Tagged: George Bailey

Mindy Newell: It’s A Wonderful Life 2 – The Feds Awaken!


George Bailey: I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Coliseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…

Uncle Billy: They did, they did it, George, they voted Potter down. And they only had one condition, and that’s the best part. They want you to run the Building and Loan.

George Bailey: No, no, this is my last chance to get away from here. Harry Bailey is your man, he will run the Building and Loan.

Uncle Billy: But George, they’ll vote with Potter otherwise…

Mary Bailey: George Bailey lassos stork.

George Bailey: Mary…you…you…you…Mary, are you on the nest?

George Bailey: Why’d we have all these kids?

— It’s A Wonderful Life, Directed by Frank Capra

There’s a moment in It’s A Wonderful Life that always nails the character of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart).

George is at the train station, eagerly awaiting return of his brother Harry from college. Harry is supposed to take over the running of the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan Association so that George, who sacrificed his own college education to take over running the family business after the death of the boys’ father, can finally get his chance to leave the “crummy little town” of Bedford Falls, NY and change his dreams into reality. But Harry arrives with a surprise – a wife.

George Bailey: What’s a pretty girl like you doing marrying this two-headed brother of mine?

Ruth Dakin Bailey: Well, I’ll tell you. It’s purely mercenary.

Ruth: My father offered him a job.

George: Oh, he gets you and a job? Well, Harry’s cup runneth over.

Harry: Uh, George, about that job, Ruth spoke out of turn.

The newlyweds walk off stage and the camera zooms in on George. It’s maybe three seconds of screen time, and yet it’s all there. Rage and jealousy, personal dreams vs. responsibility and familial duty, recognition and realization and resignation.

I watched It’s A Wonderful Life for the thousandth time on Christmas Day. Well, due to the standard of truth in this column to which I hold myself: I started watching the film at my daughter’s mother-in-law’s house after a scrumptious dinner, but I finished it on my DVR when I got home. And yeah, I got weepy for the thousandth time when Clarence got his wings.

But today, for some reason, Cynical Mindy took over, or maybe it was just me being the writer thinking “what happened next?” I started wondering if George would have gone to jail anyway. Yes, thanks to the townspeople emptying out their piggybanks, he could, in theory, cover the loss. But the original money is still missing – and it’s the money that was held in escrow by the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan Association for the company’s investees and mortgagees and debtors, i.e., the very people who gave George more money.

So, in effect, didn’t they just double their loss? In other words, my landlord has my security deposit in an escrow account. That money, plus whatever interest it has earned, is supposed to be returned to me when I move. But what if my landlord lost that escrow account. If I gave him the equivalent amount of cash to keep him out of jail for embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, then he would still owe me at least my original security deposit plus interest, right? (It could be argued that the second amount of cash was a gift.) Or would the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which was created by F.D.R. under the Banking Act of 1933, cover the losses of the citizens of Bedford Falls. Perhaps this is a question for Bob Ingersoll, ComicMix’s intrepid interpreter of law.

And wouldn’t Ernie the cop and the Bedford Falls Police Department still be under the obligation of investigating just what the hell happened to the $8,000 that Uncle Billy lost? Or would it be the New York Treasury Department, or the FDIC? Hey, maybe they would, and the trail would lead to Mr. Potter, and the bastard would be the one to go to jail.

But, Cynical Mindy thinks, Potter would probably pay off the judge, or threaten him with the political consequences of the judge bringing Potter to trial – I’m sure Potter has a million politicians in his pockets – and walk away clean… or set it up so that Uncle Billy went to jail.

And then maybe Mary would get tired of George talking about angels and ringing bells and leave him – and George would try to commit suicide again, only this time everybody “up there” already has their wings and the townspeople think he’s nuts or fed up that he never paid them back for that time they pulled his ass out of the fire, or decide that George is a scam artist after all, so they would turn their backs on him, too… so George dies.

Or maybe Mary, convinced that her husband has gone off the deep end talking about an alternate reality in which he never existed and in which she ended up a spinster librarian – “Really, George, that’s what you think would happen to me if I had never met you? Have you forgotten Sam Wainwright?” – would commit him to a mental institution.

And there George would sit, talking about an angel named Clarence and rereading, over and over, an old, battered copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Merry Christmas, everybody!!!!

John Ostrander: Christmas Anti-Heroes


T’is the season for Christmas related columns, fa-la-la-la-etc. I could write about Star Wars: The Force Awakens but that came out Friday so now it’s old hat and, besides, I haven’t seen it yet and, given the crowds, may not be able to see it until after the first of the year so let’s talk about something else, shaaaaall we?

Christmas is a time of peace, love, and goodwill to all unless you’re doing last minute shopping, running from store to store, and in a life and death struggle with some other harried shopper for the last iteration of a particular item that you both must have. So why is it that, aside from Baby Jesus of course, the most identifiable characters connected with the day are anti-heroes – the Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Mr. Potter (from It’s a Wonderful Life)?

Anti-heroes are what we used to call outright villains until it was found that we may identify with them more than perhaps we should. They’re bad guys who have a hint of good guy in them and these days we may sympathize with them more than the erstwhile heroes of the stories that they are in. They’re usually the most interesting and usually have the best lines.

Take the Grinch, for example, especially the Grinch found in the Chuck Jones directed and Boris Karloff voiced cartoon. He even has a song about how bad he is. Some of my favorite lyrics in it go: “You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch! You’re a nasty, wasty skunk! Your heart is full of unwashed socks. Your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch!” Admit it. You now have the whole song running through your head. Merry Christmas.

The Grinch lives up the mountain with his dog Max, but is assaulted by the noise coming from Who-ville every Christmas and it is driving him just bat-shit crazy. So he hatches his evil plan: he’ll dress up like Sanity Claus and steal every present from the Whos and every scrap of food including the last can of Who-Hash. (That particular delicacy always troubled me; it implies that the hash is made up of ground up Whos which suggests that the village is a town of cannibals which might make them more interesting than they otherwise appear.)

Instead of tears, the Grinch hears a song of joy from the Whos on Christmas Day. Xmas came all the same. So he has a change of heart (it grew three sizes that day) and returns everything and even joins them for dinner, slicing the roast beast.

The change suggests a desire to change, deep down. Let’s be honest though – the Grinch is funnier and more interesting before his change.

And then there’s Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the Grinch’s literary grandfather. Dickens describes him as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” His very name is a synonym for miser (look it up). When Carl Barks was looking for a name for Donald Duck’s rich and miserly uncle, what else would suit but the name Scrooge?

Ebenezer is a gold mine for bad Christmas attitude. Dickens says of him “To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call nuts to Scrooge.” Scrooge is famous for his “Bah! Humbug!” attitude on the season. Early on, he declares: “Out upon merry Christmas. What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

When Scrooge is asked for money to help the poor, he says they should go to the poorhouse since that is what he pays his taxes for. Told that many would rather die than go there, Scrooge snaps, “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Oh, that’s cold.

Scrooge, however, saw himself as simply a good man of business and I suspect many on the Right today would see him as the put-upon hero of the story, just another entrepreneur trying to make his way past all those grasping freeloaders with their hands out.

Scrooge gets visited by four ghosts (including his dead partner, Jacob Marley) and, of course, gets reformed. By the end he vows, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Still, there’s enough of the old devil in him to play a rather mean trick on his clerk, Bob Cratchit, on the following day. Thank goodness.

That leaves us, then, with Mr. Potter of It’s A Wonderful Life. Let’s be honest; there’s nothing redeeming about him. He is a miserable old miser like Scrooge; of him it can be sung that he’s a mean one. He has the best – or worst – of the Grinch and Scrooge in him.

Here’s a sample of some his best line and worst attitudes: “I am an old man, and most people hate me. But I don’t like them either so that makes it all even.

“Look at you. You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me ‘a warped, frustrated, old man!’ What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help.

“He [Peter Bailey] was a man of high ideals, so called. Ideals without common sense can ruin this town.

“Ernie Bishop, you know the fella who sits around all day on his brains in his taxi?”

When Peter Bailey asks him why he is so miserly when he has so much money: “Oh, I suppose I should give it to miserable failures like you and that idiot brother of yours to spend for me!”

“You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas!”

I’m surprised that Mr. Potter isn’t running for the Republican presidential nomination. Or maybe he is and just has gotten lost in the pack. Maybe he’s changed his name to Trump.

Potter gets ahold by mistake of a deposit that belongs to George Bailey and the Savings and Loan he heads up. Knowing this will mean financial ruin and disgrace for Bailey (whom he describes as a boil on his neck), he conceals the fact that he has it.

And he gets away with it!

George is saved by the generosity of family and friends but, by the end of the movie, Potter is not exposed and he never gives the money back. He’s unrepentant and unreformed. You can sort of root for the Grinch and Scrooge but you really just want Potter to die with a stake of holly through his heart. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s an asshole. He’s an outright villain. Die, Potter, die!

Anyway, may your Christmas be merry and bright, one and all. Enjoy the day and enjoy some of these classics. They do embody the feelings of the season.

Even if that feeling is… “Humbug!”

John Ostrander: To Be A Hero

Doctor Who has aired a new trailer for the upcoming season that starts August 23rd*. You can see it here. It’s our first real glimpse at the new Doctor played by Peter Capaldi and I think it all looks very promising. He’s very different from the past few Doctors. In some ways, he’s more reminiscent of the first one.

Something bugged me, tho. At the end of the trailer, he asks his companion, Clara, if he is a good man. She seems a bit flummoxed by this and answers, “I don’t know.”

My first reaction to the question was “I do. The Doctor is a good man. He’s a hero. He has saved the planet, the galaxy, all of reality about a bazillion times.”

Then I thought about it some more. Do you have to be a good man in order to be a hero? You don’t have to be a good person to be the protagonist; many good stories have been told using someone bad or even evil as the center of the story. Hero, on the other hand, is a different matter, isn’t it? A hero needs to have certain moral values – honor, nobility, courage, self-sacrifice and so on. They may have these qualities from the onset of the story or acquire them along the way. They can rise up as heroes as the story progresses or the qualities they already have can be tested.

The hero is something we might want to emulate. Superman in my youth was a big blue Boy Scout. Even Batman, for all the fact that he dresses more like a villain, was more of a hero in a traditional sense.

Then Marvel came along with its more complicated set of heroes. Spider-Man had a lot of hang-ups. At the same time, they were heroes because they rose to the challenges. They exhibited a certain honor, nobility, and so on.

The anti-hero seems more in tune with modern society. He or she is the protagonist of the story but not the moral center. Typically, they are in it for themselves and what they can gain or they are simply tossed around by life and not masters of their own fate. Kafka’s Joseph K in The Trial is an anti-hero because his choices simply do not matter. He is a victim and cannot change his own fate.

I tend to write more towards the anti-hero side of the scale. I like the moral complexity they present; it interests me as a writer. Even a good person will struggle to find the right thing to do in a given situation. J.K. Rowling in one of the Harry Potter books has her character Dumbledore say that the time is coming when people will have to choose between what is right and what is easy. There’s always a cost involved to do what is right.

Can you be a hero without also being a good man or woman, at least to some degree? I don’t think so. It may be difficult for the character to make the “right choice” but they need to have somewhere inside of them a degree of courage, empathy, honor and so on. George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life has to struggle with his frustration and sense of helplessness. He lashes out in anger towards the climax of the movie against people he loves. Yet even in his deepest despair, he will jump off a bridge to save what he thinks is a drowning man.

So, is the Doctor a good man? He certainly is a hero and, whatever his failings, he is a good man. The fact that he asks the question makes him a good man; a bad man wouldn’t care.

* Also coming to a handful of movie theaters, probably not near you.