It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
December 24, 2014 9:53 AM - Subscribe

An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed. Directed by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore.
posted by the man of twists and turns (28 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Waiting for a high definition colorized 3D release.
posted by sammyo at 10:03 AM on December 24, 2014

Great post, and a nice selection of links; I'm glad you included the bunnies business because that's my favorite '30-seconds' in the series.

The IMDB Trivia page is worth a peek. Here's one that wasn't mentioned above (I don't think):
"In the scene in which the pool opens beneath the gym floor, the actor who pressed the button, in an uncredited role as Freddie Othello, was Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer of Little Rascal fame.
"Films made prior to this one used cornflakes painted white for the falling snow effect. Because the cornflakes were so loud, dialogue had to be dubbed in later. Frank Capra wanted to record the sound live, so a new snow effect was developed using foamite (a fire-fighting chemical) and soap and water. This mixture was then pumped at high pressure through a wind machine to create the silent, falling snow. 6000 gallons of the new snow were used in the film. The RKO Effects Department received a Class III Scientific or Technical Award from the Motion Picture Academy for the development of the new film snow."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:49 AM on December 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

I love this movie and quote it endlessly, most commonly, "I'm alright! I'm okay!"

It's also the subject of one of the maxims on my profile page: “Never trust any man who doesn't cry at the end of It's a Wonderful Life
posted by ob1quixote at 12:05 PM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I remember watching this movie as a kid and being soooooo boooooored and hating it. Even in college I didn't really get it. It seemed smarmy and schlocky or whatever. I think because I was still in the "going to build bridges and see the world!" part of my life. But for the past 7 or 8 years, well, it really gets me right in the gut -- the slow march of duty and obligations overtaking George Bailey's idealistic and adventurous dreams. The way he feels trapped by his town and his life and his job and his family. The desperation when it all goes to shit when the money gets misplaced. The way he so easily overlooks all the good he has done in his life just because it hasn't stamped out all the evil in the world. And the way all his friends and neighbors come together to help him at the end. The idea that small kindnesses really do make a difference to the world. Oh god, it's really dusty in here.
posted by fancyoats at 12:36 PM on December 24, 2014 [18 favorites]

I like the first half of the movie better than the second half. I'm interested in the whole life conspiracy to make sure George is never, ever, under any circumstances allowed to leave Bedford Falls, because if he doesn't, the town goes to hell. It's almost science-fiction-y, isn't it?

And I always did like when Mary confessed her love into George's deaf ear. I totally would have pulled that as a kid given the opportunity.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:47 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

"A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town."

[burst out sobbing]
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:40 PM on December 24, 2014 [12 favorites]

Since I first saw the movie I was always a bit curious about the gym with a retractable floor and a pool underneath, because I had never heard of such a thing outside of the movie. This post gave me the impetus to actually look into it, and Beverly Hills High School actually does have such a thing. Built in 1939, and apparently still functional. (The linked 2011 article describes a motor failure in 2010 that, at the time, looked possibly irreparable. I didn't find a great source for it, but other, later articles suggest it was eventually repaired.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:58 PM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

And of course there's Capra's original ending to the film, long thought lost before its rediscovery dramatically changed our understanding of this stark, unflinching look at the American soul...
posted by Naberius at 7:02 PM on December 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's Donna Reed who went out and roused the town. And I love the look on the face of the bank examiner.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:54 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nobody's mentioned that Grandma Walton is the lady in the bank who asks for $17.50. I've read before that Capra told her to request that amount instead of the higher amount written in the script, to elicit a genuinely surprised reaction from Stewart.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 7:46 AM on December 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

This is pretty much my favorite movie, and I only watch it once a year on Christmas Eve. I always WEEP at the ending.
posted by all about eevee at 11:32 AM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Mr. Gower scenes always get me. Particularly the first one which is so economically told: Gower's tear-streaked face through the door glass, the way George distractedly pushes the sundae towards Mary after he reads the telegram, the pan across the shelves.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:33 PM on December 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

The It's A Wonderful Life collection at AMPAS, including script contributions from Dorothy Parker [page 5 in the slideshow] and Clifford Odets [page 6] and changes demanded by the Production Code [page 18].
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:44 PM on December 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Another nice touch: Clarence, seeing Potter's carriage, asks "who's that, a king?" Potter's ornately-carved wooden wheelchair is pretty much a mobile throne.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:46 PM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!
posted by Chrysostom at 8:43 PM on December 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

The Mr. Gower scenes always get me. Particularly the first one which is so economically told:

Oh - so true. It really is a great piece of visual story telling.

My favorite gem is the dad's performance at the dinner table. The process of acting completely fades away and you feel like you are watching a man eat any one of a thousand meals as he has done every evening after a long day at the office. It's beautiful.
posted by double bubble at 2:42 PM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's a horror movie, but wrapped in so much love and do-goodery that you can't resist it, no matter how hard you try.

The force that keeps George in bondage is Mr. Potter, of course. George is trapped by him the way Batman is trapped in his job by the Joker and other villains. No one else can do it; if he leaves, there will be chaos and dime-a-dances and lonely librarians and slums everywhere. All due to Mr. Potter. And if George says "fuck it, I'm out," well then he becomes no better than Potter. Becoming a famous architect will not undo the loss of his entire town. Though the scene where he asks "Why did we have so many kids??" is pretty hilarious. Old Man Gower could probably have hooked you up with some rubbers, George.

Why is the rest of the town so weak in resisting Potter? Who can say. It's a typical American thing to have One Noble Man stand up to the villain, instead of the rest of the town deciding not to put up with his shit. But then the citizens and cops of Gotham are pretty useless too. All the citizens of Bedford Falls can do is hide behind George and wait for Potter to die. It's interesting that he has no heirs, or appears not to.

I find Clarence more annoying each year, but the movie itself gives him pretty short shrift, so it's easy to just let Stewart's amazing performance wash over you. And the rest of the cast, too, some of Hollywood's best.
posted by emjaybee at 3:17 PM on December 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

An interesting piece of dialogue caught my ear this year - when George and Uncle Billy are at Uncle Billy's house after the money has gone missing, George presses Billy for any other hiding places he might have put the cash and Billy says something like: "I've looked everywhere, George, even in rooms I haven't been in since Laura died."

It hints at a sadness in Uncle Billy - possibly the loss of his wife very young. And it occurred to me that we don't see what would have become of Uncle Billy if George had never been born, but I can only imagine it would have been quite tragic. The heartbreak of his lost love, no pillar of strength to rely on in his brother and later his nephew. Uncle Billy would not have fared well.
posted by double bubble at 3:19 PM on December 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

My favorite gem is the dad's performance at the dinner table.

I hadn't noticed before the foreshadowing of "I'm going to miss you, too, Pop. What's the matter? You look tired."

we don't see what would have become of Uncle Billy if George had never been born

Not directly, but Ma Bailey tells never-been-born George that "he's been in the insane asylum ever since he lost his business."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:17 PM on December 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah! She does say that.
posted by double bubble at 8:44 PM on December 26, 2014

"Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence! Get me back! Get me back, I don't care what happens to me! Get me back to my wife and kids! Help me, Clarence, please! Please! I wanna live again. I wanna live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again."

Anyone who doesn't cry at this point in the movie is already dead. Or at least, dead to me.
posted by essexjan at 5:27 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

The "old maid" thing bothered me this time, because based on the start of the movie it seemed more likely that without George, Mary would end up -- at the instigation of her mother, no doubt -- in an unhappy marriage with the philandering Sam Wainwright. Hee-haw.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:32 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ma Bailey tells never-been-born George that "he's been in the insane asylum ever since he lost his business."

The foreshadowing to this that I spotted this year: Uncle Billy, desperately searching for the lost deposit, exclaims "I should have my head examined!"
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:45 PM on December 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

This year's contender for IAWL Bad Take: 6 Things About It’s A Wonderful Life That Have Aged Poorly
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:47 PM on December 20, 2021

Has anyone mentioned that the movie is based on a story, "The Greatest Gift"? Not sure if it's allowed to link to this particular site, but it's available to read online at

I also want to link to Ken Jennings' very fun
chronology of the movie, where he attempts to date every scene, to the day when possible. ("First, early spring 1919: 12-year-old George saves his scare-baby brother from drowning in an icy river. The angelic 'Joseph' narrator tells us what year we’re seeing, which is later corroborated by Harry’s tombstone in that alternate universe in which Violet Bick is a hooker and Spock has a beard.")
posted by maralinn at 1:43 PM on December 18, 2022

Late to this thread this year, but in Ken Jenning's chronology:
You might be tempted to place this scene on May 3, 1919, which is the date on the telegram telling Mr. Gower that his son has died in the international flu epidemic, then winding down. But there are a couple problems with this: first, the Saturday Evening Post next to the drugstore entrance (the fishing cover, below the Rockwell one) is the May 24 issue. Second, the calendar in the Building & Loan has been turned to June already. Is it really possible Mr. Gower has been drinking for a full month before George discovers the telegram?
Mr. Gower always makes me cry and gosh: this makes it all the more bleak.

This year's noticed foreshadowing: George at dinner referring to the Bailey home as "the old Bailey boarding house".

This year's IAWL think-piece: Clare Coffey writing in The Bulwark, There Is No Mary Problem in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
It is certainly pleasant but not unduly extraordinary to be a popular and beautiful woman who can marry a rich and popular man if she chooses. It is less ordinary to see, with Mary’s perfect clarity and uncanny certainty, the life and man you want, and to choose it in the teeth of discouragement with all its disadvantages apparent, to persist single-mindedly in the face of hardship. It’s a Wonderful Life is, in part, the story of someone becoming, kicking and screaming, against all intentions and desires, a big man. Mary sees the big man in George from the first, because she is a big woman.

She is, as much as George, a profoundly unusual person laboring under her own personal destiny. In the world where George does not exist, she has not married not because she couldn’t, but because she does not want to. There is not a Mary-sized man in town, and Mary Hatch does not do anything just because it’s what might be expected of her. Her story in this counterfactual is a sad one, but it is not one of passive submission to circumstance.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:27 PM on January 17, 2023

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