WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Classic film 'It's a Wonderful Life' features angelic galaxies

Posted December 22, 2019 10:14 p.m. EST

It wouldn't be Christmas without the 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life. The holiday classic was directed, produced and financed by Frank Capra, he often called it his favorite of his films and screened it for family each holiday season.  The film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress and it topped the American Film Institute's list of most inspirational films

— For many people, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the 1946 classic movie "It’s a Wonderful Life."

The beloved holiday film was directed, produced and financed by Frank Capra, who often called it the favorite of all the films he created, and he even screened it for family each holiday season.

The film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress and it topped the American Film Institute's list of most inspirational films

But it was a box office flop, losing $525,000 when it was first released, and the financial losses also took down Capra’s Liberty Films.

Paramount Pictures bought the faltering film company before selling it, along with most of Paramount’s pre-1950 film catalog, to Republic Pictures.

Capra's box office flop might have remained in obscurity if not for a clerical blunder.

The film entered the public domain in 1974 when Republic forgot to file paperwork to extend the initial copyright.

TV networks responded by airing the film regularly each holiday season, building an audience for the once obscure film.

That all changed with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1990, which tied the rights to stories and movies together.

Republic still owned the copyright to the original story, enabling the company to regain control over the film and sign a long-term deal with NBC, which was given the exclusive broadcast rights in 1994.

The film’s warm and fuzzy message about love and family is told with a dash of science.

The fictional winter wonderland of Bedford Falls was shot during 90-degree days in July and April 1947 on RKO Picture’s Ranch.

Real snow wouldn't work and something better was needed than the asbestos used in films like Holiday Inn.

Russell M. Shearman and the RKO special effects department created a new method which turned fire fighting foam and a bit of sugar into falling snow.

Shearman was awarded a patent and a technical achievement Oscar for the invention.

Just two minutes into the film, prayers for George Bailey are heard by angels represented by a real group of galaxies known as Stephan’s Quintet, named for Edouard Stephan who discovered them in 1877.

The Senior Angel is played by the galaxy known to astronomers as NGC 7318 and the angel Joseph is NGC 7320.

These galaxies have been anything but angelic.

Angels in the sky

NGC 7318 is actually a pair of galaxies involved in a 2 million mile-per-hour hit-and-run, which ripped stars and gas from neighboring galaxies, tossing them into space.

More than 100 star clusters and several dwarf galaxies, each with more than millions of new stars, have spawned from the wreckage.

Astronomers continue to study this area of the sky because it offers a rare opportunity to watch galaxies evolve.

You can see the angels home in the sky, as clouds move out on Christmas Eve.

After sunset, look west for the square of Pegasus formed by four nearly equally bright stars. Ten degrees to the right, about the width of an outstretched fist, lies Stephan's Quintet, nearly 300 million light years away.

You can watch "It's a Wonderful Life" on WRAL-TV on Christmas Eve at 8 p.m.

The film also plays in theaters through Christmas Eve at Stone Theaters Park West 14 in Morrisville and Silverspot Cinema in Chapel Hill.

Check WRAL Out and About for show times.

Special showings at the Rialto in Raleigh and The Cary are sold out.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.