It's a Wonderful Life

Now perhaps the most beloved American film, It's a Wonderful Life was largely forgotten for years, due to a copyright quirk. Only in the late 1970s did it find its audience through repeated TV showings. Frank Capra's masterwork deserves its status as a feel-good communal event, but it is also one of the most fascinating films in the American cinema, a multilayered work of Dickensian density. George Bailey (played superbly by James Stewart) grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls, dreaming dreams of adventure and travel, but circumstances conspire to keep him enslaved to his home turf. Frustrated by his life, and haunted by an impending scandal, George prepares to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. A heavenly messenger (Henry Travers) arrives to show him a vision: what the world would have been like if George had never been born. The sequence is a vivid depiction of the American Dream gone bad, and probably the wildest thing Capra ever shot (the director's optimistic vision may have darkened during his experiences making military films in World War II). Capra's triumph is to acknowledge the difficulties and disappointments of life, while affirming--in the teary-eyed final reel--his cherished values of friendship and individual achievement. It's a Wonderful Life was not a big hit on its initial release, and it won no Oscars (Capra and Stewart were nominated); but it continues to weave a special magic. --Robert Horton

Genre: Drama, Family
Director(s): Frank Capra
Production: Liberty Films
  Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 6 wins & 1 nomination.
 
IMDB:
8.6
Metacritic:
89
Rotten Tomatoes:
94%
NR (Not Rated)
Year:
1946
130
15,571 Views

Dr. Campbell:
I'm sure the whole board wishes to express its deep sorrow at the passing of Peter Bailey.

George:
Thank you very much.

Dr. Campbell:
It was his faith and devotion that are responsible for this organization.

Potter:
I'll go further than that. I'll say that to the public Peter Bailey was the Building and Loan.

Billy:
Oh, that's fine, Potter, coming from you, considering that you probably drove him to his grave!

Potter:
Peter Bailey was not a business man. That's what killed him. Oh, I don't mean any disrespect to him, God rest his soul. He was a man of high ideals, so called, but ideals without common sense can ruin this town. Now, you take this loan here to Ernie Bishop...You know, that fellow that sits around all day on his brains in his taxi. You know...I happen to know the bank turned down this loan, but he comes here and we're building him a house worth five thousand dollars. Why?

George:
Well, I handled that, Mr. Potter. You have all the papers there. His salary, insurance. I can personally vouch for his character.

Potter:
A friend of yours?

George:
Yes, sir.

Potter:
You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty, working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas. Now, I say...

George:
Just a minute, just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You're right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I'll never know. But neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was...Why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn't that right, Uncle Billy? He didn't save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter. And what's wrong with that? Why...Here, you're all businessmen here. Doesn't it make them better citizens? Doesn't it make them better customers? You...you said...What'd you say just a minute ago?...They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait! Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they're so old and broken-down that they...Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about...they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped frustrated old man, they're cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you'll ever be!

Potter:
I'm not interested in your book. I'm talking about the Building and Loan.

George:
I know very well what you're talking about. You're talking about something you can't get your fingers on, and it's galling you. That's what you're talking about, I know...Well, I've said too much. I...You're the Board here. You do what you want with this thing. Just one more thing, though. This town needs this measly one-horse institution if only to have some place where people can come without crawling to Potter.

Mr. Potter:
George, I am an old man and most people hate me. But I don't like them either, so that makes it all even. You know just as well as I do that I run practically everything in this town but the Bailey Building and Loan. You know, also, that for a number of years I've been trying to get control of it. Or kill it. But I haven't been able to do it. You have been stopping me. In fact, you have beaten me, George, and as anyone in this county can tell you, that takes some doing. Now take during the depression, for instance. You and I were the only ones that kept our heads. You saved the Building and Loan, I saved all the rest.

George:
Yes, well, most people say you stole all the rest.

Mr. Potter:
The envious ones say that, George. The suckers. Now, I have stated my side very frankly. Now let's look at your side. A young man, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, married, making, say, forty a week.

George:
Forty-five!

Mr. Potter:
Forty-five. Forty-five. Out of which, after supporting your mother and paying your bills, you're able to keep, say, ten, if you skimp. A child or two comes along and you won't even be able to save the ten. Now, if this young man of twenty-eight was a common, ordinary yokel, I'd say he was doing fine. But George Bailey is not a common, ordinary yokel. He is an intelligent, smart, ambitious, young man who hates his job, who hates the Building and Loan almost as much as I do. A young man who's been dying to get out on his own ever since he was born. A young man... the smartest one in the crowd, mind you... A young man who has to sit by and watch his friends go places because he's trapped. Yes, sir, trapped into frittering his life away, playing nursemaid to a lot of garlic eaters. Do I paint the correct picture or do I exaggerate?

George:
Oh, what's your point, Mr. Potter?

Mr. Potter:
My point? My point is, I want to hire you.

George:
Hire me?

Mr. Potter:
I want you to manage my affairs, run my properties. George, I'll start you out at twenty thousand dollars a year.

George:
Twenty thous...twenty thousand dollars a year?

Mr. Potter:
You wouldn't mind living in the nicest house in town, buying your wife a lot of fine clothes, a couple of business trips to New York a year, maybe once in a while Europe. You wouldn't mind that, would you, George?

George:
Would I? Y-You're not talking to somebody else around here, are you? You know, th-this is me, you remember me? George Bailey.

Mr. Potter:
Oh, yes, George Bailey. Whose ship has just come in, provided he has enough brains to climb aboard.

George:
Holy mackerel! Well, how about the Building and Loan?

Mr. Potter:
Oh, confound it, man! Are you afraid of success? I'm offering you a three-year contract at twenty thousand dollars a year, starting today. Is it a deal, or isn't it?

George:
Well, Mr. Potter, I...I...I know I ought to jump at the chance but I...I just, uh, I-I wonder if-if it would be possible for you to give me twenty-four hours to think it over?

Mr. Potter:
Sure, sure, sure. You go on home and talk about it to your wife.

George:
I'd like to do that.

Mr. Potter:
Yeah. In the meantime, I'll draw up the papers.

George:
All right, sir.

Mr. Potter:
Okay, George?

George:
Okay, Mr. Potter. [pause] No, no, no, no. Wait a minute here. Wait a minute. I don't need twenty-four hours. I, I don't have to talk to anybody. I know right now, and the answer is no! No! Doggone it! You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn't, Mr. Potter. In the whole vast configuration of things, I'd say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider! And... [turning to his aide] And that goes for you, too!

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