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It's A Wonderful Life

It's A Wonderful Life  

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  1. 1. Does "It's A Wonderful Life" belong on the AFI Top 100?

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  • Poll closed on 12/28/18 at 08:00 AM

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Paul & Amy earn their wings with 1946’s Jimmy Stewart holiday fable “It’s A Wonderful Life!” They wonder if Mary is actually a witch, explain why the term “Capra corn” is unfair, and play a very timely SNL parody. Plus: Karolyn Grimes, aka Zuzu Bailey, shares her memories of making the film.

If you haven’t seen it, what do you think “In The Heat Of The Night” is about? Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 with your answer! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

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I'm super busy tomorrow when this episode drops. So, I probably won't have time to post anything substantial and I don't want to want to go in depth before I've listened to the show. So, just a warning:  anyone who doesn't love this movie with their whole heart is permanently on my list of "Cynical Jerks"

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I don't have much to add atm, but I will say that Paul is right, I know from experience, that playing Mister Potter is the BEST role for an actor. 

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Maybe the skull on Potter’s desk alludes to memento mori, latin for “remember death.” Medieval Christian artists often used skulls and skeletons to remind viewers of their mortality. These symbols prompted viewers to turn away from worldly things, and live a life deserving of heaven.

In the film, Henry Potter grasps at worldly possessions, while George Bailey attracts some heavenly assistance. Sure, Potter appears to succeed in this life. But where will he go in the afterlife? Maybe we don’t need to see him punished onscreen. We just trust that Old Man Potter will meet his maker soon.

I’m not sure if the filmmakers intended this interpretation, but it appears to fit the underlying themes.

 

P.S, I just read about another symbol of death: a flower losing its petals. Didn’t his daughter complain about this?

https://en.m.wikipedia.torg/wiki/Memento_mori

Edited by SeekerofJoy

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 I’m still only in the first third of the episode, but I disagree when they say Mary wouldn’t/shouldn’t have become an old maid and would have married Sam “Hee-Haw” Wainwright.

Here’s dialogue from the film:

George: Wh-Why in the world did you ever marry a guy like me?

Mary: To keep from being an old maid.

George: You could have married Sam Wainwright and anybody else in town.

Mary: I didn't want to marry anybody else in town.

To me, her becoming an Old Maid doesn’t suggest that she’s incapable or falls apart without him, but rather that George and Mary are soul mates and destined to be together. They complete one another. If he doesn’t exist, she doesn’t just get another true love, because, as the movie stresses, everyone is special. Everyone is important. And everyone has a role.

So, no, she’s not going to marry Sam, because that wouldn’t be right for either her or Sam. When George sees her as the Old Maid, he finally appreciates just how much they compliment each other. I don’t think it would be as effective if it was like, “Yeah, she got married to someone else and she’s doing great.” Then it’s just torture for him, but the whole point is interconnectedness. I also don’t think it would be fair for her to end up in a loveless marriage either. 

As for being skittish? Hell, I’d be scared to live in Pottersville. That place is sketchy as fuck. I’m sure it would be terrifying for her. She would probably be better off if the town had remained Bedford Falls, but with George not existing, and the town going to shit and all, that isn’t really in the cards.

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Amy says that Clarance can’t wait for Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to come out and she was confused as to how old he was when he died. To my understanding, Clarence is as old as he says he is. He never mentions Huckleberry Finn. He says: “You should read the new book Mark Twain's writing now.” As in, Twain is writing a new book - in Heaven. 

My only confusion is how can a person read a book as it’s being written. Is the Heavenly Host just a bunch of beta readers? That seems like an extremely inefficient way to get any writing done. At least let him run through a draft or two first.

 

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52 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

 I’m still only in the first third of the episode, but I disagree when they say Mary wouldn’t/shouldn’t have become an old maid and would have married Sam “Hee-Haw” Wainwright.

Here’s dialogue from the film:

George: Wh-Why in the world did you ever marry a guy like me?

Mary: To keep from being an old maid.

George: You could have married Sam Wainwright and anybody else in town.

Mary: I didn't want to marry anybody else in town.

To me, her becoming an Old Maid doesn’t suggest that she’s incapable or falls apart without him, but rather that George and Mary are soul mates and destined to be together. They complete one another. If he doesn’t exist, she doesn’t just get another true love, because, as the movie stresses, everyone is special. Everyone is important. And everyone has a role.

So, no, she’s not going to marry Sam, because that wouldn’t be right for either her or Sam. When George sees her as the Old Maid, he finally appreciates just how much they compliment each other. I don’t think it would be as effective if it was like, “Yeah, she got married to someone else and she’s doing great.” Then it’s just torture for him, but the whole point is interconnectedness. I also don’t think it would be fair for her to end up in a loveless marriage either. 

As for being skittish? Hell, I’d be scared to live in Pottersville. That place is sketchy as fuck. I’m sure it would be terrifying for her. She would probably be better off if the town had remained Bedford Falls, but with George not existing and all and the town going to shit, that isn’t really in the cards.

Agreed. Mary would NEVER marry Sam, because she's never been interested in Sam. It's other people who said she should be interested. She's a woman of integrity and likes George because he has it too. No one else in Bedford Falls held the same interest for her.

The same is true on the other side with Violet. She's not a bad person; George still likes her as a friend. But their brief encounter (when he talks about running out to the country and taking in the scenery, and she reacts with, "What are you nuts?!") demonstrates that they aren't compatible. George only ever had a deep connection with Mary.

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3 hours ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

Agreed. Mary would NEVER marry Sam, because she's never been interested in Sam. It's other people who said she should be interested. She's a woman of integrity and likes George because he has it too. No one else in Bedford Falls held the same interest for her.

The same is true on the other side with Violet. She's not a bad person; George still likes her as a friend. But their brief encounter (when he talks about running out to the country and taking in the scenery, and she reacts with, "What are you nuts?!") demonstrates that they aren't compatible. George only ever had a deep connection with Mary.

Exactly! When he has his moment with Violet, it’s a reaction against his feelings of being out of control of his own life and not out of any genuine (romantic) affection. While he loves Mary, he’s resistant to being with her because he knows the feeling is real and he’s afraid it will just be another thing that keeps him tethered to Bedford Falls. But there’s never any doubt that they are meant only for each other.

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2 hours ago, EvRobert said:

I don't have much to add atm, but I will say that Paul is right, I know from experience, that playing Mister Potter is the BEST role for an actor. 

I also agreed with him that I would have enjoyed playing Clarence: a relatively small role that makes a big impact on the audience. That's what Orson Welles once called a "star part" (referring to his own role in The Third Man).

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1 hour ago, Cameron H. said:

 I’m still only in the first third of the episode, but I disagree when they say Mary wouldn’t/shouldn’t have become an old maid and would have married Sam “Hee-Haw” Wainwright.

Here’s dialogue from the film:

George: Wh-Why in the world did you ever marry a guy like me?

Mary: To keep from being an old maid.

George: You could have married Sam Wainwright and anybody else in town.

Mary: I didn't want to marry anybody else in town.

To me, her becoming an Old Maid doesn’t suggest that she’s incapable or falls apart without him, but rather that George and Mary are soul mates and destined to be together. They complete one another. If he doesn’t exist, she doesn’t just get another true love, because, as the movie stresses, everyone is special. Everyone is important. And everyone has a role.

So, no, she’s not going to marry Sam, because that wouldn’t be right for either her or Sam. When George sees her as the Old Maid, he finally appreciates just how much they compliment each other. I don’t think it would be as effective if it was like, “Yeah, she got married to someone else and she’s doing great.” Then it’s just torture for him, but the whole point is interconnectedness. I also don’t think it would be fair for her to end up in a loveless marriage either. 

As for being skittish? Hell, I’d be scared to live in Pottersville. That place is sketchy as fuck. I’m sure it would be terrifying for her. She would probably be better off if the town had remained Bedford Falls, but with George not existing, and the town going to shit and all, that isn’t really in the cards.

I agree with this. I know some people subscribe to the butterfly effect of alternative timelines (and this movie does it a little bit). That's fine but this movie really doesn't seem to set that up. The things that change only relate to George Bailey.

If you're going to ask why Mary didn't marry?, then would Harry Bailey have died because why would he be on the ice playing hockey with George's friends? And so on and so forth. Some things changed and some didn't.

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1 hour ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

I also agreed with him that I would have enjoyed playing Clarence: a relatively small role that makes a big impact on the audience. That's what Orson Welles once called a "star part" (referring to his own role in The Third Man).

Paul would actually make a GREAT Clarence, but I honestly think if I was casting a modern version, I'd put him and Zouks as Bert and Ernie

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So, I basically love this movie. It's easily in my top 5 of all time. It's pretty much flawless (except for that comically large bottle of POISON that the pharmacist has just out on his table) in every way. I don't have a huge list of Christmas movies I watch because I am a literal scrooge. Some movies come and go or start to feel like chores after so many years. It's A Wonderful Life never gets old and I still look forward to it every year. I still ugly cry for almost the entire movie (I usually start crying within the first 10 minutes). I worked at a movie theatre for 18 years. I opened 15 consecutive Christmases. We would put movie quotes or important information on the day's schedule for the staff and, without fail, I put the "Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old building and loan" quote on the Christmas schedule.

I think one of the amazing things is how its able to get right to the line of being too much without ever crossing it. Whenever it starts teetering toward being too saccharine, there's a joke or a dark moment. Or the performance is too good that it doesn't feel syrupy in spite of everything. The movie just hovers there in a way I don't think any movie has.

I'm kind of surprised Paul never saw this before. He definitely grew up in the era where this movie was on all. the. time. in December. People talk about A Christmas Story being on 24 hours straight but It's A Wonderful Life would run on multiple stations at the same time occasionally. I saw the last half hour of this movie so many times growing up.

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2 hours ago, grudlian. said:

I agree with this. I know some people subscribe to the butterfly effect of alternative timelines (and this movie does it a little bit). That's fine but this movie really doesn't seem to set that up. The things that change only relate to George Bailey.

If you're going to ask why Mary didn't marry?, then would Harry Bailey have died because why would he be on the ice playing hockey with George's friends? And so on and so forth. Some things changed and some didn't.

This movie is part of my mom's three must watch Christmas movies (along with the original Miracle on 34th Street and the Alastair Sims starring Scrooge) so all of us in my house growing up had to watch this movie a lot. What you mention is close to how my Dad saw the movie.

The things we see change are the things that relate to George because it is not some alternate reality but rather an imagined dreamscape created by Clarence based on George's memories. Nothing we see is what actually would have happened but rather on what George feels or thinks deep down would happen. So the fact that Mary tells him without him she'd end up an old maid and wouldn't marry Sam is kicking around in his mind somewhere and therefor that's what he sees. 

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List comparisons:

AFI (2007 | 1997): 20th | 11th

BFI Critic's poll, 2012 (ranking, US filtered ranking, votes): 283rd (all), 109.804th* (US), 6 votes

BFI Director's poll, 2012 (ranking, US filtered ranking, votes): 107th, 44.94th** (US), 6 votes

IMDB (rank, rating): 31, 8.6 rating

Metascore: 89

TSFDT (ranking, US filtered ranking): 79th, 36th

Oscar BP status: nominated,winner: The Best Years of Our Lives

* extrapolated out from there being 97 US films out of 250 movies listed

** extrapolated out from there being 42 US films out of a 100 movies listed

 

Overall, that seems like it did pretty well.  The worst placement is the BFI critics poll, and there are a fair number of movies around the 250 mark that are still fairly impressive.

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1 hour ago, Cam Bert said:

The things we see change are the things that relate to George because it is not some alternate reality but rather an imagined dreamscape created by Clarence based on George's memories. Nothing we see is what actually would have happened but rather on what George feels or thinks deep down would happen. So the fact that Mary tells him without him she'd end up an old maid and wouldn't marry Sam is kicking around in his mind somewhere and therefor that's what he sees. 

Oh, I kind of like that better than what I was going to chime in with.  It's tough, without research, for me to know what molded Capra's worldview which produced this movie.  But I look at it and think this was probably shaped heavily from notions of Black Tuesday and the Great Depression.  You have the run on the bank, and while George's contemplated suicide happens much later, the shift from happy family man to being ruined and potentially jumping out a window (or in this case off a bridge) seems to be in the same strain of thought of our mythology of the big crash.  I say this, because otherwise it did seem to me that the shift to walking to a bridge and killing himself seemed to come on so abruptly.  Chronology-wise (in the real world), I think the US had a recession shortly after WW2 ended.  WW2 ended in 1945 and this was released in 1947.  I suspect the specter of the Great Depression was still there.

Related to that, I couldn't help but have the reading that Mary is someone who sees things that have a richness or greatness to them, even if they've fallen on hard times.  Her love of the old house is where I first got that feel (in contrast to Amy reading her as a Goth).  And she wants to rebuild these fallen down structures so that they can regain their old glory.  Hence why she wants to repair the house.  I get the reading that all the Americana talk of richness of the small community is Capra saying, America has fallen on hard times, but it'll rebuild itself.

Anyhow, why that's related to spinster Mary.  She left and then came back to the town.  In some ways she doesn't want to give up on it, even though she's qualified to get out of there.  However, shortly after she returns, the town starts going to hell because Potter's general, well, whatever his Potterverse economic influence is.  So, I think she might not marry because her loyalty to the idea of what the town could be, so she won't leave it.  But it degraded to hell, so no one there was worth marrying.  Side note - notice her job was a librarian, a municipal job literally about preserving the writings of the history of society.  Or maybe it's just a sad job that single women work at and spinster-hood is a sad, sad thing at the ripe old age of 28 as far as 1947 is concerned.

Strangely in both this and Rocky, young spinsterhood causes myopia in women.

ETA: talking about other recent movies.

When talking about Schindler's ListLife is Beautiful came up.  An arguably magical realist film that inarguably stars Robert Benigni.

Federico Fellini's final film, The Voice of the Moon, also starred Robert Benigni, definitely magical realism, and in it, they definitely (and literally) brought down the moon (or maybe that's just magical).  I had to double-check wiki exactly how:

Meanwhile, the three demented Micheluzzi brothers have caught the moon using gigantic farming equipment and roped it down in a stable

 

 

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20 minutes ago, Cam Bert said:

This movie is part of my mom's three must watch Christmas movies (along with the original Miracle on 34th Street and the Alastair Sims starring Scrooge) so all of us in my house growing up had to watch this movie a lot. What you mention is close to how my Dad saw the movie.

The things we see change are the things that relate to George because it is not some alternate reality but rather an imagined dreamscape created by Clarence based on George's memories. Nothing we see is what actually would have happened but rather on what George feels or thinks deep down would happen. So the fact that Mary tells him without him she'd end up an old maid and wouldn't marry Sam is kicking around in his mind somewhere and therefor that's what he sees. 

I don't know that I agree with it being the things George Bailey imagines or dreams. Too many things George can't control or wouldn't think of change during the sequence. His lip stops bleeding and starts again. The petals disappear and reappear. It stops snowing and starts again. George wouldn't have considered any of that in a vision of his own life.

I think the movie's intent is that George is really seeing the world without him. It's awfully convenient that the world is worse only in things that relate directly to him but that's storytelling sometimes. 

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8 hours ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Or maybe it's just a sad job that single women work at and spinster-hood is a sad, sad thing at the ripe old age of 28 as far as 1947 is concerned

The Music Man plays with this idea too. The whole town either views Marian as a slut because something happened between her and the rich old man prior to Harold Hill arriving that he left her the library or spinster because she isn't a wife and is devoted to the library.

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http://binkystick.bandcamp.com/track/clarence

I made this IAWL-based song with my 90s band, Binkystick, called Clarence. 

 

Rob L from LI

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14 hours ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Anyhow, why that's related to spinster Mary.  She left and then came back to the town.  In some ways she doesn't want to give up on it, even though she's qualified to get out of there.  However, shortly after she returns, the town starts going to hell because Potter's general, well, whatever his Potterverse economic influence is.  So, I think she might not marry because her loyalty to the idea of what the town could be, so she won't leave it.  But it degraded to hell, so no one there was worth marrying.  Side note - notice her job was a librarian, a municipal job literally about preserving the writings of the history of society.  Or maybe it's just a sad job that single women work at and spinster-hood is a sad, sad thing at the ripe old age of 28 as far as 1947 is concerned.

I'm not sure how true this is to the filmmakers' intent (it WAS 1947, after all), but to me the way this scene reads is not that George is horrified that Mary is unmarried and working at a library. He's horrified that she doesn't know him and is even scared of him. His whole life, that had never been the case. Mary was always there for him. He can't take the loss of that.

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6 minutes ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

I'm not sure how true this is to the filmmakers' intent (it WAS 1947, after all), but to me the way this scene reads is not that George is horrified that Mary is unmarried and working at a library. He's horrified that she doesn't know him and is even scared of him. His whole life, that had never been the case. Mary was always there for him. He can't take the loss of that.

Agreed. Up until that point, he’s still - more or less - not buying it. Face to face with the reality that Mary doesn’t recognize him is what makes it all become terrifyingly real to him.

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4 hours ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

I'm not sure how true this is to the filmmakers' intent (it WAS 1947, after all), but to me the way this scene reads is not that George is horrified that Mary is unmarried and working at a library. He's horrified that she doesn't know him and is even scared of him. His whole life, that had never been the case. Mary was always there for him. He can't take the loss of that.

That was a partly a throw-away, joke line.  But, a scene can serve multiple purposes.  I was merely putting my two cents on the question of whether Mary would have married and considered the possibility of the job of the library playing into her personality; but also offering the possibility the job was also just a trope (partially from the era, but I don't think it's entirely gone away) - @EvRobert put forth another example that maybe I shouldn't read too much into that job being dignifying.

While the main emotional thrust of the scene is Mary not recognizing and being terrified of George (I mean, wouldn't you be scared if you were closing up work after dark and some weird man started screaming your name, ran up to you and started grabbing you? I would be), being a spinster is supposed to be a terrible thing.  Everyone George visits in Potterverse (yes, I'm going to keep calling the alternate reality this.  I'm now picturing Henry Potter dropping out of Hogwarts) has a significantly worse life.  Clarence saying, "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but Mary's a spinster."  There's the never found true love element there, but there is judgment in the presentation that being a spinster is a terrible thing (and also causes myopia).  But this is just analyzing the smaller details of the film.

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It's nice to have a film like this that we can all just appreciate its brilliance.  We'll be able to get back to problematizing next episode.

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Like Amy, I recently watched the colorized version, an experience that really highlighted something I didn't notice before: the bar in Pottersville has black people in it (correct me if I'm wrong, but I think "Italian" was as ethnic as it got in Bedford Falls). Which ultimately makes "It's a Wonderful Life" the heartwarming tale of a man who keeps his hometown all-white.

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19 hours ago, Amanda Schultz said:

Like Amy, I recently watched the colorized version, an experience that really highlighted something I didn't notice before: the bar in Pottersville has black people in it (correct me if I'm wrong, but I think "Italian" was as ethnic as it got in Bedford Falls). Which ultimately makes "It's a Wonderful Life" the heartwarming tale of a man who keeps his hometown all-white.

This little detail inadvertently comments upon the racism inherent in American home ownership during the post-war period. Long story short, while the US government subsidized housing for a lot of veterans after WWII, other policies (both formal and informal) refused home loans to African-American buyers. So perhaps it's not surprising that in Potter's version of the town there are more black residents. Everyone rents there; Potter owns everything.

That's not to suggest that George Bailey or his company are deliberately trying to keep black people out of town (given the Baileys' fondness for Annie it seems unlikely they would be), but they specialize in home ownership, and those scales were heavily tilted against blacks during that time.

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