While I wasn’t initially going to include this film, I was watching TCM the other night, and learned some new information about it that made it a whole new film to me. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the film, but there are other films that I think deserve a little more attention. See, this film is everyone’s favorite film and, to a certain extent, this little piece of information that I learned on TCM is the reason why!
7) It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
Inspired by an unsuccessful short story called “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren in 1939, Frank Capra’s film was released with a great less of a successful response than originally anticipated. While some attribute that to its dark themes or non-linear narrative, it also was going against super patriotic films like Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946) , which definitely gave it a run for its money.
So how did this film make the jump to becoming one of the most loved films in all Christmas-film-history?
Simply put, the answer to that question is copyright issues and television.
The film, released in 1946, was guaranteed protection under standard U.S. Copyright Protection laws for 28 years. So when 1974 came around, the film came up for copyright renewal. Within that time period, the film was only allowed to be played with proper permission and through proper dispensations, lest the individuals who wanted to show the film get in trouble for copyright infringement.
However, when 1974 rolled around, Republic Pictures, the original copyright holder, dropped the ball and didn’t renew the copyright. This started a media chain reaction that caused the film to become as fundamental to the Christmas world as Apple Pie is to the US image.
Long story short, It’s a Wonderful Life became public domain and shown on just about every channel on television during Christmas time for many years. You couldn’t switch a channel without seeing Donna Reed’s face. If it wasn’t for this little “accident” of Republic’s (which was “fixed” a few years later, thus why it doesn’t get played as such a multi-channel orgy as it had previously), this film would not be anywhere near as popular.
A little bit of history and copyrights go a long way…