Skip to comments.Jimmy Stewart and Psalm 91
Posted on 12/17/2009 3:32:58 PM PST by NYer
When it comes to a Christmastime movie, a perennial favorite of most everyone is Its a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart made no secret it was his favorite film and favorite role as George Bailey.
The poignant slice of Americana is on the Vaticans film list and No. 5 on the Registers 100 best films list.
No matter how many times we watch it, the story remains fresh and remarkably uplifting. And with strong spiritual implications whose foundations were laid before filming began.
Before Stewart became George Bailey, his guardian angel surely watched over him during harrowing combat missions in World War II. When Stewart, a Presbyterian, was leaving for Air Force duty as a B-24 bomber pilot, his father slipped a copy of Psalm 91 into his uniform pocket, telling his son to pray it often it would help him get through the war safely.
This simple incident made its way into Stewart biographies. We can only guess how many times he meditated on its verses: You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day (verse 5) Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come (verse 7) ... For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways (verse 11) With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone (verse 12) ... Whoever clings to me I will deliver; whoever knows my name I will set on high (v.14).
Surely that little anecdote inspired many readers over the years to discover or reacquaint themselves with this uplifting Psalm of Gods protection.
Maybe Stewart whispered it to George Bailey. At a critical moment, Clarence Oddbody, AS2 (Angel, second-class) makes it clear Georges simple, ordinary life really disguised an extraordinary one. Cant we picture George standing among the sheep, asking Jesus, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you ill or in prison, and visit you? (Matthew 25:37-39)
And George would hear from Jesus: Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine the people in Bedford Falls who came for help to Bailey Savings and Loan, like Ernie the cabdriver and Burt the cop and immigrant families; misguided people like Violet you helped without repayment; bumblers like Uncle Billy you treated with patience; those ill like Zuzu, whom you cheered; those whose lives you saved like Old Man Gower and your kid brother Harry; and the Bailey family you sacrificed for you did it for me. (verse 40)
Director Frank Capra, a Catholic, explained that in Its a Wonderful Life one major goal was to show ... that each mans life touches so many other lives.
It also reflected his intentions in making movies.
I will show the courageous renewal of faith, he wrote, and I will remind the little man that his mission on earth is to advance spiritually. ... My films must let every man, woman and child know that God loves them and that peace and salvation become a reality only when they all learn to love each other.
Georges supposedly commonplace life tremendously helped make others everyday, ordinary lives shine as worthwhile and wonderful, too. He may not have known of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, but he was heading along her Little Way.
If Georges life included a 75th birthday party, as Stewarts did in his hometown, the richest man in town would likely repeat what Jimmy said then: This is where I made up my mind about certain things about the importance of hard work and community spirit, the value of family, church, God.
Living life simply, in the love of God and neighbor truly its a wonderful life.
Haven’t seen it round here.
See my post 18===the screening in question was at the Lafayette Theatre in Suffern NY. Rockland County near the border of NJ, where I live in Bergen County.
I had no idea about the lack of TV broadcasts of IAWL.
Now that I come to think of it, I haven’t seen it on TV
for at least a few years.
When things went haywire George Baily bailed his bank out with his OWN money!
His own risk.
True, but remember the big tear-jerker scene at the end when everyone takes up a collection? Does it occur to anyone that these “altruists” had a good thing going and wanted to keep the gravy train running? Although we tend to sentimentalize small-town America, people there can be grasping and self-interested, just as big-city folk.
So here’s a proposal:
Who can we get to write a screenplay for “It’s a Wonderful Constitution,” to be produced and showing in theatres by midsummer? Can you see it now? A young man just trying to help people (think healthcare) is thwarted by the unconstitutionality of his dramatic plan of action. He is angered and disgusted by what he sees as selfish, self-righteous conservatives standing in the way by standing on their “constitutional rights” and it leads him to extreme despair, disparaging the Constitution as no more than an old, worthless piece of paper, as he sets out to end it all in the river below.
Then he encounters an angel (not Palin - too over the top) who must help him resolve this life crisis. He does so by sending him into an alternate universe where the American Constitution was never written, where the American colonials never got past their small-minded bickering because, by a quirk of alternate history, someone convinced King George he could keep the colonies in line if he just enslaved them at a kinder, gentler, slower pace. The revolution had no trigger, never took place, and while Jefferson and Franklin had some great tavern conversations, no one ever had the impetus of crisis sufficient to set down those words that have for so long been the guardian of American freedom.
So, as our protagonist ventures into this alternate world, he encounters a strange, unsettling culture where the protections of the Constitution were simply not there to protect him and the people he cared about from the many harms people inflict on each other, where the government had become this large, faceless machine that treated humans as commodities to be bought and sold at will by the privileged class. No freedom to speak. No freedom to gather with like-minded people. No freedom to practice one’s own religion. No due process. No equal protection. No warrant needed for the government to invade any home. On and on it goes. Adventure yes, action aplenty, but with an ever diminishing hope of final escape, a slowly growing sense of suffocation. .
Toward the end, he further learns there is nowhere else in the world he can go where freedom still reigns, because there was no America, as he had known it, to step in and help the other peoples of the world fight off their respective tyrannies. All had fallen, in the end, to the petty interests of small men.
Finally, as he approaches the apex of this dark terror, our hero has the epiphany that the lost dignity of man in this future horror show turned on a singular event, the absence of a decision by a relatively small group of extraordinarily thoughtful people to respond to a crisis of impending tyranny by putting down on paper a system of government which, by it’s power to limit government, could actually succeed in protecting the inalienable rights of all who must live under the power of that government. Yes, he says, that is the answer. If only it had not been lost, the opportunity not missed.
At which point the young man is returned to his own time and place, full of relief, to be sure, but also amazement and gratitude that he was privileged to live in a place that, however imperfect, had that wonderful old piece of paper known as the US Constitution, to stand as the timeless defender of his and everyone else’s inextinguishable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Good movie? Or not? What do y’all think? And what about casting? All (beneficial) ideas welcome.
But...but, they all loved George!
Now I will never be able to enjoy that happy ending!
LoL you win.
They had four: Pete, Tommy, Janie and Zuzu.
Ah, someone has been imbibing in the Randian Kool-aid. In George Bailey's world people are human beings, not merely the means to a capitalists bottom line.
That’s a keeper. I can’t help with the casting, but that plot gets my vote.
“Really cares about her Fig-ure, don’t she?”
To be honest, I didn’t remember. I’ve only seen the movie a couple of times, because I don’t like it very much. “Zuzu”?
I miss Jimmy Stewart and all the other G-dly, decent people who used to be so visible in the entertainment media. All we have now is the slime at the bottom of the barrel.
Despite the obvious gulf between our theological beliefs, I agree wholeheartedly. And I love your tag line!
I was always surprised by the life of Gloria Grahame - who plays the blond bombshell Violet in the film.
In real life she was married four times. Okay, that’s not too shocking for a Hollywood actress, but her last husband was her STEPSON from her second marriage! And she had children with both Nicholas Ray and his son, Anthony Ray.
Apparently she started having an affair with Anthony when he was 13.
Not a fan of Frank Capra. Not a fan of Jimmy Stewart’s acting, either. The voice was just annoying.
>>Even if we sympathize with their circumstances, the fact is they couldnt afford the loans. Even Bailey admits they would be too old to enjoy their homes if he waited for them to qualify under ordinary rules.<<
Yes they could.
No one lost their house in the movie.
Gosh, Donna Reed was pretty.