I truly love Frank Capraâ€™s film Itâ€™s a Wonderful Life (1946). It is a fable of lost innocence, of love lost and found, and of family being essential to humankindâ€™s resilience and stability. Despite having a great story, a fine cast, and a gifted director, there has always been one thing that has troubled me about the film. I feel the deck is stacked against George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) from the start. The accumulating and unrelenting responsibility to friends and family so overwhelms George, even from the time he is a little boy, that he never has a chance to prove himself beyond the confines of Bedford Falls.
If we examine the plot of the story, it is all predicated on the irrefutable fact that George Bailey is a good guy. Despite being as Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore who out Scrooges Ebenezer in this role) puts it, â€śthe smartest one of the lot,â€ť George has not been able to escape his hometown. Why? Because every time he has a chance, something comes along that prevents him from taking the road less traveled by. It becomes exasperating at times as we see Georgeâ€™s opportunities evaporate.
Georgeâ€™s father Peter (Samuel S. Hinds) has established the Bailey Building and Loan in an honest effort to help people in the town. His nemesis is Potter, who tries to take over as much of the town as possible (with the Building and Loan keeping a portion of it from his greedy grasp). This combative relationship will eventually be transferred to George, who takes over the company after his fatherâ€™s death.
Because of Potterâ€™s drive to â€śchloroformâ€ť the Building and Loan, George loses the chance to take a trip to Europe and go to college (only by staying and taking his fatherâ€™s place will the company endure). Georgeâ€™s trials and tribulations never end after this; he is always coming to someoneâ€™s rescue at his own expense. His brother Harry returns from college (with bride in tow); he is unable to take Georgeâ€™s place at work so that George can go to college. The war comes and George doesnâ€™t even get out of town for that; his bad ear makes him ineligible for combat.
We cannot talk about the stacked deck without discussing Mary Hatch (a stunningly beautiful Donna Reed). The sister of Georgeâ€™s friend Marty, Mary has always had a crush on George, who has never noticed her until a high school graduation dance when she seems to have grown overnight from the pesty little girl he remembers into a lovely young woman. Mary, despite all her beauty and charm, is the coup de grace for Georgeâ€™s plans. Perhaps if he never meets Mary, George will be able to escape, but Mary is the prettiest ball and chain anyone can ever imagine. Mary manages to keep George in Bedford Falls because he loves her and wants her to be happy.