Like a Christmas fruitcake that by New Year’s has become a doorstop, or a paperweight in the trash bin, this fable risked being a major Yuletide ordeal, thanks to endless TV showings for a couple of decades when it was in the public domain. It’s hard to see the thing fresh, but try. Like a dozen or more films on this list, Capra’s traces the decline of a man driven to the edge of madness. George Bailey’s life is not, in worldly terms, wonderful; he is Bedford Falls’ designated saint, a suburban Job, for his fellow townsfolks’ use as a friend or generous banker, through which they can exercise their weakness or meanness. It’s a noir portrait with holly stuck in the frame, a sanity hearing in the form of a greeting card. Capra briskly, artfully piles the misfortunes on James Stewart’s slim frame; Stewart bears that load with spectacular range and grace.