"Play it, Sam. Play 'Max Steiner Has A Huge Cock.'"
There's no record of the director, the actors, or anyone else going, "Are you crazy? You can't cut that!" Steiner was already working on his new song when they found out that Bergman had cut her hair short for her role in For Whom The Bell Tolls. Since she didn't look like Ilsa anymore and no one in the entire studio was aware of the existence of wigs, they couldn't reshoot her scenes and they were stuck with the damn song.
Steiner figured that if he was forced to incorporate "As Time Goes By" into the movie's soundtrack, he might as well base the entire score on it, so that's precisely what he did. He was basically going, "Fine, have it your way, let's see if you like it," and he accidentally crapped out one of the most enduring soundtracks in movie history.
It's A Wonderful Life -- The Whole Movie Became A Classic Because Of A Clerical Error
Even if you've never seen It's A Wonderful Life all the way through, you can still probably reconstruct the entire plot from all the times you've caught five seconds of it on TV. For decades, it was shown a dozen times or so every Christmas, along with all of the other standards. You'd flip through TV in December, and it'd be "Scrooge, Claymation Frosty, Charlie Brown, that black-and-white movie about the guy who tries to kill himself ..."
But new Christmas movies come out every year. Why did this one become a timeless standard, when most of the rest were forgotten? It's because it's great, right? And not for some completely stupid reason?
But They Only Included It Because ...
Nope, the only reason TV channels played It's A Wonderful Life so often was that, for a while, it was free. Before that, no one cared about the film. We've heard about beloved movies that weren't appreciated in their time, but this is different, because It's A Wonderful Life wasn't rediscovered by audiences or critics. It was saved from obscurity by TV stations too cheap to pay for their programming.
When the film was released in 1946, it got mixed reviews and barely made back its budget. In contrast, the previous collaboration between director Frank Capra and actor Jimmy Stewart had made six times its budget. After this, Capra and Stewart never made a movie again. And because no one really gave much of a crap about the film, in 1974, someone forgot to renew the copyright (a "once every 28 years" task) and it accidentally fell into the public domain.
TV stations looking to fill airtime with inexpensive programming took this little-seen film by two well-known names and started playing it all the time, especially during the holidays, because, well, that's when the story takes place. Several companies started selling cheap video copies without having to pay royalties, and there was nothing the studio could do.
People figured that if they played the movie so often, it had to be a classic, so over the next couple of decades, that's what it became. Eventually, the paperwork was sorted out, and currently NBC has exclusive rights to air the film, but the damage has been done. Millions of people now worship a film they never would have heard of if some office clerk had done their job.
Maxwell Yezpitelok lives in Chile, and you can bother him on Twitter. If you know Spanish, check out his articles at Flims.cl.
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