It’s A Wonderful Life comes on TV every year at this time. Some stations even play it around the clock. It is a holiday classic, but I like It’s A Wonderful Life for the lessons it teaches us. Like most Frank Capra films, the story is about the strength and courage of ordinary people. In fact, the rich and power are usually the bad guys in his films.
In 1946 Frank Capra directed It’s A Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. It is the story of a man who lives an unassuming life in a small town and thinks that his life doesn’t really matter in the great big scheme of things.
Even though George Bailey spends his whole life in Bedford Falls helping others, he was a man who had bigger dreams. He had plans to travel, to see the world and have adventures. Instead he works in the family’s business, a building and loan company that helps working people to buy a home of their own.
“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?”
But one Christmas Eve, George’s absent-minded Uncle Billy loses an $8,000 bank deposit. That’s 1946 dollars, so $8000 was a fortune. Actually, it is still a lot of money. George now faces jail and the collapse of his company so he goes to Mr. Potter, the mean old skinflint banker to ask for assistance. But of course that wasn’t going to happen. He is out of options. With nothing left but a life insurance policy, he thinks everyone would off if he were dead and he considers suicide.
The prayers of his loved ones are heard and an angel named Clarence is sent to help George and show him what life would be like if he had never been born. George sees his beloved Bedford Falls controlled by Mr. Potter turned into a town full of sleazy bars and shoddy slums. His wife Mary who he feels could have done better for herself by marrying a rich man is a mousey, old-maid librarian. The people who he had been friends with and the lives that he touched all had a much different life than the one he had known.
George realizes what all of us need to remember: we DO make a difference. That each of use touches the lives of those around us in small, sometimes imperceptible ways that ultimately change the world around us.
“Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”
At the end of the movie, George goes back to his real life, expecting to be thrown into prison for bank fraud. But he soon learns the true power of friendship. All his friends pull together to help him, collecting money and paying off his debt. This part always makes me cry.
The wonderful thing about It’s A Wonderful Life is that it restores your faith in your fellow man. Like most of Frank Capra’s movies, there is an underlying believe that we are basically good people and in good times and bad times we can all pull together.