Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Film for the Season

A few facts I never knew about It's a Wonderful Life (from Newsday):

  • It was launched at a badly thought-out time of year. Premiering on December 20 seems reasonable enough, but like many movies that open late in December, it only played in New York at first, and so the rest of the country didn't get a chance to see it until several weeks after Christmas. Duh.
  • Compounding that marketing error, the film was promoted in a way that is laughably stupid: It was spun as a light-hearted romantic comedy. "The lobby card featured [Jimmy] Stewart and co-star Donna Reed in full smooch, with the tag line 'They're going steady -- straight to your heart!' "
I first heard of the film while I was in college, around 1980, from a fellow student who had been watching it each year on one of the local New York City independent stations (WPIX, I think). Because it had fallen out of copyright and could be shown for free, it became a staple feature on some stations around Christmas time. But I don't think I saw it until several years later.

My earliest familiarity with the story was a 1977 TV remake called It Happened One Christmas. It starred Marlo Thomas and Wayne Rogers, with Thomas reverse-gender-cast in the Stewart role, although her name was still Mary and Rogers' character's was George. Their last names were switched, though, so she was Mary Bailey Hatch and he was George Hatch.

I remember liking the show at the time, but I saw it again a few years ago and it seemed god-awful. Orson Welles plays Mr. Potter, Christopher Guest is Harry, and Cloris Leachman is "Clara" Oddbody, the guardian angel. In theory, it could have been good, but it wasn't. I think it was too faithful to the original, if anything. They could have played with the effects of the switched gender a lot more than just showing George's alternate life-path as a grease-covered, loutish car mechanic.

Here's the last seven or so minutes of the film, from the point where Mary finds out she's still alive and back on the bridge. It's amusing to watch Thomas, with her 1970s flowing hair, run through a 1940s town in the snow:

 Oh, and by the way, It Happened One Christmas is a terrible, generic title.


Michael Leddy said...

Yipes. Uncle Billy looks like a time-traveler with that hair (or rug) and those sideburns.

Daughter Number Three said...

Yes, his hair is dreadful. Also, I was musing on whether there were any women who would have kept their maiden names as part of their given name (Mary Bailey Hatch) in the 1930s when Mary and George tied the knot.