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It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Frank Capra

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#1 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 01:55 PM

There doesn't seem to be an existing thread for the film as such, but in the 'Humor' forum there is a thread on 'It's a Wonderful Life ... in 30 Seconds: THE BUNNIES ARE BACK.'

- - -

Jump, George, Jump!
While watching the new colorization of �It's a Wonderful Life" on DVD - this time they got it right; no longer do you get the feeling you're watching a black-and-white film through stained glass - I thought: you know who would love this? Why, that visionary American innovator Henry F. Potter.
That's right, Mr. Potter - the unsung hero of �It's a Wonderful Life," the canny businessman who tried (and, alas, failed) to turn boring, repressed Bedford Falls - a town full of drunks, child beaters, vandals and racial and sexual harassers - into an exciting new destination nightspot called Pottersville. . . .
You know who doesn't commit any crimes in this movie? Mr. Potter. . . .
In the Pottersville scene, the movie stacks the decks by putting a cemetery in the place of the Bailey Park development. Sorry, George, but without you, people still would have died in Bedford Falls - of boredom. That's because Bedford Falls lacks most of the bars, pool halls, bowling alleys and dance clubs that make Pottersville a lively city instead of a drab hamlet where the only entertainment is to see �The Bells of St. Mary's" at the local monoplex.
Are we supposed to be outraged that Nick the Bartender, in Pottersville, says, �We serve hard drinks in here for men who like to get drunk fast"? What barman would say anything else when asked, as Clarence the Angel does, for �mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves"? Remember, the guy who slugs George in the bar does so in Bedford Falls, not Pottersville. . . .
When the folks empty their pocket change and lint on the Baileys' table at the end, it doesn't look like nearly enough to cover an $8,000 shortfall. Not that it matters, since Sam Wainwright agrees to wire $25,000. In the end, the moral is: better to know one rich guy than a lot of losers.
Kyle Smith, New York Post, November 25

It's a Destructive Life
Yet, if there is a dark side of America, the film quite ably captures that aspect as well - and contrary to popular belief, it is found not solely in Mr. Potter. One sees a dark side represented by George Bailey himself: the optimist, the adventurer, the builder, the man who deeply hates the town that gives him sustenance, who craves nothing else but to get out of Bedford Falls and remake the world. Given its long-standing reputation as a nostalgic look at small-town life in the pre-war period, it is almost shocking to suggest that the film is one of the most potent, if unconscious critiques ever made of the American dream that was so often hatched in this small-town setting. For George Bailey, in fact, destroys the town that saves him in the end. . . .
We also learn something far more sinister about Bailey Park toward the end of the film. . . .
George confirms a horrific suspicion: Bailey Park has been built atop the old cemetery. Not only does George raze the trees, but he commits an act of unspeakable sacrilege. He obliterates a sacred symbol of Bedford Fall's connection with the past, the grave markers of the town's ancestors. George Bailey's vision of a modern America eliminates his links with his forebears, covers up the evidence of death, supplies people instead with private retreats of secluded isolation, and all at the expense of an intimate community, in life and in death. . . .
A deep irony pervades the film at the moment of it joyous conclusion: as the developer of an antiseptic suburban subdivision, George Bailey is saved through the kinds of relationships nourished in his town that will be undermined and even precluded in the anomic community he builds as an adult.
Patrick Deneen, December 23



#2 mrmando

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 02:26 PM

Mr. Potter doesn't commit any crimes? Failure to return the $8,000 when he knows who it belongs to, that's not a crime?

#3 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 02:41 PM

mrmando wrote:
: Mr. Potter doesn't commit any crimes? Failure to return the $8,000 when he knows who it belongs to, that's not a crime?

Smith addresses that:
True, it's unethical for Potter not to return the money that Uncle Billy literally drops into his lap, but Potter's right in accusing George of gross negligence. Entrusting anything more important than a broom to a drunken fool like Billy (he loses track of the money while taunting Potter) makes George an unfit fiduciary.
Whether Potter's action is merely "unethical" or actually "criminal" would depend on the laws in that time and place, I suppose.

And it hardly compares to the charges of child abuse, sexual harassment and so on committed by the other townsfolk, right?

#4 mrmando

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 03:00 PM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Dec 26 2007, 11:41 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Smith addresses that:
True, it's unethical for Potter not to return the money that Uncle Billy literally drops into his lap, but Potter's right in accusing George of gross negligence. Entrusting anything more important than a broom to a drunken fool like Billy (he loses track of the money while taunting Potter) makes George an unfit fiduciary.

Whether Potter's action is merely "unethical" or actually "criminal" would depend on the laws in that time and place, I suppose.

As a board member of the building & loan, Mr. Potter also bears fiduciary responsibility, and he is more negligent than George, in that he keeps the money for himself instead of returning it to be deposited in the building & loan's account. That's embezzlement, and would still be illegal even if Bedford Falls and/or the state of New York had a "finders keepers" policy about lost property. He also files a false report with the authorities, attempting to frame George for the embezzlementwhich is tantamount to perjury.
QUOTE
And it hardly compares to the charges of child abuse, sexual harassment and so on committed by the other townsfolk, right?

Now THOSE are charges that "depend on the laws in that time and place."

Edited by mrmando, 26 December 2007 - 05:18 PM.


#5 Nick Alexander

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 03:49 PM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Dec 26 2007, 03:55 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
We also learn something far more sinister about Bailey Park toward the end of the film. . . .
George confirms a horrific suspicion: Bailey Park has been built atop the old cemetery. Not only does George raze the trees, but he commits an act of unspeakable sacrilege. He obliterates a sacred symbol of Bedford Fall's connection with the past, the grave markers of the town's ancestors. George Bailey's vision of a modern America eliminates his links with his forebears, covers up the evidence of death, supplies people instead with private retreats of secluded isolation, and all at the expense of an intimate community, in life and in death. . . .
And now I'm thinking of Craig T Nelson's rebuke towards James Karen in Poltergeist, with bodies and caskets shooting up from the swimming pool. What an odd, odd, disconnect.


#6 Greg Wright

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 05:05 PM

Deconstructionist, cynical, willful poppycock. What will folks think of Smith and Deneen in 2067, I wonder?

Stories themselves define who the protagonists and antagonists are. An attempt to define those roles otherwise says more about the reinterpreter than it does about the story itself.

Now, we might have an interesting, profitable discussion about what makes Bailey and Potter heroic and villainous, respectively, and how changing mores and times may affect our reading of the intended roles; but insisting that we understand these characters through a contemporary lens without any consideration for how the movie played in 1946 is just silly -- and poor criticism.

The film addressed very specific post-war and post-Depression realities, not to mention problems of labor, suburbanization, and industrialization that were staples of American fiction through the twenties to forties (think Tarkington or Steinbeck, just for starters).

Bailey was a pro-growth boosterizing idealist who rejected conservative small-town values and still got his dreams derailed. The film itself does not suggest anything one way or another about whether Bailey's dreams were "good" or not, or whether he went about fulfilling them, in his own small way, in a worthy manner. The bottom line is that he was in danger of becoming a "warped, frustrated old man" just like Potter -- or, apparently, just like Smith and Deneen.

The fact that 1946 values are still powerfully nostalgic for folks (and that the film didn't explode in popularity until about 1974) is a lot more significant than the revisionist whinings of writers like these two.

Now, if they want to poke holes in purely escapist, romanticized films like Miracle on 34th Street, well... have at it. But the Wonderful Life they criticize is a straw man of their own creation. It's not the film that Capra actually made.

----------

Regarding Potter and the Bailey Building and Loan deposit: Potter has both the money and concrete knowledge of whence it came -- and it came into his possession on bank property. He'd be guilty of fraud and conspiracy, at the very least, as would his butler/valet/assistant.

Flawed characters in the film are not celebrated because of their flaws, and their faults are not presented for others to emulate.

Mardis Gras and Las Vegas are celebration enough of Pottersville's values. Why ask a Capra film to join the parade?

----------

Really -- I wasn't gonna comment on this stuff at all. But it still rankles me after several hours and I can't resist.

Man, some people just hate the whole idea of Christmas, love, joy, peace, and quiet.

#7 SDG

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 05:36 PM

Greg: Thank you, sir.

#8 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 05:51 PM

Greg Wright wrote:
: Stories themselves define who the protagonists and antagonists are. An attempt to define those roles otherwise says more about the reinterpreter than it does about the story itself.

Oh, now that's a daring concept. Does it apply equally to, say, Charlie Wilson's War or Schindler's List (both of which involve wealthy and well-connected hedonists who find a form of redemption in doing sneaky things on behalf of the oppressed, etc.)?

I think the issue here is not that the interpreter is necessarily imposing himself on the story, but that the interpreter is recognizing that the story ITSELF is an interpretation of an even deeper reality, and so the interpreter is offering a counter-interpretation of the reality which the story itself is trying to interpret.

Of course, one can always argue that fiction is fiction and thus there is NO deeper reality to these stories. And yet, hmmm, the United States WAS undergoing a profound social transition at the time that It's a Wonderful Life came out -- from the front porch to the back patio, as one of Deneen's sources puts it -- and the film seems to have a different interpretation of that transition than Deneen does. Is there any particular reason Deneen should NOT offer a counter-interpretation of that deeper social reality, and thus question the interpretation which the film itself offers?

: Now, we might have an interesting, profitable discussion about what makes Bailey and Potter heroic and villainous, respectively, and how changing mores and times may affect our reading of the intended roles; but insisting that we understand these characters through a contemporary lens without any consideration for how the movie played in 1946 is just silly -- and poor criticism.

I don't think the "times", contemporary or otherwise, are quite the point here. We could almost certainly point to "stories" made and set TODAY which also offer up protagonists who are "really" antagonists, and so forth.

: The film addressed very specific post-war and post-Depression realities, not to mention problems of labor, suburbanization, and industrialization that were staples of American fiction through the twenties to forties (think Tarkington or Steinbeck, just for starters).

Ah, but is suburbanization a "problem" in this film? Deneen seems to think it isn't, but it should be.

And what about the child abuse, the alcoholism, the cops stealing things, and so forth?

: The fact that 1946 values are still powerfully nostalgic for folks (and that the film didn't explode in popularity until about 1974) is a lot more significant than the revisionist whinings of writers like these two.

Well, it is difficult to say what "1946 values" even ARE, when the film captures a moment in time when America was transitioning from one set of values to another. I am reminded of how A Bug's Life presents a happy rural existence but ends on a supposedy happy or promising note of increased mechanization -- whereas Antz, released only a month or two before, is all about how easy it is to lose your soul in a massified, expedited, industrialized society.

: Really -- I wasn't gonna comment on this stuff at all. But it still rankles me after several hours and I can't resist.
: Man, some people just hate the whole idea of Christmas, love, joy, peace, and quiet.

Hey, I take it in the same spirit as that other piece which argued that the Empire was ultimately on the side of good in the Star Wars movies. It's all fun.

#9 SDG

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 06:31 PM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Dec 26 2007, 07:51 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Hey, I take it in the same spirit as that other piece which argued that the Empire was ultimately on the side of good in the Star Wars movies. It's all fun.

Yeah, but here's the thing. Luke Skywalker, much as he embodies the hero archetype, is not a hero to me. George Bailey is. Yes, he's a flawed hero with a dark side, in a flawed community with a dark side. I watch the movie every year, and I know that not all the darkness is in the alternate reality of Pottersville or in the "warped, frustrated old man" in whose image that nightmare town was made. But still and all I'll go with the valuation of Heaven itself: The world is better off with George Bailey in it than without. Forget Santa Claus. I want to believe in George Bailey.

Smith's indictment of Bedford Falls as "a town full of drunks, child beaters, vandals and racial and sexual harassers" blithely overlooks the obvious implication that Pottersville would have been much worse on several counts and can hardly be thought to have been an improvement on any. Smith tries to gloss this by complaining about how "boring" Bedford Falls was.

Take drunkenness. Smith himself does what he can to neutralize the clear implications of Potterville's Nick the barman's remark "We serve hard drinks in here for men who like to get drunk fast," but he can't have his cake and eat it too.

Don't forget Mr. Gower, a drunken stumblebum in the Pottersville world. Yes, he almost poisoned someone in what was clearly an isolated incident, a moment of grief and alcohol-despair. Super-hip deconstructionists can suddenly get Pharisaically moralistic about things like that while at the same time being easy-peasy about little matters like grand larceny.

And as incompetent as Uncle Billy might have been -- and as foolish as George may have been to trust him with so much money -- in the Pottersville world he wound up in an insane asylum. Decision: The Pottersville world is crueler than the Bedford Falls world.

Yes, George Bailey got slugged in the bar in the real world. In 1940s Hollywood a slug in the jaw was often a salutary thing, a token of righteous indignation and standing up for decent values. What's remarkable about this film is that George Bailey is the hero, yet he deserves the slug in the jaw. But for Smith it's just an opportunity for moralistic finger-wagging.

And if Smith thinks that there was less child abuse, vandalism and racial and sexual harrassment in the "exciting new destination nightspot called Pottersville," he's the one who belongs in Uncle Billy's room at the Pottersville asylum.

My first thought about the cemetary is that Deenan is barking up the wrong tree: It's there for thematic reasons, not narrative ones. It ties into the cemetary at the end of that other classic Christmas fable about a rich oppressive businessman and a poor working stiff, A Christmas Carol. The geography is not the point, I think. I'd have to think about it some more to come to any further conclusions.

What the heck is Deenan talking about regarding the "deep irony" of the end? Does he think that Pottersville would have better preserved the kinds of relationships that save George in the end?

Oh, and Potter's actions with the eight grand are grand larceny, full stop. I'm not interested in playing the subversion game and seeing how far we can implicate George Bailey while exculpating Potter. Except possibly as a purely absurdist goof, which is not what it looks to me like Smith and Deenan are doing, it seems to me a sick, twisted exercise.

Edited by SDG, 26 December 2007 - 06:37 PM.


#10 Persona

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 09:03 PM

luxhello.gif

Greg. SDG.

Thank you, good sirs.

-s.

#11 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 09:21 PM

Wonderful response, SDG. And since I haven't seen the film in almost two decades, I must stay on the sidelines and merely observe. But as a bystander, what do you make of Smith's remarks regarding the film's "insult" to working women, or the likelihood (or lack thereof) of whatsherface ending up a poor spinster and not the wife of that millionaire she was seeing before George came along? It seems to me that that is one of the key Smith complaints that you haven't addressed yet.

#12 mrmando

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 09:46 PM

The film doesn't bother to tell us what happened to Sam Wainwright in the Pottersville version of George's world. Who's to say? Maybe he'd have drowned in the swimming pool during the high school prom. Maybe he'd have gone to college and messed around with Mrs. Robinson instead of getting in on the ground floor in plastics. And even if Sam did become a millionaire, who's to say that's what Mary wanted? Here again is a scene from that other legendary Christmas tale. Just suppose the "he" and "she" are Sam and Mary, and see what you think:

He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair young girl in a mourning-dress: in whose eyes there were tears, which sparkled in the light that shone out of the Ghost of Christmas Past.

"It matters little," she said, softly. "To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve."

"What Idol has displaced you?" he rejoined.

"A golden one."

"This is the even-handed dealing of the world!" he said. "There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!"

"You fear the world too much," she answered, gently. "All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?"

"What then?" he retorted. "Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you."

She shook her head.

"Am I?"

"Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man."

"I was a boy," he said impatiently.

"Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are," she returned. "I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and can release you."

"Have I ever sought release?"

"In words? No. Never."

"In what, then?"

"In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us," said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; "tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!"

He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he said with a struggle," You think not?"

"I would gladly think otherwise if I could," she answered, "Heaven knows. When I have learned a Truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl -- you who, in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so, do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were."

He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she resumed.

"You may -- the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will -- have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen."

She left him, and they parted.

Edited by mrmando, 26 December 2007 - 09:48 PM.


#13 Greg Wright

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 10:15 PM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Dec 26 2007, 09:21 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Wonderful response, SDG.

Yes. I don't think I could add much that to that. But in response to Peter's earlier queries:

"Antagonist" and "protagonist" are not the same thing as "villain" and "hero." The former are formal classifications (with associations that may be valuative, but don't need to be) and latter are valuative assessments of the characters in those roles. Sometimes a story itself will make it plain whether the protagonist is heroic (or anti-heroic). That's the story's prerogative. IAWL very much makes it clear that Bailey is heroic, and Potter villainous. That's the story's choice. It's up to me whether I like that story or not; it's not up to me whether or Potter is a villain or a hero. And yes, of course, that applies to Charlie Wilson's War (or Schindler's list). Wilson is a boozer and womanizer, but he's the story's hero. Not much I can do about that -- except enjoy it (which I did), or not.

Is suburbanization one of the problems the film addresses? Yes, of course it is -- in connection with treatment of the welfare class. It's no accident that Bailey is viewed by Potter as almost a communist for how he conducts "business," and that his housing development is presented as a "salt-of-the-earth" type affair with house blessings and all. (Capra's Catholic heritage coming through pretty clearly.) Again, you'd have to look at the body of American literature from the period to get that in the proper context. Read Tarkington's Growth series if you're interested: The Midlander, The Magnificent Ambersons, and The Turmoil, I think the three books are. Alice Adams is also in that vein as is Kate Fennigate. (Alice Adams and The Magnificent Ambersons were both Pulitzer-winners; we all know about Welles' film of Ambersons, and Hepburn won her first Oscar for Alice Adams -- so these are not some obscure, irrelevant tales. Tarkington's vision of what was happening to middle-America and the fate of the small town was a pretty main-stream topic of mass consumption.)

Deneen seems to think that he's "discovered" that issue beneath the veneer of the film, and that somehow Capra was unaware of it all. Bullocks. Deneen is simply unaware (or at least expresses no awareness) of how the topic was being addressed in popular art. He seems to think analysis of the issue is the domain of contemporary sociologists. Myopic and uninformed.

QUOTE
what do you make of Smith's remarks regarding the film's "insult" to working women, or the likelihood (or lack thereof) of whatsherface ending up a poor spinster and not the wife of that millionaire she was seeing before George came along? It seems to me that that is one of the key Smith complaints that you haven't addressed yet.

There's no indication that Mary herself was particularly unhappy about being a librarian, for what that's worth. It was George who was offended by the notion. She still looked great, and carried herself with respect -- unlike poor George's mother, who turned into a veritable witch. In the "real world," Mary didn't throw over Hee Haw for George because she liked him better; she simply didn't care for the other guy -- wouldn't have mattered if he were a millionaire or a bum. (He wasn't a millionaire yet when George came along, fwiw. That came later.) In general, though, women are treated pretty much like they are in, say, a darker version of Leave it to Beaver, which came along a good fifteen years later. So I don't know why we'd expect much different from a 1946 film, or ask it to be something it couldn't be. (It would take an entire film to address that issue properly in that period -- one such as Alice Adams.)

Again, this is the problem with what Smith and Deneen do. I have no problem with criticism that swims against the current -- but when these writers insist that contemporary values and paradigms are the proper way to filter a film's messages, that just doesn't sit right with me. I don't read these pieces as mere fun-poking. They come off as agenda-driven to me. Very bad-natured, and not fun in the least.

I'm also pretty sure Deneen is on the wrong track with the cemetery. I don't think Bailey bulldozed the cemetery to put in the subdivision; it's my impression that Potter put in a cemetery instead of a subdivision -- the implication being that, like Scrooge, Potter simply preferred to "decrease the surplus population." Compare the lines that Potter has in the film with Dickens' lines for Scrooge, and it's pretty clear that Potter is written as an unrepentant Scrooge, and that Bailey is the reformed Scrooge-who-might-have-been. IAWL is an updated Christmas Carol, plain and not-so-simple.

(Thanks for the kind words from Alan, Stef, and SDG.)

#14 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 12:50 AM

Greg, I bow to your knowledge, your wisdom, and your eloquence. Even if I were to see the film afresh, I doubt I could pursue my devil's advocacy any further.

That said, I think you meant "Bollocks" and not "Bullocks". smile.gif

#15 Greg Wright

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 08:05 AM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Dec 27 2007, 12:50 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Greg, I bow to your knowledge, your wisdom, and your eloquence.

Oh, nuts. I awoke this morning looking forward to more cantankerous banter. Now I'll just have to be in a good mood all day!

QUOTE
That said, I think you meant "Bollocks" and not "Bullocks".

I probably have something sub-psychologically opposed to verbal ejaculations of the sort. But talking about diminutive bovines isn't terribly inappropriate in the context, either, given that they would fit more conveniently on the patio than on the porch; so who knows what I meant? (I doubt it would matter to Smith and Deneen...)


#16 John Drew

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 08:06 AM

QUOTE (Studio Briefing)
Young "George Bailey" Actor Dies
9 June 2008 10:33 AM, PDT

Bob Anderson, who played the young George Bailey in the Jimmy Stewart classic It's a Wonderful Life (1946), has died of cancer at his home in Palm Springs, Ca at age 75.


#17 Ron Reed

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Posted 11 June 2008 - 01:47 AM

Recently rewatched Capra's film version of YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Couldn't help but think the night court scene, where all the neighbours pool their money to pay Grandpa Vanderhof's fine, is sort of a trial run for the much more effective use of the same idea in WONDERFUL LIFE. (It's a Capra addition, not in the original play. Would be interesting to know whether it's in the Van Doren Stern short story that's the source for WONDERFUL LIFE. Bet it's not.)

Must say, I got quite a kick out of the two gleefully contrarian articles on WONDERFUL LIFE that open this thread. Thanks, Peter. Funny stuff.

Edited by Ron, 11 June 2008 - 01:48 AM.


#18 MattPage

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Posted 11 June 2008 - 11:06 AM

I missed that, but FWIW that final "heartwarming scene" kinda completely changes the film. I wish they'd made it so that Bailey realised how incredible his life was, but didn't get entirely rescued by his many friends.

Matt


#19 mrmando

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Posted 11 June 2008 - 01:23 PM

QUOTE (Ron @ Jun 10 2008, 11:47 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Recently rewatched Capra's film version of YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Couldn't help but think the night court scene, where all the neighbours pool their money to pay Grandpa Vanderhof's fine, is sort of a trial run for the much more effective use of the same idea in WONDERFUL LIFE. (It's a Capra addition, not in the original play.

As you well know, the entire night court scene is not in the original play, which, like The Man Who Came to Dinner, observes the classical unity of place.
QUOTE
Would be interesting to know whether it's in the Van Doren Stern short story that's the source for WONDERFUL LIFE. Bet it's not.)

I read something that purported to be the original short story ... it is very short indeed, and consists entirely of a conversation between the George and Clarence characters on the bridge.

#20 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 19 December 2008 - 06:23 AM

Wonderful? Sorry, George, Its a Pitiful, Dreadful Life
Its a Wonderful Life is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation. . . .
Take the extended sequence in which George Bailey (James Stewart), having repeatedly tried and failed to escape Bedford Falls, N.Y., sees what it would be like had he never been born. The bucolic small town is replaced by a smoky, nightclub-filled, boogie-woogie-driven haven for showgirls and gamblers, who spill raucously out into the crowded sidewalks on Christmas Eve. Its been renamed Pottersville, after the villainous Mr. Potter, Lionel Barrymores scheming financier.
Heres the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking.
And what about that banking issue? When he returns to the real Bedford Falls, George is saved by his friends, who open their wallets to cover an $8,000 shortfall at his savings and loan brought about when the evil Mr. Potter snatched a deposit mislaid by Georges idiot uncle, Billy (Thomas Mitchell).
But isnt George still liable for the missing funds, even if he has made restitution? I mean, if someone robs a bank, and then gives the money back, that person still robbed the bank, right? . . .
Now as for that famous alternate-reality sequence: This is supposedly what the town would turn out to be if not for George. I interpret it instead as showing the true characters of these individuals, their venal internal selves stripped bare. The flirty Violet (played by a supersexy Gloria Grahame, who would soon become a timeless film noir femme fatale) is a dime dancer and maybe a prostitute; Ernie the cabbies blank face speaks true misery as George enters his taxi; Bert the cop is a trigger-happy madman, violating every rule in the patrol guide when he opens fire on the fleeing, yet unarmed, George, forcing revelers to cower on the pavement. . . .
Not only is Pottersville cooler and more fun than Bedford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring manufacturing to Bedford Falls. But since the era of Its a Wonderful Life manufacturing in upstate New York has suffered terribly.
On the other hand, Pottersville, with its nightclubs and gambling halls, would almost certainly be in much better financial shape today. It might well be thriving.
I checked my theory with the oft-quoted Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy at New York University, and he agreed, pointing out that, of all the upstate counties, the only one that has seen growth in recent years has been Saratoga. . . .
Wendell Jamieson, New York Times, December 18