For me, "It's A Wonderful Life" is the ultimate Christmas movie.
But when I was very young, I happened to watch part of it on TV and had no idea what it was or what it was about, and it freaked me out. From my five-year-old point of view, it seemed to be a scary domestic drama that featured a husband yelling at his wife, the wife crying, the kids weeping ("What's wrong with daddy?"), the mother encouraging them to pray for him, followed by a bar fight, the husband considering suicide, and the mother turning dowdy, apparently losing her mind and being unable to even recognize her increasingly-desperate husband -- Yikes! A total nightmare!
So, whenever I got scared by something in the movie, I ran out of the TV room and hid, just like I did when Lou Costello unwittingly sat on the monster's lap in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." I ran out of the TV room a bunch of times during "It's A Wonderful Life." No doubt I missed many crucial plot points during my frequent absences. Finally, too spooked by the increasingly-bizarre story ("You were never born." What?!?), I ran out of the TV room and stayed out. I could watch no longer.
Years later, I sat down and watched "It's a Wonderful Life" from start to finish. The opening is pretty crucial to understanding the plot, and I had missed that starry set-up when I was young. I was happy to learn that the movie was actually about a man who had lost his way and who found redemption through the love of his family, his friends, and thanks to a little heavenly intervention. (During my previous viewing, I had not only missed the opening, but I had bolted before the happy ending.)
Now I watch the film every few years at Christmastime, and have to fight back tears when the townsfolk show up at the end, chip in to pull George's cookies out of the fire, and toast George as "the richest man in town." Just thinking about it makes me a little misty.
Just one question: Why is Uncle Billy ever allowed to handle the Building & Loan's funds? I mean, really. The guy is clearly non compos mentis. He unwittingly handed a huge wad of the Building & Loan's cash to Old Man Potter and then sauntered off as if he didn't have a care in the world.
I'm thinking that on the first work day after Christmas, at the Bailey Building & Loan, George forces Uncle Billy into an early retirement and a rigorous 12-step program.
Now there's an even happier ending!
Merry Christmas to all!