When It's a Wonderful Life was filmed by director Frank Capra, it was thought it would only be seen in black and white, as there is no way the iconic director could have predicted digital technology from the late 1980s would allow for the colorization of black and white classics. When NBC and NBCUniversal cable channels air it this year, all broadcasts will be in black and white, but for those who would like to see the Christmas classic in color, it is readily available to stream and own on Blu-ray or DVD.
Both the colorized version and original black and white version are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video with a Prime subscription. In recent years, Paramount has also included the colorized version with all home video releases. The film is available to own on DVD for $9.99, Blu-ray for $11.99, and 4K-UHD for $22.99, all on Amazon. The 4K-UHD edition only includes the colorized version on a Blu-ray disc, which is the same disc included in the Blu-ray edition.
The controversial process of colorizing black and white classics began to gain popularity in the late 1980s because of Ted Turner. It quickly became a thorny issue among the Hollywood legends still alive at the time, even prompting a Congressional hearing in 1987. During the hearing, Ginger Rogers read a statement from It's a Wonderful Life star James Stewart, who described the colorized version of It's a Wonderful Life as a "bath of Easter egg dye."
"Gloria Graham played a character named Violet, so someone thought it would be cute to have all her costumes in violet," Stewart wrote, later adding how his attempt at watching the colorized version made him "sick" all over. "That is the kind of obvious visual pun that Frank Capra never would have considered."
While not many of the movie's stars and crew who worked on It's a Wonderful Life are with us today to comment on the colorized version, two of the film's actors Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu) and Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy), who both played George Bailey's youngest children are, and they disagreed on the topic in recent interviews with Yahoo Entertainment. "You know, when I filmed it, it was in color. It was real life," Grimes, now 80, said. "And that's how I remember my memories of making a film. It was real, not black and white. So for me, a color gives it more reality."
Hawkins, 79, disagreed but noted that he recently saw a colorized version and was impressed. He also noted that some of today's children might not be interested. "And the kids today aren't really into black and white. So they have this version," Hawkins explained. "I've told people, I don't care if they Polka dot it. If it gets them to watch the movie and gets the message [across], that we're all important, I'm all for it."