It's a Wonderful Life
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for It's a Wonderful Life can be found here.

Angel 2nd class (not having yet earned his wings) Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) is called into service on Christmas eve when it looks like Bedford Falls resident George Bailey (James Stewart) is about to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. After viewing a full account of George's life, Clarence attempts to show George how the lives of his wife Mary (Donna Reed), his family, his friends, and all of Bedford Falls would have fared had he never been born.

It's a Wonderful Life is a based on a short story, 'The Greatest Gift' by American author Philip Van Doren Stern, who claims that the inspiration came to him in a dream. It was first published as a 21-page booklet that Stern printed privately and sent to friends as Christmas presents in December 1943. In 1944, it was published again by Reader's Scope magazine as well as Good Housekeeping magazine (who changed the title to 'The Man Who was Never Born)'. Stern also privately published it in 1945. The story was adapted for the movie by American screenwriters Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling, and Frank Capra (who also produced and directed the movie).

On the day before Christmas, Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses the $8000 needed to make the bank examiner's note, and George realizes that, if they don't make that payment, Bailey Building & Loan will be forced into bankruptcy and that he will likely go to jail. When George begs for help from the town's millionaire slumlord, Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who has long been attempting to put the B&L out of business, Potter mocks him, accuses him of 'playing the market with the company's money' or spending it on a woman, and suggests that his $15,000 life insurance policy makes him worth more dead than alive.

'Buffalo Girls' (aka 'Buffalo Gals)' is a traditional American folk song, first written down and published in 1844 as 'Lubly Fan' by blackface minstrel John Hodges [1821-1891], although there is some dispute as to whether Hodges (aka 'Cool White') composed the song or adapted it from other sources. 'Lubly Fan' beckons a young woman to come out and dance by the light of the moon. The song became popular throughout the U.S. because the lyrics could be changed to match whatever city it was sung in, hence 'Boston Girls' in Boston, 'Pittsburgh Girls' in Pittsburgh, 'Buffalo Girls' in Buffalo, New York, etc.

Yes. Traditionally, plastic is manufactured from petroleum oil, but it is possible to make plastics from other oils such as soybean or corn. In fact, back in 1941, Henry Ford introduced a plastic-bodied 'Soybean Car' made from soybeans and hemp. Ford was hoping that his soybean plastic would replace the use of metal. Unfortunately, auto production declined drastically during World War II [1939-1945], and soybean plastic never got off the ground. However, with the emphasis today on the conservation of fossil fuels, soybean plastic is making a comeback.

Four. There's Pete (Larry Simms), Janie (Carol Coombs), Tommy (Jimmy Hawkins), and Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes).

For starters, it's no longer Bedford Falls; the town has been renamed to 'Pottersville,' and it's a garish place of night clubs, bars, strip joints, pawnbrokers, girlie shows, etc.. Bailey's Park, the building project instituted by the B&L, is an old cemetery. Instead of going to New York, Violet Bick (Gloria Grahame) became a stripper/prostitute. Mr Gower the druggest (H.B. Warner) is a drunkard and panhandler after spending 20 years in prison for poisoning a kid. Ernie Bishop the taxidriver (Frank Faylen), instead of parachuting into France during the war, lives in a shack, his wife and kid having run away three years ago. Uncle Billy is in an insane asylum. Brother Harry (Todd Karns), instead of earning the Congressional Medal of Honor for shooting down 15 airplanes, died at the age of eight, when he fell through the ice. Mary never married and has turned into a spinster librarian. All this because George was not in their lives.

How does the movie end?

After seeing how his non-existence has affected the lives of everyone around him, George begs Clarence to give him back his life. He races home to Mary, cheering and wishing everyone along the way a merry Christmas, even though he expects to be arrested. But Uncle Billy comes over with a basket of money, contributions from everyone George has helped through the years. Harry even leaves his banquet in New York and flies to Bedford Falls to offer a toast to his brother. As everyone sings 'Hark the Herald Angels', George and Zuzu open a copy of Tom Sawyer and read the inscription: 'Dear George: Remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings! Clarence.' In the final scene, a bell on the Christmas tree begins to ring, and Zuzu says that her teacher told her 'Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.' The movie ends with everyone singing 'Auld Lang Syne'.

Many viewers have noticed that, in George's reality, Mary does not wear glasses. In the alternate reality, however, she is shown as a spinster librarian wearing glasses. They point out that there's really no way that just knowing George could have affected Mary's eyes, so several theories have arisen to explain this conundrum. The most common explanation is that Mary spends so much time reading that she ended up straining her eyes. A mirror theory is that, in George's reality, Mary did not read a lot, so she didn't need glasses. Both theories are based on the idea that reading too much causes one to need glasses, an idea that was prevalent in the 1940s but has since been disproved. Another theory is that Mary needs glasses in both realities but doesn't wear them in George's reality in order to look 'pretty,' because it was a popular belief in the 1940s that 'boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses.' A third theory is that something happened to Mary's eyes in the alternate reality, e.g., an illness that might not have happened had George been there. The most likely explanation is that the screenwriters were exploiting a common stereotype in 1940s in order to make Mary seem frumpy and unglamorous: that older, unmarried woman all wore glasses and dowdy clothes, had their hair in buns, and grew up to be librarians, teachers, or nurses. They also gave her a rather ungainly way of walking in this scene.

Yes, they are. Although It's a Wonderful Life is a classic and is played during every Christmas season, it must be remembered that the movie was made in 1946 when people had a different idea of what caused a cold. Although French chemist Louis Pasteur [1822-1895] discovered germs in 1860, the common cold virus was not known until the 1950s. Until then, it was believed that colds were caused by becoming chilled, such as not wearing a hat or shoes or not buttoning one's coat. If Zuzu was real, her 'cold' would have been contacted a few days before (cold viruses usually take about three days to manifest symptoms) or she might only have gotten a nose run from the cold.

This is considered an error in the movie with no explanation. Some husbands would be relieved to know that without him his wife is an old maid and that he was the best thing to ever happen to her.

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