Plot: What’s it about?
Looking for flicks to put you in the holiday mood no matter what time of year it is? You know, make you feel all “Christmasy” all year ’round? Well, look no further, because Artisan has issued two classics for your enjoyment, each on very nice discs. Talk about a sweet deal, picking up these two for one low price is a bonus like few other. I recommend this set without hesitation, as both films deserve a place in any film buff’s collection, and at this price, you can’t go wrong!
The first film is Frank Capra’s immortal It’s A Wonderful Life, a must have for classic film lovers, and cinema freaks like me. This is one of the best feel good movies of all time, and shouldn’t be missed by anyone, and I mean anyone. The movie follows the life of George Bailey, all the way from childhood to growing up into an adult. We watch as George (Jimmy Stewart) leaves his dreams behind, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t shake the idea that his life is meaningless because those dreams slipped away. He marries his sweetheart (Donna Reed) and takes over the local building and loan. There, he works to help families keep a roof over their heads, and manages to make a decent living while doing so. But one night, his partner loses a large bank deposit, and George’s world seems in serious danger. He is in deep trouble, with his life on the edge of total disaster. On the verge of suicide, George is thrust into meeting his guardian angel, who gives him a glimpse into just how important George really is. I cannot stress enough how excellent this movie is. If nothing else, you need to pick up this wonderful set for this movie alone.
The second film in this set is The Bells of St. Mary’s, which is the follow up to Going My Way. While usually sequels fall far short of the original, this is one case where the sequel is on the same level. The story goes a little something like this. Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby) has come to St. Mary’s parochial school to help keep the doors open and books on the desks. In other words, the school is in bad shape, and money is not in steady supply. O’Malley is a free spirited fellow, and feels a more friendly relationship with the students will spark their minds, but the resident head nun Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) thinks a strict, discipline based system works better. Of course, the two are always at odds, arguing and fussing. But these two opposites are going to have to work together to save the school from a shifty businessman’s plans. Classic performances by Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman highlight this movie, and the charm runs high. Again, I recommend this set highly, these are must see movies!
Video: How does it look?
It’s A Wonderful Life is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and looks better than ever. I am so glad Artisan issued the original black and white edition, because the colorized version can pure cannibalism of the film. This is quite simply one of the finest black and white transfers I have seen, with all elements in order. The contrast levels are picture perfect, opening up detail I had never noticed before. The disc is free of all compression errors as well, you haven’t seen the movie until you’ve seen this version.
The Bells of St. Mary’s is presented in the original full frame aspect ratio, and Artisan has issued a wonderful looking transfer. This print used must have been a recent find, or else some restoration work was done, because this is a huge step up from previous releases. The movie is, of course, in the correct black and white format, and appears crisp and clean. Wow. Contrast levels are sharp, with no overly dark regions or blooming to speak of. Compression errors are non existent also.
Audio: How does it sound?
The mono soundtrack provided for It’s A Wonderful Life is good, but pales in comparison to modern audio tracks. But given the limitations of the mono format, this track is quite good. There are no serious errors to speak of, and dialogue comes across well, with consistent volume. Again, given the inherent limits of the mono audio format, this track sounds good. The Bells of St. Mary’s sounds as good as it ever will in mono, and all the elements are replicated well. Dialogue sounds clear and the music also has a nice ring to it.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Artisan packed some nice extras on the flip side of It’s A Wonderful Life, which is a welcome notion. First off, you’re treated to the original theatrical trailer, and a special tribute to Frank Capra hosted by his son, Frank Capra, Jr. The final supplement is “The Making of It’s A Wonderful Life,” which runs about half and hour, and features interviews with the cast and crew. All in all, a nice array for a classic like this. The original theatrical trailer has been included on the disc for The Bells of St. Mary’s.