George Bailey Lassoes HeartbreakWatching IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE every year has always been a Christmas tradition for me, and it's one my wife enjoys, too. So we watched it again last night.
I cannot count the number of times I've seen this movie. We used to book it every year when I was on the campus Cinema Board, so I probably saw it five times while I was going to college actually projected on a movie screen in a theater, and, of course, I've no doubt seen it at least another fifteen times on videotape and DVD.
As with that other great classic movie of its era, CASABLANCA, the appeal of this film is entirely emotional... there is simply no internal logic to the movie at all.
Just as one random example... one of the earliest scenes in the film shows George Bailey at the age of 11, saving his obviously much younger brother Harry's life when Harry falls into an icy creek while sledding. A few weeks later, George heads in to work at Gower's drugstore and we see Mary and Violet waiting for him at the counter. George has been clearly identified by heavenly authority as being 11 at this point in the narrative, and both Violent and Mary seem to be pretty much the same age, while Harry was obviously much younger... nearly a toddler, which would make since, as Harry is supposed to be around 4 years younger than George, which would make him 7 when he nearly drowns. However, when the narrative flashes forward to Harry's high school graduation, we find out that Mary is actually the same age as Harry -- 18. We know brother George is 4 years older than Harry and, in fact, George's contemporary, that jack ass Sam Wainwright, announces loudly that he has just graduated from college in that same scene. So, apparently, Mary was 7 years old when she declared in George's deaf ear that "George Bailey, I'll love you 'til the day I die". Which simply makes no logical sense at all.
Yet the movie is so overwhelmingly powerful on an emotional level that stuff like this just doesn't matter, and, in fact, I had to watch it around thirty times before I realized it. It wasn't until around my 12th viewing that I realized that the guy who eggs Mary's obnoxious date at the dance on into opening up the floor and dumping George and Mary into the hidden swimming pool is Mary's older brother Marty... who is, clearly, some kind of manic depressive psychotic, as he has, just prior to this, begged George to dance with his sister, as a special favor to her ("you'll give her the thrill of her life"). Apparently, Good Marty wants to make his sister and his friend happy, but when Bad Marty sees them having a wonderful time, he thinks "That tramp! I'll show HER!" What a nut job!
Anyway, this time around, I noticed something else for the first time. You know that really corny sequence where George and Mary are walking around in the borrowed clothes after the swimming pool mishap, and George throws a rock at the old Granville House, and Mary asks him what he wished for, and George says "Oh, not just one wish, Mary, but a whole hatful!" and proceeds to detail how he's going to 'shake the dust of Bedford Falls off of his shoes and SEE THE WORLD!'
And Mary gets this peculiar look on her face and starts looking around for a rock to throw so she can make a wish, too.
I realized as I watched that this time that what Mary is thinking at that moment is:
"And now... I must crush his dreams... forever!"
And she does, too.