“It’s a Wonderful Life” airs tonight (Dec. 24, 2022) on NBC at 8:00 p.m. EST.
SENECA FALLS, N.Y. (WETM) – Almost everyone knows the heartwrenching story of George Bailey from Bedford Falls. The 1946 holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a staple each Christmas season, and the tear-jerker hits especially close to home for those in Upstate New York where the film is set.
Director Frank Capra’s holiday masterpiece premiered a year after the end of World War II, but it wasn’t always seen as an instant classic. At first, reviews were mixed, and the film was a box office disappointment, Turner Classic Movies explains. It even caught the attention of the FBI for suspected communist propaganda and trying to undermine the bank system.
Over time, however, it became more and more popular when its copyright lapsed and it started to air on TV each Christmas Eve.
The setting of the film, Bedford Falls (later “Pottersville” in the world without George Bailey), is no doubt set in New York State, but the quaint town is fictional and was filmed in Hollywood. The long-time belief is that Capra was inspired by Seneca Falls in the Finger Lakes, its main street, its architecture, and its iconic bridge, both strikingly similar to the images and sets in the movie.
Seneca Falls even has a tribute museum to the film, highlighting the similarities.
But the real-life hamlet isn’t the only connection to Western New York, the Finger Lakes, and the Southern Tier within the film.
In one crucial scene, the bank examiner mentions wanting to get back to Elmira to spend Christmas with his family. In another, George’s old high school friend mentions plans to build a plastics factory outside Rochester. In yet another, George’s new sister-in-law mentions that her father offered George’s brother a job in Buffalo.
The original script even mentioned Ithaca and Cornell University as the college Harry Bailey attended. Though Ithaca is just an hour away from Seneca Falls at the other end of Cayuga Lake, this mention was ultimately cut from the final version of the film.
Today, the film is, for many, a must-watch holiday tradition. With its heartwarming story about the importance of family, the power of kindness and doing the right thing, and the value of vulnerability and asking for help even in the darkest of times, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has reached legendary status as an all-time holiday great.