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"It's a Wonderful Life" is a favorite for good reason

I have been watching director Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" for more than 30 years, dating to those halcyon pre-cable days when it aired only on late-night television.

I have been watching director Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" for more than 30 years, dating to those halcyon pre-cable days when it aired only on late-night television.

My favorite part is when George Bailey runs back to the bridge, tells God that he wants to live again, and suddenly it starts to snow.

Why is "It's a Wonderful Life" a perennial holiday classic, and the American Film Institute's choice as the most inspirational film of all time?

One explanation is that it is the American version of "A Christmas Carol," and there are some parallels. But Old Man Potter, the Scrooge in Capra's tale, is not the main character. And there is more here than Dickens in reverse (showing the protagonist his "past" as if he hadn't lived).

Part of the appeal is that George is played by Jimmy Stewart, who is arguably the most beloved actor in American film history.

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However, the most important reason might be the irony that this beloved Christmas movie is really a retelling of the Easter story.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is one of four classic "Capra-corn" movies, the others being "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "Meet John Doe." Each film tells the story of an Everyman who is unjustly brought down, and then symbolically resurrected in the end.

What makes "It's a Wonderful Life" the most powerful and most popular is that George is the most Christ-like figure: George takes the responsibility for losing the Bailey Savings & Loan's money, though Potter knows it is Uncle Billy's fault.

The parallels continue as George descends into the hell of a world in which he has never been born, before the intervention of an angel trying to earn his wings brings George back to his life.

This lesson learned has popped up in dozens of televisions shows. But none of them have George Bailey at their heart, and each homage reminds us that Capra did it first, and Capra did it best.

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