For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through the window of the Granville house, director Frank Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out on cue. To everyone's amazement, Reed broke the window by herself. She had played baseball in high school and had a strong throwing arm.
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As Uncle Billy drunkenly leaves the Bailey home, it sounds as if he stumbles into some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped a large tray of props right after Thomas Mitchell went off-screen. James Stewart began laughing, and Mitchell quickly improvised, "I'm alright, I'm okay!" Director Frank Capra decided to use this take in the final cut and gave the stagehand a $10 bonus for "improving the sound." ($10 in 1946 is equivalent to nearly $132 in 2019.)
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The gym floor that opens in the middle to reveal the swimming pool underneath was filmed at Beverly Hills High School In Beverly Hills, California, USA was real and is still in regular use. The same gymnasium moving floor was used in a similar school dance scene in Whatever It Takes (2000), fifty-four years later.
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James Stewart was nervous about the phone kiss scene because it was his first onscreen kiss since his return to Hollywood after the war. Under director 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.
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Director Frank Capra often said that this was his favorite of all his films.
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Sam makes a fortune in plastics while Harry becomes an engineer at his father-in-law's glass factory. Both of these come out of director Frank Capra's own education in chemical engineering. Capra himself was unable to find a job with his background, and like George Bailey, considered himself a failure for many years.
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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 RKO's Encino Ranch. It included 75 stores and buildings, a main street, a factory district and a large residential and slum area. Main Street was 300 yards long--three whole city blocks.
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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. Director Frank Capra wanted to record the sound live, so a new snow effect was developed using foamite (a fire-fighting chemical), soap, and water. This mixture was then pumped at high pressure through a wind machine to create the silent, falling snow. 6,000 gallons of the new snow were used in the film. The RKO Effects Department received a Class III Scientific or Technical Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Academy Award aka Oscar Award) for the development of the new film snow.
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While filming the scene in which George prays in the bar, James Stewart was so overcome that he began to sob. Frank Capra later re-framed and blew up the shot because he wanted to catch that expression on Stewart's face. This is why the shot looks so grainy compared with the rest of the film.
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A photograph of James Stewart at the age of six months, donated by his parents, was included in the Bailey home set.
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Initially a box-office flop, the film became a cherished holiday tradition in the United States. Due to a clerical error at the National Telefilm Associates (NTA) office, the copyright was not renewed when it expired in 1974. It became public domain, meaning anyone who could obtain a print could broadcast it without paying any royalties. Local stations aired it dozens of times between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. In the 1990s, after a series of court battles, the NTA's successor, Republic Pictures, re-acquired the rights to the film because they owned the source material ("The Greatest Gift") and the film's score, which were still copyrighted. NBC now broadcasts the film exclusively at least twice during the holiday season.
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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 mistakenly dispensing poison instead of medication.
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Ranked as the #1 Most Inspirational Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute (2006).
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During the bank run scene, director Frank Capra rehearsed the scene between James Stewart and Ellen Corby several times. When Corby's character was asked how much money she needed, she replied $17, which was in the script. Just prior to the first actual take, Capra took Corby aside and told her to give Stewart an odd number, thinking it would be funnier. When she said "17.50" to Stewart, he was taken off-guard and impulsively kissed her, which was not in the script. Stewart's spontaneous reply was so genuine that Capra left the scene in the final film.
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In the post-production photo of all cast and crew, James Stewart and director Frank Capra appear twice, once on the far left and another time on the far right. As it was slow-taking panoramic pictures, they ran to the other end before the pan reached that point.
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Lionel Barrymore convinced James Stewart to take the role of George Bailey, despite his feeling that he was not up to it so soon after returning from World War II.
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The Martinis are based on director Frank Capra's own family, who emigrated from Sicily in 1903. In the movie, a goat accompanies them in their car. "Capra" means goat in Italian.
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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), Vivacious Lady (1938), and The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis (1971).
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Actor and producer Sheldon Leonard said in an interview that he only agreed to play Nick the bartender so he would have money to buy baseball tickets.
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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.
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James Stewart cited George Bailey as being the favorite character he ever played, but stated in several interviews that Harvey (1950) was his favorite movie he starred in. The part of George Bailey 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.
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Despite being set around Christmas, the film was filmed during a heat wave. It got to be so hot that director Frank Capra gave everyone a day off to recuperate.
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James Stewart plays George Bailey from the age of 21 to 38, from the night of the school dance in 1928 to Christmas 1945. Stewart was 37/38 years old during the April to July 1946 filming. 25 year-old Donna Reed plays Mary from the age of 18 to 35.
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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.
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The film takes place from 1919 to December 24, 1946. The war in Europe ended in May 1945 and in the Pacific Theater in August 1945. Harry flew home as one of the returning soldiers.
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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.
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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.
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This was the first and last time that Frank Capra produced, financed, directed and co-wrote one of his films.
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James Stewart's performance as George Bailey is ranked #8 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
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The year during which Potter offers George a $20,000 annual salary is unclear, but assuming that the scene takes place in 1939, $20,000 in 1939 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $372,807.19 in 2020, a difference of $352,807.19 over 81 years. 1939 was a year of deflation with a rate of -1.42%, as the last year of the Great Depression before the start of World War II. The 2019 to 2020 year-over-year inflation rate is now 0.99%
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Pharmacist Gower's son's death at college is attributed to "Influenza" in the telegram that Young George reads, dated May 3, 1919. 1919 was the second year of the 1918 "Spanish Flu Pandemic," which was widely spread on the filthy battlefields of the First World War, claiming millions of lives around the world, including 675,000 lives in the United States between 1918 and 1919..
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George hopes to go to college to "learn how to build things." In real life, James Stewart majored in architecture at Princeton University.
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Production began filming on the same day, and debuted a week after William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) which won each of the Oscars "It's a Wonderful Life" was nominated for.
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Director Frank Capra estimated the film would be shot within 90 days. He turned out to be right, and the whole cast and crew threw a party to celebrate.
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The galaxies used to depict the angels' dialogue in the film are a group of galaxies that astronomers call "Stephan's Quintet".
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Prior to the Los Angeles release of the movie, 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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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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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 iconic scene where James Stewart's character runs through a snow-swept Bedford Falls was actually filmed on a scorching July day.
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In the scene at the dance in the high school gym, when George Bailey first sees Mary and approaches her, the young man talking to Mary is Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer, "Alfalfa" of Little Rascals fame in the uncredited role of Freddie Othelo. He is also in the scene where he turns the key that opens the gym floor to reveal the swimming pool.
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According to an interview with Karolyn Grimes, the name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. George makes reference to this near the end of the movie when he says to Zuzu at the top of the stairs, "Zuzu my little Ginger Snap!"
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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.
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Steven Spielberg cites this film as one of his favorite movies.
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Selected by the Vatican in the "values" category of its list of 45 "great films."
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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. The area is now a residential neighborhood.
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Henry Travers, who plays Clarence, also stars in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) as Horace P. Bogardus. When George Bailey passes a movie theater towards the end of the movie, that film is being showcased.
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In 2004, the BBC TV listings magazine "Radio Times" conducted a poll for the Best Film Never to Have Won an Oscar. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) came second, and The Shawshank Redemption (1994) was first.
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42 rings are heard over the course of the film, so if Clarence is right, 42 angels have gotten their wings.
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The film originally ended with "Ode to Joy," not "Auld Lang Syne."
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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. The set was razed in 1954, and only two locations survived: the gymnasium at Beverly Hills High School (which is still in operation, with a still working moving gymnasium floor) and the Martini house, at 4587 Viro Road, in what is now the city of La Cañada Flintridge, then and now both locations are within Los Angeles County, California, USA.
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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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Lionel Barrymore signed up to play Mr. Potter on April 1, 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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The pictures in the Granville house are all from George's brochures (but larger) that he threw away.
The original story passed through several hands, including Howard Hughes, who expressed an interest.
The term "Potter's Field" is often used to refer to municipal cemeteries where paupers and unidentified bodies are interred. At one point in the film, the Potter housing project in Bedford Falls is referred to as "Potter's Field."
After the film was finished, it was broadcast coast to coast by CBS and in other parts of the world by the U.S. State Department. It premiered at the Globe Theatre (now known as the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre) on West 46th Street in the Broadway district of Midtown Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA, for the benefit of the Boys' Clubs of America. Many people loved it and watched it over and over. Although it was not a box-office success, it became immensely popular over time and a Christmas classic.
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In the version of this film which aired on TV in the late 1950s and early 1960s, George's line to the teacher on the phone, "What do you mean, sending her home like that half naked?", was replaced with an alternate take in which he says "What do you mean, sending my kid home from school in the rain?".
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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 be "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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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.
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Clarence's boss (named Franklin in the novelization, presumably named after recently deceased Franklin D. Roosevelt) describes life as "the greatest gift" in one of the opening scenes. This was the title of the 1944 story which inspired the film.
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The one and only time Frank Capra contributed to a screenplay on one of his films.
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The movie was originally slated for a 1947 release, but when Technicolor was unable to deliver prints in time for RKO's Christmas time 1946 release of Sinbad, the Sailor (1947), Frank Capra's film was rushed into theaters. Since the titles were not re-shot, they show a 1947 copyright.
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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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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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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."
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In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #20 Greatest Movie of All Time.
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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.
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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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Named by directors Rob Reiner and Edward Zwick as their favorite film in a poll taken by by the AFI.
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In one of the original drafts of the script, the character Mr. Potter didn't exist. Instead, George was shown a reality in which he became a powerful and corrupt politician. The climax of that film was quite different as well, as good George Bailey fought his evil doppelganger, a battle that resulted in the death of the evil George Bailey when he was thrown from the bridge.
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Voted the #1 inspirational film of all time in AFI's "100 Years, 100 Cheers" (June 14, 2006)
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While said to be the only film in history to originate from a greeting card, this is a misunderstanding. The writer of the short story it is based from, Philip Van Doren Stern, was unable to find a publisher. He then decided to make a "Christmas Card" style gift out of it and printed 200 copies which he sent out to friends and family in December of 1943.
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Mr. Potter is based on Ebenezer Scrooge of "A Christmas Carol," with both characters being greedy, heartless misers. Potter, like Scrooge, is also implied to be a ruthless money lender. In fact, Lionel Barrymore was to play Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1938), which instead starred his good friend Reginald Owen, because Barrymore was forced to withdraw due to arthritis, but did later voice Ebenezer Scrooge in radio adaptations.
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This film was added to the U.S. Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1990 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
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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; Sweet Caporal cigarettes; Vaseline hair tonic; Penetro cough syrup; Pepto-Bismol; Bayer Aspirin ("for colds and influenza"), and The Saturday Evening Post.
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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?"
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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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Thomas Mitchell was considered for Mr. Potter before being cast as Uncle Billy.
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Frank Capra based George Bailey's character on Amadeo Giannini (more commonly known as A. P. Giannini), the founder of Bank of Italy (which became the original Bank of America) in California, also part of the present day (2020) Bank of America, who is credited as the inventor and innovator of many modern banking practices. Most notably, Giannini was one of the first bankers to offer banking services to middle-class Americans, rather than only to the upper class.
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George was born in 1907, just one year before actor James Stewart who plays him.
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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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Joseph Walker was the original cinematographer, while Joseph F. Biroc was the assistant. When Frank Capra asked Walker to continue shooting as the sun went down on James Stewart wandering through the streets of Bedford Falls, Walker refused. Capra then asked Biroc if he could shoot the scene, and Biroc replied, "I can." Walker was released by Capra, the scene was shot and Biroc was promoted to Cinematographer. Both Walker and Biroc share credits on the film, Biroc listed above Walker.
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The newspaper Bert the Cop is holding when George asks Ernie the cab driver for a ride, has the headline "Smith Wins Nomination", possibly referring to Frank Capra's and James Stewart's previous film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). It could also have referred to Governor Al Smith's winning of the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination in 1928, which would fit with the time line of the film.
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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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Dalton Trumbo, Dorothy Parker, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets all did uncredited work on the script.
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The character of angel Clarence Oddbody was born in May 1653.
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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 cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street (1969)'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."
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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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Adriana Caselotti's final film acting role. She has a cameo as the singer at Martini's bar.
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Frank Capra disagreed with cinematographer Victor Milner and eventually had him replaced. Some of Milner's scenes were re-shot by Joseph Walker, but due to Capra's major falling out with him early in production, Milner was not credited on screen for any work on the film.
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Walter Abel, Leon Ames, Edward Arnold, George Bancroft, Edgar Barrier, Charles Bickford, Edgar Buchanan, Louis Calhern, Charles Coburn, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Albert Dekker, Charles Dingle, Dan Duryea, Richard Gaines, Charles Halton, Henry Hull, Victor Jory, Otto Kruger, Gene Lockhart, Raymond Massey, Vincent Price, Claude Rains, Stanley Ridges and Lee Tracy were considered for Mr. Potter. 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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The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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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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This film, originally released by RKO, is now owned by Paramount, a unit of ViacomCBS. In 1968, Paramount absorbed the former RKO studios and lot (then known as the Desilu-Culver Studios) when it bought Desilu (Studios) Productions (from Lucille Ball), which had purchased the studio lot from David O. Selznick's Selznick International Pictures (owner of the studio lot from 1936-1956).
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The film boasts five Oscar winners: Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore, Gloria Graham, Donna Reed and James Stewart.
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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 Martinis own a goat.
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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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The Bailey Park scenes were filmed in the Crescenta Valley and far western end of the San Gabriel Valley, both in Los Angeles County, California, USA, in what were then the separate unincorporated communities of La Cañada and Flintridge, California. Thirty years after the production and release of this film, the communities were combined and incorporated as the city of La Cañada Flintridge, California, USA on November 30, 1976.
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Bedford Falls is a fictional town in upstate New York, as seen on the death certificate telegram received by Mr. Gower. It is a combination of two real towns: Bedford Hills (in Westchester County) and Seneca Falls (midway between Rochester and Syracuse). Elmira is said to be near Bedford Falls, but this statement is true of Seneca Falls.
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350,000 feet of film were used.
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John Alexander, Irving Bacon, Wally Brown, James Burke, Sam Levene, Barton MacLane, Robert Mitchum and Walter Sande were considered for Bert the Cop.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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The copy of the "Bedford Falls Sentinel" that George shows to cab driver Ernie with the headline "President Decorates Harry Bailey" is undated.
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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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Henry Fonda was in the running to play George Bailey.
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Violet is almost never seen without a hat on or something in her hair; the exception is George and Mary's wedding.
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Sara Allgood, Helen Broderick, Jane Darwell, Ruth Donnelly, Connie Gilchrist, Hattie McDaniel, Una O'Connor and Irene Ryan were considered for Anne.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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Walter Brennan, W.C. Fields, Barry Fitzgerald, Hugh Herbert, Edward Everett Horton, Adolphe Menjou, Victor Moore, and Roland Young were considered for Uncle Billy.
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A portrait of Abraham Lincoln hangs over George's desk in the Baileys' living room. Henry Fonda, who was James Stewart's close friend, played Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). There are also publicity photos of Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, and Todd Karns on the wall.
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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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The fictional town of Bedford Falls in set in upstate New York (as noted on a telegram) and not in New England, as is often misstated. Hence the mentions of Buffalo and Rochester.
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May 3, 1919, the date of the telegram Mr. Gower received notifying him of his son's death, is a Saturday, however, someone has already flipped the wall calendar outside Peter Bailey's office to June.
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Sam Wainwright's catchphrase "hee-haw" is said 13 times throughout the movie, and not always by him.
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In 1986, a colorized version of the film was released to significant controversy. The genesis stemmed from a reneged deal between Frank Capra and Colorization Inc., the producers of this version. Capra was to have invested in half of the colorization work in exchange for creative control and part ownership. However, Colorization realized that since the film was supposedly in the public domain, they could do all the work and let Capra go. This helped to create an outcry among filmmakers and their supporters that led to all subsequent colorized versions of films display a notice stating that they were not authorized by the picture's creators. This version was pulled from distribution in 1993 when the film's copyright was restored, but a new colorized version was produced under the authorization of Paramount Pictures and released in 2007.
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Don Barclay, Steve Brodie, Edward Brophy, Alan Carney, Walter Catlett, William Demarest, Wallace Ford, John Ireland, Frank Jenks, Charles 'Red' Marshall, Frank McHugh and Walter Sande were considered for Ernie Bishop.
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Henry Travers was considered for Mr. Potter, Peter Bailey and Mr. Gower before being cast as Clarence.
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When George is walking down the street, Uncle Billy (portrayed by Thomas Mitchell) calls out "Hey Captain Cook, got your sea legs yet?" Captain James Cook (1728-1779) was an English sea captain and world explorer, 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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James Stewart signed up to do the film on November 5, 1945.
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When Potter is in his horse-drawn carriage at the start, it's the only scene where Potter's bodyguard isn't pushing him and someone else is driving him around instead.
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For a number of years, after NBC acquired exclusive broadcast rights in the 1990s, the film was broadcast once a year on NBC. Starting in 2016, NBC's corporate sibling, USA Network, showed the film in a marathon over the weekend of December 9--11.
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Luis Alberni, Fortunio Bonanova, Joseph Calleia, Chef Milani, Nestor Paiva, Frank Puglia and Robert G. Vignola were considered for Mr. Martini.
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Irving Bacon, E.J. Ballantine, Jimmy Conlin, Harry Davenport, Charley Grapewin, Charles Halton, Jean Hersholt, Samuel S. Hinds, Guy Kibbee, Percy Kilbride, Donald Meek, Philip Merivale, Reginald Owen, John Qualen, and Erskine Sanford were considered for Mr. Gower.
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Bill Goodwin, Van Heflin, John Howard, Dean Jagger, Allyn Joslyn, Gordon Oliver, Gene Raymond, Kent Smith and Phil Warren were considered for Sam Wainwright.
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Mrs. Hatch's first initials are "J.W." but it's not known what they stand for.
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H.B. Warner signed up to play Mr. Gower on April 4, 1946, and Samuel S. Hinds signed on to play Peter Bailey the day after.
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Frank Capra had finished visiting relatives in Auburn, New York, USA, when he was traveling on Routes 5 & 20 and happened to drive through Seneca Falls, New York. Supposedly, this town proved to be his inspiration for the fictional Bedford Falls. The old iron bridge, the median down Main Street and the town's juxtaposition (among all the upstate New York cities mentioned in the film) made this a natural supposition. Every December, the town holds a "Bedford Falls" celebration in honor of the film.
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Italian censorship visa #3923 was delivered on March 6, 1948.
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When George is running through the rowdy section of "Pottersville", one of the signs he passes says "Welcome Jitterbug". The jitterbug dance was often frowned upon, e.g., "No Jitterbugging Allowed" signs were not uncommon in "respectable" establishments.
Three different cinematographers/directors of photography worked on the film, two or which were fired by producer/director Frank Capra during filming, Victor Milner was fired early on, most of his footage was re-shot, and he did not receive onscreen credit. Joseph Walker was then supposed to be the main director of photography, until he refused to re-shoot a scene with different lighting as requested by Capra more than half way through the film. Capra turned to Walker's assistant, Joseph F. Biroc, and asked him if he could accomplish the re-shoot of the scene with the lighting that Capra wanted, and Biroc immediately answered "I can." Capra then fired Walker, and Biroc finished the film, being promoted to cinematographer on the spot. In the closing credits both Walker and Biroc were credited, with Biroc listed on top, launching the rest of his career as lead cinematographer/director of photography going forward.
George, his brother Harry and Mr Potter by coincidence share the same first names and last names of George Weasley and the main protagonist Harry Potter in the Harry Potter franchise respectively. Ironically both Henry Potter and Harry Potter share the same initials.
Frank Capra: [Jimmy the Raven] this bird appeared in all Capra movies after 1938.
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Frank Capra: [Warner] One of the reasons H.B. Warner got the part of the pharmacist, Mr. Gower, was that 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 was 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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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.
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Mr. Potter is never caught as the thief who embezzled $8,000.00, which he apparently gets to keep. This was very unusual for a Hollywood film of at the time; the Motion Picture Production Code, popularly known as the Hays Code, after Will H. Hays, then the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (known as the Motion Picture Association of America [MPAA] from 1945 until September 2019, and The Motion Picture Association [MPA] since 2019), also then known as the Hays Office--the film industry's censor--code required that criminals must always be shown to be either punished or made to repent at the end of every film.
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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, Capra had the closing scenes rewritten.
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The instant that George says "God" on the bridge, it starts snowing, showing that he is back in the real world.
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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!"
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After the run on the banks, George and Uncle Billy meet in the Building & Loan back office, where George receives a call from Potter, after which the scene shows George looking to a framed picture on the wall of his deceased father with a caption below that reads, "All you can take with you is that which you give away."
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Sam Wainwright is the only one of George's close friends or family members whose fate in the world in which he was never born is not revealed.
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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. She previously co-starred with James Stewart in two other Frank Capra films, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and You Can't Take It with You (1938).
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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.
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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 their 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.
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There are portraits of Potter and Peter Bailey in each other's respective offices; Peter's is a posthumous one. There's also the drawing of George at his home.
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Although Violet catches Mary's bouquet, she never marries.
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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".
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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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The movie is considered a Christmas classic, but over 2/3 of the movie takes place at a time other than Christmas. Plus it's just a coincidence that the event that finally pushes George over the edge, his uncle losing the money to Mr. Potter, happened on Christmas Eve. It could've happened on any day of the year and you could've had the exact same movie.
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