First... the headline:
The holiday fixture is a film classic, but the production wasn't always angelic.
OK - so it seems clear that some aspects of the production were the opposite of being angelic - would seem be if not satanic - as least filled with strife, discord or other non-angelic behavior. Right?
Special to The Times
December 23, 2006
IT is arguably one of the most magnetic moments ever captured on film. This enduring celluloid juncture from 1946's "It's a Wonderful Life" can be summoned to mind by merely mentioning "the prayer scene." In it, a tearfully reduced George Bailey — played by Jimmy Stewart — sits at a bar and contemplates taking his own life, then clasps his hands and quietly asks for God's intervention.
And while filming this key moment, this pivotal point in the picture, Frank Capra goofed — big time.
Despite a reputation for being fastidiously well prepared, the veteran director had no idea that his star would turn on the waterworks and deliver such an impassioned, intimate performance on the first take. It was something overwhelming even for Stewart himself.
So the cameras rolled, the music and bustle in the bar erupted, and the scene played out — but when it was over, Capra realized his angle was too distant. And he had failed to capture a close-up of the emotionally draining scene. Capra apologized and asked his Oscar-winning star to replicate it, but a spent Stewart knew he'd nailed it and couldn't fathom a re-creation as effective as the one he'd just poured out.
To remedy the situation, during postproduction the director and his editor manually and painstakingly moved in — frame by frame. It created what appears to be an optical zoom.
So.. the not always angelic behavior during the production was that.... James Stewart gave a perfect single take performance.
Now that sure was... devilish... of him.