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This is quite an appealing, but badly dated film, starring Ginger Rogers and Joel McCrea, neither of who are in the kind of role for which they were famous (Rogers isn’t dancing and McCrea isn’t being a cowboy). Rogers plays Ellie May Adams, a young girl who falls in love with young beach cafe owner Ed Wallace, and is desperate to hide her family from him, because her father is an alcoholic, and her mother is a prostitute (this is never explicitly stated, but is very clearly implied). However, she cannot keep her two worlds seperate for long…

The acting by Ginger Rogers in this film was really quite revelatory. She is obviously best known for her dancing, especially with Fred Astaire, but this film (as well as Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman) shows that she had a real talent for dramatic acting. Joel McCrea is less convincing, but his performance is still fine for the role he plays.

The storyline did move a little fast – no sooner had Ellie May met Ed than she was declaring her love for him, and twisting his arm into marrying her – and it all feels a little ‘cramped’ somehow. It’s not often that I think a film could benefit from being longer, but this is a case where a little extra time spent on the early relationship between the two main parts would have benefitted the story.

Supporting roles were played by Marjorie Rambeau, as Ellie May’s mother (she was excellent, and won an Oscar nomination for her portrayal), a surprisingly sympathetic character; Miles Mander, as ELlie May’s educated alcoholic father; Joan Carroll as Honeybell, Ellie May’s little sister; Queenie Vassar as Ellie May’s cruel, spiteful and altogether horrible grandmother; and Henry Travers as Gramp – the kindly elderly man who first introduces Ellie May and Ed.

I do not think that this film has aged particularly well – some of the characters are stereotyped, and a lot of the smart wisecracks made by Ellie May do seem obviously scripted (which of course they were, but the film never quite lets you forget that). Nonetheless, it’s worth seeing for Ginger Rogers’ performance, and overall it’s fairly entertaining, if slightly predictable.

Year of release: 1940

Director: Gregory La Cava

Writers: Robert L. Buckner (play), Walter Hart (play), Victoria Lincoln (novel), Gregory La Cava, Allan Scott

Main cast: Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea, Henry Travers, Marjorie Rambeau, Miles Mander, Queenie Vassar

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This film from 1946 has rightly become classic Christmas viewing.  It was James Stewart’s favourite of his own films, and it’s easy to see why.  He plays George Bailey, a kind hearted businessman who has looked after others and sacrificed his own dreams to help his own family, but now he finds himself contemplating suicide as his business looks set to fail, and he faces jail for a mistake that he didn’t even make.  An angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) is dispatched to earth to help George (Clarence hopes that if he can help George, he might finally earn his wings), and shows George what life would be like in his town, if George had never existed.

This is just such a lovely film.  It certainly isn’t particularly light-hearted or funny (it touches on themes of poverty, lost dreams and suicide), but it is still a film that makes you feel happier for having watched it.  James Stewart had such a likeable manner about him, and nowhere is it put to better use than here.  He plays George as a thoroughly decent and generous man, but he is not without flaws.  Indeed his sense of generosity makes him a less than brilliant businessman, and he keeps employing his hapless uncle -a decision that may lead to George’s downfall.  Donna Reed is luminous and beautiful as George’s wife Mary, and is certainly not just a token wife.  She is a strong and kind woman, who dearly wants to see her husband happy.  Henry Travers is adorable as Clarence the angel – he might not be a very intellectual angel, but he has buckets of compassion.  The villain of the piece is Lionel Barrymore as Henry Potter – a rich businessman who threatens to get rid of George and his business – and make many of the citizens of the village poor and trapped in unhappy lives.  Barrymore is excellent in this type of role!

The ending is perfect, and yes I was sitting there with tears rolling down my face!  It’s a perfect film to watch at any time of year (but especially at Christmas), and really reminds us of how all of us can make a difference to others.

Year of release: 1946

Director: Frank Capra

Writers: Philip Van Doren Stern (short story),  Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling, Michael Wilson

Main cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, Toff Karns

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