It's a Wonderful Life.

At 3 p.m. today on USA; at 8 p.m. Thursday on NBC; at noon and 3 p.m. Dec. 30 on ESQTV. Also available on Amazon, Netflix, DVD, and other platforms.

"In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," a famous Philadelphian once famously observed. But Mr. Franklin missed another certainty: If it's Christmastime, then Frank Capra's

It's A Wonderful Life

will be on TV. The 1946 classic, with James Stewart as George Bailey, the Christmas Eve suicide who gets a chance to reflect on his life thanks to Clarence the guardian angel (Henry Travers), is a lot darker and deeper than you might expect from a Yuletide perennial. But maybe it's exactly that darkness that keeps us coming back. And the hard economic times depicted in the postwar fantasy (not to mention the hard-hearted bankers) certainly have a resonance in these barely post-Great Recession times.

Maggie Smith: A Biography. Michael Coveney St. Martin's Press, 354 pp. $27.99. The grand dame of British stage and screen has delivered iconic performances for generations of delighted fans: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in the late '60s (and an Academy Award for her trouble), Travels With My Aunt and California Suite in the '70s, A Room With a View in the '80s, and beginning in 2001, Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter franchise. ("Miss Jean Brodie in a wizard's hat," per Smith herself.) Then on to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, and the tut-tutting Dowager Countess Violet Crawley in Downton Abbey. Coveney's book offers more than just an enthusiastic survey of Smith's life and career. An actor for more than 60 years, Smith has crossed paths - and crossed the stage and screen - with a Who's Who of luminaries. Written with Smith's cooperation, Coveney's book is full of insights into the strange business of making a living by pretending to be somebody else.

The Polar Express. At 11 a.m. today at the PFS Roxy, 2023 Sansom St. (admission for 12 and under is $1). Robert Zemeckis' 2004 performance- capture adaptation of the beloved Chris Van Allsburg picture book stars Tom Hanks . . . as virtually everyone. The Oscar-winning actor "plays" the boy hero's father, the conductor of the top-of-the-world- bound train, the hobo, the narrator, and Santa Claus, too. The first all-digital motion-capture movie also manages to capture a lot of the magic of the original book, with its vivid, dreamlike snowscapes and story about believing in the impossible. Santa, the elves, the North Pole - that stuff is impossible, isn't it?