Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Movie Review - It Happened One Christmas

In 2014, there was discussion about the potential for a sequel to It's a Wonderful Life. But way before that ever happened, there was the remake. Today, remakes are a dime a dozen. Disney is making a fortune right now remaking their animated classics into live action films.

In 1977, It's a Wonderful Life was remade as the made-for-TV movie It Happened One Christmas, starring Marlo Thomas, Orson Welles, Wayne Rogers, and Cloris Leachman.

It is basically the same film with most of the dialogue intact.

The largest difference is that It Happened One Christmas focuses on Mary Bailey instead of George. In fact, George's last name is Hatch, and Mary is a Bailey by birth.

Some minor changes include:
  • Angels are summoned with the "Hallelujah Chorus" instead of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."
  • Uncle Billy is renamed Uncle Willie.
  • Zuzu is renamed Susie.
  • The film occurs in 1944 instead of 1947.
  • George goes to war. Mary is a military wife.
Otherwise, this is practically the same film. So when I first watched it in the late 1990s, I blew it off. I viewed it as a weak attempt to ride the coattails of a popular film in a weak remake for the sole purpose of promoting a women's rights agenda. To a degree, I wasn't wrong. It does do that. But my degree of resentment has decreased greatly. Part of that is due to age and maturity. But there is another really good reason for it.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, "The National Women's Conference of November 18-21, 1977, held in Houston, was the first meeting of its type in the United States since the Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. It provided an opportunity to evaluate and make recommendations on the role of women in this country through a discussion of specific issues and ideas. (

So what, you ask? The connection here is of great importance. It Happened One Christmas was released in 1977. That was the same year that the National Women's Conference was held in Houston, TX. The last time the National Women's Conference was held prior to that was in 1848, in Seneca Falls, NY. That was 129 years prior.

Not only that, but it was held in Seneca Falls, NY, which was the town that was the inspiration for Bedford Falls. Check out The Real Bedford Falls at Learn more about the movement and the historical locations found in Seneca Falls here:

I find that to be more than just a coincidence.

Learn more about It Happened One Christmas here:

This film is not available on DVD. But you can watch it on YouTube (for right now) at the links below. I did not post them. I searched for and found them, and simply provide the links below.

It Happened One Christmas Part 1

It Happened One Christmas Part 2

It Happened One Christmas Part 3

It Happened One Christmas Part 4

Monday, September 28, 2015

Movie Review - Clarence

When everyone started talking about the possibility that someone may "finally" be creating a sequel to It's a Wonderful Life in 2014, my first thought was "another one?"

That's because it has already been done before. On second thought, perhaps it hasn't been done before. Perhaps, instead, there has been a spin-off movie.

I am talking about the movie Clarence, Starring Robert Carradine. It was released in January 1998 by Republic Pictures, which also put out It's a Wonderful Life. The movie explores what happened to Clarence about 50 years later after he saved George Bailey.
A scene from Clarence.

Clarence feels like he made a mess in Bedford Falls, despite his successful intervention. Because of that, he refuses to serve as a guardian angel any longer.

Not even five minutes into the movie, one angel refuses to return to earth. His reason? He doesn't have wings. In It's a Wonderful Life, we learn that this is the perfect reason to go to earth. Helping others is the way to earn your wings. It's a huge hole in the movie plot that cannot be ignored.

Apparently, in addition to earning their wings, guardian angels also get younger as time progresses.

After some conniving, Clarence accepts a mission to help a friend's wife who is contemplating suicide. He is given strict rules to follow, but of course, things don't go quite right for Clarence. He is forced to break every rule he is given. His intentions are good, but the consequences are always unintended and always bad.

This movie is dated by the technology that appears in it. The family that Clarence helps is a family of computer programmers who are trying to repair a glitchy video game and get it to market. Only adults will recognize the 5.25" floppy disks that the game is programmed on.

The works of Mark Twain again make an important appearance in this movie.

Clarence is only available on VHS. I purchased it in 1999. You can learn more about the movie here.

It's campy, a little bit cheesy, and very over-acted. Yet, I give it 3 out of 5 stars, which is more than I have been willing to give it before.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Photo Friday - Bells Part 23

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week’s entry is a bell outside of the St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Risingsun, Ohio. These photos were taken March 29, 2015.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Movie Review - American Madness

In my movie reviews, I give my brief thoughts on what I watched. Sometimes I will expound on those thoughts, but more often than not, I will just give a brief opinion. You can read plot descriptions on Internet Movie Database or on Amazon.

American Madness. 1932. Starring Walter Huston and Pat O'Brien.

Watch it here:

It was released on DVD for the first time on Dec. 5, 2006. It is only 76 minutes long, but very, very good.

American Madness (1932) is a Depression Era story about Matt Brown (Pat O’Brien), an ex-convict who is given a new chance in life as the chief teller of the Union National Bank, which is managed by Thomas Dickson (Walter Huston). The bank is robbed, and Brown becomes the main suspect.

Brown has a solid alibi, but will not reveal it because of his dedication to Mr. Dickson. Brown faces a problem: Should he be selfish and save his own reputation, and possibly prevent serving time in prison, or should he tell the truth and destroy Mr. Dickson’s life?

This film is distinctly American in its message. It is about loyalty to people and to a job, about second chances, power and the little man, and the struggle to survive. In short, it is about the American Dream. The time period in which this film is set was a time of insecurity, change and suspicion of business and of others.

Looking at this film, we see many items that Capra later reused later in It’s a Wonderful Life, including themes and dialogue that was either taken word-for-word, or re-worked to find its way into It’s a Wonderful Life and other Capra films, such as You Can’t Take it With You.

Just as Potter wants to liquidate the Bailey Building and Loan in It’s Wonderful Life, the Board of Directors of Union National Bank wants to merge with the New York Trust. Dixon fights against this merger, as George Bailey fights against the liquidation of the building and Loan. Their meeting about the merger and the bank’s practices sounds very similar to the meeting of the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan board in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Just as Peter and George Bailey give loans to friends and people whom they trust, Thomas Dickson gives loans based on hunches and first impressions. Both films have mob scenes and crowds, which the main character must wade through in order to unlock the front door of the banking establishment. Each film also has sirens that draw the attention of the mob away from the main character. In both films, the main character attempts to calm the mob with a speech, and they both must keep their respective establishments open until 4 p.m. in order to remain in business.

At the same time, both establishments experience a money shortage and must find a way to survive, which appears in the form of donations from within the organization. If the Union National Bank (an intentional name focusing both on the union of the nation and the need for union of its customers and employees) cannot stay open until 4 p.m., the bank examiner will arrive. This theme will re-appear in It’s a Wonderful Life, in which the bank examiner seems to always be around…typically at the most inopportune times.

When things seem to be at their worst, the employees of Union National Bank begin calling Dickson's friends to ask them for help. This is later revisited when Mary and Uncle Billy rally the residents of Bedford Falls to come to George’s aid in It’s a Wonderful Life. Meanwhile, in both films, the main characters are contemplating suicide, albeit by very different methods.

When scenes and episodes are not being used, phrases and dialogue are being tested – intentionally or unintentionally – on movie-goers. One woman uses the phrase “holy mackerel,” which will be one of George Bailey’s catch phrases. Another phrase that makes its way into both films is the reference to both of the main characters having a “red letter day.” Both characters are facing similar issues, and the connection can be nothing less than intentional.

When Dickson addresses the board of directors about the proposed merger with the New York Trust, he tells them, “I’m not interested in profit. I’m interested in the bank and the depositors. They’re my friends. They’re looking to me for protection and I’m not walking out on them.”

Ironically, this speech in support of his friends and customers is exactly opposite of a similar statement Mr. Potter makes during a meeting with the board of directors of the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. During that meeting, George makes a speech about the importance of the establishment, and Potter interrupts him, saying, “I’m not interested in your book. I’m talking about the Building and Loan.”

Another line in American Madness appears to be an early version of a statement Potter will go on to make. In the earlier film, one of the board members tells Dickson, “The depositors you were protecting were the first ones to pounce on you. You thought they were your friends. Why don’t you go out there now and…get some help from them.” At the time this statement is made, the crowd is in an uproar and obtaining help from them is highly unlikely.

Potter will later say in It’s a Wonderful Life, “Why don’t you go to the riff-raff you love so much and ask them to let you have eight thousand dollars? You know why? Because they’d run you out of town on a rail.”

Another connection to It's a Wonderful Life that I stumbled across on May 11, 2015, is that both films starred Sarah Edwards. She portrayed Mrs. Hatch in It's a Wonderful Life, and a phone gossip in American Madness (uncredited). According to Internet Movie Database, Edwards is also known for her roles in The Shop Around the Corner (starring Jimmy Stewart), and The Bishop's Wife (starting Karolyn Grimes and Bobby Anderson).


Monday, September 21, 2015

Granville House, Hunter House ... or Haunted House?

All my life, I have been fascinated by what my grandparents called "The Old Hunter House." Even when I was a little kid, the Hunter House was a run-down, dilapidated old house that fits the definition of "haunted house." When I spent the night at my grandparent's house, I could see it across the fields. At night, I would peek out at it through the bedroom window, and it scared the heck out of me. But during the day, it was always a neat place to check out.
Hunter House April 9, 2012

My grandfather took me there several times, as it was and still owned by family, less than half a mile from where they lived, and they stored some farm equipment there.

The house has inspired two stories that I still need to write.

I remember going into the house when I was a kid and seeing an old Lionel train set in its original box sitting on the landing of the steps running from the foyer to the second floor, just inside the front door. I wish I had taken that train set. I could have made a fortune on eBay. I wonder where it is now.

Throwing rocks at he Granville House
It reminds me a lot of the old Granville House in the film It's a Wonderful Life. In fact, there was a time when I wanted to buy the house and fix it up to live in, just like George and Mary did. The problem is that the Granville House wasn't real and it got a second chance at life. The Hunter House was real ... and its time is growing short. In fact, if it doesn't collapse in the next year, I will be very surprised.

I started experimenting with photography in 2000, and I took several photos there using black and white film. In 2001, I took my last tour inside the house with the granddaughter of the people who built it. It's not safe to enter now. My estimation is that it will completely collapse within two years, and that makes me sad.

Below, you will find the stories that I wrote for the Sentinel-Tribune newspaper, which is where I worked in 2001, when I toured the inside of the home for the last time.

What follows is a reproduction of two of the stories that I wrote for the paper. A third story, about a man who "belled" the front yard of the Hunter house with his friends on the night before one of the Hunter children got married, has been lost. I think I accidentally discarded it this spring when I threw away all of my old 3.5-inch floppy discs.

Anyway, the two salvaged stories are here, along with the three photos that ran with those stories. At the end, you will also find links to several photo albums taken over the years, in my effort to catalog the home's decay.

At the end of this entry, you also will find a link to a YouTube video, which I shot in 2009 of the home's exterior. I hope you enjoy the Hunter house as much as I do. Now, here are the stories, which originally appeared on page 9 of the Dec. 5, 2001 issue of the Bowling Green (Ohio) Sentinel-Tribune:

These Walls Can Talk
Old house was fancy for its time
Sentinel Staff Writer
CUSTAR – Way off of Ohio 235 between Cygnet and Jerry City roads, sits the old Hunter house.
Leading back to the dilapidated home is a stone and mud driveway that is listed on the Wood County map as Hunter Road.
This unique house gets a lot of attention from passers-by, with its nearly 4,000 square feet of living space spread out over three large stories. The home has not been lived in for more than 30 years, but its old-style charm gets attention. Mark Wilhelm, who farms the land at the home, said he received one phone call and had two visitors stop by the house in one day this past month. That came shortly after a letter from Bowling Green State University, which voiced its interest in using it for fire training.
Lorin Hunter purchased 170 acres of land where the house currently sits, on Feb. 25, 1911.
Part of the deed conveyed one acre to the Board of Education of Jackson Township for “as long as the same is used for school purposes.” The Inman school was built on the corner of Cygnet Road and Ohio 235. That is where the eight children of Lorin and Ida Maria Hunter went to school.
“There were buildings there when they moved there,” said Joyce Baumgardner, one of the Hunters’ grandchildren. “Mom (Ida Mae Hunter Courtney) told me that they lived in the house that was there and part of it was built into this house.”
Baumgardner and her husband, Henry, can see the Hunter house from their home on Range Line Road.
Though she is not sure exactly when it was built, the home had several amenities that homes typically did not have during that time period, including electricity and indoor plumbing.
In the 1940s, Lorin and Ida Maria Hunter briefly moved to Deshler before moving to Findlay.
Her (Joyce Baumgardner’s) parents lived in the home from 1957 to 1968.
Lorin died in 1954 at age 77. Ida Maria died in 1960 at age 81. They are buried in New Maplewood Cemetery in North Baltimore
The farm was sold in 1961 to Harold Wilhelm, who rented it to Joyce’s parents. Wilhelm then rented the home to Larry Bechstein, who was the last person to live there, in 1968 or 1969.
“A wind storm blew a lot of trees down and knocked down the chimney,” said Mark Wilhelm, of Deshler. He is Harold Wilhelm’s son and currently farms the land.
Wilhelm guesses it was built around 1919, based on a date he found carved on the back of some plaster and on some woodwork from the Custar Lumber Company. Lorin Hunter’s Son, Edwin, carved his name on the granary door on Oct. 31, 1921. Edwin lives in Canada. His sister, Pauline Warner, lives in Findlay. They are the only surviving children of the Hunters.
“Harold used to work for that man when he was a kid,” said his widow, Mary Jane Wilhelm. “He always said that he wanted to buy that house, and lo and behold, he got it. He called it God’s Country up there.”
“I’ve always felt bad to have let it go downhill, but Harold always said it would cost too much to fix up,” she said. “I actually cleaned it a few times to keep it up. But as soon as anyone leaves it, it goes downhill. Then we had vandals.”
The vandals stole several items out of the home, including some leaded glass and a portion of a built-in buffet.
The Wilhelms found that the items had been stolen, and salvaged what they could to prevent further vandalism.
They later tore out the back wall of the home and parked farm equipment in what once was the living room. The Wilhelms have recently been contacted by Bowling Green State University, which has expressed interest in using the home for fire training.
“They called us last year and mom told them ‘I’ve got a wagon parked in the living room right now,’” said Mark Wilhelm.
Ann Betts, director of Ohio Fire School, is unsure whether the home can even be used.
“I can’t use it for any of the firefighter survival where they need to spend days and days carrying each other out of there because it’s just unsafe,” she said. “But there are a couple of classes where they just burn things.”
“There’s just something abut it,” Betts said. “It just looked like such a cool place. You could just imagine the grandkids running around the yard.”
“People always drive back there who want to go through it,” said Mary Jane Wilhelm. “It fascinates a lot of people. I’m just filled with guilt that I never did anything with it.”

Cutline for photos: THE HUNTER house (above) as it looked in 2000, is about ready to fall down. In its prime (right), the home had nearly 4,000 square feet over its three stories. Shown is the home’s south side, which had a porch and a sunroom. At one time, it had a Hoytville address.

Granddaughter shares memories of Hunter house
Sentinel Staff Writer
CUSTAR – Joyce Baumgardner spent a lot of time at the Hunter house.
Her grandparents built the home sometime in the 1910s, and her parents lived there from 1957 to 1968.
She remembers the layout of the home and the land around it clearly.
The front step (which has been removed) had ceramic tiles spelling “LH” for Lorin Hunter, her grandfather.
On both sides of the front door was leaded glass. The door opened onto the front hall with an open wrap-around stairwell to the second floor. Beneath the stairwell was a deacon’s bench.
Pocket doors on the south opened to the living room, while pocket doors to the north went to a sitting room with a built-in buffet on the east wall that had leaded glass doors. North of the sitting room was a dining room with a dumbwaiter that went into the basement.
“It was before they had electricity out through the country here, but I just always felt it (electricity) was put in when the house was built,” said Baumgardner. “That’s just the impression you got. There was a large Tiffany … lamp over the dining room table, and you just felt that it was put in when the house was built.”
Her husband, Henry, said the home had a Delco system for electricity. “It was like a generating system,” he said. “It must have had a motor or a chemical system. Very few houses had it back then.”
East of the dining room was the home’s kitchen, which was part of the old house that the Hunters kept and built around.
A stairwell from the kitchen led to the partial basement that was under the dining room. It contained a coal furnace.
Off of the living room was a downstairs bedroom. A hallway connected the kitchen, bedroom and sitting room. Off of the hallway was a bathroom with indoor plumbing, and a second stairwell that led to the second and third floors.
All of the woodwork in the home was oak, and the window sills were extra wide for plants. There also was a sunroom off the south wall of the living room.
“Grandma had a lot of plants in there when I was little,” said Joyce Baumgardner.
Walking up the front steps to the second floor led into a front hall with a built-in linen closet. The second floor contained four bedrooms and a full bathroom, again with indoor plumbing. Both bathroom doors had etched glass in them.
The third floor held one finished room and attic space. “That’s where the hired men slept,” said Joyce Baumgardner. “It used to be neat on the third floor. You could see all over.”
“I always thought the rooms were real big, but the way they’re building now, they’re average,” she said. “But for then, yes, they were large rooms.”
Both the second and third floors had a laundry chute that dropped to the first floor.
Henry Baumgardner estimates the home is well over 3,000 square feet. “Maybe four (thousand).”
He said it contained no insulation and “nothing was done to it after it was built, really.”
Outside, the home had a wrap-around porch.
“The front porch was concrete and it was L-shaped on the south side down to the sun room,” said Joyce Baumgardner. “They always kept a porch swing there. That (porch wall) was double brick with a stone top on it, so it was wide enough that you could sit on it. So in the summer, that’s where everyone would kind of seem to congregate.”
At the north end of the house, there was a large garden with a white picket fence around it. To the west of the drive was an orchard that had “most everything, I think,” including peach, apple and pear trees, according to Baumgardner.
A large livestock barn at the north end of the property has since blown down, but a corn crib remains.
Another building next to the corn crib, which also is gone, had scales in it to weigh the grain.
“They used to have county corn husking contests, and there was one year when it was back to Grandpa Hunter’s,” said Joyce Baumgardner.
“Sundays … or holidays, there was always someone there to play with,” said Joyce Baumgardner. It was just a fun place to play inside and outside when I was a kid.”
Cutline for photo: IDA AND Lorin Hunter built their home sometime in the 1910s. They are buried in New Maplewood Cemetery in North Baltimore, Ohio.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Photo Friday - Bells Part 22

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week’s entry is a bell outside of the Wayne Church of Christ in Wayne, Ohio. These photos were taken March 29, 2015.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Movie Review - A Hole in the Head

In my movie reviews, I give my brief thoughts on what I watched. Sometimes I will expound on those thoughts, but more often than not, I will just give a brief opinion. You can read plot descriptions on Internet Movie Database or on Amazon.

A Hole in the Head. Starring Frank Sinatra. Directed by Frank Capra (1959).

Notice the repeated use of the word "Wonderful" in the trailer above.

This film features great use of music, which makes sense, because it is a vehicle for Sinatra.

But beyond the great music, I just couldn't do it. I tried. But I couldn't stay awake. I tried watching it three different times, and I fell asleep each time. Sometimes multiple times.

I'm pretty sure it has everything to do with the fact that:

1) I hate musicals. Synonyms include loathe and despise.

2) After It's a Wonderful Life, Capra's films lost their least for me they did. And that makes me sad.

1 star out of 5.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Book Review - It's a Wonderful Life: The Fiftieth Anniversary Scrapbook

In my book reviews, I give my brief thoughts on what I read. Sometimes I will expound on those thoughts, but more often than not, I will just give a brief opinion. I could go into detail about what the book is about, but a lot of people have already done that. You can read their descriptions of the book, plus the official description on Amazon.

It's a Wonderful Life: The Fiftieth Anniversary Scrapbook by Jimmy Hawkins. 1996.

This book is written by Jimmy Hawkins. He played Tommy Bailey, the youngest of the Bailey children. He has written several books about It's a Wonderful Life. This one may be the best.

What makes this book interesting are the interviews with most of the cast and crew of It's a Wonderful Life. It provides their stories, their insights and their memories of the film. Some of the information can be found in a variety of other sources, but the interview format is a fresh take on these ideas.

The other nice aspect is the collection of very large photos found throughout the book.

4 of 5 stars.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Photo Friday - Bells Part 21

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week’s entry is a bell outside of the Wayne Fire Department in Wayne, Ohio. These photos were taken March 29, 2015.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Review - The Man Who Killed Lincoln

In my book reviews, I give my brief thoughts on what I read. Sometimes I will expound on those thoughts, but more often than not, I will just give a brief opinion. I could go into detail about what the book is about, but a lot of people have already done that. You can read their descriptions of the book, plus the official description on Amazon.

The Man Who Killed Lincoln, by Philip Van Doren Stern, 1939.

Philip Van Doren Stern
I bought this book several years ago due to my interest in the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, along with my love of the feel, smell and look of old books. 

I also love the movie, It's a Wonderful Life, so it was a wonderful surprise for me when I realized that the book was written by Philip Van Doren Stern. He also who wrote "The Greatest Gift," which was the short story that eventually was made into It's a Wonderful Life

The Man Who Killed Lincoln is a very fast read, covering days leading up to the murder of Abraham Lincoln, the actual murder, and Booth's attempt to escape to the south. It is historical fiction, but all of Booths movements and activities have historical reference and are accurate.

Stern created the discussions in order to write this book, but otherwise it is an accurate account of historical fiction.

Stern was born on this day (Sept. 10) in 1900. If he was alive today, he would be 115.

My copy of The Man Who Killed Lincoln, by Philip Van Doren Stern, dated 1939.
I purchased this book because of the Lincoln connection and my interest in
the Civil War. It wasn't until years later that I realized it was written by Stern.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Movie Review - War Room

I'm a day late on this blog entry. One reason is because of the holiday weekend. I'm off on everything. The second reason is because I wanted to use this entry to review the film War Room, which we watched on Labor Day.

First, I need to put this in perspective. My goal for this blog is to connect all of my entries back to the film It's a Wonderful Life. So please allow me to do that with War Room.

When it was released in 1946, It's a Wonderful Life reportedly received bad reviews. This myth is not true. According to Jeanine Basinger, author of The It's a Wonderful Life Book, “sample reviews from around the country indicate that almost everyone liked It’s a Wonderful Life and many people loved it. The reviews were not entirely favorable, but the overall response was enthusiastic” (54).

In Britain, however, critics hated it. A review in the April 7, 1947 Daily Mail said, “This isn’t a film. It’s a full gale of sentiment” (Basinger 66).

British journalist Jonathan Coe claims that “It’s a Wonderful Life opened to a reasonable but not outstanding business … and received mixed notices: many reviewers liked it but the British and East Coast critics were occasionally savage, calling it ‘a figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes,’ ‘an orgy of sweetness’ and ‘an embarrassment to both flesh and spirit’” (81-82).

This film received poor reviews in Britain because it was made for Americans. It was created to support and empower an American ideology, not a British ideology. The British audience may have understood the general, stated message that “no man is a failure who has friends,” but the deeper meanings — including the messages relating to capitalism and the American Dream — were lost to the British audience.

This idea is illustrated in a review in the April 3, 1947 issue of the British Evening News: “I believe this to be a very good film—for Americans” (Basinger 66). It also can be seen in Coe’s evaluation of the film:

For most people it seems that the film’s conviction and 
emotional momentum…carry all before them. And yet there are 
several evasions and contradictions at its heart. Most notably, 
the depiction of “Pottersville” — the nightmarish vision of how 
quaint little Bedford Falls would have turned out if George Bailey 
hadn’t been there to save it — looks feeble today … Besides, if 
Bailey alone has prevented this from coming to pass, isn’t this a 
damning comment on the lack of enterprise and resilience among 
all the other “little men” who live in Bedford Falls? And if small-town 
life is so great, why can it only be saved, in the end, by a large cash 
donation from the one friend of Bailey’s who has managed to leave his 
home town and make a name for himself in the business? (82).

This is an interesting statement, and at face value, it raises some very interesting and valid questions. However, Coe, who lives in London, misses the components of time, relationships, and dedication, and faith in his argument.

Coe seems to argue that it is okay to get rich and walk away from your home town and the people who helped “raise” you. In fact, it is okay to travel and have a life away from where you were born. After all, the American Dream is based around the dreams of individuals, and was the luring force that brought many European immigrants to America. However, It’s a Wonderful Life argues that travel experiences and dreams are more meaningful when you stay in your hometown. You benefit from those experiences when you apply them to your life in order to give back to those who helped raise you, and with whom you have developed a strong relationship over a long period of time. The longer the relationship is allowed to grow, the stronger the bond and the commitment to the needs of others will become.

In his biography of Stewart, which focuses on finding common themes among many of Stewart’s films, Coe analyzed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In that analysis, Coe wrote, “When viewing the film today, then, we should perhaps make an effort to see it in its historical context, remembering that back in 1939 its ringing exaltation of America as the land of the free must have carried great symbolic weight…” (56-57).

This also should be true when the British, or anyone else, watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Coe does not mention the need for a consideration of Americanism in his analysis of It’s a Wonderful Life.

The same argument can be made regarding the 2015 film War Room, which is about a woman who learns about the power of prayer and uses it to save her marriage. This film is the creation of Stephen and Alex Kendrick, who also created memorable films such as Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and (my favorite of the batch) Courageous. All of these films are unapologetically Christian in their message and either teach or remind their audience how to trust God when you feel you can't keep going and want to give up.

War Room is no different. During its first week, it was the second top-grossing film. During Labor Day weekend, it topped the box office.

Yet, with that kind of success, one has to question the kinds of ratings it has received. Its Rotten Tomato score, reported on this morning was a mere 36% of critics liking the film. However, its Flixter user score is 91 percent. Why?

There could be many reasons. First, personal taste definitely accounts for something. Secondly, professional reviewers watch film after film after film and at some point, I believe they lock into the things they like and the  things they don't like. As a former journalist, I can say that I became jaded. I believe movie reviewers face the same problem.

But I also believe that the reviewers don't understand the intended audience the Kendrick Brothers were aiming for. Almost all of the critics who gave War Room a horrid review use all of the same tried-and-true arguments of atheists: Why not give credit where credit is due? What about the hypocrisy? Why are you trying to force your God down my throat? Why so heavy-handed?

They forget that they paid for a ticket and they are doing their job. They fail in their reviews where the British fail in their reviews of War Room: They can't relate.

If you are British, you won't understand the full complexity of It's a Wonderful Life. If you aren't a Christian, you won't fully understand the message of War Room. You haven't studied the Word. You don't understand the Word. You take witty pot-shots from your high throne in New York and believe you have all of the answers. 

As a Christian, I don't claim to have all of the answers - ask my wife; she will agree - but I'm learning. And that's what War Room does - it teaches. I agree with many of the critics that the acting is pretty stiff, but that's where the nay-sayers and I part company. I would urge you to watch War Room in an attempt to learn, not to judge. Judging is easy. Judging is lazy. It's harder and more noble to take the lessons of War Room and apply them to your own life.

Watch the trailer below and visit the Web site:


Basinger, Jeanine (in Collaboration with the trustees of the Frank Capra Archives), Interviews by
        Leonard Maltin. The It’s a Wonderful Life Book. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1996.

Coe, Jonathan. Jimmy Stewart: A Wonderful Life. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1994.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Photo Friday - Bells Part 20

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week’s entry is a bell in the tower of St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Bowling Green, Ohio. These photos were taken March 15, 2015.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tribute to Frank Capra

The following is an excerpt from my book about It's a Wonderful Life, which is currently looking for a home with a publisher:

An Italian immigrant, Frank Capra discovered at a young age “what would later become one of the most important themes of his movies: ‘One nation. . .with liberty and justice for all’” (Stewart 82). Capra often made movies about the little man doing great things, representing ideals and qualities that made the little man great. Those qualities included, common sense, family values, a religious (though not overt) dedication, fidelity, family values, and Americanism.

Capra’s films have been referred to as “Capracorn” because of their perceived “corny,” unbelievable, or over-the top endings. The crowning example of this is the closing scene of It’s a Wonderful Life, because it can be misconstrued as being sappy and too-happy of an ending for such a dark film.

Initially, this characterization hurt Capra’s feelings because he felt strongly about his films and the messages they carried. However, he later took this critical jab and turned it into a positive by calling most of his films “Capracorn” himself. To him, Capracorn came to mean

… a brew of the comic, the sentimental, the rhetorical, the 

idealistic, and the melodramatic in which the values of the 

man on the street were raised above those of official authority 

in which, even at the cost of gliding over specific plot points, 

there was inevitably a happy ending. (Dewey 268).

Capra has 58 film directing credits to his name, which reads like an American Film Institute Top 100 list.

Capra was born May 18, 1897 in Italy. He died Sept. 3, 1991, at age 94, but not before the Mayor of Los Angeles and the city council declared May 12, 1962 to be Frank Capra Day (Capra 488).

He is buried in Coachella Valley Public Cemetery, Riverside County, CA. If he was still alive, he would be 118 years old.

Source: Find A Grave


Capra, Frank. Frank Capra: the Name Above the Title, an Autobiography. New York: DaCapo Press, 1997.

Dewey, Donald. James Stewart: A Biography. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc., 1996.

Stewart, Jimmy. “Frank Capra’s Merry Christmas to All.” Reader’s Digest Dec. 1991: 81-85.