After a series of populist films in the 1930s (It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and You Can’t Take It With You), Frank Capra read a forgotten story entitled The Greatest Gift written by Philip Van Doren Stern and turned into the script for It’s A Wonderful Life. As the first production he made after returning from service in WWII, Capra intended the film to be a celebration of the lives and dreams of ordinary American citizens, who try to do their best for themselves and others.
Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, was not an immediate hit when first released in 1946. In fact, Capra lost $525,000 on the production. However, when the copyright expired and the film fell into the public domain, it was picked up by TV networks such as PBS and is now an enduring seasonal hit each year.
Perhaps not so humorous (although clearly ridiculous) at this early phase of the Cold War, a 1947 FBI memo noted the film showed “potential Communist infiltration of the film industry with its attempt to discredit bankers – a common trick used by Communists.”
Capra, a trained engineer and his special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film made of sugar, water and (fire extinguisher) Foamite. Up until that time, cornflakes painted white were the most common form of fake snow, but they were noisy.
Roger Ebert – film review
Jennifer M. Wood – 25 Wonderful facts about It’s A Wonderful Life