It's been 10 years since George Bailey stopped Mr. Gower from poisoning a child, and he hasn't forgotten; when adult George strides into the drugstore, one day from leaving on his big trip around the world, he discovers Gower has bought him the biggest suitcase in the place. "How about that? My old boss," he chuckles.
(Side note: my sister's favorite line in this movie is George asking for a larger suitcase in the most Jimmy Stewart-y voice ever. "I, I, I want a BIG one!")
Harry Bailey is graduating from high school today. Most of George's friends are in college, but he had to stay behind and work at the Building and Loan until he saved up the money to go. (Here's a fun drinking game you can start now: take a drink every time George has to stay behind and work at the Building and Loan. By the end of the movie, you'll be very drunk and very depressed.)
George's dad tries to convince him to stay on, but George wants to do BIG things, not insignificant stuff like running a tiny B&L in a tiny town. Mr. Bailey says the B&L is important in its own way, seeing as how it's the town's last line of defense against Potter. George is like, "Good thing you're around to keep it going, then! I'm off to drink bathtub gin with Harry's high school friends, and tomorrow I'm taking two aspirin and getting on that boat."
So off he goes to Harry's graduation party. There, he meets his old pal Mike, who's back from college and who asks George to do him a solid and make sure his kid sister Mary isn't alone all night. George mutters about baby-sitting until he sees that Little Mary Hatch has turned into Soft-Focus Hottie Donna Reed, and then there's this excellent part where they look like they're trying to eat each other up with their eyes, they're staring so hard. They dance a wacky new dance that all the kids are into called the Charleston - and honestly, the way everyone in the room is carrying on, it looks pretty fun. (My guess is that bathtub gin makes everything more fun.)
But even more fun is when a spurned would-be suitor of Mary's decides to get back at George by opening up the gymnasium floor to reveal the pool just underneath the dancing couple. George and Mary get back at him just by being themselves; they have such a good time splashing in the pool (still dancing the Charleston, by the looks of it!) that everyone else jumps in too, including the principal of the school - and eventually, the bitter suitor himself.
Later, George walks Mary home, she in a bathrobe and he in an old-timey football uniform. They harmonize badly on "Buffalo Gals" and pass by an old abandoned house. (Trivia time! The house and the song are the inspiration for the production card of My So-Called Life production company The Bedford Falls Co.) George says the boys used to make wishes on rocks thrown through the windows of the house; he demonstrates on one of only two windows left. He says his wish is to get the hell out of Bedford Falls, explore the world, do big things in big places, and never settle down.
Mary is silent for a moment. Then she picks up a rock and shatters the last unbroken window. Dude, after a throw like that, I want to marry her. "What'd you wish for?" George asks. Mary stares at him for a few seconds, then wanders off singing "Buffalo Gals." George doesn't press the point - he's just happy to be walking home with a total smokin' babe.
So, walky walk, flirty flirt, there's some business with a grouchy neighbor, and the upshot is, George accidentally steps on Mary's robe, and it slips off. She screams and flees into the bushes. George is delighted. There's some banter ("I'll call the police!" "They're down the street; they won't hear you. Plus, they'd be on my side."), but it's cut short when a car pulls up and George's Uncle Billy shouts from it, "George, come home quickly! Your father's had a stroke."
A few months later, George and Uncle Billy are standing in front of the B&L board wearing black armbands. George had to cancel his pre-college trip around the world to help out after his father's death, but he's leaving for school (you guessed it!) tomorrow. Maybe even tonight. Then Potter pipes up (Mr. Bailey let him on the board to try to shut him up about closing the place all the time) with a motion to dissolve the B&L. (So, um, guess that plan didn't work out very well.)
Potter says the place doesn't make any money because it gives loans to deadbeats, but when he starts naming off people George knows - and George knows everyone in Bedford Falls - George gets upset. Another drinking game you can start playing now is taking a drink whenever George makes an impassioned, populist speech against Potter. Man, by the end of this movie, you're gonna be schmammered.
So George and Uncle Billy go outside to wait for the board's decision and tell their staff to start getting their resumes together. But the decision comes back: the board voted to keep the B&L going! Under one condition: George has to stay on as Executive Partner. George is like, what about Uncle Billy? The board goes, "Dude, have you met Uncle Billy? Right this second he has 14 strings tied around his fingers, and one of them is to remind him to breathe."
Fair enough, sighs George - and for the third time in this section alone, he's staying behind to work at the Building and Loan.
P.S. It's pretty clear that I underestimated the number of posts I'd do on this movie, since I haven't even gotten to the Great Depression yet. Sorry! I just keep coming across scenes I love and want to describe them in detail.
(on to Part 4)