Bruce Kimmel in his sparse but detailed liner notes explained it quite well when he said “It is surprising to think that one of the most beloved movies of all time was a box-office disappointment during its original engagement.” The chief competition The Best Years of Our Lives, a story about Middletown U.S.A. a William Wyler picture ran away with the awards including the best original score (my favorite score of all time) by Hugo Friedhofer, orchestrator for Steiner and Korngold. While time has not been kind to this film It’s A Wonderful Life has grown in popularity to the point of being part of Xmas in many homes in America. The informal International Movie Data Base voting has it ranked #26 out of 250.

The story inspired by a dream the author Phillip Van Doren Stern was rejected by many publishers so he ended up printing up 200 copies in booklet form to give to friends. RKO heard about the story and purchased it the following year. The film itself starred James Stewart, newcomer Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and Thomas Mitchell.

The fine musical score was written by Russian born Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979) who carefully combined his own material with traditional music Americans know and love. “A Wonderful Life,” or main title, is a happy upbeat major keyed melody that is selectively used throughout the score in addition to the beginning, the ending, and a vocal which in my opinion doesn’t give justice to the song at all. For me this is a Judy Garland number all the way. “Wrong Mary Hatch/The Prayer” gives you a few bars of one of the more recognizable sound bites “Dies Irae,” as well as a few bars of the drama motif. Listen for it as it’s pretty easy to spot. I also like the creepiness of “Pottersville Cemetery” complete with swirling strings and a wordless choir. The short but effective “End Title” is a big band version of the main theme which is a bit bouncy and upbeat. The viewers are in a happy mood and this reinforces it even more. I’m including this as an audio clip to give you a sampling of this fine score.

Track listing
1. Main Title / Heaven (3:45)
2. Ski Run(1:31)
3. Death Telegram(1:59)
4. Gower’s Deliverance(2:03)
5. George and Dad(1:44)
6. Father’s Death(:30)
7. Love Sequence(2:11)
8. Wedding Cigars(:41)
9. George Lassoes Stork (2:03)
10. Dilemma(:36)
11. Bank Crisis (:53)
12. Search for Money(2:01)
13. Potter’s Threat(:50)
14. Dankgebet / This Is the Army, Mr. Jones (2:20)
15. Uncle Billy’s Blunder(1:14)
16. Clarence’s Arrival(2:20)
17. George Is Unborn (2:24)
18. Haunted House(2:40)
19. Pottersville Cemetery(1:13)
20. Wrong Mary Hatch / The Prayer (2:05)
21. A Wonderful Life (original finale)(3:24)
22. Auld Lang Syne / End Title (:54)BONUS TRACKS
23. It’s a Wonderful Life (vocal)(3:52)
24. Wedding March / Big Band (1:10)
25. Father’s Death (alternate)(:21)
26. Haunted House (alternate take)(2:40)
27. Pottersville Cemetery (without chorus)(1:19)
28. Auld Lang Syne (extended take) (:32)


Total Time is 49:26