VIDEO: It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

In a sequel to the original controversial Agonizer article, Mendo returns to rub more salt in the wounds of anyone who dares to praise this holiday “classic” in his presence! Featuring a panoply of guest stars from some of your favorite Hack Attack episodes!

VIDEO: It's a Wonderful Life (1946)Mendo is wearing a red ribbon as part of a month-long project by internet video reviewers to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS issues. Please visit Red Ribbon Reviewers and the official World AIDS Day website for more information!

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  • Sofie Liv

    Dammit I want to go to Magfest.. why do I have to be this piss poor?

    Next time.. next time i’ll bloody be there! 2014, wooh! …. -_-;

    Nice video, there was some pretty funny bits, I think Joshua was my favourite cameo here actually. 

    •  Yes, Sofie, but what do you think of It’s A Wonderful Life? Have you ever seen this schmaltzy bit of Americana? And was it at all comprehensible to a Dane? How does the movie play to someone who (presumably) has not been bludgeoned over head with the propaganda that it is a timeless and heartwarming classic?

      • Sofie Liv

         Well, like every-one else i’ve also grown up with countless and countless re-hatches of the plot in different TV-shows, and always enjoyed those. For some reason it’s always fun seeing a character you know being pulled out of reality like that and see how the other characters would cope without him/Her. and it always ends up being a great motivator.

        I first saw this movie when I was 18 to be precies, so nope, it wasn’t stuffed down in my throat.
        But I have to admit, this movie understands how to tug at all the right heart strings and leave an emotional impact.
        Is it a manifactured feeling by the end? sure. But so is all movies if you come down to it.

        Mendos problem about the flash back being so long I think though.. is very essential for the flashback to work.
        You need to have intimidate familiarity with the main character and the town before the alternative reality can have any emotional impact what so ever, and to gain that intimidate knowledge well.. we simply have to spend a lot of time with them!
        The reason why all serials can jump straight ahead to the. “You never existed part.” is because, those are serials! We all ready know the main character from countless of adventures and we all-redy know the univers, one must assume a person sitting down for such a special follows what-ever show we are talking about.
        A movie how-ever, does not have that luxury, and thus needed to take all that long time to set up the ending climax, and it worked, it genuinly tugs on the heart strings, you feel sorry and desperate with the man, and because you felt so sorry and desperate with him, the ending is just so damn happy.

        So well, sorry Mendo.

        The thing about Christmas movies in particular is that they can get away with all this cheesy stuff we hate in movies at all other times of the year. So well, it has a stamp of approval from Sofie.

        •  I think the problem with the flashback structure is it gives away too much of the story, too early, then loses the thread of that for an hour or so before getting back to the point. It would be interesting to see how it played if instead of presenting the angels and the fact that Gorge tries to kill himself at the beginning, you just have one of the angels (not identified as such, yet) narrating, “This is the story of George Bailey. Just an ordinary man. But sometimes  just an ordinary man can be more important than anyone realizes. Especially himself.” Then present the life of George as it is, with a surprise 2/3 of the way through when everything goes wrong and he decides to kill himself. Suicide presented as the beginning has little impact because your know he’s the main character and it won’t happen. Having it come up after you’ve gotten to know the character, hopefully care about him, and see what brought him to this, is quite a bit more distressing. Which makes the emotional high when things work out even better, and helps gloss over the fact that the banker never gets called on what he tried to pull.

  • Muthsarah

    So if the movie had opened shortly before George snapped and ran off to the bridge, and the next 90 minutes or so were told in flashback, finally returning to the present for a happy ending, that would have made some huge difference in the quality of the film?  I get that you don’t like the characterizations (even if I don’t agree with some of them), but I don’t see a big flaw in the structure.  And as for the characters, what does it matter if only the banker feels genuine?  This was Old Hollywood, characters were types first and individuals second-at-best.  Are you judging this film by current standards or by the standards of the time?

    Also, it might help your argument if you could point out some similarly sentimental movies that you DO like, particularly from the same time period, to show where you felt they succeeded where IaWL failed.  Sullivan’s Travels?  The Bishop’s Wife?  And speaking of long flashbacks, what about Double Indemnity?  And though I feel it’s lazy to name-drop it, what about Citizen Kane?

    • FEnM

      I’m pretty sure Mendo is saying there’s really no reason to tell it in flashback AT ALL, just tell the story chronologically.  Go through George’s life linearly, then when he has his crisis, introduce the angels.  You could have them show up throughout the movie if you didn’t want to just spring it on the audience in the last 1/3 of the film, I suppose, but that’s a whole other issue.  Point is, yeah, the flashback/framing story structure is completely unnecessary.

      Here’s the bit that bugs me:  George saves his brother from dying and the brother (Henry?) goes on to save a bunch of people or kill Hitler, or something really amazing in WWII.  But if George wasn’t there, he dies… why?  There are, like, five other boys in that scene, ad we can assume they’d be there even if George never existed.  Are we supposed to believe none of them would have jumped in to save their friend?

      • Muthsarah

        That’s essentially what it does already: tell the story of George Bailey’s life in chronological order, just with minor narration by the angels at the beginning.  I’ll grant you that if would have been terrible had they just jumped into the story of his life and only dropped the angels in at the bridge, but I think the use of flashback is fitting.  It’s basically a twist on A Christmas Carol: you see a man in the present with a terrible life on the brink of ruin (considering where Scrooge was going), supernatural beings show him key events of his life to remind him where he came from as a person (in George’s case, the positive impact he had on others, even if he hadn’t really thought of it), and he grows and changes as a result of it. Now, IaWL doesn’t frame the story this way, and while I think it would have helped had it done so, I don’t think it has that great an effect on the overall story.  The super-happy ending is a bit of a stretch, but it’s Capra, and it’s post-war.  You should make some allowances for popular sentiment at the time, just like you should make some allowances for how so many characters in 1930s films break into song for no conceivable reason, or how so many characters in 1970s films have unspeakable fashion sense.

        As for Harry drowning, well, speaking from personal experience, children tend to instinctively run away from any dangerous situation if they are unsure what to do.  Maybe they wouldn’t have wanted to abandon Harry while he was in danger, but they may have been too scared at seeing him in the water to risk themselves to save him.  He was a friend, not family.  Maybe they would have felt safer running off to find an adult to help him (and themselves), not appreciating that Harry didn’t have the luxury of time.  We see throughout the movie how remarkably selfless George was, and we know how he especially loved and felt protective of his brother, so I think we can assume he was like that all his life – maybe he wouldn’t have thought twice about risking himself to save him.  It’s over-the-top, sure, but these sentimental heroes are always too good to ring true.  But just because that character type isn’t in fashion these days (where every hero has to be either brooding or an anti-hero), that doesn’t make them un-believable.

        For the record, I don’t think IaWL is that great of a film. I’ve seen it once, and that’s all I want to see it, so I’m not defending it due to love or anything. I do understand where Mendo’s coming from as far as goes Mary and the constant barrage of abuse George has to suffer, and I don’t think the movie quite pays it all off at the end. It reminds me of those “battered wife” Lifetime movies that spend 90% of the time showing a woman running away from a guy or getting beaten up, raped, or almost killed, only for the movie to give the audience a mere five minutes of a happy ending where the woman triumphs over the lunatic or he kills himself accidentally or whatever. Insufficient payback for a movie that lives and breathes on disturbing the audience with one horrific event after another. Just like those movies are almost masochistic in their dramatic focus, IaWL is a bit of a passion play, setting poor, sweet, unsuspecting George up for one tragedy after another. It’s rough, and it’s forced. But it’s not a bad movie. It especially isn’t a badly-made movie. It’s just a little dated, a little too forced, in that way sentimental movies always are.

      • jjramsey

         “I’m pretty sure Mendo is saying there’s really no reason to tell it in
        flashback AT ALL, just tell the story chronologically.  Go through
        George’s life linearly, then when he has his crisis, introduce the
        angels.  You could have them show up throughout the movie if you didn’t
        want to just spring it on the audience in the last 1/3 of the film, I
        suppose, but that’s a whole other issue.  Point is, yeah, the
        flashback/framing story structure is completely unnecessary.”

        I think you just demonstrated why flashback was used, though. Introducing a fantastical element like angels in the middle of a story that otherwise has no supernatural aspects is a really bad idea that tends to destroy the audience’s suspension of disbelief. If angels are introduced, they *have* to be introduced sometime near the beginning.

  • Torgeaux

    I’m stuck here in the Charlotte Douglas Airport because Useless Air has aircraft made of glass and break easily. They also lie more than insurance salesman and change their bording gates on a whim. What does this have to do with “It’s a Wonderful Life?”  Both suck.  Cheap shot but Torgeaux be mad.  I have never been able to sit through this movie without squirming. Even at the age of eight I couldn’t watch it.  It made no sense at all to me. It pissed me off and it still is pretty creepy. When I was a kid my family used to gather to watch it.  Somewhere about 15 minutes in I would excuse myself to go to the bathroom, sneak into my parents bedroom where the second set was and watch “The Twilight Zone” or anything even remotely funny.  I have never connected the dots as to why I was creeped out until you did the review of it. Now it makes perfecct sense and No I’m still not going to watch it.   

  • $36060516

    I noticed in the credits you said this was ad-libbed.  I guess I felt like it suffered a little bit from you having already written a thorough essay (going by your description, I didn’t go read it) about the film and not wanting to re-explain yourself.  So I was left wondering why you were doing a video about something you didn’t want to discuss.  Then I wondered why I was bothering to watch something you didn’t want to bother with.  I’m not trying to be a downer or insult you, just describing my reaction as I watched this video.  As I’ve written before, I’ve enjoyed your past videos, but I won’t re-explain why here — you can go see my more thorough examination of your work at

    • $36060516

      Just want to clarify in retrospect that when I said “something you didn’t want to bother with” I was referring to your not wanting to fully explain your reaction to the film in a way I could understand through watching the video rather than reading the essay.  I do recognize that you and your collaborators put a considerable amount of work into constructing this video and regret that the way I phrased that did not give you credit for that.  I was just frustrated that you called the film an “unmitigated piece of shit” and didn’t really back that up, particularly given that whatever one’s opinion of the script, the craftsmanship put into this film seems to mitigate against that description.

  • Thomas Stockel

    I have never seen more than two or three minutes of this film, nor have I ever watched any specials which rip it’s plot off.  That being said, Mendo, I applaud your rebel stance on this film and your being able to make effective arguments to support your position.  Your opinion regarding the banker reminds me of the landlord in Rent; the man just wants what is owed him.  And Mary being the villain?  Well, yeah, I can see that.  Manipulating someone to give up their dreams so you can selfishly live out your own does seem pretty evil.

    • MichaelANovelli

      Mary would not be out of place on Degrassi, now that I think of it…

      • The biggest flaw with Mary is the ‘Mary becomes a spinster librarian in the alternate reality’. Donna Reed is not someone who is given the go by in any reality.

  • chromesthesia

    I thought I was the only one who hated this movie. It makes me annoyed. And why is it so bad to be a library? And this poor dude had to spend his whole life in that crappy town instead of getting to travel the world. Also it was annoying that that rich dude took all of that money and no one arrested his old butt! I hate this film!

  • MichaelANovelli

    Ah, yes.  I know the article already said everything I intended to say about the film, but it was always intended as a video, and now that it’s finally made, it feels good!

  • Cristiona

    My brother refuses to watch this movie out of sheer obstinance.  The decision was made that year (some time in the 90s, I think) when the copyright was up on this movie and about fifteen different stations showed it about thirty times, including AMC which ran it for, like, 36 hours straight (you think I’m exaggerating, but I know someone here remembers that).  He avoided it out of mule-headedness, while I watched it out of morbid curiosity.
    He made the better choice.

    edit: about the specific video, your audio levels are kinda low

    • MichaelANovelli

      Yeah, I’ve noticed that in a couple videos.  I’m not sure how to fix it, since I’m mixing it as high as it will go without sounding fuzzy.  I’ll figure it out, though.

  • Alexa

    I’m sorry you don’t like this movie, but I love it. Its just one of those movies that makes me feel good about things. Maybe its because I like the innocence, and the fact that it gives hope to people, with the importance of helping people, and I really like the note from about no man is a failure who has friends.

    Sure its dated, and will have its flaws, but I love the sentiments of the film. Its just a really good movie to put on when I want to forget the cynicism of the world, and I hate to say it, well not really, it does the trick. 

  • James Elfers

     What has always bothered me about this movie is Mary’s fate in the alternative time line. Because George never existed not only does she end up a spinster but gets homely to boot. Apparently being a librarian is a fate worse than death. Wasn’t she dating Sam Wainright in the normal timeline? If she ended up unhappily married or, shockingly for 1946, divorced from Sam  it would have made much more sense.   As filmed it makes Mary appear as though she has no life apart from George and that directly contradicts EVERYTHING  ELSE in the picture! Mary’s mom hates George and wants her to marry Sam who is prosperous and seems to sincerely adore her daughter. George has no prospects, no wealth, and seems to resent Mary. What mother would like their daughter to marry a guy with those three attributes? Donna reed is as you wrote in your review “Smoking hot” but George, who is definitely not gay, isn’t even turned on by her! Why in the world is she even interested in him? He apparently doesn’t even want to just jump her bones. No wonder George is so frustrated and bitter he SHOULD have married Violet.   

      That said there IS much to admire in “It’s a Wonderful life” apart from its story. The cinematography is first rate and Jimmy Stewart’s frustrated George is some of  the best acting in his career. Lionel Barrymore as Potter ALMOST steals the movie. Donna Reed is always great to look at and is luminous in even the plainest of clothing. Most of the admittedly large supporting cast are first rate actors.  “Alfalfa” From the “Our Gang” comedies even shows up as the date Mary dumped to dance with George.

    • chromesthesia

       I’d be so happy as a librarian. That is my DREAM job if I wanted to go to library school. Mmm. Libraries… Books. Nerdiness!

  • LindaMinda

    Wasn’t this already on here b…oh who cares.

    I would really like someone to remake this film but with a devil instead of an angel showing how things would have turned out. Really put a spin on things.

    • John Wilson

      There was a movie with Kenua Reeves that was like that.

  • Bob_in_Baltimore

    You, sir, are worse than Hitler!

    Well, no, of course that’s not at all true, I just wanted to use that Simpsons quote, and this seemed like a good opportunity.  I do think you are being unduly harsh on “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but Joshua in the video makes most of the arguments I would make in its favor, and if they didn’t convince you then, I don’t see why my rehash would convince you now.  It’s not a truly great movie, but I just don’t think it’s the crapfest you seem to perceive.

    What’s most interesting to me is how the canon of “classic” movies changes over time.  As you noted in the essay, IaWL was a flop when it premiered and was forgotten about for a couple of decades, until overexposure on TV turned it into a classic.  “The Wizard of Oz” was moderately successful on its first release, but it wasn’t until it began airing on TV that it really caught on.  “Ace in the Hole” was a flop for Billy Wilder in 1951, but modern, more cynical critics and audiences have grown to appreciate the film’s dark tone.  What failures of today will be hailed as classics in 2040?  Will future audiences thrill to the “Atlas Shrugged” trilogy?  Will they appreciate the subtle humor of  “The Oogieloves”?  Will M. Night Shyamalan move back to being considered a good director?

    Anyway, enough of such depressing thoughts.  Hope you have a happy Christmas season, and I look forward to seeing your reviews in the new year.

    • FullofQuestions1

      Well, there’s also the possibility that they will slip into oblivion, like a lot of things that don’t withstand the test of time. I mean, I certainly hope that people won’t be dancing to “oldies” like Kesha in fifty years. We can only hope.

      • Sofie Liv

         I also think media in genneral just works differenlty today then back then.

        Back then, it was extremely limited what a person could be exposed to, namely, what the TV-stations decided to send, and that would become the only thing viewers would have a familiarity with.
        Today.. we can be exposed to WHAT-EVER WE WANT! and how much of it we want, there’s much more stuff, it also means that we wont ever again have such big hits as “Beatles.” or some-thing, where it’s just universally acknowledged that they are “The thing.” because we have a whole new way of communicating now, and reviewing and trashing and so on, more things are getting made and more things are forgetten easilyer, nothing new is recognised as being. “The thing.” any-more, more smaller sub-cultures lifes and strives, it’s a whole other world of entertainment media.

        So yeah.. that wont happen.

        • Bob_in_Baltimore

          Oh, it’s certainly possible that all the films I mentioned will just be forgotten rather than being reappraised as masterpieces.  And in the case of Ke$ha’s music, I would gladly pay money to help the forgetting happen.  Most movies/TV/books/video games/music/(insert your favorite media here) are going to be forgotten eventually, both good and bad; my point was that it can be hard to predict which works will survive, based only on their popularity at the time of their creation.

          Sofie raises a good point about the fragmentation of mass media making it much harder for anything to be universally loved.  I am old enough to remember when VCRs first became popular.  It was an amazing time: you could watch whatever movie you wanted, at home, whenever you wanted!  And of course the Internet has vastly accelerated this trend.  As a consumer, I benefit from this greatly- I can fill my Netflix queue and stream (or Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc., or my iTunes library…) with just about anything ever made, no matter how obscure or “cult” it may be.  I can watch nothing but 1950s science fiction films, or listen only to trance music, if I want, without ever seeing or hearing anything else.  But I can’t help worrying whether we are also losing something as a society by not having these cultural touchstones that absolutely everyone has seen, and (almost) everyone enjoys.   I certainly don’t want to go back to the pre-Internet days, when choices were very limited and it was difficult to find anything even slightly outside the mainstream.  But I think we shouldn’t forget about the downside.  We may never have a future society where “Atlas Shrugged” is a beloved holiday classic; but we may very well have a future where your casual mention of “The Avengers” draws blank stares and “Never heard of it” from 90% of the general population.

          • $36060516

            I have a distant, deceased relative who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in the ’70s, had a beststelling novel, was published frequently in “The New Yorker,” and was married to another famous writer and she is almost completely forgotten today.  Most of her work is out of print now.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Well, at least she got to live her dream.  Hell, I hope someday these videos help my career as a novelist…

          • John Wilson

            You can always write short shorties and fan fiction first. The stories can connect in a loose way.That something I am doing:) 

          • $36060516

            I hope so too.  The big challenge of getting a signal through all of the noise in the media landscape.

          • Sofie Liv

            You know what, when I look at what I do as an entertainer.

            I do feel it’s much more about the here and now than some supposed future.

            I am making videos, here and now, and I am amusing some people, here and now, it matters to people here and now, and that’s amazing.

            Some of you may remember some points, find them interesting, go out with those point, tell them to other people, and they find them interesting, and boom, it mattered.

            My grandmother was a very famouse dancer when she was young, she met tons of famouse people for her time, were in movies, got invited to so many countries, were on stage.

            And well.. no one knows who she is now, of cause they don’t. I don’t know who most of the people are in her scrap-book, except for the fact that clearly the photos looks very important and posh, and those stage folders are for real plus the traveling pictures of exotic places and her standing there in a little skirt.

            So well, coolest scrap-book ever! And my granma loves telling about it, it was a huge adventure for her back then. And it’s part of what really inspired me to do what I am doing today.

            So honestly, I don’t mind all that much, only the fewest things will become “immortal classics.” but the stuff we liked will still affect the world in some way, you’ll see. I know for certain all my favourite things has affected my own writing and performance style, and then i’ll go out and spread that, and hopefully effect some-body else.

          • $36060516

            Thank you for a very thoughtful and beautiful reply.  Your grandmother sounds like a very inspirational person to have in your life. 

          • Sofie Liv

             She’s a funny lady to talk about, and I am going to be able to tell stories about her for all of my life.

            Very prim and prober, walking around in a mink fur coat. and states very clearly what she thinks.

            “How undecent! I would never allow my child to do that! not good behavior.” <- said she after my cousins child pointed tounge at some-one.

            I never forget the time she called me after a party and one of the first things she said to me. "You've gained weight." ….. thanks granma.

            But she is also a great person whom really cares a lot for us, and really supports me in all what I do. She's met up to both my concerts and my theatre plays to see it, and praises it for long times after, for a long time said I ought to be out there and do it on the bigger stages, because I am just a kind of person meant to be out there. (I don't think she always realise how different the stages are from her time, that it's all about movies now.)

            But she's great, I love her a lot.

          • $36060516

            Blip is a stage for you now!

          • Sofie Liv

             For now me lad, for now 😉

            I still use the stage, i’m going to be in a play at April, I hope to exspand this to other things and well, some-thing tells me this is going to be a great year 🙂

          • John Wilson

            Kehsa has hits and misses. She pop(”)/. And it could go the other way where everyone listening and liking the same thing:). 

    • John Wilson

      M. Night is a good director. I like about all of his movies. Even Airbender was alright as a stand alone movie. We just have to see what happens I guess:).

      • Bob_in_Baltimore

        M. Night does have two films to his credit that I would call “good to great”: The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.  Both of those are good, solid, well-made entertainment.  But I think he has gone seriously downhill since then.  Signs was a good, atmospheric film for much of its length, but the end seemed kind of silly, and the aliens’ decision to run around naked on a planet mostly covered in water, despite water being deadly to them, retroactively ruins the believability of the earlier part of the film.  (I’ve heard it argued that the “aliens” are actually demons, and only holy water is deadly to them.  This is wrong- the glasses of ordinary tap water that the little girl left all over the house had the same effect.)  The Village felt like a bad episode of The Twilight Zone*, where everything is just the set-up for a lame twist ending, and while The Happening had a fairly decent premise, the execution was off, and the lead actors didn’t feel convincing to me.  I haven’t seen Lady in the Water or Last Airbender, but overall critical consensus on both has been pretty damning, and I am not very inclined to spend my limited free time watching movies I don’t expect to like.  (I did watch your review of Airbender, and while your review was well done, it did not increase my desire to see the film.)

        Anyway, back to my point: M. Night is not a truly terrible director- I don’t think he would have gotten two good films by accident.  But he seems to have lost his way artistically, and unless he makes a couple more films of Sixth Sense/Unbreakable quality, future generations of film fans are likely to think of him as “mediocre-to-poor director who managed a couple of good films”.  You clearly don’t agree, and that’s fine- after all, it would get pretty boring (both in Agony Booth comments, and life in general) if everyone had the same opinions and tastes.  I certainly hope that he is able to make additional good films; but after several failures in a row, will Hollywood trust him with another major picture?*Note: There are many fine episodes of The Twilight Zone, some of which are still famous in pop culture (“It’s a cookbook!”), but there are also some that did not work nearly so well and have been justifiably forgotten.

        • MichaelANovelli

          Personally, I’m still holding out hope for After Earth.  It looks pretty promising…

  • Ok, so can someone check on Mendo on the 26th? I’m worried he’ll wind up hanging from the rafters wearing an elf costume. 

    • LindaMinda

      And that would be considered a bad thing?

  • “Flashbacks are not supposed to be long.”

    Sorry Mendo my friend, but I can’t agree with you there.  Rashomon, Citizen Kane, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, Godfather 2, Raging Bull, Sunset Boulevard, The Usual Suspects and Stand By Me all point to the contrary.  A flashback is a tool and like any tool it can be used in multiple ways and one such way is as a framing device.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, if you ask me. 

    • chromesthesia

       Hmm. Actually Rashomon and Citizen Kane, Usual Suspects, Stand By Me which I have seen are done rather well. WITH Rashomon you have several different perspectives, so it’s basically several people telling different versions of the same story. IaWL really might have worked better chronologically…

  • Thank you! I have hated this movie for years, and it’s great having someone agree with me for once! Merry Christmas just for that. XD

    • MichaelANovelli

      And to you, as well!

  • The_Stig

    The ribbon I get, but what’s with the green wig?

    • FullofQuestions1

      No one can say.

      • The_Stig

        Like you, I am full of questions on the subject. Yet, oddly enough he pulls the wig off.

        Oh, and one more thing: Do more reviews, you! We miss ya!

  • TheCrazyFish

    So, to sum up for the people who still don’t get it:

    George has let himself get pulled into the trap of thinking he has to take care of everyone and now he can’t live his own life -he can’t even DIE- because without him everything will fall apart. That doesn’t make him a hero, that makes him a slave.

    Old Man Potter might be a thief and a royal class asshole, but he’s not the one making George’s life a living Hell.

    Nope, that’s the rest of the town. They don’t love George, they just rely on him. They’re a bunch of brainless morons who would kill themselves off out of sheer stupidity if it weren’t for George. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll never reach a point in your life when you don’t need any help at all, but you should at least reach a point where you can basically take care of yourself. These people have not, because they all depend on their “hero” for everything. To borrow the old cliche: if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.

    And what about the angels that “save” George? Is the implication here supposed to be that his life is what God wants for us? That, more than simply being our brother’s keeper, we are to be his slave? That we are to sacrifice everything we are in the name of taking care of imbeciles who clearly don’t deserve it? If that is what God wants for us then he’s kind of a prick and should be rebelled against, not worshiped.

    Now, does that make It’s A Wonderful Life a bad movie? Maybe not. It’s entertaining, so it’s not too horrible. Also, it makes people happy and I can understand why. They think it’s a vision of a world where people care about each other, where things work out because people make them work out. Except…wait, no it’s not. Aside from George, who in that town is trying to make things work out? No one! If they were, maybe George wouldn’t have wanted to kill himself.

    So, yeah, It’s A Wonderful Life is passable as a movie, but as a moral lesson it’s complete garbage.

  • Dennis_Fischer

    *sigh* Michael, you are usually pretty good at paying attention to details, and yet somehow I think that, like it or hate it, you missed the point of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, which may be skewing your opinion.  George Bailey is a pretty good guy, our protagonist, who is unhappy and bitter because he never got to go exploring the world as he had planned. He’s the one with a problem that needs to be solved, and it basically revolves around his attitude–he has no appreciation of his genuine achievements and how his life has made a difference.  His marriage to Mary isn’t a loveless one, just not one he had planned on.

    On the other hand, there are legitimate complaints to be made about the movie’s story.  For one thing, Pottersville is a happening place with bars, nightclubs, and a busy night life (yeh!), whereas Bedford Falls is boring and dullsville, where the sidewalks roll up at night.  In Bailey’s alternate life, for some bizarre reason, Mary becomes a bespectacled librarian. Why? There’s nothing about her marriage to George which would have improved her eyesight.  Mr. Potter is a realistic character, but he is also a racist (“bunch of garlic eaters”), something which Italian-American Capra was particularly sensitive to.

    Because the ending of the movie works on an emotional level, you’re unlikely to change people’s opinions of it. If people cared about real logic, there are lots of popular movies that wouldn’t be so popular.

    • TheCrazyFish

      Thing is, Dennis, that first paragraph, that’s kind of the entire problem. According to this movie George Bailey is the one with the problem that needs to be solved and…. well, according to this movie that problem is that he thinks he matters. He wants to be an individual, with his own goals, his own ideas, his own experiences; he wants to go out on his own and do what he wants to do without having to worry about everyone else.

      And, according to this movie, the lesson he needs to learn is that he’s not allowed to have that, because then everyone else would have to actually be responsible for their own lives and fates and they are clearly not capable of handling that. Therefore, as the one useful person in the town, his destiny is -according to Capra- to sacrifice everything he is and everything that he will ever be so that all the mindless creature-things can live the way /they/ want.

  • nonameblue

    Mendo, I agree with your earlier review that this movie sucks, but I think there are some more points you could have mentioned.

    I disagree with you about the role Mary plays, but then it’s been a long time since I have seen the whole movie, so I don’t remember those details. I also think the whole Mary question doesn’t impact my major complaints about the movie:

    1.  Leaving aside the question of story structure, at its heart the whole movie depends on George phrasing his suicide wish as “I wish I had never been born”. This is terrible Hollywood – similar to an over-the-top villain telling the hero “I will make you suffer so that you wish you had never been born”. Impossible. Certainly pain can make somebody wish to die right now, or to wish that the villain had never been born / developed differently. But unless somebody suffers from clinical depression (different than normal being depressed) a normal person would remember the good times in their lifes. And since the moment we meet George, he rescues his brother and then stops the chemist, he should always remember that.

    Esp. since his plan – killing himself so that the life insurance money can set things right/ provide his family – is at least on the surface rational. (I don’t know if life insurance companies at that time had still the provision of not paying in case of suicide or already stopped that practice, but since George wants to jump into the river, it can be called an accident instead).

    What would the angel have done for the last 30 min. if George had simply said “I see no other way out, this will solve the problems, so although I had good times so far, now the black is overwhelming and I will die” instead of being overdramatic? He wouldn’t have had a handle for an alternate version of the town.

    2. Because Capra, for being supposedly unconventional, still choose a classic one-hero (George) one-villain (Potter) type of story, George is basically dumb in addition to good-hearted. I disagree with Mendo that the citizens deserve what they get by relying on George to solve their problems – they may not have all options.

    But George acts not like a democratic citizen, he follows Potters philosophy only with a different sign in front. Like Potter, he apparently believes that the normal citizens can’t handle things themselves, because once his only brother takes a different path than taking over the Savings & Loans, George should realize how stupid it is to rely only on family connections of blood, and start educating 5 smart teens (choose some women or blacks, be progressive, George!), or writing an ad for a young person. Groom your successor for 5 years and then you can retreat into a nominal position and follow your own dreams.

    I think the justification was that the Savings and loans made so little profit that George couldn’t afford to pay external (non-family members), but that’s obviously bullshit. For one, if they are worried about federal inspectors for the lost money at the end, that means federal regulations. Obviously, a director working 50 hrs/ week without pay would go against regulations.
    But that aside, a bank not making enough money to pay decent wages for a director is inept. A decent bank that finances affordable houses (Baileys) instead of exploiting people with 20% loans (Potter) will still make a modest win instead of outrageous win, but a 5-10% profit at  years end for a bank is completly possible. (And I know that from reality – we have not only green and ethical banks, but for over a hundred years, we have local savings Sparkassen belonging to the community with modest gains and cheaper loans, who still made profit and paid wages).

    Esp. since in that scene about the takeover where George is “tricked” into accepting the post as director (postponing his dreams), the bank does have a board of (old white men) directors/ shareholders. If they can afford this, they can afford a wage for George, which means they can hire somebody for the daily decisions and George making long-term decisions.

    3. Related to 2: If George wants to help Bedford Falls long-time, he needs to rely not only on his own power of good (the authoritarian principle, where power is good as long as good people wield it).

    Instead, he needs to install structures like community savings and loans which will grant cheap loans and do public projects like houses because it’s written in their statues regardless of who’s in charge. So he needs to found an association of savings and loans and campaign for Washington (or find somebody to do that). He’s not the only person concerned with helping people in the country – maybe the only one in Bedford Falls, but once he starts looking elsewhere, he will find others to help him, meaning he can take time off before burning out.

    Aside: Mendo, you said Potter was believable as real person. I wonder, given that he was such a cut-throat, why he was still modest and living in Bedford Falls. He should have made a small fortune by now with exploitative loans (as bankers with payday loans and the like do in real life), and even if George thwarts his plans to take over and own the whole town, he should have left and retired with his fortune elsewhere.

    4. Related to 1: Because George doesn’t have a real depression, since he’s a fucking hero several times over and knows it, the real message at the end is: if you aren’t a hero who saved two lives and helped a whole town several times over, what reason have you got to live? Who will care if you didn’t change a whole reality?

    It’s a brutal blow for any depressed person in the real world.

    The economic problem – that Potterville is vibrant, while Bedford Falls has affordable housing, but nothing else and will thus fall into decline and poverty a few decades later – has been analyzed in depth elsewhere on the net, so I don’t mention it extra.