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.