It's a Wonderful Life (1946) Poster


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  • 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 children Pete (Larry Simms), Janie (Carol Coombs), Tommy (Jimmy Hawkins), and Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes), his friends, and all of Bedford Falls would have fared had he never been born. Edit

  • 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). Edit

  • On the day before Christmas, Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses the $8,000 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. Edit

  • "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. Edit

  • 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. Edit

  • 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 City 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". Edit



The FAQ items below may give away important plot points.

  • Only Potter knew what happened to the $8000. The only thing that the people at Bailey's Building & Loan knew, is, Uncle Billy lost the $8000 and could not find it. Potter then set the bank examiner on George Bailey after George admitted that his company misplaced $8000.

    If Potter was caught with the money, and the Bailey family could prove it belonged to their Building and Loan, Potter would be arrested. Unfortunately the only way to prove it would be either Uncle Billy regaining his scattered memory, or Potter reporting himself. Edit

  • Put simply, "boys will be boys": i.e., will act recklessly, and make mistakes. In this case, George and Harry did not expect the ice to break under them, but misjudged it to be strong enough for their weight; or, alternatively, did not expect to land on the ice at all, but to stop before the pond began. Edit

  • The absence of George, meant the absence of his honest financial practices, which kept his neighbors prosperous. As a result, the only financial and economic force in the town, was his miserly rival, Mr. Potter.

    The town has been renamed "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 druggist (H.B. Warner) is a drunkard and panhandler after spending 20 years in prison for an accidental poisoning. Ernie Bishop the taxi driver (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. George's brother Harry (Todd Karns), instead of earning the Congressional Medal of Honor for shooting down 15 airplanes, died at the age of eight. Mary never married and has turned into a spinster librarian. Edit

  • Many viewers have noticed, in George's reality, Mary does not wear glasses. In the alternate reality, however, she is shown wearing glasses: apparently, merely as a dramatic device, to symbolize her profession of librarian.

    The most common in-universe explanation is that Mary spends so much time reading (possibly in dim light), she ended up straining her eyes. Alternatively, in George's reality, Mary did not read a lot, so she didn't need glasses. Both explanations are based on the idea that reading too much causes one to need glasses: an idea prevalent in the 1940s but since disproven.

    Others speculate, Mary needs glasses in both realities, but doesn't wear them in George's reality, because it was a popular belief in the 1940s that "boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses." This does not consist with her more accurate aim, earlier in the film, when throwing stones to make a wish; but the combination of these images, suggests she is farsighted (i.e., better able to see at a distance than nearby). It is also speculated, Mary in the alternate reality suffered an illness that might not have happened, had George been there (presumably to look after her, or to recommend her to a doctor in time).

    The most likely explanation is, the screenwriters were exploiting a common stereotype of older, unmarried woman dressed in glasses and dowdy clothes, with their hair in buns, who serve as librarians, teachers, or nurses. They also gave her a rather ungainly way of walking in this scene, as to suggest she had neglected her posture. Edit

  • 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 were real, her "cold" would have been contracted a few days before (cold viruses usually take about three days to manifest symptoms), and was only noticed at the moment it is, when she showed signs of it. "Keeping warm" is a common folk-remedy or household treatment for a virus of any sort, and would have been recommended by George in any case. Edit

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