It’s the cinematic seasonal favorite. Yet director Frank Capra’s 1946 classic took an unusual path to belated success that nearly rivals the story of its small-town big-dreamer protagonist, George Bailey, a savings-and-loan businessman (a career-best turn by James Stewart, pictured, with Donna Reed by the Christmas tree) who contemplates suicide until some heavenly intervention (a wingless angel portrayed by Henry Travers) conjures the hellon-earth possibilities that might have existed without George. Five Academy Award nominations (including nods for Stewart, Capra and the movie itself) failed to boost this movie’s disappointing box-office results, alas, and it would be another 30 years until its popularity was restored, ironically, by falling into public-domain status and playing endlessly during Christmastime TV broadcasts. Chicago movie critic Dave Kehr notes the visual metaphor of water throughout and, as usual, he’s right: the near-drowning at the ice pond, the school dance as the swimming pool opens up (that’s Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer as the mischief-maker in that scene), and George’s own riverside rumination. And despite a gloriously sentimental finale, parts of Life can be as dark and despairing as that year’s other post-World War II drama, The Best Years of Our Lives. Best savored on the big screen, a 35mm print of will unspool at Rome’s Capitol Theatre, 220 W. Dominick St., on Friday, Dec. 16, 7 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 17, 2:30 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $5.50 for adults, $1.50 for children. Call 337-6453 for details. So hee-haw and Merry Christmas!