19 Dec 2016

CHRISTMAS MOVIES - It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

 Film genres have formulas and rules, but how well do Christmas films follow their formula?

It's A Wonderful Life (1946) is a film, partially set at Christmas and popularly watched during the festive season.

The following may contain spoilers for

"It's A Wonderful Life" (1946)


"Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends." ~ SCA Clarence Odbody's inscription.

  • 1a.  Someone Who Hates Christmas - No one specifically.
  • 1b.  Someone Who Inflicts Christmas Cheer on Others - Almost George Bailey at the end.
  • 1c.  Precocious Kids - The Bailey kids.
  • 1d.  A Bullied Kid - None.
  • 1e.  Silver-haired jovial old person - Possibly Uncle Billy until he loses the money.
  • 1f.  Someone with a secret - No one really.  I guess Potter due to him having the money.
  • 1g.  Stressed Young Female - Mary Bailey.  Though not particularly stressed.
  • 1h.  The Single - Violet Bick, but barely.
  • 1i.  Someone Career Obsessed - George for a lot of the film.
  • 1j.  Grumpy Old (usually) Man - Henry F Potter.
  • 1k.  Sassy Old (usually) Woman - The servant Anne.
  • 1l.  An Inappropriate Santa Impersonator - No Santas.


"This is a very interesting situation!" ~ George Bailey.
"Please give me my robe." ~ Mary Hatch.
"A man doesn't get in a situation like this every day." ~ George Bailey.
"I'd like to have my robe." ~ Mary Hatch.
"Not in Bedford Falls anyway." ~ George Bailey.

  • 2a.  Nudity - Mary Hatch accidentally loses her robe and ends up hiding nude in hydrangea bush.
  • 2b.  Sex - No sex.  I mean, the Bailey's had four children but we don't see the making of.


"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" ~ SCA Clarence Odbody.

  • 3a.  Home for the holidays - No.  But George was considering suicide.
  • 3b.  Santa may be real:  Santa isn't mentioned.
  • 3c.  Classic Christmas stories may be homaged:
i.  The Nativity - No.
ii.  A Christmas Carol - There is an element of A Christmas Carol to the film:  A supernatural entity shows a man the effects of his life on other on Christmas Eve.  Alternately, Potter can be seen as Scrooge.
iii.  O' Henry's Gift of the Magi - No.
iv.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas - No.  Unless you count Potter.


"What do you want?" ~ Mary Hatch.
"Me? Nothing! I just came in to get warm." ~ George Bailey.
"He's making violent love to me, mother!" ~ Mary Hatch.

A variety of genres:
  • 4a.  Straight comedy - No.
  • 4b.  Bitter-sweet family drama-comedy - Nearly.
  • 4c.  Animated fantasy (or puppets/muppets) - No.
  • 4d.  Bible retelling - No.


"Must she keep playing that?" ~ George Bailey.
"I have to practice for the party tonight, Daddy." ~ Janie Bailey.
"Mommy says we can stay up till midnight and sing Christmas carols." ~ Pete Bailey.

One or more of the following will occur:
  • 5a.  Ugly Christmas sweaters - No
  • 5b.  Pulling Santa's beard - No.
  • 5c.  Carolers are annoying - Daughter practising "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" on the piano.
  • 5d.  Some kind of competition - Just between Potter and the Savings & Loan.
  • 5e.  Mistletoe - No.


"I didn't fall in. I jumped in to save George." ~ SCA Clarence Odbody.
"You what? To save me?" ~ George Bailey.

The following simple things are difficult, often comically so:
  • 6a.  Putting Up Christmas lights - No.
  • 6b.  Not walking out after a fight with family - George leaves.
  • 6c.  Last minute gift purchasing - No.
  • 6d.  Assembling Christmas gifts - No.
  • 6e.  Cooking - No.
  • 6f.  Attempts to get home for Christmas - No.
  • 6g.  Even a getting and putting up a Christmas tree can lead to disaster - No.


"Like everybody else, on V-E Day he wept and prayed.  On V-J Day they wept and prayed again." ~ St Joseph.
  • 7a.  Nativity/Little religion - Religion is important to the film as prayer brings an angel.
  • 7b.  Accepting non-Christians into the celebration - No.
  • 7c.  An annoying overly religious person - No.
  • 7d.  Angels - Yes, Clarence Odbody, central to the story.


"That's a Christmas present from a very dear friend of mine." ~ George Bailey.

At least one of the following will happen:
  • 8a.  Snow -  Lots of, especially in the Christmas present but not suddenly at the end.
  • 8b.  Grump-No-More - George is briefly a grump and becomes the opposite.
  • 8c.  Santa is Real - No.
  • 8d.  The Unexpected Extra Guest - Well, lots of them actually.
  • 8e.  Wisdom From an Unexpected Source - The bumbly Second Class Angel Clarence.
  • 8f.  The Single Will Find Love - No.  Well, George earlier in the film.


"Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings." ~ Zuzu Bailey.
"That's right, that's right." ~ George Bailey.

Will have a sickly sweet ending with a "The True Meaning of Christmas" message - especially:
  • 9a.  Family is the most important thing - It's implied.
  • 9b.  Miracles are real - A central theme.
  • 9c.  It's the thought that counts - No.
  • 9d.  Santa is real - For the last time, no.
  • 9e.  Others - The power of friendship.


"It takes a lot of character to leave your home town and start all over again." ~ George Bailey.

  • 10a.  No sequels - An attempt was made to do an unauthorised sequel but it fell through.
  • 10b.  May be a sequel - Not a sequel.
  • 10c.  Remake - Remade as It Happened One Christmas in 1977.
  • 10d.  Adaptation 


"Just make yourself at home, Mr. Carter. I'll get those books for 

you." ~ George Bailey.

  • Rules followed by this film:  1, 2. 8.
  • Rules partially followed by this film:  3, 4, 5, 9, 10.
  • Rules not followed by this film:  6, 7.


  1. I disagree on your point 9a, it's probably pedantic because it has to do with the use of the word "Most." I would argue that in the movie it's not actually implied that family is "the most" important thing. But rather it is AN important thing that makes up a good (or "wonderful") life.

    I contrast this with movies where family is considered "the most" important thing. Movies like Santa Clause 3 which is modeled after It's a Wonderful Life, and the resolution to the conflict happens not in returning to being Santa Claus but in letting family in on the secret of Santa Claus.

    In It's a Wonderful Life the resolution takes place in part because of the family he had, but also the people he has a positive influence on in the town and through his business (the business that he hadn't really liked his whole life) on the whole I think the movie points to "the most" important thing being generosity and sacrifice your desires for the good of others, and yes that includes family, but I wouldn't say it was even implied to be the most important thing.

    1. "Family Is The Most Important Thing" is a trope description, not a literal claim.

      9b refers to "Miracles Are Real," I don't think there was an actual "miracle" in the film.