Thursday, December 25, 2014

Don't Make a Scene (Christmas edition): It's a Wonderful Life

The Story:  First of all, Merry Christmas.  Or, as I like to call it Judaic Film Festivus—the best day of the year for going to movies.

Second of all, remember that it is Old Man Potter who steals the money, and causes all the troubles that compound in George Bailey's life in It's a Wonderful Life, and makes him contemplate suicide. He even suggests that George is better off dead from a practical point of view (given the parameter that he lives in a world where Potter exists and is such a massive A-hole). This makes Potter 1) a thief; 2) guilty of fraud; and 3) one sadistically sick exponent for the values of capitalism. Flash forward 60 years (or to 2015 when they're threatening to release a sequel) and he could follow it up with "I drink your milkshake!" (a phrase I still find more pathetic than threatening). Anyway, just to drive home the point what a vile human being Potter is.

Third, despite its latter-day reputation as a Christmas classic, it was an under-performer for RKO losing half a million dollars in its first run, competing for Holiday dollars with The Best Years of of Their Lives and Miracle on 34th Street. Its reputation was so lackluster it was allowed to slip into the public domain, where in the 1960's, small "art" theaters would show it for Christmas, and it became a Christmas annual in the 1970's. Capra was surprised by that. I see references to a Wall Street Journal interview where he talks about the phenomenon, but I haven't laid eyes on it, so I won't repeat anything that it "supposedly" says. But, every film has its "season"—upon its first release, and with wonderful second and third lives in the video market.

Fourth, this is my favorite scene—the aftermath of George Bailey being confronted, nightmarishly, with the world without him, and of how his insignificance proves to be a lynch-pin in so many lives beyond his—his begging of a suddenly vanished Clarence to return him to his life, after the vision of "Potterville" and the dire consequences on his friends and family. Dare I throw out the opinion that somewhere a "George" has died and Capra's bucolic America has turned into "Potterville," for real? Would I get any arguments?

So, a reprieve this Christmas, as George Bailey comes back to life—his life—and even his enemy gives him the best news he could ever hear: "Go on home. They're waiting for you."

The Set-Up: George Bailey (James Stewart) has had all sorts of dreams of travelling the world and leading a romantic life, but when his father dies, it's up to him to run the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan Association in the little town of Bedford Falls. Working with his Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell), he's able to keep it afloat and help out a lot of people, whose alternative is to do business with the craven Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore).  George's dreams die.  But, he marries Mary (Donna Reed), have four kids, scraping by, until just before Christmas, Billy loses some money (it's lifted by Potter, who's trying to squeeze out the Bailey B&L), and George's world starts to fall apart.  As Potter tells him when George goes to him for a little leniency: "You're worth more dead than alive!"  George wishes he was dead, and it's up to the angel Clarence (Henry Travers) to grant him a cautionary wish; he shows him what the world would be like without him, and it's a horror story.  at the last, he clobbers his cop-pal, Bert (Ward Bond) and runs out of town, back to the bridge where he first made his wish.


The same part of the bridge where George was standing before Clarence jumped in. The wind is blowing as it has all through this sequence. George comes running into shot. He is frantically looking for Clarence. 
GEORGE Clarence! Clarence! 
GEORGE Help me, Clarence. Get me back. Get me back. I don't care what happens to me. 
GEORGE Only get me back to my wife and kids. Help me, Clarence, please! Please! 
GEORGE I want to live again! I want to live again.
George leaning on the bridge railing, praying. 
GEORGE I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again. 
George sobs. Suddenly, toward the end of the above, the wind dies down. A soft, gentle snow begins to fall.
George sobbing at the railing. The police car pulls up on the roadway behind him, and Bert comes into scene. 
BERT Hey, George! 
BERT George! You all right?
George backs away and gets set to hit Bert again. 
BERT (cont'd) Hey, what's the matter? 
GEORGE (warningly) Now get out of here, Bert, or I'll hit you again! 
GEORGE Go on. Get outta here
BERT What the Sam Hill you yelling for, George? 
GEORGE Don't . . . George?
George talks hopefully –– George touches Bert unbelievingly –– George's mouth is bleeding again.
GEORGE (cont'd) Bert, do you know me?
BERT Know you? Are you kiddin'? I've been looking all over town trying to find you. I saw your car piled into that tree down there, and I thought maybe . . . Hey, your mouth's bleeding; are you sure you're all right? 
GEORGE What did . . . 
George touches his lips with his tongue, wipes his mouth with his hand, laughs happily. His rapture knows no bounds. 
GEORGE (cont'd) (joyously) My mouth's bleeding, Bert! My mouth's bleed . . . 
GEORGE (feeling in watch pocket) Zuzu's petals! Zuzu's . . . they're . . . 
GEORGE they're here, Bert! 
GEORGE What do you know about that? 
GEORGE Merry Christmas!
He practically embraces the astonished Bert, then runs at top speed toward town. 
BERT ...Merry Christmas.
George runs away from camera yelling:
George's wrecked car is smashed against the tree. He comes running into shot, sees the car, lets out a triumphant yell, pats the car, and dashes on. 
George sees that the POTTERSVILLE sign is now replaced by the original YOU ARE NOW IN BEDFORD FALLS sign. 
GEORGE Yaaaay! 
GEORGE Hello, Bedford Falls! 
He turns and runs through the falling snow up the main street of the town. As he runs, he notices that the town is back in its original appearance. He passes some late shoppers on the street:
GEORGE (cont'd) Merry Christmas! 
PEOPLE (ad lib) Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas, George! 
NIGHT PAN SHOT –– As George runs by: 
GEORGE Merry Christmas, movie house!
NIGHT PAN SHOT –– as George runs by: 
GEORGE Merry Christmas, emporium!
NIGHT PAN SHOT –– As George runs by: 
GEORGE Merry Christmas, you wonderful old... 
GEORGE ...Building and Loan! 
George notices a light in Potter's office window, and races across the street. 
Potter is seated working at his desk, his goon by his side. George pounds on the window. 
GEORGE (from outside) Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter! 
George runs off as Potter looks up from his work. 
POTTER Happy New Year to you –– in jail! 
POTTER Go on home –– they're waiting for you!

It's a Wonderful Life

Words by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling, Michael Wilson and Frank Capra

Pictures by Joseph Biroc, Joseph Walker, Victor Milner, and Frank Capra

It's a Wonderful Life is available on DVD and Blu-Ray on Republic Entertainment, Inc.

1 comment:

  1. Exceptional entry! I found it very interesting. I'll check back later to see if more posts are added. christmas blessings