Henry Travers did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Clarence Odbody, angel second class, in It's A Wonderful Life.
George is about to commit suicide, due to a lost large sum of money, by jumping off a bridge. In this darkest of moments for the film we suddenly and unexpectedly get a bright beam of light in the face of Henry Travers as Clarence when he makes his first onscreen appearance. Travers could not have a more kindly smile instantly offering some hope to the situation of a possible suicide, which alleviated all the more when Clarence jumps in himself forcing George's good nature to kick causing him to jump in as well to save Clarence. What follows is one of my favorite scenes in the film, although I'll admit I have a lot of favorite scenes in this film, as George and Clarence dry off giving Clarence a chance to introduce himself as his guardian angel.Travers is pitch perfect in the role and he makes his first substantial scene wonderful to watch. Travers establishes such a sweetness in his performance, which never feels too much or forced, but rather is truly angelic.
Travers also manages to bring a certain kookiness to the role that he also so carefully portrays as it could easily become cloying but Travers is only ever endearing in his portrayal of it. Travers has a very sly comic timing and manner in his performance. He never distracts too much away from the importance of the emotions concerning George's story and brings these humorous moments flawlessly into these scenes. Travers is actually quite unassumingly hilarious as Clarence as he makes the character's naivety and somewhat absentmindedness both funny yet just so very charming at the same time. This is one of those performances where you could almost take any line delivery from Travers and find something special in it. Two moments perhaps are my favorite, on the comic side of things, the first being his oh so friendly goodbye of "Cheerio my good man" after scaring a man away in disbelief after giving out what AS2 stands for, and my second is his rather futile attempt to name a drink for himself at a bar.
Travers's work is not just merely funny and sweet even if it is both those things as well because Clarence is sent there with a mission which is to convince George that his life is worthwhile. Travers excels in this regard as well as he carries himself with this otherworldly wisdom that he manages to make a natural part of the daffy angel. Travers is outstanding in the moments where he shows Clarence to merely quietly prod George with the information. There is something so powerful about the way Travers delivers his lines in these scenes as he speaks the blunt truth with such a severity but always with a warmth. Travers brings such a poignancy in every lines he speaks particularly "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?". Travers is excellent as he portrays Clarence as having such an inspiring soulfulness about him that George would have to take notice of Clarence's message.
It is interesting in that the exact final moment of Clarence's exit of the film is not particularly climatic, but it strangely ends up not mattering. Travers makes such a grand impression in the screen time he does have that it doesn't feel like Clarence is shortchanged by the end of the film. The reason being that it feels though Clarence's presence is still with George to the very last frame of the film. Travers accomplishes this by just how good he is in the role. This is an incredibly entertaining performance by Travers to say the least as he's consistently funny and makes Clarence so likable as well. It is more than just a likable characterization by Travers though as he makes Clarence serve an even greater purpose. George going from the worst to finding the will to live is of course beautifully brought to life by Stewart's amazing performance, but Travers also contributes greatly to making the transformation as powerful as it is through his realization of Clarence as a entity of pure goodness.