December 22, 2017

It's a Wonderful Life

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Four years. Several attempted scripts. Numerous run-throughs. Zero finished product.

Until now.

Yes, after discussing doing a riff of It's a Wonderful Life back when this podcast was called "The Ugly Couchcast", plans were made. Then they were pushed back. The next year, when the guys started doing movie reviews and occasionally recording commentaries, they decided it was time to try again. And then they didn't, pushing it back another year. Are you seeing a pattern here?

After yet another failed attempt, Derek finally took the initiative and announced that they were just going to do it on-the-fly...No script. No planning. No backsies. Just put the movie in and let the cards fall where they may, which brings us to this week's addition to #HolidayMoviepalooza 2017.

Larry wanted to do Snakes on a Plane, but couldn't present a plausible argument.
Meet George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart). Looks like a pretty happy guy, right? Big family, beautiful wife (Donna Reed as Mary)...Yup. Things are looking good. But, alas, not all is right in the small town of Bedford Falls, USA. We'll get to that in a minute.

It's Christmas Eve, and the people of Bedford Falls are worried about their old buddy George. So, as one might choose to do, they send out some prayers to anybody who might happen to be listening. And, believe it or not, it works!

Well, sort of. Saint Peter, who is represented by a glowing tempura shrimp and handles God's schedule and appointments, decides to send a guardian angel named Clarence (Henry Traverse) down to see if he can help George. But before he can do that, he has to hear George's backstory, and we, the lucky viewers, get to see all of it!

Including a vicious beatdown at the hands of his first boss! Christmas!
Young George (Robert J. Anderson) enjoyed most of his childhood. He hung out with his friends, saved his younger brother's life, and worked at the local drug store/soda fountain, where the girls, Violet and Mary, fought over him. He had plans to travel when he got older, and was proud of his father, who ran the local building and loan, which gave loans to the people in town who couldn't go to the mean old guy who ran the other banks in town, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore).

While at work one day, George notices that his boss, Mr. Gower (H.B. Warner), is acting sort of odd. He's drunk and really yelly, and George discovers it's because Mr. Gower's son was killed while overseas. When George tries to talk to him about it, Mr. Gower yells at him and tells him to go deliver some pills. George, however, notices that the pills are, in fact, filled with poison. Mr. Gower won't listen, so George decides to go talk to his dad (Samuel S. Hinds) to see what he should do.

Unfortunately, Pa Bailey is busy arguing with Mr. Potter. So George heads back to the store to try and talk some sense into Mr. Gower, who beats him without mercy until George manages to penetrate Mr. Gower's rage and sputter out that he thinks the pills are poison. A quick investigation reveals that he is right, and Mr. Gower, the damage already done, apologizes to George, who tells him he won't ever tell anyone what happened.

Jumping forward, George is getting ready to leave town. He wants to travel! He wants to see the world! He wants to get the hell out of Bedford Falls! But not before he disappoints his father by telling him that he doesn't want to work at his dumb old building and loan.

Despite his constant urge to want to argue with Mr. Potter.
Before hitting the road, George's brother, Harry (Todd Karns), insists he come to the school dance and see his old friends. George goes, only to run face-to-face into the now very grown up Violet (Gloria Grahame), and the stunningly obnoxious Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson). Fortunately, another friend, Marty (Harold Landon), interrupts to ask George if he would dance with Mary, Marty's little sister. After getting a look at her, George agrees, and they begin to Jitterbug vigorously, until the floor opens and swallows them up. (True story. Well, sort of; a jilted potential suitor of Mary's takes his revenge by opening the floor, which is over a pool, and George and Mary fall in it, followed by everybody else in the gym.)

On the way home, in clothes scavenged from the gym locker rooms, George tries to make a play for Mary, but his smooth talking is interrupted when Harry and Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) come looking for him because Pa Bailey has had a stroke.

Pa Bailey doesn't make it, and the building and loan is on the verge of being taken over by Potter, until the board votes to keep it separate, but only if George takes over. He grudgingly agrees, and Harry goes off to college instead of George going off to travel.

Jumping ahead one more time, George and Uncle Billy await Harry's return. Once Harry is back, he can take over the building and loan, and George can head to college. But, as you may have guessed, that doesn't happen because Harry, crazy college kid that he is, went and got married to a woman named Ruth (Virginia Patton). Her dad owns a big ol' business, and he wants to put Harry in there, once again leaving George holding the building and loan.

Where he has to explain to Uncle Billy daily why pants are necessary.
While the family celebrates Harry's marriage, Ma Bailey (Beulah Bondi) informs George that Mary is back in town, and he ought to go see her. He does, trying to play it cool, while Mary makes it very obvious that she is interested. Mary's mother (Sarah Edwards), however, wants Mary to make George go away because she thinks her daughter needs to hook up with Sam Wainwright, who is in New York...AND HE'S ABOUT TO CALL!

George overplays the whole "cool" thing, and ends up getting into an argument with Mary, just as Sam calls. They both talk to him until he starts telling them they need to invest in plastics. Apparently, this gets George and Mary's motors running, because they drop the phone and start making out while Mary's mother watches from upstairs. What a sicko.

George and Mary get married, and, because this involves George, the departure date for their honeymoon falls on Black Friday. No, not the one where people trample each other at Walmart for a Hatchimal. We mean the Black Friday--the one that started the Great Depression.

They rush to the building and loan, only to find that Uncle Billy had locked the gates,, refusing to let people in. George opens the place, and all their customers come in, hoping to be able to get their money out. But Uncle Billy has already given all the money to the examiner, so they are kind of screwed.

Or are they? First, Mr.Potter calls and offers to buy everyone's shares in the building and loan for half the price. Just as everyone is getting ready to go over there, Mary jumps in and offers up her and George's honeymoon fund, hoping it's enough to get everybody through until the banks reopen. It works. (Yay!) But in the commotion, Mary has disappeared. (Boo!) She calls (Yay!) and tells George he needs to come home. (Wha'?)

George arrives at the old Granville house, which the two of them talked about and threw rocks at the night of the dance, and Mary has either bought it or just sort of took it over, where she and George can have their honeymoon among the leaky ceilings and broken windows. Outside, Bert the cop (Ward Bond) and Ernie the cabbe (Frank Faylen) serenade them while they do...honeymoon stuff.

Another quick jump takes us through George and Mary's new life together. Potter keeps being a jerk, George and Mary have a pile of kids, World War II starts (probably not related), Harry becomes a hero during the war, and Uncle Billy's incompetence grows, up to the point where he puts the entire building and loan, as well as George's freedom, in jeopardy when he loses the money he was supposed to deposit in the bank on Christmas Eve. George threatens to beat Billy to death, then goes home to yell at his kids and threaten his daughter's teacher over the phone.

Mary, suddenly aware something may be wrong, tried to comfort George, but he's having no part of it. He stumbles out the door, goes to a bar for a drink, gets punched by the teacher's husband (karma can be a real jerk sometimes), and decides that the best way to help everyone would be to jump off a bridge and end it all, because that seems completely reasonable.

However, before George can jump in the icy river and end it all, someone else beats him to it, and George jumps in anyway, but with the intention of saving the mysterious man.

Why can't you poop inside like normal people do?
The man reveals himself to be Clarence, an angel (second class, because he hasn't earned his wings yet). He claims to be here to show George that he is better off alive than dead. In order to do so, he gives George a Twilight Zone-esque glimpse into what the world would be like if he had never been born: Harry des as a boy because George wasn't there to save him, everybody has miserable lives because George wasn't there to enrich them with his clumsy good-naturedness, Mr. Gower goes to jail because he poisoned that kid because George wasn't there to stop him, everybody is living in crappy homes owned by Mr. Potter because George wasn't there to give them loans for better houses,the whole town has turned into a stripmall of depravity because George wasn't there to...not let it happen? Also, everybody suddenly has a New York accent...because...uh... Okay, you got us on that one. We don't know why.

Oh, and Mary is, according to Clarence, an "old maid" who works at the library. (*Gasp!* Scandalous!) So, obviously, everything is terrible. But will George realize it? Will he want to go back to existing? Is Clarence even able to do that? And what was going on the whole time with the real star of this flick, Annie (Lillian Randolph)?

She was off doing her thing, uninterrupted, because she is awesome like that.
You'll have to tune in to find out!

Derek loves this film unabashedly. Seriously. It's his absolute favorite. Everything is great. Really. He has nothing bad to say about it at all, except that there should have been more Annie in it. Otherwise, straight-up perfection. There's no joke here. Move along.

Larry likes it a lot, too. But not as much as Derek. Seriously, that guy has some sort of weird obsession with it. It's really starting to worry Larry. It keeps him awake at night, knowing that Derek is probably watching this movie yet again. But then he thinks about the lovely Violet, and drifts off to sexy dreams of the proto-Cyndi Lauper.

So check your insurance policy, listen for ringing bells, and listen to this week's commentary! HEE-HAW!