The richest man in town...
Annie Korzen, in an essay that appears today in the Trib, doesn't think "It's a Wonderful Life" is so wonderful after all:
Poor old George takes the tedious job in the shabby loan office, lives in the abandoned old house at 320 Sycamore St. that he always hated and watches life pass him by. Meanwhile, his younger brother, Harry, and his pal, Sam Wainwright, go off and enjoy the adventures he yearned for. When George winds up suicidal, Clarence the angel is dispatched to remind him of the value of his personal sacrifice.
As the town rallies around the long-suffering George to rescue him from financial ruin, he finally realizes that what really counts in life is family and friends. I'll buy that.
But Harry and Sam -- those two guys who left town and became a war hero and entrepreneur -- also seem to have found family and friends. Why must we choose between the two? Why can't we find love and also pursue our passions? (link)
I've always felt that despite the uplift at the end, "It's a Wonderful Life" is a terrbly sad film. Sure, George Bailey gets to avoid jail, go on running the building and loan with his functionally retarded uncle, and learns that the good people of Bedford Falls know how to return a favor. But he's still stuck in the town he longed to leave, living in a musty old house in which he and his family appear to be squatters, hoping that Mr. Potter dies before the old miser finds another way to screw him over. That's why I always enjoyed Saturday Night Live's alternative ending, in which George learns that Potter took the money, and he exacts his bloody revenge. ("You made one mistake Potter. You double-crossed me and you left me alive.")
On the other hand, George has no one to blame but himself for the course of his life, and perhaps that's the true lesson of the film -- that each of us bears ultimate responsibility for the choices we make. After all, it was only his own sense of responsibility and moral obligation that caused George to stick around and take over his father's business, and his own selflessness that led him to release Harry from his obligation to run the building and loan. Those were noble choices, but like all choices, they had their consequences. In the end, George has to live with them.