Wonderful Life, part five: "I've never really seen one, but that's got all the earmarks of a run."

The church doors open, and out come the newlyweds George and Mary Bailey. They hop into Ernie's cab and start making out like they invented it. It's awesome.

When they come up for air, Ernie asks them what they're going to do for their honeymoon. George has been saving up for a long time for his trip around the world, so they're just going to go to the most awesome places ever and live it up until the cash runs out. Sounds good to me, and I bet it sounds good to all the people in the street who are muttering and dashing over to the bank as fast as they can go. Yes, the Great Depression has hit Bedford Falls, because this movie never met a piece of early 20th century American history it didn't like.

George is like, better check on the Building and Loan real quick before we skip town. Mary doesn't want him to go. (Even Mary, who loves Bedford Falls as much as anyone we've seen, is trying to get away. It's George, who says he hates the place, who makes them go back to make sure everything is all right.) He pulls up short at what he sees - a locked B&L door and a silent, staring mob in front of it.

George goes, OK, OK, we're gonna get all this sorted out, and he unchains the doors and leads the mob upstairs, where they catch Uncle Billy drinking straight from the bottle. (Jeez, Uncle Billy is like 10 kinds of worthless. Also, he forgot to go to the wedding.)

So I'm a little fuzzy on this part, but it seems like what happened was that because there was a run on the bank, it (the bank), trying to grab as much cash as possible, called in a loan the B&L had, so Uncle Billy had to hand over all the cash in the building. (Can banks seriously do that?) Now they have no cash for their members, they still owe the bank money, and Potter (having already covered the bank's deposits, because he's richer than God) is trying to gain control of the B&L, telling members he'll buy their shares for 50 cents on the dollar.

(This movie is about suicide and banking. How in the world did it get branded as "sentimental"?)

George tries to give another inspirational, populist speech about standing up to Potter, reminding the people that at some point, they've all known what it's like to be under Potter's thumb, and now they'll be going right back there for a few dollars. "We can get through this thing all right. But we've got to stick together! We've got to have faith in each other!" But the crowd is like, "Dude, sticking together is for people who can afford to eat. See you in Pottersville, buddy." And they start heading toward the door.

Mary didn't want to go back, but they did, and now Mary is seeing all this. She hears his speech, and she sees to the heart of what her husband tries to do every day, and she sees it all slipping through his fingers. Mary didn't want to go back, but now she stands up, flashes the Honeymoon Wad, and calls out, "How much do you need?"

And George, relieved that he still has something to share with his neighbors ("This'll tide us over till the bank reopens!") doesn't protest. He also doesn't notice when Mary slips out.

Several hours later, the B&L staff is counting down the seconds to closing time. They've given out all the money except $2 (good thing Mrs. Davis decided she could get through the week with $17.50 instead of $20 - George kissed her on both cheeks for that), and as the clock strikes, they lock the doors and cheer and take shots of whatever Uncle Billy's been drinking because they're still in business.

(This is another banking dealie that I don't understand - don't they have to open tomorrow? How are they going to get any more money if all their members have to borrow money from them just to keep living for a week? And then: "Let's put them in the safe and see what happens." Well, what do you think is gonna happen, George? You'll come back tomorrow and still have $2, and God help you if Mrs. Davis decides she needed $20 after all.)

Anyway, George realizes with a start that this is his wedding day, and just as he's about to run out looking for Mary, she calls the B&L and asks him to come home. "What home?"

Cut to the old house where they broke those windows years ago, and from the looks of the interior, bits of the roof have broken off over the years, too. But Mary and some wacky neighbors have covered the broken windows with travel posters and set up a "bridal suite" in a few of the downstairs rooms, and there's music and a chicken roasting on a spit over a fire, and there's also (the camera pointedly notes) a bedroom. George doesn't know what to say, so they just hold each other for a while - while outside, Bert the cop and Ernie the cab driver (supposedly a coincidence) serenade the couple.

"Remember the night we broke the windows in this old house?" says Mary. "This is what I wished for."

And, like Bert and Ernie, we'll take that moment to slip off and leave the lovers to their own devices.

(on to Part 6)


AE said...

Of all the depressing moments in this movie, I think this final one is without question the most depressing.

Kelly said...

Nah, that part doesn't bother me so much. An 18-year-old girl wishing she'd marry the local boy she had a crush on? Not so unusual.

(It's certainly no whisper of "I'll love you till the day I die" into the deaf ear of your love.)

I think of that line as, "Hey, remember that time a few years ago when I was in love with you? Well, I still am, even though you just spent all of our honeymoon money. In fact, I love you more, because I saw today that you're so much more than just a tall, floppy-haired guy who dances a mean Charleston. And I don't even care that you harmonize poorly when you're drunk."

I could be reading a little bit into that.

AE said...

It's not so much her remark... it's more like "Well, we were going to get on a plane and go somewhere warm, and now we're spending the night in this freezing abandoned house with broken windows that we used to throw rocks at, and it's all because of our own pigheadedness. We've squelched our own dreams and this is what we get." Man, I could've just stopped watching right there.

AE said...

And what is really achieved by all of this? is my question. Is the misery that George endures even remotely proportionate to the happiness of the townspeople at not having to do business with Mr. Potter? Can't the people just see to themselves? This movie makes me want to go out and join my local Objectivist society.

Mike_R said...

"Please god. George Bailey is having a rough time on this comments page today. If you could, have someone write something nice about him because, as you know, doing the right thing isn't always easy or rewarding."
Mike Royer, Los Angeles