George Bailey and Clarence Oddbody have just been thrown out of Nick's Place (formerly Martini's). George is like, seriously, buddy, what the heck is going on here? And Clarence just repeats the same thing he's said about a hundred times tonight: "You've been given a great gift, George - a chance to see what the world would be like without you."
All of George's identifying papers and characteristics have disappeared - his driver's license, his deaf ear, his life insurance policy, his sore lip from that sock to the mouth earlier, his daughter's flower petals. At this rate, I'm kinda surprised his clothes didn't disappear as well, because he wasn't around to buy them, after all. He's pretty sure only the sweet embrace of his hot wife will cure this madness (which, good plan, I guess), so he runs off to get a cab home. Clarence glances up at the sky and says, "How am I doing, Joseph? ... Thanks! ... No, I didn't have a drink!"
... Oh. So it's that kind of heaven.
George reaches Bedford Falls' main drag, which has become the Pottersville Strip. Blah, blah, casinos, bars, strip clubs. We're focusing on the former B&L, which has become a "dance hall" that's being raided by the Pottersville 5-0 while a big crowd gawks. Among the girls struggling with the cops: Violet Bick. George is like, wait a second - I know that girl! And the crowd goes, "Yeah, I bet you do, wink wink, nudge nudge, 'he said with a knowing expression.' "
George can't help Violet, so he just hails Ernie's cab for a ride home. Ernie is freaked out by George's seeming knowledge of his life (minus the part where he doesn't own a house and his wife left him) and request to go to an address that doesn't exist, so he waves his arm for Bert to follow him in his cruiser.
(Side note: what would it have been like to go driving around in the '40s and see all the big modern cars tooling around with Model T's? It'd be like if by 2020, all new cars were made along the lines of a Smart car, and they all went zipping about with our 1990s Camrys alongside.)
So they all arrive at George's former house, which is of course even more dilapidated than it was on his wedding night because it's had 10 more years of exposure to the elements. It's kind of amazing it wasn't just pulled down to build another bordello, really. Clarence is there, saying AGAIN, what did you expect? You've never been born, dummy!
Bert the cop comes in and is actually nice to George for a bit: "Look, now, why don't you be a good kid and we'll take you to a doctor?" But George struggles, and Clarence jumps in and bites Bert (!) so George can get away, and then Joseph intervenes and Clarence vanishes into thin air. (The lesson: biting policemen is all right once you're dead.)
George has run off to his mother's boarding house (I think she ran a boarding house in Bedford Falls, but I'm not sure), where he learns that she's kind of a jerk and Uncle Billy has been in an insane asylum ever since the B&L went under. (Remember, in Pottersville they've got no time for forgetful, bumbling "characters.")
There's just enough time for a trip to the cemetery to confirm that Harry Bailey, dashing football star and war hero, died at the age of 9 ("Every man on that transport died - Harry wasn't there to save them because you weren't there to save Harry."), and then it's off to see Mary. Whose fate, Clarence seems to think from the way he hesitates to tell George about it, is far worse than that of Harry and of the soldiers he wasn't there to save.
Yes, drowning in freezing water and burning in jet fuel is nothing compared to being a spinster librarian. Who wears glasses. (But then again, when Clarence was alive, women were only counted as full people for census-taking purposes, and that's if they weren't slaves.)
George runs up to Mary and grabs her, and of course she is freaked out, because who knows what can happen to women who walk alone at night in Pottersville. But you can say this about the town: If a shrieking woman runs into a bar pursued by a crazed man who insists she's his wife, the townspeople do not turn a blind eye. No, they hold that man back.
(Time for my big aside: I think the respective fates of Mary and Violet show that Pottersville is a place where women don't have many options. Violet didn't have George Bailey to give her a loan so she could try to make a go of it as a successful single woman; instead, the town flirt became one of many town prostitutes. Mary saw what happened to Violet and to so many women in Pottersville, so she buttoned herself up, closed herself off to all pleasure, and probably stopped drinking bathtub gin.
That's why the movie portrays being a single librarian as worse than being a sexy housewife - because Librarian Mary is a prude, probably because she's afraid of what would happen to her if she weren't. She was clearly not headed for the bar once the library shut down - in fact, I'll bet she keeps it open until like midnight on Christmas Eve as an excuse to not meet her sad former classmates for drinks, because she knows Violet will be in the clink by 11:30 most nights. Clearly, making out with Jimmy Stewart on a regular basis is better than constantly fearing street danger and having no friends, even if you do have to deal with listening to constant piano practice.)
OK, back to the movie! George tries to run off and find Clarence again, but first he has to dodge a few bullets from Bert, who has apparently decided that he is John McClane and this fleeing, unarmed craze-o is Hans Gruber and therefore must be taken out with extreme prejudice - never mind that the streets are crowded with (basically) innocent bystanders. But George gets away and runs back to the bridge, where he prays to live again.
(Last aside about Pottersville: isn't it funny how you never see Potter himself there? It's just like him to bring in all these businesses that make money hand over fist based on physical pleasures like drinking and dancing, but eschew such pleasures himself. I can almost see him now, laughing at the rabble whose lack of discipline makes him richer every night.)
Up next: the big finish!
(on to Part 10)