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Movies

Fans flock to Tampa Theatre for 'It's a Wonderful Life'

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 07:08 PM
TAMPA -

As a line formed in front of Tampa Theatre for the showing of "It's a Wonderful Life" Sunday afternoon, there was little evidence the classic holiday movie had lost any of its simple charm.

It's the only film the historic theater shows four times during its Holiday Classics series; Sunday's matinee was the final showing of the "It's a Wonderful Weekend" event.

Most nod when asked if they've seen the movie before, but not Alan and Pegge Barrier, who came here with their moms and 12-year-old son. Though the Barriers have never seen the tribulations of Jimmy Stewart's anguished George Bailey character, they were looking forward to the film.

"Our parents have seen it lots of times," Pegge Barrier said, standing in front of downtown theater's marquee while her husband hunted for a parking space.

"I'm excited to see it, finally," said Barrier, 47.

Released in 1947, "It's a Wonderful Life" still has that innocent luster, though it really didn't have much of an impact when it hit the silver screen 65 years ago.

The holiday classic placed 26th out of more than 400 features released that year, earning just $3.3 million in box office revenues, according to the American Film Institute's Catalog of Motion Pictures.

Produced and directed by Frank Capra and based on Philip Van Doren Stern's short story "The Greatest Gift," the film has become a holiday staple on TV and in art house movie theaters during the Christmas season.

Tampa Theatre has shown the film every Christmas for years and began showing it multiple times just before the holidays when the Sunday matinees began selling out and fans had to be turned away.

"It's a Wonderful Life" was nominated for five Oscars and was cited by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, coming in at No. 11.

In the early 1970s, TV stations began airing the movie at Christmastime, and that's when something unexpected happened, Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert wrote in 1999.

"The audience for the film grew and grew over the years, until now, when many families make the movie an annual ritual," he wrote

Lynda Messman, 61, of Apollo Beach, breaks out the DVD around Thanksgiving and watches it often. She first saw it about 20 years ago and was hooked.

She and also comes to the theater each year to watch "White Christmas" but said there's something special about "It's a Wonderful Life."

"My husband and I really like this story," she said, standing outside the Tampa Theatre Sunday. "It's a family thing."


kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760

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