Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seven Quick Takes: Christmas Movie edition

There are a lot of Christmas movies out there, and it seems like everyone has that one movie more than any other that makes it feel like Christmas to them.   Some people go for "A Miracle on 34th Street," some go for "A Christmas Story."  There's "Rudolph,"  "A Charlie Brown Christmas," "White Christmas," and "The Bishop's Wife" (Cary Grant/Loretta young version, thankyouverymuch).  

I like them all (well, most of them anyway), but my hands-down favorite is "It's A Wonderful Life."  I just have to see that movie one time during the holidays or I feel like something is missing from the festivities.

Here are seven reasons why I love it:

One:  Dad is the Man

I love the way fathers are portrayed in this movie;  they are upstanding citizens, valued for their wisdom, and looked to for answers.

When George realizes that Mr. Gower has accidentally poisoned the capsules marked for delivery, the first person he runs to is his father.  The sign in the pharmacy says it all:  "Ask Dad, He Knows"  (I really want to find one of those for Rob's office.)

Even as an adult, George seeks his father's counsel and respects him for his values and opinions.  After expressing all his hopes for the future to his father, and accepting his father's encouragement, he tells him, "Pop, you want a shock?  I think you're a great guy."

Two: The Mr. Gower Defense

I have a friend who often invokes what she calls "The Mr. Gower Defense."

Poor Mr. Gower was deep in grief over the sudden death of his son when he accidentally substituted poison for medicine intended for a house full of sick children.

George, after realizing the mistake and failing to get anyone to listen to him, refuses to deliver it. When he finds out, Mr. Gower strikes him in anger and sorrow, thinking George lazy, until he discovers his mistake.   He apologizes and embraces him while George cries, "I know you didn't mean it! You were upset is all!"

So my friend, whenever ill-treated for no reason, liberally applies "The Mr. Gower Defense."  Maybe that extra rude bank teller has just lost her husband or child.  Or maybe she really is just rude.  Either way, it can't hurt to respond with kindness.

Three:  "George Bailey, I'll love you til the day I die"

That's what young Mary Hatch whispered into George's deaf ear while he was serving her ice cream at the soda fountain, and she meant it.  She never let go of her love for him, never compromised, and she loved him through the worst night of his life.

It's easy to think that Clarence was the one who saved George from suicide on Christmas Eve, and in a big way he was, but it was Mary who really brought him back.  When George saw his life as if he'd never been born, he was certainly troubled, but the breaking point was when he saw life without Mary.  That's when he begged Clarence to take him back.  "I've got to get back to my wife!," he cries.

I know Jimmy Stewart has been in many great movies, but I'll never love a role of his more and it's because of one scene.  When he realizes everything has been made right with his past, George rushes home to find Mary.  After they reunite, and people start coming in with donations, Uncle Billy shouts, "It was all Mary, George!  Mary did it!  She told everyone you were in trouble and they came!"

George looks over at Mary with a look of such tenderness, gratitude, humility, and reverence, and I cry every time.

Four:  "This is what I wished for."

Mary whispers that to George on their wedding night as they embrace in their new home.  They only thing they have is each other, and it's enough.

I love the portrayal of the Bailey's marriage, especially the early years.  A lot of modern movies don't do justice to a marriage; most of the time people aren't even getting married, they are just "involved" on some level.   That's the easy way out.

Marriage takes guts, and the Bailey's have them.  As they are leaving for their wedding, there is a run on the bank and George has to stop and save the building and loan.  He and Mary use all the money they had planned for the honeymoon to keep the business open.

They start their lives in a house that is less water tight than the Titanic, with everything they have tied up in the building and loan, a business that George never wanted to run and that often depresses him.

While their friends and family leave Bedford Falls for brilliant careers and fascinating lives, George and Mary make the choice to stay in town and build a life little by little.

They had nothing but each other when they started, but they stuck it out because that's what you do when you commit yourself to someone.  You don't cut and run when the going gets tough.

Five: "You call this a happy family?  Why did we have to have all these kids?"

This is the flip side of a real marriage.  After Uncle Billy loses the money he was supposed to deposit, George comes home depressed and hopeless.

Of course, he is greeted by the normal chaos of a house full of children on Christmas Eve.  Zuzu is sick, Janie keeps playing the same song on the piano, Pete wants to know how to spell "frankincense," pieces of the house are breaking off in his hand, and just like life, all of this happens before he is inside the house for ten minutes.

He's out of control, he knows it, and he's sorry for it, but he still hurts those closest to him.  In a real family, it happens every day.

Six:  You can't always get what you want.

If there was ever a guy who didn't get what he wanted, but got exactly what he needed, then it's George Bailey.

George had always planned to "shake the dust of this crummy little town" off his feet, and travel the world.  He wanted to see places and build things and make a lot of money.

Of course, he went on to do precisely none of that.  He stayed in Bedford Falls to earn money for college, and then, after his father died, stayed to take the helm of the building and loan while he sent his brother to college instead.

At every turn, his desire to leave town is overruled by his responsibility to his family and his desire to help them.

But the best instance of the immovable object meeting the irresistible force is when George visits Mary and realizes he loves her.

"Now, you listen to me! I don't want any plastics, and I don't want any ground floors, and I don't want to get married - ever - to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do. And you're... and you're... oh, Mary . . . Mary . . ."

He may not want to stay, but he needs to.

Seven:  "Do small things with great love"

Mr. Potter, the resident grinch, accuses George of being a "chump" and a bad businessman, like his father before him.   From one point of view, Potter is correct.  There's not much to show for all of George's hard work.

Except the love and gratitude of everyone he had ever helped.  That's no small potatoes.

What George discovers is that what you put into other people - your love, your time, your compassion, -- is what will come back to you ten fold.  Even the smallest deed, done with love, will multiply.

It really is a wonderful life, my friends.  Merry Christmas.


  1. As much as It's a Wonderful Life is not about Christmas it's also my "must see" Christmas movie. (also must see Christmas in Connecticut -- but for very different reasons). My favorite line is "George, why must you torture the children?" gotta laugh!!

  2. Amen! I love this movie and you've nailed every reason why.

  3. You'll probably not want to be my friend after this, but I don't think I've ever watched the whole movie from beginning to end! But now I feel I must. You've made it a must-see with this post.

    Merry Christmas!


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