Valley resident reflect on classic Christmas tale ‘It’s a Wonderful Life'

  • The poster for “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Amherst Cinema. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

  • Nathan Grandmont, Nicolas Grandmont, Gretchenn Grandmont and Ashley Ocana at Amherst Cinema before a showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/22/2019 4:33:35 PM

AMHERST — Gretchenn Grandmont is “big into traditions.”

She’s been taking her two kids, Nicolas and Nathan, to Amherst Cinema around the holidays to see Frank Capra’s classic 1946 Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life” for four or five years.

“I think it’s very positive and very inspiring,” said Grandmont, of Granby, before a Saturday morning showing of the movie. "It makes me cry every year. I think it’s a good role model for the kids, to not lose hope.”

In the past few years, Grandmont’s convinced her younger sister, Ashley Ocana, and some other family members, to come along for the screening. 

“Normally I watch the movie on TV,” Ocana said. "But it’s so much better in the theater.”

More than 90 people filed into the independent and nonprofit movie theater with their families and friends to see the first of two showings of film. The crowd was a mix of young and old, all joining together to watch what’s considered to be one of the most iconic Christmas movies ever made. The theater’s second showing of the movie is at 2 p.m. on Monday.

The film depicts the life of George Bailey, a character who is forced to stay in his hometown of Bedford Falls, New York to take care of the family business after his father dies. Bailey, who wanted nothing more than to leave Bedford Falls like many of his friends, ends up raising a family and putting his desires aside out of a sense of duty.

In the moment of a life-altering financial mishap on Christmas Eve, Bailey considers taking his own life. But his guardian angel sent from heaven, Clarence, shows Bailey the impact he’s had on other people’s lives — which changes Bailey’s worldview.

When it was released in theaters 73 years ago, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was not an immediate box office success. The film rose to its legendary status when its copyright was lost in the 1970s, allowing for television stations to repeatedly broadcast the movie for cheap.

At the time of its release, the movie pulled in five Academy Award nominations, including one for best picture, best director for Capra and best actor for James Stewart, who played Bailey.

For the Florence family, of West Springfield, the tradition of going to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Amherst Cinema is one that they have been doing for seven years. 

“It’s a great movie and it means a lot to our family because of the values it presents and the wholesomeness of the movie,” said Bill Florence.

“It gets you into the (holiday) spirit,” Liam Florence said. 

The Florence family brought along their friends, the Thachers, also of West Springfield, to join in on their holiday tradition for the first time. Ben and Tom Thacher said before the showing that they have never seen the movie from start to finish and were curious to experience what makes the film so popular. 

Meg Thacher said she watches the movie at least once a year because it reminds her of when she watched it on television during the holidays as a kid. Her daughter, Robin Thacher, said she enjoys the movie’s message. 

“It shows that you do have an impact on the world,” Robin said, before her mother, Meg, finished by saying, “even if you don’t think that you do.”

After the movie, Ben and Tom Thacher said they were impressed at how well-made the movie was. Both were impressed by the film’s humor, which was something neither expected.

“It exceeded my expectations,” Ben Thacher said.

Lucy Matzilevich and John Henle, both of Amherst, went to see the film on their first date. Henle said he was excited to hear Amherst Cinema was playing the movie, as he had previously played George Bailey in his high school theater company’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“To get ready for that role I watched the movie at least a dozen times,” Henle said. “Not that you can really copy James Stewart’s mannerisms, but just for inspiration.”

Henle praised the movie’s production, set design, acting and writing but maintained that the film’s real selling point is its message. 

“It reminds people to appreciate all of the good things in their life,” he said. “It’s just like the quote at the end: ‘No man is a failure who has friends.’ And I think that’s the reminder of the film. If you have people in your life that you love, then the rest is just background noise.”

Michael Connors can be reached at 

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