My Favorite Movies #13 – It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life

1946

Directed by Frank Capra

Quick synopsis… It’s a wonderful film. Frank Capra’s inverted take on A Christmas Carol stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a good man who’s spent a lifetime giving up on his dreams in order to keep life in his small town humming. When a guardian angel named Clarence finds a despondent George poised to jump off a bridge, he shows George what life would’ve been like had he never been born.

  • It’s Christmas Eve in a little town called Bedford Falls.
  • People all over town are praying for a man named George Bailey.
  • A couple of galaxies discuss George’s predicament.
  • I assume these are representations of archangels or even God.
  • They assign Clarence, an angel who has yet to earn his wings, to be the one to help George.
  • But before he can be sent down to intervene on George’s behalf, he has to learn who George Bailey is.
  • As a kid, George is shown saving his little brother, Harry, from drowning when he fell through some thin ice.
  • Because of this, George developed a cold and an ear infection causing him to lose his hearing in his left ear.
  • At the age of 12, he also has a job working for Mr. Gower, the pharmacist.
  • Early on, we see that two girls are vying for George’s attention… Violet and Mary.
  • Mary whispers in George’s bad ear that she’ll love him ’til the day she dies.
  • When George suspects that Mr. Gower has accidentally put together capsules with poison instead of proper medicine after receiving an upsetting telegram.
  • George asks him about the capsules, but not before Gower gets angry with George and smacks him on his sore ear.
  • Gower realizes the mistake he made, which would have killed a kid if those capsules had been delivered and George swears he’ll never tell a soul.
  • Years later, George has grown up and he’s trying to get his hands on some substantial luggage.
  • His dream has always been to get out of that sleepy little town and explore the world before finally going to college.
  • Turns out, old man Gower has purchased the luggage for him already.
  • George has been working at his father’s Building & Loan during the four years since he graduated high school.
  • Now that Harry has graduated, he can take over George’s position at the Building & Loan.
  • Before George leaves town on his big trip, he has one last dinner with his parents and brother.
  • George insists that he wants to get out there and do something important with his life… as opposed to the way he views his father’s life, wasting away in their small town’s Building & Loan.
  • After leaving things on a good note with his father, George heads out to a party for Harry’s graduating class.
  • Here, he is reintroduced to Mary.
  • They dance… they fall into a swimming pool… it’s like love at first sight.
  • Except… not really first sight.
  • George walks Mary home and they pass by the old Granville house.
  • It’s a run down old house that Mary just adores.
  • George throws a rock to break a window and make a wish.
  • Then he tells her about all his big dreams… none of which include her.
  • So then she throws her own rock… but she doesn’t tell him her wish.
  • Mary’s robe accidentally gets caught and she has to hide in a bush when she’s naked.
  • The back and forth flirtation between her and George is cut short when someone drives up to inform George that his father has had a stroke.
  • George is forced to postpone his trip to Europe to help get things in order at the Building & Loan.
  • Mr. Potter (AKA – one of the worst human beings on the planet) wants to dissolve the Building & Loan.
  • Why is this guy on the board of the Building & Loan anyway?
  • Before George can leave, he argues with Potter that his father may not have been a businessman, but what he did with the Building & Loan was to help a lot of good people get out of slums owned by Potter.
  • Walking out, George tells the board that the Building & Loan needs to exist if only to give people in Bedford Falls someplace to go without feeling the need to crawl to Potter.
  • The board votes down Potter, but only on the condition that George stay and take his father’s position.
  • If George goes to college, the board will vote with Potter.
  • So George stays, giving his college money to Harry so he can get his education.
  • Another four years pass and Harry comes home from college, surprising everyone with a wife in tow.
  • George’s plan was to let Harry take over the Building & Loan so he could finally leave Bedford Falls.
  • Ruth, the new Mrs. Bailey mentions a job that Harry has been offered by her father up in Buffalo, which would, of course, take Harry away from the Building & Loan.
  • While everyone is celebrating in the Bailey house, George is outside lamenting his bad luck.
  • His mom comes out to let her know that Mary Hatch is back in town from college, too.
  • Instead, he heads downtown and runs into Violet.
  • But she’s only interested in George if he plays it safe… which he really doesn’t want to do.
  • He finds his way to Mary’s house and paces back and forth out front.
  • George really isn’t in the kind of mood to be visiting anyone… and he’s kind of a jerk the whole time he’s at Mary’s house.
  • While George is there, Sam Wainwright gives Mary a call.
  • Mary tries to make George jealous by sounding like she’s excited to hear from Sam.
  • Turns out Sam isn’t all that interested in Mary, but he does have an investment opportunity that he wants them to get in on, which will allow them to open a new factory and provide jobs to Bedford Falls.
  • Angrily, George tells Mary he doesn’t want any of this stuff… he doesn’t want plastics… he doesn’t want to be married… he wants to do what he wants to do.
  • But he can’t deny that he’s really just as in love with Mary as she is with him.
  • They get married and get ready to leave on their honeymoon with a stack of cash to fund the trip.
  • But before they leave town, they spot a run on the bank.
  • The Building & Loan is in trouble, too…
  • George opens up the Building & Loan to find Uncle Billy hiding/drinking inside.
  • The bank/Potter called the Building & Loan’s loan… and Billy had to turn over every cent they had on them, which still wasn’t enough.
  • Potter calls and informs George that he has guaranteed funds for the bank, effectively taking over the place.
  • He is willing to purchase any of the Building & Loan’s customers’ shares at half price… figuring half is better than nothing.
  • George refuses to send his customers to Potter, but then the old man threatens him saying that if they shut down before the end of the business day, he’ll make sure they never open again.
  • George hangs up on him.
  • He goes back into the lobby to confront all of his customers.
  • Some jerk named Tom refuses to stick to his agreement and wait 60 days to close his account, wanting his $252 now.
  • Then some other jerk comes in and drops the news that Potter is paying 50 cents on the dollar for B&L shares.
  • George stops everyone from rushing over to the bank, warning them that Potter isn’t trying to help them… he’s trying to own them.
  • The crowd all start complaining about how they need their money.
  • Mary pulls out the $2,000 that was for their honeymoon.
  • Tom, the jerk, still wants his $242… and claims his account is now closed.
  • Good… jerk. Go to Potter. You can start an a-hole club.
  • They make it to 6:00pm with $2.00 leftover.
  • At the end of the day, George gets a call from Mary, telling him to meet her at home.
  • She directs him to the old house where they threw rocks years ago.
  • It’s leaky… it’s drafty… but Mary has fixed it up as a fairly decent honeymoon suite.
  • Mary finally tells George that this is what she wished for when she threw her rock.
  • As time goes by, a little subdivision pops up known as Bailey Park.
  • Potter realizes that he’s losing tenants who are able to purchase affordable homes thanks to Bailey.
  • And it really bothers him that the Bailey family never makes a cent off of these deals.
  • Could it be that George Bailey is a genuinely good person who just wants to see people do well for themselves without asking what’s in it for him?
  • Potter calls Bailey in for a meeting, tempting him with an offer to work for him at $20,000 a year.
  • A lot of money in those days.
  • Potter says all the right things.
  • But George is wise enough to know that you don’t make a deal with the devil.
  • Because if George works for Potter, that’s the end of the Building & Loan and all those people that have been helped go back to the poor house.
  • George refuses and tells him off.
  • When he gets home, Mary reveals that she’s pregnant with their first child.
  • A montage shows that Mary had a son… then a daughter… all the while fixing up the Granville house.
  • George keeps coming home late from work, miserable because Potter keeps doing his best to make life impossible for Bailey.
  • Wold War II breaks out… Mary has two more babies… Harry enlists and becomes a big war hero.
  • On account of his bad ear, George is rejected by the army.
  • Catching up to Christmas Eve, where the movie began, Harry is being given the Congressional Medal of Honor.
  • So the day starts out pretty good for George, considering he’s ready to throw it all away by that night.
  • George gets to the Building & Loan and meets with a bank examiner.
  • Meanwhile, Uncle Billy is over at the bank with an $8,000 deposit.
  • But in his excitement to brag about Harry to Mr. Potter, he accidentally puts the deposit envelope in the newspaper he hands back to Potter.
  • So when he goes to make the deposit, he has nothing and can’t remember where he left the money.
  • Potter immediately discovers the envelope with cash and watches Billy panicking in the lobby.
  • As if we needed more proof that this old fart was the very incarnation of evil…
  • Billy gets back to the B&L and lets George know what’s happened.
  • Good timing, with the bank examiner being there and all.
  • George goes with Billy to retrace his steps and finally unloads his anger and frustration.
  • In a foul mood, George gets home and isn’t sure how to act around his family.
  • He’s terrified… a loss of $8,000 means bankruptcy, scandal, and prison.
  • When Mary finally confronts George for how he’s treating the children, he leaves the house.
  • He goes to Potter asking for help… taking responsibility for the loss of $8,000.
  • He offers his life insurance policy as collateral… only has $500 in equity, but would pay out at $15,000.
  • Potter just laughs at him… tells him he’s worth more dead than alive.
  • Then he tells George that he’s calling the police to swear out a warrant for his arrest.
  • George heads to Martini’s for a drink before deciding to go to the bridge, ready to jump into the freezing river below.
  • But before he can jump, an old man jumps in first.
  • So George jumps in to save him.
  • Once they get warmed back up, Clarence introduces himself as George’s guardian angel.
  • Clarence tries to convince him of all the good he’s done, but George is convinced that everyone would be better off if he’d never been born.
  • Clarence then gets the idea that granting this wish might be what convinces George just how important he is.
  • The first thing he notices is that his left ear is working the way it’s supposed to.
  • Someone refers to the town as Pottersville instead of Bedford Falls.
  • George takes Clarence to the local bar, but he notices a lot of changes.
  • Clarence hears the bell on the cash register and tells George it means that an angel just got his wings.
  • While they’re at the bar, Mr. Gower comes in and everyone gives him a hard time.
  • Gower spent 20 years in prison for poisoning a kid.
  • George can’t understand all these changes and Clarence explains it to him… everything’s changed because he was never born.
  • When George gets downtown, he doesn’t see the quaint little town that was Bedford Falls.
  • Pottersville is full of dance clubs, strip club, bars, and predatory lenders.
  • He gets his friend Ernie, the cab driver, to take him home.
  • Ernie has no clue who he is and pretty much thinks he’s crazy.
  • George sees his house is in the same state it was in back when he first threw rocks with Mary.
  • Next, George goes to his mother’s house… but she doesn’t recognize him.
  • She tells him that Billy’s been in the asylum ever since he lost his business.
  • “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
  • George tries to find Martini, the last man he talked to before all this started.
  • But when he gets to where Bailey Park should be, there’s just a cemetery.
  • George finds the grave of his little brother, Harry.
  • Clarence explains that George wasn’t there to save Harry, therefore, Harry wasn’t in World War II to save all the men he saved.
  • Finally, George asks Clarence where Mary is…
  • He’s not supposed to tell… but he breaks and tells him she’s an old maid, closing up the library.
  • George tries to talk to Mary, but only ends up scaring her.
  • He runs away and Bert, the cop, shoots at him… with tons of people in the line of fire.
  • Bert needs to take a gun safety course.
  • George makes his way back to the bridge and prays for God to let him live again.
  • Bert drives up and tells George he’s been looking for him all over town.
  • George is officially back.
  • And he’s way more excited than he was before he experienced that alternate timeline.
  • He runs through town crying, “Merry Christmas” to everyone… even Mr. Potter.
  • Potter returns the sentiment, but then says he’ll be celebrating Christmas in jail.
  • If anyone should go to jail it’s that miserable old fart.
  • He stole that $8,000.
  • He deserves to be pushed out of his wheelchair and beaten severely.
  • And also thrown into the river.
  • George gets home to find the bank examiner and the sheriff with a warrant for his arrest.
  • He’s thrilled to see everyone, even if it means he’s going to jail.
  • Mary gets home soon after, followed by everyone in town whose lives have been touched by George Bailey.
  • No one wants to see George suffer and they all chip in money to get him the $8,000 that’s missing… even the bank examiner and sheriff, who tears up the warrant.
  • He even gets a telegram from Sam Wainwright guaranteeing up to $25,000.
  • Harry shows up and toasts his big brother, the richest man in town.
  • In the pile of money, George picks up Clarence’s copy of Tom Sawyer.
  • Then a bell on the Christmas tree rings.
  • Guess Clarence earned his wings after all.
  • You know, for a movie that has this kind of happy ending, it’s really unfair that we don’t see Potter get what he deserves.
  • We don’t even know if he’s investigated… which he’s probably not.
  • He’s not suspected of any wrong doing… except for being a… well, I don’t think I should say what I think he is.
  • Aside from that, this is really a great movie.
  • It’s always fascinating to think of how different the world might be if one person were removed from it.
  • And I always love the idea of finding out just how one person can touch others who will go on to touch others.

Next week we come to the last animated feature that makes it on this list. It’s a Disney movie and it has gotten the live-action treatment. Though I can’t say I liked the live action version very much at all. But the original animated version is a classic. Any guesses?

4 thoughts on “My Favorite Movies #13 – It’s a Wonderful Life

  1. Pingback: My Top 100 Movies | The Confusing Middle

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