As with many American families, after seven kinds of fish are consumed, all my mother’s surviving Irish-Catholic brothers gather to watch this tale of a local boy from unextraordinary circumstances and the ripple effect his existence and then magical unexistence has on a tiny, New York town.
Interesting too are the many relevant themes that crop up today watching the film with family. We’re the residents of Bedford Falls worth saving? Are dissatisfied wealth hoarders like Potter entitled to exploit the town’s working class? By today’s standards, is Bailey Building and Loan a sub-prime lender? Modern folk would do well to compare the post-Potter dystopia shown in the film, wage slaves shackled to shanty homes with a cackling one-man upperclass seething at their entitlement to the ever-increasing exposure of inequity of the modern American economy.
Below are five of George’s more memorable utterances in the film.
George Bailey on why sometimes being stuck in a small town is not so bad. (Mary, his love interest, is trapped naked in the bushes and George holds her robe. She threatens to call the law.)
They’re way downtown. They’d be on my side, too.
George Bailey on how people often sell themselves out in the long term for short term gains. (A bank run causes panic in Bedford Falls and it’s on George to keep the town from being sold at “fifty cents on the dollar” to the wealthy town slumlord Potter.)
Now wait…now listen…now listen to me. I beg of you not to do this thing. If Potter gets hold of this Building and Loan, there’ll never be another decent house built in this town. He’s already got charge of the bank. He’s got the bus line. He got the department stores. And now he’s after us. Why? Well, it’s very simple. Because we’re cutting in on his business, that’s why. And because he wants to keep you living in his slums and paying the kind of rent he decides. Joe, you had one of those Potter houses, didn’t you? Well, have you forgotten? Have you forgotten what he charged you for that broken-down shack? Here, Ed. You know, you remember last year when things weren’t going so well, and you couldn’t make your payments? You didn’t lose your house, did you? Do you think Potter would have let you keep it? Can’t you understand what’s happening here? Don’t you see what’s happening? Potter isn’t selling. Potter’s buying! And why? Because we’re panicking and he’s not. That’s why. He’s picking up some bargains. Now, we can get through this thing all right. We’ve got to stick together, though. We’ve got to have faith in each other.
George Bailey on spontaneous seduction. (George and Mary’s first “got real” moment.)
What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.
George Bailey tells “free market capitalists” to blow him. (Potter and Bailey fall out -not that they were BFF- over another one of Potter’s schemes to buy the soul of Bedford Falls.)
Just a minute — just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was…Why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harryto school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter. And what’s wrong with that? Why…Here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You…you said…What’d you say just a minute ago?…They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait! Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken-down that they…Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about…they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!
George Bailey on all the things he’d rather do than be sucked back into saving Bedford Falls and their residents’ ungrateful asses time and again.
Well, not just one wish. A whole hatful, Mary. I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here and go to college and see what they know… And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…
Which is your favorite? Do you find yourself settling in for yet another viewing year after year? If so, why?