It’s not only its status as one of film history’s most enjoyably ruthless button-pushers or the depth of its casting (what movie this side of Casablanca is stuffed with so many memorable bit parts?) that makes Frank Capra’s 1946 melodrama It’s a Wonderful Life a must-see: This year, its populist tone shows irrefutably that plus ça change when it comes to the powerful screwing the powerless. You could transpose practically every word spoken by Lionel Barrymore as soulless bank magnate Henry Potter straight into Chuck Grassley’s mouth without a molecule of incongruity—namely the belief that poverty and starvation are the ideal motivators of the poor. (As he says of George Bailey’s generosity: “What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class.”) On the other hand, the film’s happy ending does reinforce the notion that charity is a perfectly effective antidote to capitalist rapacity, a dearly beloved rationalization of the American plutocrat right. Who needs to worry about the upward transfer of wealth as long as you have neighbors who will dump dollar bills on your dining-room table?
For the 47th consecutive year, the Grand Illusion (1403 N.E. 50th St.) is screening the film daily Dec. 8–28 ($5–$9; see grandillusioncinema.org for the exact schedule). It’s complemented this year by two stage versions: Twelfth Night Productions presents it in the form of a live radio show. Kenyon Hall, 7904 35th Ave. S.W., twelfthnightproductions.org. $18–$20. Opens Dec. 8. 7:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 3 p.m. Sun. Ends Dec. 17. And for one night only, Theater Anonymous applies its unique gamesmanship to the story: None of the cast knows who anyone else in the cast is until performance time (they all rehearse separately and secretly with director Shawn Belyea). Cornish Playhouse, Seattle Center, the1448projects.org. $20. 8 p.m. Sat., Dec. 9.