The other night I was talking with someone who had never seen It’s a Wonderful Life. It had always been one my favorites as clichéd as that might be and I was surprised she never got around to watching it. She had it pegged as too corny a movie, but I explained to her that I thought it was actually a pretty depressing, dark film.
The big scene everyone always remembers is that cheery ending with everyone singing. I think that’s what keeps the idea that it’s such a feel good, uplifting movie alive and why it’s become such a popular movie to watch around Christmas time.
Oh sure, it’s a movie that can make you feel good, but Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey goes through two hours of heartache, disappointment, tragedy and overall hell before he gets to running through the streets back home to get to that happy group singing finale. I always felt the movie really earns that corny ending.
Anyway, I was talking with her about the famed alternate universe that is created when George wishes he was never born to his angel pal Clarence.
Boom it happens! George never existed and Bedford Falls and everyone George ever knew falls into a somber, corrupt, cynial rabbit hole. This is meant to be the tool in which George learns the all-important lesson that everyone’s life touches so many others and if he hadn’t been around his absence would have been felt – very nice message.
So George peers into this shadowy world and witnesses horrible scenarios like – his mother not recognizing him, his brother is now dead, Uncle Billy is locked in the looney bin, the town druggist is a murderer, Bedford Falls has turned into a corrupt, sleazy town that’s now in the hands of Mr. Potter…..
And his beautiful wife Mary played by Donna Reed – is a librarian!
Oh the horror!
This was always such a funny alternate destiny for Mary had George not been around. It’s such an antiquated line of thinking, but I suppose back in 1946 a woman being an old maid and working at a library was comparable to death or being locked up in a nut house.
Today, this nightmare scenario for Mary doesn’t pack the same kind of wallop. It’s hard to get horrified when the greatest fall from being a housewife and mother in 1946 is a woman who does some book reading. That stigma hasn’t really aged very well.
I bet this scenario upsets some people watching this movie today if they don’t place themselves in the mindset of 1946. Had they made Mary be some girl working the streets in Pottersville, turning tricks for spare change, now that would have made a lasting impact!
They try to make it even worse for Mary by sentencing her to wear glasses too! Somehow without George’s existence in the world it has made Mary’s eyes go bad. I’m not sure how that works. Or maybe it’s just from all the late night reading she has done while being a spinster. This is that old reliable standard Hollywood cliché of The Ugly Girl In Glassess at work.
Somehow Donna Reed being made to look all mousey with tweed clothes and wearing glasses wouldn’t put me off. That classic movie device of putting glasses on a gorgeous woman, pinning her hair up and putting in her bland clothes therefore that making her look ugly never worked for me. It’s just not enough.
It’s hard for me to accept no one in town would have made a play for Donna Reed in glasses in this alternate reality. I’d probably be hanging out at the library all the time waiting to see Old Maid Mary.
I guess the only thing worse that could have befallen poor George seeing his wife in this nightmare world was if she was also wearing slacks. “Whoa! Clarence what kind of upside down world have you brought me into?”
I always regarded Its a Wonderful Life as a short film with a extended intro. They say any film can be redeemed if the last 15 minutes are fantastic.
For me, I’ve always regarded Mary’s fate as being bored to death. Without George, she probably got involved with Sam Wainwright. That relationship was doomed to disaster if George hadn’t intervened. She probably got turned off to men after that point.
And your trips to the library would be for naught.
This film could easily be a Twilight Zone episode. I wonder if it had an impact on Rod Serling. My guess is that it did..
I thought along similar lines too. Mary was an attractive woman and there was NO WAY she would go unnoticed by other men had George Bailey not existed. Someone was even trying to chat her up at the high school dance much earlier in the film.
Am I the only one who found Mary even MORE attractive with the glasses?
Yes. The one “Huh!” scene that momentarily takes you out of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The notion that the stunningly beautiful Mary would have had no romantic options without George was probably antiquated by 1946 standards. I can imagine today’s audiences perplexed why Clarence refers to Mary as an “Old Maid” when, again, actress Donna Reed looks young and attractive despite the dowdy appearance.