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It's a Wonderful Life (1946) Poster

Trivia

One of the rescuers at the end is named Leon in the novelization.
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Jump to: Director Trademark (2) | Spoilers (10)
For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock into the window of the Granville House, Frank Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out for her on cue. To everyone's amazement, Donna Reed broke the window with true aim and heft without the assistance of the hired marksman. Reed had played baseball in high school and had a strong throwing arm.
As Uncle Billy is leaving George's house drunk, it sounds as if he stumbles over some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped some equipment right after Uncle Billy left the screen. Both actors continued with the scene ("I'm all right, I'm all right!") and director Frank Capra decided to use it in the final cut. He gave the clumsy stagehand a $10 bonus for "improving the sound."
The gym floor that opens up to reveal a swimming pool was real and was located at Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles.
James Stewart said that of all the films he made, this was his favorite.
The film was a flop when it played theatres in 1946.
The set for Bedford Falls was constructed in two months and was one of the longest sets that had ever been made for an American movie. It covered four acres of the RKO's Encino Ranch. It included 75 stores and buildings, main street, factory district and a large residential and slum area. The Main Street was 300 yards long, three whole city blocks!
James Stewart was nervous about the phone scene kiss because it was his first screen kiss since his return to Hollywood after the war. Under Frank Capra's watchful eye, Stewart filmed the scene in only one unrehearsed take, and it worked so well that part of the embrace was cut because it was too passionate to pass the censors.
A photograph of James Stewart at the age of six months donated by his parents was included in the Bailey home set.
While filming the scene where George prays in the bar, James Stewart has said that he was so overcome that he began to sob right then and there. Later, Frank Capra reframed the shot so it looked like a much closer shot than was actually filmed because he wanted to catch that expression on Stewart's face.
Frank Capra often said that this was his favorite of all his films.
James Stewart cited George Bailey as being his favorite character. The part was originally developed at another studio with Cary Grant earmarked for the role. When Frank Capra inherited the project, he rewrote it to suit Stewart.
The scene on the bridge where Clarence saves George was filmed on a back lot on a day where the temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why James Stewart is visibly sweating in a few scenes.
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.
Frank Capra filmed a number of sequences that were later cut; the only remnants are rare stills that have been unearthed. A number of alternative endings were considered, with Capra's first script having George fall to his knees saying The Lord's Prayer (the script called for an opening scene with the townspeople in prayer). Feeling an overly religious tone didn't have the emotional impact of family and friends coming to George's rescue, the closing scenes were rewritten.
Two of the writers called the finished film "horrid" and refused to see it when it was released. The only one of Clifford Odets' ideas to appear in the finished script was George preventing Mr. Gower from poisoning a boy with the wrong vitamin pills.
The Bedford Falls set made use of 20 transplanted oak trees, and for the Winter scenes, 3000 tons of shaved ice, 300 tons of gypsum, 300 tons of plaster, and 6000 gallons of chemicals. It made use of sets originally designed for Cimarron (1931), and it had a working bank and a tree-lined center parkway. Pigeons, cats and dogs were allowed to roam the mammoth set to give it a lived-in feel. Because the story covers different seasons and an alternate town, the set was extremely adaptable. Filming began on April 15, 1946, and ended on July 27, 1946, exactly on schedule for the 90 day deadline to shoot. The set was later razed in 1954, and only two locations survived; the gymnasium at Beverly Hills High School which is still in operation today, and the Martini house, at 4587 Viro Road in La Canada Flintridge, California.
The film has two lines of "secret dialog" - spoken quietly through a door. (They can be heard when amplifying the volume, and are also explicitly depicted in the closed-captioning.) The lines occur at the end of the scene set in Peter Bailey's private office with Bailey and his son George, and Potter and his goon present. After George raves to Potter that "you can't say that about my father", he is ushered out of the room by his father, then George is shown standing outside the office door. At that moment, George overhears the following two lines of dialog through the glass pane of the door behind him: POTTER: What's the answer? PETER BAILEY: Potter, you just humiliated me in front of my son.
Donna Reed's first starring role.
Frank Capra estimated the film would be shot within 90 days; he was right and the whole cast and crew threw a party to celebrate.
Lionel Barrymore convinced James Stewart to take the role of George, despite his feeling that he was not up to it so soon after World War II.
42 rings are heard over the course of the film, so if Clarence is right, 42 angels have gotten their wings.
The year that Potter offers George a $20,000 annual salary is unclear, but assuming that this scene takes place in 1939, that amount is equivalent to $310,567 in 2010 dollars.
This was the first and last time that Frank Capra produced, financed, directed and co-wrote one of his films.
In the version of this film which aired on TV in the late 1950s and early 1960s, George Bailey (James Stewart), by phone, accuses the teacher of "sending my kid home from school in the rain". In the most recent version aired on NBC,12/24/12, George's line is "You sent my kid home from school half naked." Quite a stronger accusation. This would give the teacher's husband a more ample reason to "take a poke" at George, as he did, later in Nick's tavern.
The only film in history to originate from a greetings card.
In 2004 the BBC TV listings magazine "Radio Times" conducted a poll into the Best Film Never to Have Won an Oscar. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) came second (The Shawshank Redemption (1994) was first).
According to an interview with Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played Zuzu, the name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. George makes reference to this near the end of the movie when he says to Zu Zu at the top of the stairs, "Zuzu my little Ginger Snap!"
Pharmacist Gower's son's death at college is attributed to "Influenza" in the telegram that Young George reads, dated May 3, 1919. This was the year when the "Spanish Flu Pandemic," spread on the filthy battlefields of the First World War, claimed millions of lives around the world.
Despite being set around Christmas, it was filmed during a heat wave. It got to be so hot that Frank Capra gave everyone a day off to recuperate.
This film is one of five times Beulah Bondi portrayed James Stewart's mother, The others are: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Of Human Hearts (1938) and Vivacious Lady (1938), and The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis (1971).
After the film was finished, it was broadcast coast to coast by CBS and in other parts of the world by the state department. It premiered at the Globe theatre in New York, for the benefit of the Boys Club. Many people loved it and watched it over and over, but although not a box-office success, it became immensely popular and a Christmas classic.
According to Robert J. Anderson, H.B. Warner really was drunk during the scene in which Mr. Gower slaps young George. Warner's slaps were real and caused real blood to come from Anderson's ear. After the scene was finished, Warner hugged and comforted Anderson.
Ranked as the #1 Most Powerful Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute (2006).
Frank Capra strove to make scenes as real as he could for actors. Thus the first kiss between James Stewart and Donna Reed was shot at the same time as the other end of the phone conversation, with Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson) on a different set (Wainwright's New York office) at RKO's Pathe studio.
Clarence's boss (named Franklin in the novelization, presumably named after recently dead "hero-President" Franklin D. Roosevelt) mentions "the greatest gift" in one of the opening scenes. This was the title of the 1944 story which inspired the film.
Originally ended with "Ode to Joy", not "Auld Lang Syne".
Debuted a week after William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which explained why this movie was a disappointment at the box office and at the Academy Awards.
Potter and his bodyguard are always dressed the same. The exception is the scene when Potter's bodyguard wheels Potter into the bank; Potter's bodyguard is wearing a scarf while Potter isn't. Potter's wagon driver also dresses like him.
There are several examples of product placement in Gower's drugstore; Coca-Cola; Paterson tobacco pipes; La Unica cigars; Camel cigarettes; Lucky Strike cigarettes; Chesterfield cigarettes; Vaseline hair tonic; Penetro cough syrup; Pepto-Bismol; Bayer Aspirin ("for colds and influenza"), and The Saturday Evening Post.
When Uncle Billy knocks over a trashcan, his cries "I'm all right! I'm all right" were ad-libbed by Thomas Mitchell. The actual noise was made by a clumsy stagehand knocking over equipment but it sounded so authentic to Frank Capra he left it in; he still had it augmented though with added sound effects.
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The Main Street of Bedford Falls, including the Bailey Bros. Savings and Loan and the Bedford Falls Trust & Savings, was located on the RKO Encino Ranch, west of (but not on) the playing fields of what is now Balboa Park in Encino, California. The actual location of the Bedford Falls Main Street ran east-west from what is now the east side of the 5900 block of Ostrom Avenue, Encino, California. The area is now a residential neighborhood.
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The story spans 27 years, from 1919 to 1946.
In 1947, an FBI analyst submitted, without comment, an addition to a running memo on "Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry," recording the opinion of an industry source who said that the film's "obvious" attempt to discredit bankers "is a common trick used by Communists."
James Stewart's performance as George Bailey is ranked #8 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
Both James Stewart and Donna Reed came from small towns; Stewart from Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Reed from Denison, Iowa. She demonstrated her rural roots by winning an impromptu bet with Lionel Barrymore when he challenged her to milk a cow on-set.
James Stewart and Donna Reed reprised their roles in 1947 on radio, first on "The Lux Radio Theatre" and then on "Camel Screen Guild Theatre." In the Lux version, instead of putting Zuzu's petals in his pocket, George has a bell that Zuzu likes to play with. The "Lux" version aired in March; the "Screen Guild" version aired December 29th.
Vincent Price was considered for the part of Mr. Potter.
Gloria Grahame was cast as Violet Bick after MGM casting director Bill Grady showed some of her screen-tests to Frank Capra.
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At $3.7 million, this was a very expensive independent production. In its initial box office run, it only earned $3.3 million.
Actor and producer Sheldon Leonard said in an interview that the only reason he agreed to play Nick the bartender in this film was so that he would have money to buy Dodger baseball tickets.
Voted the #1 inspirational film of all time in AFI's "100 Years, 100 Cheers" (June 14th, 2006)
When composer Dimitri Tiomkin's original score for the finale (featuring "Ode To Joy") was eliminated, tracks of Alfred Newman's score from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) were used instead, most notably the chorus singing "Hallelujah".
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The movie was originally slated for 1947 release, but when Technicolor was unable to deliver prints in time for RKO's Christmastime 1946 release of Sinbad, the Sailor (1947), Frank Capra's film was rushed into theaters. The titles were not reshot, and thus bear a 1947 copyright.
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After the war Frank Capra set up Liberty Films with George Stevens and William Wyler to make more serious, soul-searching films. This and State of the Union (1948) were Liberty's only productions.
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In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #20 Greatest Movie of All Time.
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The husband and wife writing team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett found Frank Capra disagreeable and difficult to work with and were angered when they found he had rewritten their script. They filed an arbitration with the Writer's Guild to have Capra's name taken off, but it remains on.
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George refers to his daughter, Zuzu, as "my little ginger snap." This is a reference to the brand name of ginger snaps that was made by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) at the time.
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The galaxies used to depict the angels' dialogue in the film are a group of galaxies which astronomers call Stephan's Quintet.
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Ranked #3 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Fantasy" in June 2008.
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Prior to the Los Angeles release of It's a Wonderful Life, Liberty Films mounted an extensive promotional campaign that included a daily advertisement highlighting one of the film's players, along with comments from reviewers. The New York Daily Times offered an editorial in which it declared the film and James Stewart's performance worthy of Oscar consideration.
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The film passed through several hands, including Howard Hughes, who expressed an interest.
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Jean Arthur, the original choice for Mary Bailey, co-starred with James Stewart in two of Frank Capra's other films, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and You Can't Take It with You (1938).
Other actresses considered for the role of Mary Bailey were Olivia de Havilland, Martha Scott and Ann Dvorak. Ginger Rogers allegedly turned down the role because she thought the character too bland. When Rogers penned her autobiography, she questioned that decision by asking the readers, "Foolish, you say?"
Frank Capra disagreed with cinematographer Victor Milner and eventually had him replaced and some of Milner's scenes reshot by Joseph Walker.
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Two of Sesame Street (1969)'s Muppets, Bert and Ernie, share their names with the film's cop and cab driver, respectively, but it's believed to be just a coincidence. Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu) insisted that the two Muppets were named as such because the movie was Jim Henson's favorite, Henson's writing partner Jerry Juhl insisted to The San Francisco Chronicle that Ernie and Bert were not named after the movie's characters. Juhl said, "I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cabdriver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format. He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental."
"Twinkle-twinkle little star" plays in most of Clarence's scenes; it plays five times overall.
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The one and only time Frank Capra contributed to a screenplay on one of his films.
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"Screen Director's Playhouse" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on May 8, 1949 with James Stewart reprising his film role.
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Many of Dimitri Tiomkin's cues from the score were replaced with excerpts from the RKO music library. It included cues from Roy Webb, Leigh Harline and Alfred Newman's "Hallelujah" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).
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The song "Buffalo Gals" was a 19th-century vaudeville song. The "gals" who were asked to "come out tonight" varied according to whichever town the song was being performed in. It could "New York Gals," "Chicago Gals," or any other suitable town/city name. "Buffalo Gals" became the favorite. A renewed pop cultural interest in this song came about when some people, mostly children, did not realize that "Buffalo" within this song refers to a city, and assumed that "Buffalo Gals" are a tribe of chimeric beast-people (a la The Wolf Man (1941)) or anthropomorphic bison. This misconception was immortalized in an iconic drawing, "The Elephant Man meets the Buffalo Gal," made by humorist Gary Larson around 1980, where such a creature meets a similarly misrepresented manifestation of the title The Elephant Man (1980).
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350,000 feet of film were used.
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One of the film's posters shows an illustrated George holding Mary in the air, but this scene never appears in the film.
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George says "home alone" to Clarence; clips from this movie are shown in Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992).
Jean Arthur was Frank Capra's first choice for the part of Mary. However, she declined the role since she was already committed to a Broadway play.
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Clarence's voice is heard in the opening scenes, but he doesn't appear in the flesh until the last 30 minutes of the film, and is on-screen for only 15 minutes.
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Although a Christmas film, it was shot in the middle of Summer.
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James Stewart repeated his role in a one-hour radio version for NBC Radio Theater in 1949.
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The pictures in the Granville house are all from George's brochures (but larger) that he threw away.
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James Stewart signed up to do the film on 5th November, 1945.
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Actors considered to play Mr Potter included Edward Arnold, Charles Bickford, Edgar Buchanan, Louis Calhern, Victor Jory, Raymond Massey, Vincent Price and Thomas Mitchell, who was cast instead as Uncle Billy. Lionel Barrymore won the role because he was a famous Ebenezer Scrooge in radio dramatizations of A Christmas Carol at the time, and was a natural choice to play the heartless, miserly Mr Potter. An added bonus was Barrymore had worked with Frank Capra before on You Can't Take It with You (1938).
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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.
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Frank Capra considered casting Robert Mitchum as Bert the Cop.
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George was born in 1907, just one year before actor James Stewart who plays him.
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Mr Potter's bodyguard never talks; he just stands there with a hand on Potter's wheelchair. The character doesn't even get a name. He isn't always mentioned in scenes with Potter in the novelization, but he's always there with him in the film.
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Lionel Barrymore signed up to play Mr Potter on April 1st, 1946. Frank Capra wasn't happy with his look and had the makeup team create a look based on the famous painting American Gothic.
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Dalton Trumbo, Dorothy Parker, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets all did uncredited work on the script.
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Mr. Potter's full name is shown on his office door as Henry F. Potter. In an early script he was to be called Herbert Potter.
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Laraine Day was offered the role of Mary but had to decline because she was already busy working on The Locket (1946).
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Bells crop up throughout the film; in the intro music and other background music; Christmas decorations; cash registers; telephones ringing; a bell on Mr Potter's desk; the studio logo; doorbells; The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) is playing at the local cinema, etc.
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Violet is almost never seen without a hat on or something in her hair; the exception is ironically George and Mary's wedding.
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At one stage when George is walking down the street, Uncle Billy calls out "Hey Captain Cook, got your sea legs yet?". Captain James Cook (1728-1779) was an English sea captain who explored many previously-isolated regions including Oregon, Australia, and Hawaii, where he was killed when a dispute with locals turned violent.
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Uncle Billy's pets are Jimmy, a crow always seen at the bank; hamsters; a dog; birds; a squirrel; a monkey, etc. George had a dog when he still lived with his parents, and one can see a birdcage in his second home, and the Martini's own a goat.
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The score was issued by Telarc on an album which included music from two other Christmas favorites: Miracle on 34th Street (1947) (Cyril J. Mockridge) and A Christmas Carol (1951) (Richard Addinsell). David Newman conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from Dimitri Tiomkin's reconstructed score.
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Clarence looks smaller than the other stars, probably because he doesn't have his wings yet.
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Henry Fonda was in the running to play George Bailey.
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Many people who have read The Greatest Gift, the short story that inspired this film, have said it's their favorite movie.
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The Bailey Park scenes were filmed in La Cañada, California.
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George and Mary back up five times before falling in the pool.
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George smokes a cigarette, a cigar and a pipe in the film.
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Bedford Falls is a fictional town in the state is New York (as seen on the death-certificate telegram received by Mr. Gower). It is a combination of two real town names: Bedford Hills (in Westchester County) and Seneca Falls (midway between Rochester and Syracuse). Elmira is said to be near Bedford Falls, this statement is true of Seneca Falls.
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The ball on the stairs comes off in George's hand three times.
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When Sam Wainright talks to George and Mary with his wife, George has a document in his pocket; this may be his life insurance policy.
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Mrs Hatch's first initials are JW but its not known what they stand for.
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Uncle Billy ties a string around his finger to remind him to do things, but most of the time still manages to forget.
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Both Ma Bailey and Mrs Hatch want to know what George wants at some point; Ma Bailey in Pottersville and Mrs Hatch in her house.
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"Buffalo Gals" plays seven times throughout the film.
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When Potter is in his horse-drawn carriage at the start, its the only scene where Potter's bodyguard isn't pushing Potter and someone else is driving him around instead.
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When a destitute Violet asks George for help, he thought her hat was silly in the novelization; she also returned the money he lent her.
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H.B. Warner signed up to play Mr Gower on April 4th, 1946 and Samuel S. Hinds signed on to play Peter Bailey the day after.
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Violet is the only character to call George Georgy, or Georgy Porgy. She doesn't always call him that in the novelization.
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George says "holy mackerel" three times.
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Sam Wainright's catchphrase "hee-haw" is said 13 times throughout the movie, and not always by him.
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George winks three times through the movie; at his father, Nick and Clarence. Potter winks at George once.
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George says "doggone it" three times.
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Director Trademark 

Frank Capra:  [Jimmy the Raven]  this bird appeared in all Capra movies after 1938.
Frank Capra:  [Warner]  One of the reasons H.B. Warner got the part of the pharmacist, Mr. Gower, was because he actually studied medicine before going into acting. He was also in some of Frank Capra's other films, including Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), You Can't Take It with You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). The character's name Gower derived from Capra's employer Columbia Pictures, which had been located on Gower Street for many years. Also on Gower Street was a drugstore that was a favorite for the studio's employees.
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

The instant that George says "God" on the bridge, it starts snowing, showing that he is back in the real world.
In the original script, Clarence confronts Potter about what he did to George. It was to take place right after Potter yelled, "And Happy New Year to you, in jail!"
In the original short story the film is based upon, George's last name is Pratt, not Bailey. The short story begins with George on the bridge thinking about suicide. Clarence appears on the bridge, but doesn't dive into the water. George's wife is still called Mary. George makes his wish on the bridge. Clarence gives him brushes from a satchel so George can pretend he's a salesman in Pottersville, and then Clarence disappears. The Bailey Building & Loan went bust after someone made off with the money (Potter in the film), but it was $50,000, not $8000. Mary married someone else. The house they lived in was a wedding present from her father. George's father is still alive and has a dog called Brownie. He tries selling his mother a brush. Mary has a boy and a girl. George's mother is friendlier and lives in a nicer house. Harry drowned when he was 16, on the day he had his picture taken because of a sudden cramp. Instead of George's daughter practicing the same song over and over again, it was the church choir. George tries selling a brush to Mary. She's married to Art Jenkins, a boorish heavy drinker, and they're son takes after him, but she's not an old maid. George runs into Clarence on the bridge. The car's not by the tree, but the damage is when things are back to normal. He doesn't see Harry at the party but at his parents house. He wrestles with the dog. He wakes the kids up and Mary was getting ready to go to church. The brush he sold to Mary appears at the end. There's no mention of Clarence wanting wings, Mr Potter, or why George wanted to kill himself. The short story covers the last 30 minutes of the film. Clarence doesn't carry around a book of Tom Sawyer in the story, just brushes.
Mary tells George she married him to keep from being an "old maid". When George sees the alternate Mary in Pottersville, this comes to pass.
Mr. Potter is never caught as the thief who embezzled $8000, which he apparently gets to keep. This is very unusual for an American "Hays Office Code" approved film in the days when this board almost always compelled movies to show the criminal being punished or at least being deprived of all loot by the end of the picture.
Janie asked her mother if now was the right time to play "Hark the Herald Angel Sing" in the final scene, according to the novelization. George thought it the most beautiful carol he had ever heard, and it brought him close to tears; Mr. Carter thought the whole thing ridiculous before giving up some of his own money; Harry was also due back the next day but wanted to come home earlier, and when he said George was the richest man in town, George agreed. When George picked up "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", he thought Clarence's handwriting was old-fashioned; the novelization's last line is "attaboy Clarence".
Although Violet catches Mary's bouquet, she never marries.
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There are portraits of Potter and Peter Bailey in each others respective offices; Peter's is a posthumous one. There's also the drawing of George at his home.
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When Bert takes a shot at George, the bullets take out three of the letters in the Pottersville sign ("svi"), but in the novelization it's only two.
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George appeals to Clarence because he's the only one who knows him in Pottersville. He can't bear what's happened to his family, friends and Bedford Falls so he wants to live again, in the novelization.
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Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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