The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide, Updated And With A New Introduction For 2018

Once again I am posting the Ethics Alarms Ethics Guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,” perhaps the greatest ethics movies of all time, as this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season. The film is commonly thought of as a Christmas movie, but it really is a Thanksgiving story. Unfortunately, the movie is so well known, so much imitated, so familiar in its tropes and cliches that we really don’t think about it very hard. We should.

The movie is exactly the kind of important shared cultural touch-point that I am advocating when I emphasize the importance of cultural literacy to our nation’s connective tissue. The film teaches about values, family, sacrifice and human failings unlike any other: its power and uniqueness disproves the assertion, made in one online debate here this year, that new cultural creations inevitably and effectively supersede older ones. No, they really don’t, and like copies of copies, eventually the cultural values conveyed get fainter and less influential. “It’s A Wonderful Life” would be an excellent basis for a middle school ethics course. I haven’t seen a better, richer film for that purpose come along since, and I’ve been looking.

I am also constantly amazed at how many people haven’t seen the movie. My son’s girlfriend admitted that she hadn’t at dinner today. A few months ago I gave a DVD to a pharmacist at our local CVS after I made a reference to the film and he had no idea what I was talking about. He said he would wait until the holidays to watch it with his family. I hope he does: he left the job soon after. There are some classic movies that parents have an obligation to make sure their children see. This is one. Despite the many ethics complexities and nuances that the film glosses over or distorts, its basic, core message is crucial to all human beings, and needs to be hammered into our skulls at regular intervals, far more often than once a year.

What I wrote about this message in an earlier posting of this opus still seems right to me:

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

I wondered about posting the guide again this year, as this feels like a year in which Ethics Alarms lost old readers rather than gained new ones. Then I read it again, and it reminded me of some important things I had forgotten, and I wrote it. I also, as is my yearly habit, edited and added to the commentary a bit. I’m smarter this year than I was last year, and I bet you are too…especially if you’ve been reading Ethics Alarms, just from figuring out how I’m wrong.

I hope you all had a terrific Thanksgiving, and that the holiday season is joyous for all.

And here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. The framing of the tale seems to advance the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

Yet in the end, it is an ethics movie, not a religious one. George lives a (mostly) ethical life, not out of any religious conviction, but because step by step, crisis after crisis, he chooses to place the welfare of others, especially his community and family, above his own needs and desires. No reward is promised to him, and he momentarily forgets why we act ethically, until he is reminded. Living ethically is its own reward.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. One has to wonder about people like George, who resort to prayer as a last resort, but they don’t seem to hold it against him in Heaven. The heavenly authorities assign an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to handle the case..He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there— perhaps because George has not been “a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service! Good luck, George!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky. (This is not an observation that one should make in public, as President Trump learned when he made a lifetime enemy of John McCain.)

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident.

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower, who is addled by grief and drink after learning about the death of his own son. George’s act is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

One could take the position that Mr. Gower “just made one mistake.” But trustworthy professionals don’t get to make such mistakes, not and still be trusted the next time. Trust is easily destroyed, and should be.

Mr. Gower also slaps George on the head several times. Today hitting a child like that is regarded as child abuse by a parent; when another adult hits a child, it’s grounds for arrest. This is one of many examples of evolving societal ethics in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” When the film was made, Mr. Gower’s conduct in beating a child employee was considered forgivable. If the local pharmacist slapped my son, I’d swear out a criminal complaint, and he still might end up shambling bum like Mr. Gower in the film’s alternate reality section.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem.

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey as well a classic conflict of interest, both of which George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow.

5. George’s Speech.

When his father dies, George delivers an impassioned speech to Mr. Potter, the owner of the only other financial institution in town, who proposes that the Bailey Building and Loan be closed down.  Potter has a point. For example he points out that Ernie the cab driver was approved by for a home loan by George, who is his good friend. Yes, it’s a small town, but still, this is a suspect policy and more importantly, a conflict of interest with the appearance of impropriety.  When Potter impugns George’s father however, George has a rebuttal:

“Just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter! You’re right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… Why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter.  And what’s wrong with that? Why…here, you are all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers?”

“You…you said that uh… what’d you say just a minute ago… They, they had to wait and save their money before they even thought of a decent home. Wait! Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken-down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, it is too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book, he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be.”

Capra, as was his habit, stacks the deck by casting the advocate for fiscal responsibility as Potter, whom the heavenly spokesperson has already identified as “the meanest man in Bedford Falls.” But George’s speech, delivered by Jimmy Stewart in his best “Mister Smith Goes to Washington” fervor, is pretty close to the philosophy that set up U.S. for the housing and mortgage meltdown in 2008 that wrecked the economy. George’s speech could probably have been recited with equal sincerity by  various well-meaning members of Congress, like Barney Frank and Ted Kennedy, who were pressuring financial institutions to hand out mortgage loans to hundreds of thousands of aspiring homeowners who would never have qualified for them under well-established banking principles.

Peter Bailey’s “plan,” if one can call it that, was to give mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them, and then not press the good people to keep up with payments when they couldn’t afford them. In short, he was irresponsible, fiscally and otherwise, and his poor business sense, matched here to generosity and compassion as if one justifies the other, was guaranteed to be ruinous to investors, the unqualified homeowners, and ultimately the Building and Loan.  Ethical borrowing means committing to pay back the loan on the terms of the loan. The greater the risk of a loan not being paid back, the more proof of collateral is needed. Neither Peter Bailey, nor George, nor Frank Capra knew how to somehow loan money to people who can’t pay it back, not foreclose on the property, and yet keep the altruistic loaner solvent.  They just know it’s “the right thing to do”…which when used in such a context, is a rationalization: #60. The Ironic Rationalization. From the definition on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List:

This rationalization can sometimes be a fair statement of fact rather than a rationalization. But “It’s the right thing to do” is routinely used to end a debate when it is only a proposition that must be supported with facts and ethical reasoning. Simply saying “I did it/support it/ believe in it because it’s the right thing to do” aims at ending opposition by asserting virtue and wisdom that may not exist.

The question that has to be answered is why “it’s the right thing to do,” and “Because it’s just right, that’s all,” “Everybody knows it’s right,” “My parents taught me so,” “That’s what God tells us in the Bible,” and many other non-answers do not justify the assertion.

Maybe it’s the right thing, and maybe not. Just saying it conduct is right without doing the hard work of ethical analysis is bluffing and deflection. “It’s the right thing to do” you say?

Prove it.

The problem is that a plan that can’t possibly work is never ethical. It is by definition irresponsible, and thus not the right thing to do.

Interestingly, right now many are arguing that the solution to the ridiculous student loan crisis is to forgive all such loans. How did Peter Bailey’s lunatic business plan become good social policy? If one borrows money, one has made an obligation to repay it, with interest. A mass amendment to that principle of “But, if it’s too hard, that’s all right, you won’t really have to pay it back!” undermines personal responsibility and the willingness of loaners to loan.

6. George’s Fork in the Road.

George Bailey’s decision to give up his plans to go to college to save the Building and Loan is clearly not motivated by his personal dedication to the institution; he doesn’t like the place. He says so over and over again. He admires his father’s motivations for starting it, but if Potter had not sparked his resentment with his nasty comments about George’s late father, George would have been out the door. His passionate speech in rebuttal of Potter’s words put him on the spot: after those sentiments, turning down the Board’s appointment of him to be the new operating manager of the S&L would have made George a hypocrite in his own eyes, and rendered his passion laughable. If George has any integrity, then he must accept the appointment. This is a common experience in our lives: talk is cheap, but when events make us have to live up to our words, we often reject them.

It is one of the most interesting ethical moments in the film, because it represents a realistically complex ethical decision. George does what he does for selfish reasons as well as altruistic ones, and irrational reasons as well as considered ones. He wants to respect himself; he fears what might happen to his family and the community if Potter becomes the only financial power in town, and knows he will feel guilty if the consequences are bad. He feels like not staying will be taking Potter’s side over his father’s—completely irrational, since his father had given his blessing to George’s college plans, and wasn’t alive to be harmed by whatever he chose to do anyway. A large proportion of George’s decision seems to be motivated by non-ethical considerations, for he doesn’t like Potter—even hates him, perhaps—and wants to stick it to the old tycoon by foiling his victory. There are few ethical decisions in real life that are made purely on the basis of ethics, and Capra makes George’s decision wonderfully impure.

Still, this may be the single most important decision in George Bailey’s life. It changes everything, for him and for the town. Most important of all, perhaps, it probably is the tipping point in the formation of George’s character. Many of us face ethical decisions that require us to embrace or reject core values. Once a value has been rejected, down-graded in our priorities, we may be permanently changed as human beings. Choosing non-ethical considerations —self-interest—over honesty, integrity, loyalty or fairness one time will make that choice easier the next time, then a habit, then a character trait, then a personal philosophy. George faces that fork in the road and chooses integrity, respect, fairness and caring…because of the man he was at that moment, a caring and ethical one. Had he chosen to leave, thus opting for new experiences and ambition over the values he had once thought paramount, George Bailey might have become less like his father and more like Mr. Potter. Luckily for him, he recognized this pivotal moment in his life and character when it occurred. Too often, we make life and character-altering decisions in the heat of the moment, without playing ethics chess and thinking about the possible consequences.

George also makes his life-altering decision under pressure, another condition that leads to unethical acts. When we have such decisions to make, the wise course is to delay, take time to consider, and consult with others. As “It’s a Wonderful Life” shows, however, this isn’t always possible.

Is it fair for the board of directors to put all of this on George? I think so: their fiduciary duties  include trying to keep the institution open, and they reasonably see some obligation in the fact that George is the deceased founder’s son. The move still breaches a Golden Rule analysis here, for what young man would want to have his life’s plans turned inside like this? Still, this is a utilitarian decision, and a valid one. The whole town’s future is at a stake, and that outweighs George’s plans. Nonetheless, he doesn’t have to sacrifice his future for the “grubby town” as he calls it. Once he lets the board push him into his fateful decision, he can’t keep blaming them.

7. Harry’s Betrayal

George gives his college money to younger brother Harry, an ethical act if there ever was one. All he asks in return is that Harry return after college and take over the Building and Loan, so George can get on with his life. Harry, however, returns to Bedford Falls with a new wife, who has other plans. Harry plays George like a violin, and lets George be a martyr and waive Harry’s obligation.

I regard this as a despicable double-cross by Harry Bailey, aided by the new Mrs. Bailey. He had made a deal, and benefited greatly from it. By the time he got back home, his wife should have already been told in no uncertain terms that he was taking the weight of the S&L off of George’s weary shoulders, and that he was turning down her father’s offer to employ him. Harry knew George and what he was like—his brother’s penchant for sacrificing his own needs for others. The script shows Harry putting up a perfunctory fight when George lets him off the hook, but he simply should have refused to accept George’s arguments. Harry had an obligation, and a big one. He took an easy route to avoid it, and closed his eyes to the Golden Rule answer staring him in the face. Harry knew what was fair, knew what George wanted, needed and deserved, and still accepted George’s waiver.

Yes, George is accountable and responsible for his own actions. At this point, he is a candidate for a diagnosis of toxic altruism; he’s a probable altruism addict, a professional martyr. He consents to being taken advantage of, and then is better about it for the whole movie. I bet you know people like this. I sure do.

8. Sam and Mary.

George’s next ethical dilemma occurs when his mother urges him to try to steal away Mary, the lovely local college girl (played by radiant Donna Reed) who is supposedly the main squeeze of George’s obnoxious friend, Sam (“Hee-haw!”) Wainwright. The movie’s view is that since Sam is a jerk, there’s nothing wrong with George stealing his girl and Mary slyly encouraging him to do it. Capra even shows Sam with a floozy in his office when he’s calling Mary, so we know he’s a louse. Sam obviously considers George a friend, however, so George’s motivations and conduct in this episode are still less than admirable. He and Mary do apparently foil Sam’s well-intentioned efforts to turn them into inside-traders, something that was not illegal at the time, but still unethical.

George certainly is a rude jerk to Mary, apparently holding repressed anger against her because her attractiveness temps him to again nail himself to the town he hates, and because he was pitching woo to her when he learned that his father was stricken. It’s lucky that she sees the good in George, because he’s hiding it well. Lashing out at others for your own self-fueled misfortune is a really unethical habit. I wouldn’t let George have a dog, because he’d probably kick it.

9. The Run on the Bank!

The second great ethical turning point in “It’s A Wonderful Life” and the fictional life of George Bailey comes when there is a run on the Building and Loan just as George and Mary are leaving on their honeymoon. Yet again, George makes a huge personal sacrifice and uses the money he saved for the trip to keep the bank from closing and out of Potter’s clutches yet again. A few things to keep in mind:

  • He had no obligation to use personal resources for this purpose. Rationally, he could have required at least some interest, as long as it wasn’t excessive.
  • When Potter offers to pay off the S&L’s obligations at 50 cents on the dollar, George has no right to reject the offer unilaterally—it’s not his offer to reject. He needs to consult his board, or at least try to, and if they vote to accept Potter’s gun-to-the-head deal, George can’t over-ride them. If he can’t reach the board, then his ethical obligation is to act as he thinks they would, and he knows they almost certainly would accept Potter’s offer. George’s conduct in this situation is personally courageous and generous, but a blatant fiduciary breach of trust and an abuse of his authority.
  • Mary is the one who offers up the couple’s money, and she does it without consulting George. She also has no right to do this. She may presume, from watching George go through life offering himself up as a human sacrifice, that he would approve, but it is irresponsible and disrespectful for her to risk the couple’s resources on a bad bet like the Bailey Building and Loan, during a financial crisis, without discussing it with her husband first. (How does the Building and Loan weather the Great Depression, by the way?)

10. Potter’s Offer…

Mr. Potter’s next tactic is to try to hire George away from the Building and Loan with a large salary. George views the offer as an invitation to corruption, and nobly turns it down.  There is no wrong, or unethical, solution to George’s dilemma. He could justify taking Potter’s offer as ethical because it allows him to  better the lives and future of his family and children, and perhaps he should. Surely whatever obligation he feels to his father’s project and the community has been more than fulfilled by this time. George, however, is blocked by cognitive dissonance. He detests Potter and all he stands for; if he agrees to work for the man, he cannot avoid embracing Potter’s values, or at least becoming connected to them. He will have to be loyal; he will be dependent on a man whose ethics he reviles. This is how people become corrupted.

Does George have an ethical obligation to risk corruption of his core values—remember, none of us are as immune to corruption as we think we are (this is called Restraint Bias)—for the benefit of his children? Wouldn’t this be the greatest sacrifice of all for the altruism addict, selling his integrity so his children have a better future? Or would he be corrupting them, too?

I think George is right to uphold his integrity and avoid allying himself and his family’s welfare to someone with deplorable values and who is, after all, untrustworthy, perhaps because I would (I hope) make the same decision in his shoes. Nevertheless, it is not the ethical slam-dunk that Capra would have us believe.

And he should have at least consulted Mary. If she is anything like my mother, she would have said, “Are you nuts? Take the offer!”

11. Uncle Billy screws up, as we knew he would.

11.  Christmas Eve arrives in Bedford Falls, and Uncle Billy manages to forget that he left the week’s deposits in the newspaper he gave to Mr. Potter. Thus more than $8,000 is missing on the same day that the bank examiner is in town. Why in the world is Uncle Billy still working for the Building and Loan? He’s working there because George, like his father, is putting family loyalty over fiduciary responsibility.  Potter, of course, is a thief; by keeping the lost money to trap George, he’s committing a felony.  Moreover, as a board member on the Building and Loan, Billy’s carelessness and George’s negligence in entrusting him with the bank’s funds would support charges of misfeasance. Mr. Potter, had he played fair, might have triumphed over George legitimately, and no Christmas miracle or guardian angel could have saved him. But this is the inherent weakness and fatal flaw of the habitually unethical: since they don’t shrink from using unethical devices, they often ignore ethical ways to achieve the same objectives that would be more effective.

12. George folds under pressure.

Faced with an unexplainable deficit (since “We lost it” would not endear the bank to regulators) George panics. This is a remarkable feature in the screenplay and Stewart’s portrayal, because George’s reaction when faced with a personal crisis reveals him to be less principled and admirable than we thought, and more importantly, than he thought. This is a brave move by Capra, and an instructive one. George Bailey’s story is a good example of how it is relatively easy to stick to ethical principles when one feels in control and relatively safe, but when desperation and fear set in, the ethics alarms can freeze up, leaving only primitive “fight or flight” instincts. That’s where George is on Christmas Eve. He verbally abuses poor Uncle Billy, who feels badly enough already, and whom George shouldn’t have trusted in the first place. When a fool acts foolishly, the person at fault is the one who placed him in a position where his foolishness could be harmful.

George is full of rage and frustration that all his self-conscious martyrdom has bought him no breaks in life, so he rails about conditions that were the results of his own choices. He hates the Building and Loan, which his actions have kept operating; he says he hates the “drafty old house” (Whose idea was it to live there?); he asks, “Why do we have to have all these kids?” (Do we need to explain it to you, George?). He snaps at his children, who are excitedly preparing for Christmas, and is insulting and rude to his daughter’s teacher, not because of anything she’s done, but because he’s mad at the world.

Now we understand a little more about George Bailey. Like many heroes, leaders, and regularly virtuous people, George Bailey is a narcissist. His obsession with helping others and sacrificing his own needs was to feed his vanity and self-esteem. He needed others to respect and admire him, and he needs to admire himself. What he is facing now is scandal and diminished respect from others—things that undermine his carefully constructed self-image. So with the walls closing in, where are his ethical principles? Gone. He doesn’t share his crisis with Mary, for example, though she has a right to know that her whole family is imperiled by the crisis. Incredibly, he goes to Potter, and begs to make the deal with the devil that he righteously rejected when he felt in control of his fate. Now, he’ll trade his integrity, the Building and Loan and the welfare of Bedford Falls for Potter’s help, because he can’t accept the results of his own mistakes.

The lesson: even the most ethical people usually have their breaking point, the point at which ethical principles will be trumped by personal interest. Watching just the first part of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” we might have believed that George Bailey was the rare idealist who would stand true even when he was at personal risk.

Nope.

After being turned down by the devil, Potter, only then does George resort to God, whom he clearly has ignored up to this point. Now he prays, the classic hypocrite’s prayer, a foxhole conversion. Then he gets drunk, which is pure escape: it’s not going to help matters, just make them blurrier. George is a coward after all.

13. George heads for the bridge…

As a coward, he seeks the ultimate coward’s solution, suicide.  [ Note: many have objected to this characterization of suicide.  I stand by it, in the context of this movie. I don’t deny that suicide can be justified, even courageous, or that it is often the product of mental illness. When it is used as George chooses to use it, however, it is cowardly. ] This is the watermark of the narcissist: at this point, he doesn’t care about Mary, his children, the bank, or his obligations. He just wants to escape accountability and consequences. The usual excuse given for George’s deplorable conduct is that our hero is having a “breakdown.” No, this is just George being human…and unethical.

Suicide is also insurance fraud in this context: George is moved to try it because Potter suggested that he’s worth more dead than alive, thanks to the policy. But he really isn’t. The insurance company won’t pay for a suicide.

14. Welcome to Pottersville!

George meets Clarence, his tattered guardian angel, who tricks George into rescuing him instead of drowning. George is relentlessly nasty to Clarence—rude and disrespectful.  If Clarence didn’t have a job to do and a personal objective to accomplish—he wants those wings—he would be ethically justified in telling George Bailey to go to Hell.  It is noble to continue to help someone in the face of abuse, disrespect, contempt and incivility, but it isn’t ethically mandatory.

[There is also the intriguing question of why Clarence doesn’t just tell George that Potter stole the money. Then he could have Potter arrested, and the town, presumably, would be better off. Apparently there are “rules” that prevent this, and, I suppose, Clarence wouldn’t get his wings this way. Transforming the entire world into a dystopian Hell seems like an awfully baroque way to solve George’s problems, when a simple tip to the police would be just as effective. Clarence isn’t very bright—an incompetent angel. No wonder it takes so long for him to get his wings.]

After Clarence grants George his wish that he had never been never born, we see what Bedford Falls and it occupants would be like without the Building and Loan. It looks and sounds a lot like New Orleans, really, but the idea is that Pottersville is a coarser, cruder place than its Alternate Reality in the Park with George. The businesses we see are all sin-related or pawn shops, and the people are different too—meaner, more irresponsible.  Bert the cop even fires his gun into the crowd when George slugs him and runs away after accosting Mary—who, despite being about the most adorable, lovely and sensitive woman in the world, has somehow been unable to find a husband without George in it.

Suuuure.

It’s easy to make fun of Pottersville, but the sequence’s main point is still valid: without the Building and Loan to symbolize caring and a mutually supportive community, the ethical culture of the town has rotted, and rotted the ethics of everyone in it. Cultures do rot, which is why, for example, the popular Republican fantasy that America can just round up all its illegal aliens and march them at gunpoint and without their children back to where they came from is so dangerous.

A nation that would really do such a thing has turned the corner towards Pottersville. We must always be vigilant about spotting and avoiding cultural tipping points that will erode our basic ethical values.

I feel that I have to mention that Capra’s version of Chaos Theory’s “Butterfly Effect” with George as the butterfly is a little one-sided. There are always perverse and unanticipated reactions when something is taken out of the cosmic equation, and it would have been more realistic to show someone being significantly better off with no George, like if Mary had gone on to marry old Hee-Haw and become a fabulously rich and famous movie star who wins an Academy Award for “From Here to Eternity” and goes on to star in an iconic 1950’s TV sitcom. (A classic episode of “Married with Children” took this perspective, with Al Bundy learning from his guardian angel, played by the late Sam Kineson, that if he had never been born, everyone he knows and the world in general would have been better off.) Clarence revels in showing George the tragedy and havoc that would have occurred without him: Violet a drunken floozy; Martini apparently vanished or deported, with Nick, now a mean bully, running the bar;  graves where George’s houses were; Ernie the cabby without a wife and bitter, like everyone else; Uncle Billy insane, George’s mother mean and suspicious, the soldiers on the transport Harry saved all dead, because Harry drowned when he was eight, and Mr. Gower a shambling beggar after being sent to jail for poisoning that boy, because George wasn’t there to stop him. It’s interesting that Clarence never tells George about what happened to that boy he saved, since he was piling it on. Maybe that kid grew up to be a serial killer. Surely some of the men on that transport ended up causing more pain than joy in the world.   Clarence would rather George not know about that butterfly effect.

Back to Bert the cop…as I noted, he fires his gun at the fleeing George, and doesn’t seem all that concerned about hitting an innocent bystander by accident. Did the absence of George in this alternate universe make Bert a trigger-happy idiot? Why would that be? Officer Michael Slager is serving a 20 years sentence for shooting Walter Scott, a black man, who was also fleeing his authority and posed no more danger to Slager than George did to Bert.  Here is a good example of ethics evolving: when the film was made, an officer shooting at a fleeing suspect was neither unusual nor regarded as wrong. Now, it is likely to be called murder if such a suspect is shot dead.

That’s progress.

I guess.

15. “The richest man in town!”

After George talks his way out of No George Hell, he joyfully returns to his Bedford Falls home to be arrested. He arrives to find that Mary has inexplicably left her brood of small children, including sick ZuZu, alone in the house, pretty irresponsible parenting even by the relaxed standards of the Forties.  In the grand finale, the entire community rallies to save George and the Building and Loan, out of gratitude for his many unselfish acts through the years, filling his table with more than enough money to cover the deficit. This is the uber-ethical moment in the film, a massive display of unselfish thanks, compassion, community, charity, loyalty, generosity and gratitude, proving what an essentially ethical and caring place the town—now Bedford Falls again, and full of those virtues since George is alive—has grown into thanks to George’s influence. Just enjoy it and cry, like my wife does every time, when Harry raises his glass to toast “My brother George, the richest man in town.”

Still…

  • Harry owes George a lot more than a toast, since his ingratitude put him in this situation in the first place.
  • George can’t ethically accept more money than the deficit, since it isn’t intended for him personally anyway. How is he going to be responsible and give the extra money back? How will he decide who gets a refund on their remarkable generosity? Are the donors now his partners? Ethically, George was obligated to organize the orgy of good will going on in front of him, since it was technically a complex business transaction.
  • And he’s still got to fire Uncle Billy tomorrow, or maybe the day after Christmas.
  • As for the happy bank examiner, swept up in all the Christmas spirit, he needs to be fired too. He’s abdicating his responsibilities. The deficit is still unexplained; the S&L is still in violation of regulations. If he thinks George absconded with the money, the fact that he can now pay it back doesn’t mean he didn’t commit the crime.
  • The sheriff, similarly, is breaching his duty by tearing up the warrant for George’s arrest. It isn’t his to tear up; only a judge could do that. It’s a legal document. Good will and gratitude don’t suspend the law.
  • Finally, there’s Sam Hee-Haw Wainwright. What a prince! George steals his girlfriend, he and Mary treat Sam like a disease through the whole movie, and yet he comes through with an open-ended loan! Of course, once everyone hears that, George should start handing everyone back their money. He doesn’t. And he and Mary probably still make fun of Sam after New Years Eve.

And George? He’s happy and ethical again, because everyone is showering him with love and admiration. Later, we should hope, Mary will have some words with him about candor and trust in the marital relationship.  For his part, George Bailey needs to reflect on how his principles folded up like a telescope once things got tough, and think about how he can control his narcissistic tendencies to make more responsible and ethical decisions in the future.

Aw, he probably does. After all,

It’s a wonderful life!

38 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Family, Popular Culture

38 responses to “The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide, Updated And With A New Introduction For 2018

  1. Zoe Brain

    Re 10; it would be unethical to accept a job offer for employment doing something you’d be lousy at. There is no way that George could be a valuable employee of Potter.

    Someone with more flexible ethics would have taken the job, taken copies of the books, and turned the evidence over to the Feds, for a reward. Because I can guarantee that a man like Potter would have been indulging in culinary accounting.

    • valkygrrl

      Why do we assume the job offer is even made in good faith?

      What if he fired Geroge as soon as the building and loan is shut down?

      What if instead of treating George as an asset he treats him the way Trump treats people he’s too cowardly to fire outright?

      What if he decided to schedule all business trips in such a way that Geroge is never home for birthdays and holidays?

      How much job security is there in working for an old man with polio? Geroge never did learn a trade or get his education. No bank is going to hire him, he’s 39–too old for entry-level–and that means if things go sideways, it’s manual labor or hoping Bedford falls can support two cab drivers. Mary has no education either so the broken-mirror library job is right out. It’s waiting tables and hoping the older children can care for the younger.

      Potter’s offer is a bad risk, bad enough for even a lousy loan-officer to recognize.

      • Actually, if we assume that Potter is crippled by the same malady the actor was, he didn’t have polio. He had arthritis. Lionel Barrymore had bad hips before they could replace them. He actually could walk, it just hurt like hell.

      • Even in the 30’s contracts wee enforceable. Potter’s a hard-nosed business man, and he can’t do business if his word is no good.. George would be taking less risk with Potter than continuing to be on the S & L.
        And he certainly has marketable skills: he’s run a business, managed a staff, has a good name in the community.

    • Indeed, Potter would be paying him NOT to run the Savings and Loan.

  2. A.M. Golden

    Jack, I still disagree that Mary was Sam’s girlfriend. I think he joked around that she was his girl (and maybe secretly hoped she would be. Certainly Mrs. Hatch hoped they’d get together), but, as Ma Bailey pointed out, Mary was only crazy for George.

    I do agree that Sam didn’t deserve their mockery, though. He offered George a chance to get in on the bottom of the plastics industry and came through for George in the end.

    But I always appreciate your posting this each year. Because of entries like this, I start thinking about the ethical issues in shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” where appearances of impropriety, conflicts of interests and workplace romances create problems.

    • Well, AM, I just watched that scene just for you. George knows Sam is interested in Mary, and that they have some kind of non-Platonic relationship. Ma Bailey responds to George’s acknowledgment of that by saying that Sam is in New York—in other words, snake Mary while your friend is out of the picture. Come on.
      Sam is a friend going back to the sledding on a shovel days. If George knows that Sam has a bead on Mary, and he was active on that front first, it is absolutely a breach of male friendship ethics to move on her. Sam’s first words to George over the phone in the parlor scene is “Are you trying to steal my girl?” And George says, “No’!

      Sam doesn’t hold any hard feelings, and that speaks well for him. But what George did was a friendship ethics taboo.

  3. The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. The framing of the tale seems to advance the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

    Yet in the end, it is an ethics movie, not a religious one. George lives an ethical live, not out of any religious conviction, but because step by step, crisis after crisis, he chooses to place the welfare of others, especially his community and family, above his own needs and desires. No reward is promised to him, and he momentarily forgets why we act ethically, until he is reminded. Living ethically is its own reward.

    I never had seen this movie, nor heard of it, till I read about it here. I got the vid and saw it two times (so far). I also did a little research into Capra.

    What I would say about your opening paragraph — hoping that you will not mind the commentary — is that though the notion of heaven and angels may have been big in the 40s, and the notion of divine intervention a popular belief, I think that you make a rather fundamental mistake to associate a metaphysical moral order to ‘anti-ethics’. In fact, it requires a metaphysical order, of one sort or another — and the other metaphysical order that is strongly present in Occidental concept is those represented in Plato’s myths — in order to create a terrestrial and cultural milieu where ‘ethics’ are defined.

    The one must exist before the other, and the latter cannot exist (or will not exist long) without former. It may be possible, to some degree, to define an ethical system with no reference to metaphysics, but that ethical system will have to have ‘cannibalized’ its ethics from the metaphysical structure. The other part of this is that once ethics is separated from metaphysics, ethics will degenerate, slowly and surely, simply because (and I understand that many will not agree), we do in fact live in a multi-tiered Universe and metaphysics is not a fantasy or a conceit but a *real thing*.

    The framing of the tale seems to advance the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

    It would only be ‘anti-ethical’ if it were not true. But since it is ‘true’ it must be included as a central datum of man’s relationship to lived life. The best way to understand the metaphysics behind the rather simplistic Christian model is to examine Vedic metaphysics, and a good example of that is to be found in the 16th chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita “On the Divine and Demonic Qualities”. Simply put, there are modes of activities that tie one to lower-order outcomes, and modes of activities that elevate one. And this view of Reality sees a larger dimension of life than merely that of terrestrial life.

    It may be true — it seems true — that the movie is not a religious movie per se, but it is not true that a religious and also a metaphysical understanding does not run through it, even if it is expressed in a dramatic sentimentalism. Put another way, ‘George’ and his entire town, life and circumstance had come about because it was a Christian culture. And that is the understructure, and also the over-structure, of the movie.

    Capra was a Catholic and I would say that the *world* that he envisions, that is the town that he creates, is a model of a later and Americanized form of Catholic social teaching. From what I read of Capra, all his screenplays were similarly dramatically sentimental, but there is an ideation under it that comes out of Catholic social doctrine. What that also means is that it does not, nor I suggest, will it ever come from a culture that does not have, and honor, a similar metaphysical structure. The former gives birth to the latter. The latter cannot and will not exist in absence of the former.

    In this sense there is a larger lesson. If men (people) and culture and civilization lose the basic understructure that had informed the culture, there will be no individual like *George* who is, in the portrayal, the emblem of a man informed by Christian social doctrine. So the message of the film takes on another dimension when George wishes that he had not ever existed. Had he not existed there would be no one to live in accord with his values. But if the values that he lived by, and which were a substantial part of him, were not taught and inculcated, there would be no *George*, and therefor the very noir vision he receives of his ruined and sunk town, is a message about losing one’s metaphysical underpinnings.

    But this is, of course, America, and America is now in a deep and continuing decline that is also part of a general Occidental decline and corruption which, according to some — one good example is Richard Weaver who I am just now rereading — has come about not because ‘ethics’ have been abandoned, but because of certain trends in Modernity that make it impossible to *see* and to *understand* the fuller nature of our existence here, and thus to lose the path in more fundamental ways initially. Ethical decline is secondary. This is related to 17th and 18th century trends in materialistic ideation which have flourished and, some say, bore fleurs du mal. If we become incapable of *seeing* in a fuller and also metaphysical sense, we have no other choice but to descend into pure materialism, as indeed our present scientism directs us. (Richard Weaver expresses this throughout the entire book Ideas Have Consequences but more especially in the chapter The Unsentimental Sentiment).

  4. One has to wonder about people like George, who resort to prayer as a last resort, but they don’t seem to hold it against him in Heaven.

    The entire notion and fact of the Incarnation is that it is a manifestation of an inconceivable Grace (coming from *Heaven*).

    In order to understand how Grace was understood by the *ancients* who lived within a Weltanschauung very different from our own, one would have to understand that they saw the Earth as a dangerous and deadly realm for the soul (see: The Great Chain of Being). That divinity descended into that realm and offered the inconceivable gift of salvation, was not understood as a poetic trope, but as a substantial fact.

    In order to understand salvation, one would have to understand what one is saved from>/i>. Very difficult for moderns!

    The entire structure of Christian thought and practice is built around the idea that a given man is often hardly aware of the *world* in which he lives, and very very easily forgets him- or her-self through the most banal attractions and offered sensations.

    Therefor, the idea that in one given moment a person hits a bottom and in that moment asks for help, is the very basis of Christian redemption.

    • And it’s a convenient basis, without any integrity whatsoever.

      • I think it fair to say that argument against your understanding would be 1) futile and 2) potentially disrespectful, so I will not continue. However, if I were asked to I could further develop the point, which is sound.

        • There are BOOKS developing that argument.I find them unpersuasive.

          • Of course, you are an atheist.

            • Irrelevant, however, to the question of morality, which is man-dictated under the guise of being divine. Which is unethical, you know.

              • You notice that I tend to stick to a topic for days, weeks, months, years …

                Förlåt mig . . .

                Irrelevant, however, to the question of morality, which is man-dictated under the guise of being divine.

                A humorous inversion might be that man is created by divine being and attempts to see himself as independent.

                It is true though that men *see* *recognize* and *define* those truths which are described as metaphysical and eternal, but it is not (quite) right to say that they arbitrarily select them or invent them. One would have to unpack a bit what ‘man-dictated’ means.

                I do understand the sense in your view, if I understand it right, that a person must in the best of circumstances agree and assent to a given ‘dictate’ (and oppose it if it does not seem right and just). Obeying a dictate is not a true ethical act, I suppose you might say.

                There are whole areas of truth and fact that are objective and universally non-disputed and are they too ‘man-dictated’?

                I certainly do understand what you are saying and also, I believe, why you say it. But metaphysics, and the truths of metaphysics, are similar in kind to those of physical facts, yet they are of another order, and that order is invisible and non-tangible. Yet they are known not just by one arbitrary individual acting in whimsy, and are known by many, and for that reason the larger metaphysical and spiritual truths could be said to be more *gleaned* from existence and experience.

                The word ‘dictated’ is interesting: from ‘dictate’: an order or principle that must be obeyed. There are multitudes of these that have not been invented by a man or by men.

                Rather they are *seen* and *recognized* but, distinct from material facts, cannot be proved in the same way.

                • There’s no argument, at least no rational argument, that any moral edicts come “from God/god/gods.” It is an has always been a convenient, if transparent and cynical way for authorities to control conduct: “Oh, this isn’t ME, I’m just repeating what God says, and you don’t want to challenge HIM, now, do you?” Ethics principles do come from observing the realities of life and human experience, and if someone wants to call those “god” I have no objections.

                  • I see your point, of course. All religious experience, mystic & metaphysical, comes to man arationally. It is not similar to what we understand as the data of sense. It is another order of experience.

                    The saints, for example, spend their life in meditation and prayer and devotion — which activity must be fundamentally unintelligible to you (as it is to many) — and yet they do come to understand things, and manage to express them. It is another order of knowledge, a different episteme.

                    However, it is then rationalized and, certainly in Christianity, theologized.

                    …and if someone wants to call those “god” I have no objections.

                    OK, but only if they keep the quotation marks!

                    Ethics principles do come from observing the realities of life and human experience . . .

                    I am still of the understanding that ethics, as philosophy, derives originally from a religious frame of mind and experience. I think this has been pretty clearly demonstrated in various studious works.

                    And the independent study of ethics makes sense (I never would say that it doesn’t). I would not ever say that one could not devise a means to study ethics in an independent setting. I do think it cannot function long however, when it separates from the larger matrix (and I accept that you do not see it that way).

                    “Oh, this isn’t ME, I’m just repeating what God says, and you don’t want to challenge HIM, now, do you?”

                    That is a simplistic reduction, but it is not without its sense. It is also something a Marxist might say! 😉 The rebellion against religious authority is tied to a general rebellion against Authority and also hierarchy, but I won’t bore you with those references. The disconnect, if I can call it that, as well as having effect that could be described as *positive* also has other effects that can be demonstrated to be negative.

                    In other words, what you wrote it does refer to a truth. But it does not, not really, speak to the complete picture of the way theological truths are understood and how their authority is understood and expressed, and what their effects and influence are. As with so many things it is much more complex. However, your perspective is destructive to the entire realm of possibility because it is absolutist and non-compromising. That ‘in-and-of-itself’. I mean, it can only function negatively.

          • Pardonnez, I should really have written: That makes sense because to all appearances you would likely define yourself as atheist (agnosticism is more or less the same in my view).

            (It is better for someone like me — basically cheeky and irreverent in my ways — to put emphasis on polite form . . .)

  5. “Too often, we make life and character-altering decisions in the heat of the moment, without playing ethics chess and thinking about the possible consequences.”

    Definition of Providence.

    Late Middle English: from Old French, from Latin providentia, from providere ‘foresee, attend to’ (see provide).

    “Providence in general, or foresight, is a function of the virtue of prudence, and may be defined as the practical reason, adapting means to an end. As applied to God, Providence is God Himself considered in that act by which, in His wisdom, He so orders all events within the universe, that the end for which it was created may be realized.”

    Since it is — I think this is fair to say — impossible to argue against you (I mean perhaps that it would be fruitless since an abyss divides us); against the core of your position in respect to rational ethics as, essentially, a branch of law (this is how I interpret your orientation), I only offer this commentary in the spirit of, say, intellectual fun. I hope that you understand that I am duty bound at least internally to counter-propose to your established definitions.

    Obviously though, I am vitally opposed to your core definition and do not agree with it. However, you and this Blog have been for me of inestimable value in getting clear about many different things about the present and on-going corruption of culture, and I am thankful. I respect your orientation, and your personal philosophy, as it pertains to ethics, and I have come to see that the moral, providential and metaphysical dimension is more important. Or to put it more accurately, ethical studies (in my own case I should say, I can make no recommendation for any other) should best be carried on within the context and practice of spiritual life.

    Spiritual life = metaphysical life = intellectual life = a holistic and even cosmic grasp of incarnation, value and meaning. Spiritual life, as I understand it, would be defined through a Thomistic grasp of metaphysics and psychology, and this links it back to *the former metaphysics* that are now ebbing away. Few understand this in the full sense.

    In another post I quoted Carlyle:

    But the thing that a man does practically believe (and this is often enough without asserting it even to himself, much less to others); the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations with this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest.

    What one ‘practically believes’ is a complex but interesting topic. It is important to say that the 17th and 18th centuries, in European intellectual life, represent departure-points from the Scholastic orientation (Thomism) and that, according to some, have led directly to degeneration. That is my view in general.

    And my further view is that if we are to define *regeneration* of ourselves and of culture we have to recover what has been intellectually lost (in the original sense of the word). The only quick and easy way to refer to *that*, or one way, is to refer to a poetic representation, in this case a wonderful quote by William Blake:

    This life’s dim windows of the soul
    Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
    And leads you to believe a lie
    When you see with, not through, the eye.

    To understand ‘providence’, metaphysics, higher life, the soul, and even (since Clarence is a central character!) what an Angel is, requires an investment in understanding, in depth, the former metaphysics upon which Occidental culture has been constructed. As it was constructed, so has man been constructed. As man has collapsed, so culture collapses. The force of the present works to undermine this *understanding* and this *seeing*. In this sense, I will say, the present has a demonic dimension. It drives people away from understanding and deeply into contingency.

    The Radical Right movement that I am a part of, or the Philosophical Right or Traditionalist Right, seeks to gain ‘meta-cultural’ and ‘meta-political’ perspective in order to be able to confront Hyper-Liberalism. We will do this, I suppose, or we will die trying. The way to do this is through recovery of foundational values, and these are timeless and eternal (according to the tenets of deep religion and traditional metaphysics).

    It really is, in my view, a question of recovering the capability of *seeing*. What is it that *polishes vision* or purifies it? A relationship with a transcendental spirit that is also conscious and aware. That is the essence in any case.

    I would, as is obvious, politicize Capra’s movie in the sense that I would bring it into the present as a sort of *diagram* showing what has happened within a degenerating culture. Toward that, the *best* way to study Capra’s film would be from a Catholic-Cristian perspective (or Greco-Christian and philosophical-logos-oriented angle, and one that recognizes Providence as a metaphysical reality.

    Therefor, in essence, I would correct the following:

    “Too often, we make life and character-altering decisions in the heat of the moment, without playing ethics chess and thinking about the possible consequences.”

    And say that a person must include prayer, and not merely rational pondering (‘ethics chess’) when considering important matters and decisions. Of course only the person who had the *belief* in what providence means and what stands behind it, as it were, could actually pray and understand what prayer is.

    If it is true that we often make decisions in the *heat of the moment* we have to define what *heat* means. It means, I think, to be under the power of contingency, appetite & desire, but also (potentially) bound to too much confidence in rationalism. And a very real fact of the matter is, as I understand things, that people are so wrapped up in these sensations of immediacy that they do not have connection or relationship with *providence* and are, as a result, bound to desire. The metaphor of seeing *with* but not *through* the eye is peculiarly apt in its connotations.

    I watched the movie again last night up till the part that George comes home, in desperation, after his uncle lost the $8,000.00. Every element in a novel or a script has deep relevance to the structure of the story, and his daughter is working out Hark, The Herald Angels Sing on the piano:

    Hark! the herald angels sing,
    “Glory to the newborn King!”
    Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
    God and sinners reconciled
    Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
    Join the triumph of the skies;
    With th’ angelic host proclaim,
    “Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
    Hark! the herald angels sing,
    “Glory to the newborn King!”

    Christ, by highest heav’n adored:
    Christ, the everlasting Lord;
    Late in time behold him come,
    Offspring of the favored one.
    Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
    Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
    Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
    Jesus, our Emmanuel!
    Hark! the herald angels sing,
    “Glory to the newborn King!”

    Hail! the heav’n born Prince of peace!
    Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
    Light and life to all he brings,
    Risen with healing in his wings
    Mild he lays his glory by,
    Born that man no more may die:
    Born to raise the sons of earth,
    Born to give them second birth.
    Hark! the herald angels sing,
    “Glory to the newborn King!”

    You will, I sincerely hope! forgive me for my obvious obsessive nature which runs through this post and everything I write! I am driven as if by whips to understand things in their *inner dimensions*. This began long ago and does not appear to be stopping…

  6. RE: #5 Was the Building and Loan (B&L), in reality, built on the flawed concept of sub-prime mortgages which brought down the 2008 economy? I don’t think so if the business model of the B&L was as follows: the B&L bought land, subdivided the land and built small, affordable houses which they sold at or near the cost to develop. If Peter Bailey did that, he could be considered “no businessman” because he wasn’t accessing the profit normally associated with real estate development. And, I can tell you from my experience at a nationally known bank’s real estate department, it is significant. Developers in Northern California were building homes 7 years ago for about $110/sq ft and selling them for $300/sq ft where the difference covers not only profit but a myriad of expenses not the least of which are those associated with permitting regulations, interest rate fluctuations, etc. However, in Peter Bailey’s situation, he had a built in market, a jurisdiction with few regulations, if any at all, he controlled his mortgage interest rates and he controlled the cost to build. He was a salaried (and we’re led to believe a low-salaried) employee who worked long hours because he saw himself on a mission to increase the quality of life for his fellow citizens. If this was the business model of his B&L, then I think your #5 is in error.

  7. Isaac

    I’d like to think that an aw-shucks, pay-whenever-you-can type Savings and Loan would actually stay solvent in a very high-trust (fictional) pre-boomer community full of people who more or less all know one another. There’s just no way it would be scalable outside the town.

  8. I admit I am — what is the word? — somewhat embarrassed to report this, but I discovered a very odd thing, a peculiar and particular object, embedded into the scene when George comes to beg from Mr Potter:

    At 2:53-2:55, as George gets up to leave, one notices — unmistakably — a shofar. (It is also somewhat visible in the scene in which George refuses Mr. Potter’s employment offer, way over in the right of the frame).

    This had to have been deliberately included when the set was designed. The implication is clear: Potter is here suggested as being Jewish.

    Oh dear . . .

  9. During Chapter 15 or point 15, how about the ethics of the reporter, the bank auditor and the officer just helping themselves into the Bailey house…

    And Mary leaving the children alone in an unlocked house…

    • 4th Amendment rights were not scrupulously observed in the Forties.

      The last one though, I missed. I’ll fix it.

      • What demonic pacts have been made also?

        While prayer to an Omnibenevolent God eventually makes it’s way into the movie, there’s something fishy about the scene after the dance.

        As George waxes fanciful on his grand future to leave Bedford Falls forever and live a life of wild and complex business adventure, we can see Mary’s disgust with this. She clearly wants a simple home life with a simple family life where she has her roots. And she wants that with George.

        When prompted by George, Mary makes some sort of pagan luck ritual in which we, the viewers, MUST INFER, she wishes for a way to be found for George to be permanently tied to the town. Then Mary seals the dark invocation by breaking out a window with a rock.

        Moments later we learn George’s dad is fatally stricken…cascading a series of events tying George permanently to the town.

        What’s going on THERE????

  10. PennAgain

    middle school ethics course ? The last time I heard about one of those was from a friend’s daughter who is now teaching math after being given permission one year to have her class delve deeply into the ‘Robin Hood’ story.

  11. “Neither Peter Bailey, nor George, nor Frank Capra knew how to somehow loan money to people who can’t pay it back, not foreclose on the property, and yet keep the altruistic loaner solvent.”

    The premise of a lot of these home buying shows are also built on shaky ground and encouraging alot of irresponsible behavior.

    I don’t know how many of these shows portray some young couple on a house hunt, and introduce them as “Here’s Bob, local coffee bar waiter, here’s his fiancee Diane, volunteers at the local library, their budget: $950,000”

    But it’s often enough to make be wonder how absurd some of these show proposals are.

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