and its population are
society in microcosm with fellow inhabitants lending one another a hand and
each making a contribution to their community. Frank Capra is clearly on the
side of the “little men” who make a relatively small but cumulatively essential
contribution to the workings of society and their neighbours’ lives.
Although George is held
up by his friends as a paragon of altruism, humanity and selflessness, it
should be borne in mind that he had ambitions to travel, gain experience of the
world and make his mark through construction and design. He has known inner
conflict as he was aware that his personal desires and ambitions were
sacrificed to instinctive values and principles, leading to a vague sense of
failure or lack of fulfilment. Yet, even when he faces ruin (when uncle Billy
misplaces $8000, found and retained by Potter) and is tempted by Potter’s offer
of personal wealth and “success”, he cannot bring himself to abandon the
principles on which his company was founded and by which he has lived his life.
He chooses principle over personal advancement and security and as such acts as
Frank Capra’s beacon of light in what he saw as the darkness of commercial
However, all too aware of
the devastating effects of bankruptcy and overcome by a sense of failure and
the prospect of scandal and ruin, George considers suicide in a desperate bid
to cover his apparent losses and leave his family financially secure by way of
a life insurance policy. It is at this point that he meets Clarence, angel
second class, who will change George’s perspective on his life as he affords
George the privilege of seeing how his community would have turned out without
George (and we, the
viewers) come to realise the extent of each person’s impact and influence on
others’ lives. George learns of his input (simply by being himself and
intermixing with others) on the lives of his wife, mother, family, neighbours,
colleagues, customers, friends, strangers (lives are saved indirectly due to
the impact of his actions) and even the very tenor of his home town. Clearly,
Frank Capra is pointing out that we all influence and impact on the lives of
those around us, indeed ultimately we depend on one another for the continuance
and survival of our society, and as such we should, perhaps, be mindful of the
way we conduct ourselves and treat one another.
perspective is altered by Clarence’s intervention and while he sees and
appreciates his own positive influence on those around him, there remains the
matter of the missing $8000 ….
Here, Capra returns to a
motif common to several of his films – the value of friendship and respect.
George’s many friends (including all those who hold him in high regard or feel
he has done them a service in the past) pitch in and bail him out of trouble.
Capra clearly believes in people and their innate goodness and willingness to
help and support one another, if they have not been corrupted by greed, power
and influence. Just as George acted out of compassion, humanity and community
spirit to positively influence others’ lives, so his friends are willing to act
similarly with each making a relatively small contribution to make a big impact
on his life.
The gaining of respect,
good will and affection may be viewed as a sign of success in life, as opposed
to the accumulation of money, power and influence at the expense of genuine
wealth of friendship, family and esteem. George felt this applied to his father
when he told Potter that Peter Bailey was a richer man than he would ever be.
Perhaps Clarence helps George realise this tenet applies equally to him.
Through the device of
Clarence and his heavenly overseers (although this is treated lightly and
playfully), Capra appears to express an affirmation of the existence of a system
of omniscient and paternal supervision and care. He avoids reference to
organised religion, indeed at one point as George turns to God in desperation
he states that he is not a praying man, but this underpinning structure lends
the film a moral assurance and substance while supporting a conviction that
mankind is essentially good and responds to love and respect.
While eminently worthy
and admirable, this “message” and the means of delivering it were perhaps
somewhat at odds with the jaded and existential realism of the immediate
post-war period and as a result the film did not do very well at the box-office
on its initial release. However, with the passage of time and the softening of
existential attitudes, audiences became more receptive to the fantasy element
and viewed the themes of perspective and personal and social value and input as
timeless and universal, eventually according the film cult status. Of course,
circumstances, themes and attitudes in the film may have resonated with more
recent audiences given the reach and consequences of the financial crisis of
2008 (and ever since!).
Some Capra films appear
breezy and light in their first half before becoming more hard-hitting and
thoughtful in their second half. In the case of this film, another transition
(with the fantasy element) is brought in to play, and it works!
The film has been accused
of being simplistically optimistic and even idealistic at the end, yet there
are some tough and thought-provoking scenes and themes before we reach that
point. It may not have fallen in with the vogue for post-war realism and moral
challenge, but there is surely a place for a carefully developed and thoughtful
piece which offers hope and a way forward in times of despair.
The script engages,
entertains and advances characterisation and storyline in every scene while
Capra’s stock players lend a comfortable and familial atmosphere in their
almost joyous interplay. James Stewart’s performance makes you feel the gamut
of emotional response as he goes from innocence and hope to disappointment and
frustration, to love and elation. It is certainly one of his best performances,
maybe even his greatest.
My thanks for taking the
time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.