I never liked the Capra movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but I never remembered why. Dissapointment. So even though I like to watch my favorite movies more than once, I avoided watching this particular movie. It was just a knee jerk reaction for me. But my daughter and I watched tonight and I saw it through the eyes of a nearly 67 year old man instead of a 6-7 year old kid. And I ended up reliving my disappointment.
You see when I watched it as a child I believed the movie would end with the old miser banker being wheeled in at the end and giving back the money he stole. 60 years later, not remembering the movie very well, I still expected the end to be one of slight redemption when the old man is wheeled in and gives George Bailey back the money that George thought Uncle Billie had lost. Disappointed again, only this time I was also infuriated. The banker, knowing he had come into the money by pure accident when Billie left it in the newspaper he was teasing Mr. Potter about, kept the money when he discovered it in full view of his associates who of course said nothing because of their fear that the old miser would not only fire them but ruin them. He was too big to fail.
There is no reason for Mr. Potter to keep the money. It isn’t his and he knows it. But he is corrupt and he is corrupting the system with his money from city politics to federal influence. So he keeps it and doesn’t go to jail.
As a child I believed in redemption and in some ways the Capra movie delivers it when the town people rally around Bailey and he is better off even without the return of the money from Potter. But the idealist in me expected that Potter would have returned the money anyway because he wouldn’t want to be thought of as a thief. But this doesn’t bother him, just like the mortgage fraud we have going on now.
And tens of millions of people love this movie because of its uplifting message of good people appreciating the life and people they have. But am I the only one who was disappointed and infuriated that old Banker Potter got to keep the money he stole?
Yes you could argue that Potter didn’t exactly steal it, but he knew it wasn’t his and if morality was enforced, the angel Clarence would have made sure everyone knew the Banker had the money that was threatening to put the Building and Loan Association out of business and ruining the reputation (like credit rating) of the perfectly innocent George Bailey who is content to make $45 dollars per week managing the small Building and Loan association. Bailey’s goal is to do the right things to maintain and build a community that maintains values of decency, morality and civility. His goal is to get by just like his shareholder-depositors. He has no interest in getting rich, which Potter offers him when George has a crisis of confidence.
Potter’s goal is money and he doesn’t care if he turns his community into a pile of crap as long as he makes money doing it. In fact he likes it when things crash so he can buy bargains and in the process ruin the life and dream of thousands of people. Sound familiar?
Not that the movie lacked morality and a good story about the way we see our lives. But Capra takes a definite shot at the banker by leaving him out of the glory at the end when the town people gather up far more money than needed to save George Bailey from bankruptcy and possibly jail. The bank examiner is in town to do his work. His first and only stop is to tally up the capital of George Bailey’s tiny Building and Loan Association but skips the bank that Mr. Potter owns. And Frank Capra tells us why when Potter tells us that a congressman calling Potter is told to wait on the phone when Potter is distracted by his petty jealousy of Bailey.
The movie has a good moral at the end. If you live your life doing well by others, there is a pretty good chance they will do well by you. But in the end, the nasty miser is all about staying rich and gets richer because he gets money that belongs to another person and hides the fact. He gets to keep the $8,000 he stole from Bailey’s Building and Loan Association. The money Potter steals in the movie is only $8,000 or about $280,000 in today’s money — easily enough for bank auditors to close down the business of Bailey’s bank and is enough to add to the fortune of Potter. So the moral of the story is the opposite of the lesson — being a good person is a good thing but the successful bad person will always get his way. I reject that lesson and encourage you to do the same.
The amount stolen this time by the likes of Mr. Potter is about $13 trillion, causing hundreds of billions of losses in pension funds alone and yet the government is concerned about the welfare of Mr. Potter instead of George Bailey. Tens of millions of families were displaced from their jobs and homes. I find that unacceptable, don’t you?
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