Tagged: It’s A Wonderful Life

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: 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.