I watched most of It’s a Wonderful Life last night. I’ll watch the rest tonight, then probably start it over again, and then repeat the process Wednesday night. See, I’m in the midst of a present-wrapping flurry (speaking of which, I have totally run out of packing tape. WHO RUNS OUT OF PACKING TAPE A FEW DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS? Me. The answer to that question is me. Good gravy) and I can’t wrap presents without one of three things playing in the background: A Wish for Wings that Work, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or It’s a Wonderful Life.
I have to have something playing I don’t have to pay attention to, because I need to pay attention to the wrapping, but I need something festive, because Christmas is sucking all the joy out of my brain. So I can’t watch one of the million shows I have recorded, because I’d have to pay attention to them because they’re new to me (I did debate putting on Criminal Minds last night, but as much as Dr. Reid puts me in a mood, it’s not as much “festive” as it is “romantic” so I decided against that.) I blogged about my love of A Wish for Wings that Work and The Grinch already this season. I rewatched A Wish for Wings that Work last night and realized a few things: a., I’m probably the only person that watches this special like clockwork every year, and that’s the saddest thing ever; b., I know every single line in the special and repeat them along with it, obnoxiously, under my breath, with a lot of emphasis, because I am an ACTRESS, as it’s playing; and c., it’s a little disturbing how hard the stupid thing makes me cry EVERY SINGLE YEAR. I wasn’t even HORMONAL last night. I was just ME. And there I was, AGAIN, crying over a penguin who wanted wings that didn’t just sputter. My dad calls that “an allergy attack.” He gets embarrassed if a movie makes him emotional so if I pick on him about it, he says “MY ALLERGIES ARE REALLY ACTING UP RIGHT NOW” and runs off for a tissue. So yeah, Opus the penguin totally gives me an annual allergy attack.
So anyway, It’s a Wonderful Life. To me, this is just about the most perfect movie in existence. And the first time I watched it, I didn’t even like it. I thought it was too long, and I thought it was boring, and I remember I mocked it and upset and confused my friend I was watching it with. Then, the following year, I was all alone and it came on and I had nothing better to do so I actually paid attention, and I realized, DAMN but this is the best thing that was ever created in the history of ever and I love it so much. Also, it totally causes a number of allergy attacks throughout. And there is very little in the world I love more than a good cry.
Apparently, when the movie came out in 1946, it didn’t perform all that well, and people liked it well enough, but weren’t blown away. It got dismissed as overly sentimental. But over the years, it took on a life of its own, and now, every Christmas Eve, NBC airs it (so I can watch it for, oh, I don’t know, the fourth? fifth? time in the month of December, usually while hanging out with my brother and having a few Christmas libations.)
I just love everything about this movie. Is it sentimental? Sure. Sure it is. Throw on a few more pejoratives, if you must. It’s also a little hokey, and overwrought, and sappy. But it’s also heartfelt, and true, and well-written, and inspirational.
I can hear you, you know. “WHAT? AMY likes this movie so much? But Amy is dark and twisty and evil!” Sure, yep. But I love this movie more than just about anything. SUCK IT UP CHUMLEY I’M AN ENIGMA. You don’t have enough time left in the WORLD to figure out the maze that is my brain.
So if you hate it, or you’re just totally over Christmas crap, or you have NO SOUL, move on, Sally. But today we’re talking It’s a Wonderful Life. Because it makes me HAPPY.
OK, I have a lot of love for Jimmy Stewart. I mean, just look up there. He was a ridiculously handsome man. I love old-timey handsome black and white actors. It’s a thing with me. But Jimmy Stewart just makes me tingle. So tall! So self-possessed! Such a sexy smile! Also, later in his life – westerns. I LOVE WESTERNS SO HARD.
I love everything about George Bailey. I love that he does the right thing, even though he doesn’t WANT to. He’s conflicted. He’s real, like real people are – but he comes through. I love how angry he gets at things. I love how much he loves his family. I love how he just kind of puts his head down and does his work and you watch his dreams dissipate around him and your heart just breaks for him (more on this later.) Also, he’s kind of surrounded by idiots. (Again, more on this later.) I love me some George Bailey, you guys.
Mary Hatch Bailey
Sure, Mary’s kind of a simple woman. She figures out what she wants when she’s like seven or something – she wants to marry George. She told him so, at the drugstore. “Is this the ear you can’t hear in? George Bailey, I’ll love you til the day I die.” That line thrills me every time, and I have a heart that’s black like coal, seriously. And she works toward that goal. But she also goes off to college, so she’s not completely pathetic. And she has a backbone. When George is being all stompy, she stands up to him. Also, Donna Reed is absolutely glowy in this movie. She’s not the perfect goody-goody she became later on down the line on television. She’s beautiful and she’s spunky and she’s funny and she runs around town to save the day. I like Mary because I think she’s like me – she likes a good project, especially when it involves someone she cares about.
(Psst, if you Google Donna Reed, there’s a very strange and kind of offensive photo that I’m not going to post of her in really odd makeup playing a Native American with a really miserable look on her face. It’s really skating the line of bad taste. If you’re entertained by that sort of thing, please, do yourself a favor and employ your Google-fu. You’re welcome.)
Wizened-up scurvy little spider Mr. Potter
I know, you’re probably supposed to hate Mr. Potter, all broken in his chair and spinning his little webs and being all evil, but I love him. He’s so nefarious! So wicked! When he steals that money from Uncle Billy you get a naughty little thrill. I love the scene where he’s trying to buy George by offering him everything he ever wanted and he realizes that George can’t be bought. The look of surprise and disgust on Lionel Barrymore’s face is perfection! I also love the scene when George comes to him for help when Uncle Billy loses the money (that Mr. Potter himself stole) and George says “I misplaced $8,000” and Mr. Potter says, incredulously, “YOU misplaced $8,000?” It had never crossed his evil little mind that someone might actually shoulder the blame for something they didn’t do to save someone they loved. I love when George runs past his office after he’s come back to life and yells “Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter!” Mr. Potter retorts, “And a happy New Year to you! IN JAIL!” Mr. Potter! You are the genesis for Mr. Burns and I love you! 320 Sycamore
Aw, I love that old house, too, Mary. I love that Mary all secretly buys it behind George’s back and that it was what she wished for when she threw the rock. I love the round thing (that probably has a name, I don’t know, I’m not an architect) that keeps falling off the staircase railing and how George kisses it at the end. I love George’s rant about how “this drafty old house” is killing everyone. I want a 320 Sycamore. There’s a 320 Sycamore-esque house in the woods we drive past on the back way when I go home to visit my parents that I totally want. Someday I’m going to win a meeeeelion dollars and buy it and then have all the rescued animals there and live like a weirdo and be so so happy.
The dance where they fall into the pool
I love the whole dance. I love that the guy that Mary’s there with is Alfalfa from The Little Rascals and he’s kind of hot but totally annoying and I love that George tells him to “stop annoying people” in such a grumpy old-man voice. I love their Charleston contest. I love that Mary’s face just lights up when she sees that George is there. I love that George’s face just lights up when he sees that Mary turned out very nicely, thank you. I love that the floor opens up and they dance oblivious to the widening gap. And I love that they keep dancing once they’ve fallen in.
The walk home from the dance
The walk home from the dance, with George in an old-timey basketball uniform and Mary in a huge bathrobe because their clothes were wet. Singing “Buffalo Gals.” “This is a very interesting situation!” “What do you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.” “Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death? Oh, youth is wasted on the wrong people.” They are the CUTEST. Then, as all good things do, it comes crashing down. George gets a glimpse of happiness and finds out that his father has had a stroke. Mary’s face as he runs away, her eyes wide and worried, kills me.
George & Mary’s wooing scene
George showing up at Mary’s house, all out of sorts because he’s realized that Harry’s not staying in Bedford Falls, so that means that George, yet again, is left holding the bag. Mary, so excited to see him, with all of her little preparations – the record, the needlepoint she’s made. And then George being the CRANKIEST HUMAN BEING ALIVE. It makes me laugh EVERY TIME I SEE IT. Mary asks him if he likes Harry’s new wife. “Well sure I like her. SHE’S A PEACH.” Out of nowhere, sitting on Mary’s couch: “I see it still smells like pine needles around here.” Who SAYS things like that when they’re trying to woo someone? George Bailey, that’s who. But don’t worry, Mary holds her own. When her weird, meddly mother sticks her nose in (my brother is convinced the woman playing her mother is a man, and she does have a very masculine voice, yelling down the stairs) asking what George wants, Mary yells up, as pert as can be, “He’s making violent love to me, Mother!” I love Mary so hard for that, I can’t even tell you. Then Sam Wainwright, Mary’s current beau, or who THINKS he’s Mary’s current beau, calls.
Listen, if this scene doesn’t get you at least a little hot, you might be broken. I pretty much AM broken and it gets me totally hot. The tension between the two of them in this scene is OUT OF CONTROL. I read somewhere that Jimmy Stewart thought this scene was stupid and didn’t work and he improvised most of it. Uh mah gah. This scene is one of the sexiest things in the whole planet. Well, until he kisses her, because that’s kind of weird and wooden and it looks like he’s eating her face. But up until they kiss, it is the sexiest thing just about ever ever ever. “I don’t want any plastics, and I don’t want any ground floors, and I don’t want to get married! To anyone! Ever! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do!” Oh, George. You were lost the minute she walked into your drugstore when you were a kid and asked what coconut was, and you know it.
The run on the Savings and Loan
I love the run on the Savings and Loan, even though it makes me angry. I love when Mary runs in with their honeymoon money all, “How much do you need?” because Mary is the most kickass. I love the woman that only asks for a little money and how George kisses her right on the mouth for it. I love Potter’s whole “fifty cents on the dollar, my pretties!” scheme that doesn’t work out for him. Love, love, love.
George realizing he’s going to be stuck in the town forever (multiple times)
Every time George realizes he’s going to be stuck in the town forever and another one of his plans falls apart my heart breaks a little bit more and I think I’ve seen the movie probably upwards of 100 times. First he has to stay in town to keep the Building and Loan running after his father dies. Fine! Fine, he’ll do that for four years, while Harry goes to school, it’s for the best of the town, it was his father’s dream. Once Harry comes back, they’ll swap places. But wait! Harry’s back and has a kickass job offer in Buffalo and a hot new wife! Well, George can’t be selfish and expect him to back out on THAT, now can he? So he stays. Then he’s going on a honeymoon with Mary, all over the world! But wait, the Building and Loan’s about to close! Well, let’s use the honeymoon money to save it. Then Potter offers him a dream job, with all of the money he could want and a chance to travel! But he can’t take it, because that would mean selling his soul. Then he and Mary start having children. Every chance he has to escape and live the life he thinks he was meant to, he’s stopped by one thing or another. And every time, my heart hurts for him, because who hasn’t had that happen to them? And Jimmy Stewart is amazing with this – his look of eager anticipation, followed by the slow leaking-in of realization and loss, is a wonder to watch.
Harry Bailey. Harry Bailey topped ‘em all!
Every time the angel narrator is telling about the war and says “Harry Bailey. Harry Bailey topped ‘em all!” I cry a little. I know it’s stupid. I just really, really like that line. And I like that George is strutting around town all proud brother with a cigar. Listen, Harry, you couldn’t have topped ‘em all if George hadn’t saved you. Don’t forget that, Fighter Pilot Champion.
Effing Uncle Billy, why’s he live with so much vermin anyway
I am always totally annoyed by Uncle Billy. I know you’re supposed to feel bad for him but mostly I think he just needs to be institutionalized. I think he’s mentally ill. My father stops watching every time right before Uncle Billy leaves the money in the bank because “I hate that stupid old man, he ruins EVERYTHING.” So he watches right up until that part then he leaves the room, which always makes me laugh. Also, Uncle Billy lives in a house of vermin. He has that crow, which he brings all over, and you know it probably shits everywhere, gross nasty thing, then when you see his hoarder-style house he has a damn SQUIRREL running around. What the hell, Uncle Billy? Those are NOT PETS. Those are VERMIN. The only good thing about Pottersville is that Uncle Billy’s in the nuthouse, where he belongs. Yes, I like Mr. Potter better than Uncle Billy. Sorry. I might be squishy about this movie but it doesn’t make me not Amy.
Those kids are totally the most annoying
When George comes back to the house and the kids are screaming and banging away on the piano and “Scuse me! Scuse me! Scuse me!” and “Dad Dad Dad how do you spell frankincense” and “I want to give my FLOWER a drink” I think I’d probably jump off a bridge, too. LOUD NOISES!!!! Also, who names their kid Zuzu, and I love when he yells at the teacher in that scene over the phone and Mary’s all “Well, she’s hung up” and George snarls, “I’ll hang HER up.” Hee!
George not even hesitating when he jumps in after Clarence
It’s just a teeny, tiny, not-even-a-second thing, but I think it speaks volumes about George’s character that it’s a snowy night, he was just about to commit suicide, and when he sees someone in the water drowning, he doesn’t even think twice – he throws himself over the bridge to save him. Not even a moment’s hesitation. None. I love that scene.
George realizing the implications of not being there for everyone
Clarence (who also kind of annoys me, sorry, I hate stupidity and I hate dumb innocence) bringing George around, showing him what was different, kills me. The worst is the cemetery. “Harry Bailey was a hero! He saved every man on that transport!” “Every man on that transport died because Harry wasn’t there to save them – because you weren’t there to save Harry.” Oh, tears. I mean, allergy attack! Allergy attack!
Oh! No! MARY IS A LIBRARIAN!!!
It makes me laugh SO HARD EVERY TIME that the WORST THING the filmmakers or screenwriters could think of for a fate for Mary was that she was a spinster librarian. Wouldn’t it have been worse if she was a hoochie-cooch girl at that bar that Violet is being kicked out of, or something? OH NO! “You’re not going to like it, George!” Clarence warns, when George asks him where Mary is. And you think, oh, shit, she’s married to Sam Wainwright. Or is it worse? Is she married to Mr. POTTER or something? And IT’S SO MUCH WORSE. She is a LIBRARIAN. And she – GASP!!! – is UNSEXILY ATTIRED and LOOKS PLAIN and ISN’T SMILING. I know. I KNOW. Fate worse than death, you guys.
The town comes through
This scene gives me so many allergies I need to take an Allegra-D. I love that Mary runs in and she’s all bright-eyed from the cold and she sees George and she’s just so happy he’s alright and she’s hatched this little plan, and she’s got all the people rounded up, and they just start coming in and coming in and COMING IN, putting money after money after MONEY in the basket. And Harry comes in, because he’s eschewed his celebrations in order to be there for his big brother. And Sam Wainwright sends a telegram, saying whatever George needs is his. And then Harry toasts – “To my brother, the richest man in town.” SO MANY TEARS. I’m a little teary WRITING THIS. And it’s NOT EVEN ON. I know. Seriously, this movie gets me every time.
So thank you, Frank Capra, for making a movie sixty-five years ago – before my FATHER was even born! – that still makes me cry and laugh and puts me in the Christmas spirit every single year. I need that this year, more so than most years. It is much appreciated.
I’d totally let George lasso the moon for me. Any old time at all.