CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wanna Play Old Maid?

This is my first entry to the It's a Wonderful Blog-A-Thon. Enjoy.

The world without George Bailey is inherently inferior world. Mr. Potter owns the town, Mr. Martini cannot his house and bar, and Ma Bailey is an old maid with a boarding house. George witnesses all of this first hand. Uncle Billy is in an insane asylum. Surely this is the worst thing that has happened on a personal level, right? This should be the thing that George shouldn't want to hear. His beloved, lovably goofy uncle has been driven to insanity.

And yet there is one thing that Clarence doesn't want George to know about the world without him. It's about his wife, Mary. You see, without him, she's an *GASP* old maid. This is something that George simply cannot take. The question becomes, why is this the worst thing that can happen to Mary? The beginning of the romance was an uphill battle for George. Sam Wainwright was, as has been mentioned multiple times in the first hour of the film, very interested in Mary. Mary's mother was very excited about Sam. Couldn't Mary be married to Sam?

That is one of the keys to my disappointment with It's a Wonderful Life. The world without George Bailey is exaggerated to such a crude extent that it loses all meaning. It also refuses to show anything truly horrible. We never see Potter reveling in his wealth. We never see Uncle Billy in the madhouse. We only see Mary without a husband. There is nothing more horrible here than a wifeless woman. This is an example of Frank Capra's candy-coated worldview, and in this case it fails.

Capra likes to paint a sympathetic view of America, showing the small towns as idyllic places where the people in communities help themselves and each other. Often this look at American is entertaining. It gives people like Henry Fonda and James Stewart an opportunity to charm audiences and it makes for simple entertainment. It's certainly a pleasant way to spend 2 hours. But when everything turns sour, the sugar sweet world just tastes wrong. George Bailey's life is useful, of course, but he doesn't need the stability of the world to show that. Mary doesn't need to be an old maid if she doesn't have George. But Capra makes her that way, and that's just not fair.

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Blogger Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Not only is Mary an old maid, but she's nearsighted and her eyebrows need plucking. See what happens if you don't marry Mr. Right? I wonder if the librarians union has ever launched a protest.

8:08 AM

Blogger Karen said...

Wow. I really really disagree with you.

It's all opinion, of course, but mine isn't that what Clarence doesn't want George to see is that Mary is unmarried. It's the kind of unmarried woman she's become. The lovely, vibrant girl of the dance has become withered, prematurely old, humorless, afraid. All the life force in her that George had always responded to, since their spirited exchanges in the drugstore, has been drained away. What could be sadder, than to see the woman you love reduced to a husk of a woman? It's that, not her spinster status, that has Clarence so concerned.

That being said, I think this is the least likely of the outcomes in the alternate Bedford Falls. Mary may have been in love with George from childhood, but you don't get the sense that he's the one who made her adventurous and lively as well. Perhaps the combination of the Gower killing, Harry's early death, and the crushing weight of Mr Potter on the town--and perhaps on the Hatch family?--had that effect on her, but it's not as clear. While the other alternate scenarios seem more plausible--and in ways more hearthbreaking: what made Nick the bartender such a vicious character?--this is the one that's the longest stretch.

But now, I think, for the reasons you say.

9:34 PM


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