It’s A Wonderful Life by Frank Capra (1946)

Still from It’s a Wonderful Life [Wikimedia Commons, CC-PD-Mark]

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Art imitates life – or is it the other way around?  Some artistic expressions have become so tied to our common experience that our lives seem synonymous with their content.  This is not always complementary to the work.  Occasionally, over-familiarity can cause a work to seem two-dimensional and flat.  That which is generally understood to be a masterpiece can also be subject to the contempt of familiarity.  With art and with life, value is often misplaced.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

Based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, Capra’s film tells the story of George Bailey, a kindly everyman unforgettably portrayed by Jimmy Stewart, who spends his life having to put his own dreams aside for the good of others. He wants to travel, to experience life fully, and ultimately to escape his small town of Bedford Falls. “I want to do something big, something important!” he tells his father.

But life continually throws obstacles in the path of George’s dreams, and he finds himself having to choose between the needs of others and what he really wants from life. He works hard, and settles into operating his father’s small-town building and loan business, following the dictates of his heart and investing in the lives of people who are trying to pull themselves up out of poverty, which means taking questionable financial risks on their behalf. His nemesis, the greedy banker Mr. Potter, uses George’s reckless goodwill to his own advantage and is finally able to drive him into ruin. When the crusty old man venomously spits out the words, “You are worth more dead than alive!” we see something in George Bailey’s eyes that reveals he may believe this to be true. George concludes that the world would have been a better place if he never existed.

George finds himself on a bridge, preparing to jump to his death in the icy waters, when he receives divine intervention in the form of a bumbling guardian angel named Clarence. By giving George glimpses of the dark alternative world that would have existed if he had never been born, Clarence helps him to see that his seemingly small and insignificant life was actually very significant—that the world would be a much poorer place if not for the actions he had taken during the course of his life. These actions sent ripples out for the good, like a stone dropped into a still pond.

Have you ever struggled with the significance of your life?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

Frank Capra

Frank Capra


(1897–1991). American motion-picture director Frank Capra was noted for a series of highly popular films in the 1930s and ’40s that included such classics as It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Born near Palermo, Sicily, on May 18, 1897, Capra moved with his family to Los Angeles, California, in 1903. After graduating in 1918 from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, he served in the U.S. Army as an engineering instructor, then embarked on a directing career in the 1920s. He joined Columbia Pictures in 1928 and scored box-office successes with That Certain Thing (1928) and Platinum Blonde (1931). Capra next released the comedy hit Lady for a Day (1933), followed by three comedies that brought him Academy Awards for best director: It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and You Can’t Take It With You (1938). It Happened One Night and You Can’t Take It With You also won Academy Awards for best picture. These films were similar in their humorous presentation of a naïve and idealistic hero who triumphs over shrewder individuals.

Capra departed from his comedy style in the fantasy adventure Lost Horizon (1937) and the political drama Meet John Doe (1941). During World War II he directed a series of government-sponsored documentaries titled Why We Fight. Capra’s notable films of the postwar period included It’s a Wonderful Life, State of the Union (1948), and Pocketful of Miracles (1961), his last film. It’s a Wonderful Life, the story of a despairing man who is saved from suicide during the Christmas season by being shown how much his seemingly insignificant life has improved the lives of those around him, came to be viewed as Capra’s masterpiece. It ranked 11th on the American Film Institute’s 1999 list of the 100 greatest films of all time.

Capra’s autobiography, The Name Above the Title, appeared in 1971. He received a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1982. Capra died on September 3, 1991, in La Quinta, California.


Sources & Resources

“Capra, Frank,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Blake, Richard A. After Image: The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.

Capra, Frank. The Name Above the Title. Boston: Da Capo Press, 1997.

de Las Carreras Kuntz, Maria Elena. “The Catholic Vision of Frank Capra.” Crisis Magazine. February 1, 2002.

Schickel, Richard. Frank Capra: A Life in Film. New York: New World City, 2011.

Stewart, James, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore. It’s a Wonderful Life. DVD. Directed by Frank Capra. Hollywood: Paramount Home Entertainment, 2007.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

Published by

Rick Wilcox

Rick is voraciously interested in the holistic transformation of people individually and in an organizational context - enabled by technology, educated continuously through multi-channel systems and informed by the wisdom of history's greatest thinkers. He is a Ph.D. student at Faulkner University, focusing on the appearance of the Logos in English Literature. He earned a Master of Arts in Christian Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Science in Management from Sam Houston State University. His undergraduate studies earned a BA with double majors in Sociology and Theology from Houston Baptist University. Rick is an ordained minister who leads the Parenting Teens Adult Community at Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands Texas.