It’s a Wonderful Life, nearly 74 years after its release, remains a wonderful movie. The holiday classic, directed by Frank Capra, still touches the heart, evoking tears and laughs, all the while capturing the essence of what’s good in the world and in our fellow humans. A recent re-watch confirms something else as well: the dialogue is as timely as ever. In fact, many of the lines – as written by Capra along with co-screenwriters Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling, Frances Goodrich, and Michael Wilson – would ring true even if It’s a Wonderful Life were released in 2020.
Considering the singular hardness of the year 2020, a movie like It’s a Wonderful Life can feel a bit like a pain-killer or a comforting hand on your shoulder right now. It’s not that it’s a preachy movie, it’s an uplifting movie that is also smart. Here are six quotes and moments from It’s a Wonderful Life that will lift your spirits, no matter how tough this year has been.
Mary Bailey: “Is this the ear you can’t hear on? (She whispers in George’s bad ear) George Bailey, I’ll love you ’til the day I die.”
There are numerous romantics lines in It’s a Wonderful Life, most of them delivered by either James Stewart or Donna Reed, who shared remarkable chemistry in the film as George and Mary. But we’ll go with this particular bit of dialogue because Mary says it out of unprovoked adoration, whereas other such lines result from realizations of how good the Baileys have had it or what was at risk if George didn’t come to his senses. Really, who wouldn’t want to hear such a beautiful thing from a loved one?
George Bailey (to Mr. Potter): “What’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!”
Even a pissed-off George couldn’t bring himself to say it, so we will. Fuck you, Mr. Potter. All George wants is for the good folks in Bedford Falls to get a fair shake, to have their shot at living the American Dream. Good for you, George. And, again, fuck you, Mr. Potter.
Mr. Potter (to George): “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. No securities, no stocks, no bonds, nothin’ but a miserable little $500 equity in a life insurance policy. (Potter chuckles snidely). You’re worth more dead than alive! Why don’t you go to the riffraff you love so much and ask them to let you have $8,000?…”
Some things never change. There’s always someone with deep pockets who not only wants more money and ever more power but who will stop at nothing – including cheating – to stomp on the little guy while he’s down. And worse, such people take genuine pleasure in mocking the little guy along the way.
Clarence (to George): “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
Who among us hasn’t contemplated what the world might be like were we not in it? At once starkly and sappily, It’s a Wonderful Life lets George glimpse that for himself. And it’s not a pretty picture. Just by being a good man, one who doesn’t realize how good he is, George impacts everything and everyone around him. We can still do that in 2020, and without calling attention to it. Send a holiday card to the World War II veteran stuck in a nursing home and seeking a pen pal. Drop off some dog food, kitty litter, wipes, and paper towels at the house of that 13-year-old girl in town trying to support the staff and animals at the local shelter for no other reason than she thought it’d be a nice thing to do. Check in on your neighbors. Order that book or cake from the local mom and pop shop. You’d be surprised by the difference even the smallest gesture can make.
Clarence (in his book inscription): “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”
This was true in 1946, it’s true now – and it will always be true. If you can, gather your friends and loved ones around the fire pit, social distancing, of course. If it’s too cold or your pals are too far away geographically, you can always call, text or Zoom call. Feel free to do it right now. Really. This article will still be here when you’re done.
Zuzu Bailey: “Teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.’”
This is THE line from It’s a Wonderful Life. It holds up perfectly, as does “Attaboy, Clarence,” even after all these years. And just to put the span of time in perspective, Karolyn Grimes – whose delivery of Zuzu’s all-important line was impeccable – celebrated her sixth birthday during production of the film. Grimes turned 80 in July.
It’s a Wonderful Life is available pretty much everywhere. You can watch it for free, but with commercials, on USA Network, and on NBC.com. It’s also free if you’ve got Amazon Prime. And it can be rented or purchased at iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, and Microsoft.