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How World War II Shaped 'It's a Wonderful Life'

It's George Bailey's crucial moment. Disheveled and desperate, he offers up a Hail-Mary prayer to a God he's not sure is listening: "I'm not a praying man, but if you're up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I'm at the end of my rope."

Actor Jimmy Stewarts' emotion is palpable in this scene, one that acclaimed actress Carol Burnett called one of the finest pieces of acting ever on the screen. What may have escaped audiences watching "It's a Wonderful Life" over 70 years after its making, is that the tears running down Stewart's face are real, the actor later shared.

Stewart had just returned home from serving as a flight leader in World War II and this 1946 film was his first movie since witnessing the horrors of war. With this postwar mentality, Stewart and director Frank Capra take a film titled "It's a Wonderful Life" and antithetically crescendo into a failed suicide attempt.

Throughout the film, George Bailey's life often seems anything but wonderful. The audience watches as a young man with worldly dreams encounters setback after setback, each one like a nail in his own coffin. Trapped in his hometown, running his late father's business, the story comes to a climax when George Bailey believes he's worth more dead than alive.

"It's a Wonderful Life" addresses real and resonant issues of self-worth and failure. Fresh from the war, Stewart is grappling with these trials himself, as he shapes the deeply relatable character of George Bailey. Without Stewart's real acquaintance with darkness, the holiday classic's redefining perspective on life wouldn't be able to shine so unforgettably bright.

When it was first released, "It's a Wonderful Life" was not intended to be a Christmas movie. It initially flopped at the box office and the film's copyright was not renewed, according to Turner Classic Movies.

This meant that in the 1970's "It's a Wonderful Life" was cost-free for broadcasters to air repeatedly. Audiences began to take notice of this less-than-jolly movie that flooded the airways at Christmas time, and thus a holiday tradition was born.

Read entire article at CNN