It’s A Wonderful Life is an iconic film that most people have either seen or at least heard of. I definitely remember seeing it as a kid although my recollection is pretty broken. I remember the main character getting his ears slammed but then I thought the climax was similar to Sleepless in Seattle. I certainly did not recall the Angel helping him out or the reality warping aspect of the film. It’s a movie that definitely holds up pretty well in some aspects while faltering in others. The main character is quite terrible for example which is one part that doesn’t age well.
So the film starts off with a few Angels wondering what they should do about the main character. He is on a course set for self destruction at the moment and must be saved quickly. Clarence decides to learn a bit about our lead before making a move so the rest of the film follows Mr Bailey from his days as a kid to an adult. He is essentially stuck in an old town working a job that he doesn’t like. Bailey doesn’t like this but it’s hard to get out. Unfortunately his partner loses 8000 dollars to the main villain, Mr. Potter. Bailey will now be arrested and left penniless if he doesn’t do something. That’s when he remembers the Life Insurance.
The opening is also a pretty powerful scene as a lot of people pray for Bailey to be okay. It’s not often you see anyone praying in a film, much less a bunch of people. It is definitely nice to remember a time where many people were openly Christian and there weren’t so many social taboos against it. It’s also a scene that shows the power of prayer as the Angels decide to act on the and that is ultimately what saves Mr. Bailey. Don’t doubt the power of prayer in real life either. Your prayers are always answered and God will see to it that you get the right answer to your prayer.
Naturally Bailey’s plight is a sad one but he doesn’t handle it well at all. Take early on in the film, he is about to leave town but then he lets Mr. Potter’s speech get to him so he yells back and the board decides to keep him on. Bailey should have dashed for the train before anyone even had time to tell him such a thing but he was already having doubts. See, I think Bailey was actually not as thrilled about leaving as he suggested or he would have done so. His next opportunity was even easier as his brother returned to take over the family business as promised in Bailey’s place. He ended up getting a fiancée while he was gone and she wants him to run a different business. Bailey quickly folds here, but he could have acted oblivious and just left. The brother would have taken over the business and it would be golden. Even at the end when Potter offers Bailey a deal the lead declines. Now you can’t really blame him too much on a moral angle since it’s only natural that he would never want to work with him. On the other hand, this would have been his best chance to fix their code of ethics and to make things better in the whole town. In the end, Bailey is the one who trapped himself in the town.
The romance is also pretty bad the whole time. He is just so mean to Mary the whole time. He wrecks her big return to the city. She works really hard to make things better for them while he consistently makes things tougher on her. Despite this, she never complains while he always does. So I couldn’t get behind this romance because as the saying goes, I think she could do a lot better than get together with this guy. Let’s also consider the fact that he was going to jump off a bridge and leave her to take care of the kids on her own.
I think the only reasonable characteristic of Mr. Bailey is that he reminds me of Nicholas Cage. The facial expressions and the voice are just really similar which is pretty interesting to see. Watch enough old movies and you eventually start to see these older counterparts. As the final nail in the coffin, Mr. Bailey is also very slow on the uptake. Even once Clarence tells him many times that he has been erased from time and nobody will remember him, Bailey is shocked every time. You’d think after the 2nd or 3rd guy didn’t recognize him that he would realize something was up. Seeing his wife working at a library now is also something he should have considered. The guy is just pretty annoying and cane very close to wrecking everyone’s Christmas.
Clarence was not really my kind of character either. While the other Angels were all on point and very professional, he felt the most Earthly. Clarence came very close to drinking beer at the bar and that wasn’t really a good moment for him. His way of helping Bailey was also very roundabout and risky. There were so many ways the whole thing could have backfired. As slow as Bailey was on the uptake, Clarence was really slow at giving out the details. He seemed shocked whenever Bailey didn’t understand something as well. They probably should have sent one of the Angels with wings if you ask me since this one also didn’t seem to understand people very well.
The best character in the film was definitely Mr. Potter though. The guy was really intense and didn’t mince words when he was on screen. He’d do anything for a profit and didn’t suddenly have a change of heart at the end either. He stuck to his guns from start to finish and got some of the best lines. When Bailey shows up at his throne and desperately asks for help Potter finally relents. You see him soften up and think for a split second that subs he isn’t so bad after all. Then Potter admits that he will help see that Bailey gets the Justice he deserves and issued a warrant for his arrest with the powers given to him as a stakeholder in the company. The money is what matters to him and seeing 8000 of it just vanish was unacceptable to him. Not to mention that he also ends up holding grudges. He’s a very complete character and one that you can root for as a villain. That’s not to say you want him to win over the heroes because of what that would mean for the town but at the very least he is a fun villain to watch.
If Mary was the main character then she would be easy to root for against Potter. Unlike Bailey, she actually seems like a nice character and makes all of the reasonable choices throughout the movie. Without her to keep Bailey in line, he’d probably still be whining about his job, but not doing anything about it. That’s just the kind of man that Bailey is. She’s a lot better at reading a situation and even offers the money to the townsfolk before Bailey even thinks of the idea. Her generosity is on point as well.
Overall, It’s a Wonderful Life is a good Christmas film with solid Christian themes at work as well. It has a good premise and it’s always interesting to look at a world without yourself. The ripple effect of you not existing would definitely be quite massive when you think about it. That being said, the execution isn’t always on point and some parts of the film have not aged well like the romance or the main character. It’s certainly more of a hit than a miss though and I’d recommend checking it out. You should see for yourself why the film is so well known and remembered.