Ever wonder what Mary Bailey was up to while her husband George was having his existential adventures on Christmas Eve in mythical old Bedford Falls with his guardian angel, Clarence Oddbody?
I refer, of course to Frank Capra’s failed film from 1947, It’s a Wonderful Life: The very post-war movie in which crisis comes to the Bailey household when George Bailey is faced with bankruptcy, scandal, and prison over the mysterious disappearance of the $8,000 Uncle Billy was to have deposited earlier that day in Old Man Potter’s bank. Bumbling Billy had inadvertently folded the funds into the newspaper with glad tidings of Harry Bailey he had handed to Potter in the bank lobby, but it was his ever-conscientious nephew, George Bailey, who had taken full responsibility for the disappearance of the Bailey Building and Loan deposit.
After throwing himself at Mr. Potter’s mercy and failing, George Bailey returns home and torments his family with his angry despair.
Then, after destroying their holiday, he memorably storms out into the fake snow to have his epic meeting with his guardian angel on and below the bridge.
But as George rages out, we see Mary tell her children that Daddy is in big trouble and that they should pray very hard for him. Then, as the scene ends, she takes the phone and calls Uncle Billy.
We do not see Mary in her married state again until after a chastened George has returned home full of newfound gratitude for his wonderful life. He has been given the gift of a chilling look at what the world would have been like if he had never been born, and he happily accepts his life, exactly as it is, missing deposit and warrant for his arrest and all.
And then in comes Mary, all covered with snow and bubbling with joyous excitement. George tells her he has just experienced and miracle, and she says she has too!
We know all about George’s miracle, because it is the crux of what has become must-see viewing every Christmas and every Christmas-in-July.
But what of Mary’s miracle?
We know from the results of her sojourn in the snow that half the town has responded to her husband’s latest financial crisis, because, as one of them so famously says: “Without George Bailey, I wouldn’t have a roof over my head.”
But what was Mary’s door-to-door appeal like?
She obviously went on foot, because her distraught husband took the car and smashed it into a tree after getting smashed at Martini’s where Mr. Martini asked: “Why you drink like this, Mr. Bailey?”
Mary, like the mother Mary of the Bible, went on foot, in the snow and cold.
She went forth in the dark with one simple, selfless message: “Please, please, help my husband.”
Should that have been in the movie?
Frank Capra, after all, made no secret of his abiding Catholic faith and his devotion to Mary.
Should he have not at least thrown in a few more feet of celluloid showing Mary Bailey banging on doors? Could he have made a sequel of it?
Frank Capra, alas, is no longer here to tell us.
But I do think he would have us know that Mary’s journey on Christmas Eve in Bedford Falls is what really makes It’s a Wonderful Life the enduring classic that it has become.
The film that flopped when it was first shown at theaters in 1947 was rediscovered and has become as much of the Christmas experience as-well, you pick your favorite tradition.
But I do know that everyone, and I do mean everyone, I speak to before and during Christmas will readily spout favorite lines from It’s a Wonderful Life. I know I am not alone in having purchased the 2-disc Collector’s Set that includes “brand-new COLOR and restored BLACK & WHITE versions.” And I know I am not alone in absolutely refusing to watch the color version, because Frank Capra’s timeless message of selfless love is as black-and-white as it gets.
Frank Capra would have us walk with Mary every night of the year, and I know he would not mind at all if we did not put It’s a Wonderful Life in the box with the Christmas ornaments until next Christmas.
In fact, It’s a Wonderful Life might just be the remedy for the January blues.
Care to join me?