Those of us who were born into the baby boomer era know the story well. The 1946 film produced and directed by Frank Capra and based on a 1939 short story by Philip Van Doren Stern was a household regular to watch at Christmastime. While many of us know it well, for those younger who don’t I’ll just say that the incomparable Jimmy Stewart played the part of George Bailey, a man who sacrificed his future to keep the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan alive after the untimely death of his father, all to the chagrin of a greedy man, Mr. Potter, a man who worked hard to make the lending establishment fail. His chance comes when Uncle Billy, George’s uncle, misplaces a large cash-filled envelope on the way to deposit in the bank owned by Mr. Potter, a man who had amassed a fortune by buying out everything in town, finds the money, fails to return it and holds it. Meanwhile, it happens at a time when the bank examiner is there and Bailey and Bailey, son and uncle, face not only default but also criminal charges for which George, as a man who has devoted his life to the business and the town of Bedford Falls, accepts responsibility. Things continue to slide downhill as he faces what it looks like will come and finally comes to a head. George contemplates suicide by jumping off a bridge on a snowy night, but the guardian angel Clarence appears, makes George come to his senses by showing him what life in the town would have been had he never been born, and the townspeople come to the rescue to keep the building and loan solvent.
Is it a fantasy? It most certainly is, but it shows how a good man who has spent his entire life sacrificing so much of himself for those who need him, can come back from what seems like sure destruction with a big dose of faith. It’s an old fashioned yet beautiful story and it sends a wondrous message to all of us for Christmas in a world that needs redemption and forgiveness so much. If you watch it with an open heart and ears that listen closely and eyes that stay glued to the story, it is my guess that it will become a regular annual affair as part of your Christmas as well. And remember, the Lord works in mysterious ways, even using an old-fashioned movie at Christmastime to show us what is really important. Merry Christmas to all, in Bedford Falls and everywhere. And to Clarence, George’s guardian angel, I hope you are enjoying your wings.