I always disliked this movie as a teenager, what with poor cavalier, intrepid George Bailey forced to discard his hopes and dreams for family security, his only reward is not losing his livelihood (which he never wanted) and not committing suicide. Furthermore, this was compounded with an innate suspicion of its pedigree since because Paramount forgot to renew its copyright in 1974, it entered the public domain and consequently became a "Christmas Classic" by virtue of being played ad nauseum.
Lately, this movie has become a personal obsession for me, as I've decided it's essentially a film noir in Rom-Com clothing. What strikes the viewer immediately nowadays is that the George Bailey-less world (Pottersville) is more like the 'real' America--dehumanized and debauched, run by a bloodless General Sternwood-esque crippled capitalist--while Bedford Falls (the reality of the film) remains some eery dream world. There is something uncanny about the opening shot with the sign "YOU ARE NOW IN BEDFORD FALLS" that rivals Rene Magritte's famous 'Ceci n'est pas un pipe''
Anyway, there was a wonderful article a friend passed on to me, printed in Salon, that articulates much of the weirdness of this film, albeit in a slightly different vein.
'Tis the week before Christmas, and all through my house and 250 million others, people are blubbering helplessly as George Bailey overcomes despair and discovers that he really did have a Wonderful Life. I have no desire to rain on Frank Capra's heartwarming, seasonally-sanctioned parade. Let cynics deny that a brief sojourn in a counterfactual limbo conjured up by a bumbling, liver-spotted angel can really produce a life-changing epiphany. Let jaded roués deride George as an infantile weenie whose courtship of Mary comes to fruition only because she prudently massaged her scalp with Spanish Fly before he arrived. Such criticisms are mean-spirited, if not downright un-American. But even a master sometimes flubs a brushstroke, and there is a glaring flaw in Capra's great canvas.
I refer, of course, to Pottersville.
In Capra's Tale of Two Cities, Pottersville is the Bad Place. It's the demonic foil to Bedford Falls, the sweet, Norman Rockwell-like town in which George grows up. Named after the evil Mr. Potter, Pottersville is the setting for George's brief, nightmarish trip through a world in which he never existed. In that alternative universe, Potter has triumphed, and we are intended to shudder in horror at the sinful city he has spawned -- a kind of combo pack of Sodom, Gomorrah, Times Square in 1972, Tokyo's hostess district, San Francisco's Barbary Coast ca. 1884 and one of those demon-infested burgs dimly visible in the background of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
There's just one problem: Pottersville rocks!
Does anyone else have any thoughts on this film that most North Americans have seen roughly 500 times?