Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

It's A Wonderful Life (1946)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

In Frank Capra's dark and ultimately uplifting Christmas classic about a small-town lender-banker in Bedford Falls, originally a box-office failure and once-forgotten, but then revived after repeated TV showings in the 1970s and 80s:

  • the simple opening scene of stars blinking and celestial angels talking about small-town Bedford Falls resident and banker George Bailey (James Stewart) and his suicidal fate on Christmas Eve
  • the flashback scenes of young George's (Bobbie Anderson) rescue of his younger brother Harry (Georgie Nokes) from a fall through the ice and potential drowning
  • the counter scene of young Mary Hatch's (Jean Gale) whispered secret to young George in the local drugstore (that he didn't hear), when she leaned over the counter, asked: ("Is this the ear you can't hear on?"), and then vowed: ("George Bailey - I'll love you till the day I die")
  • the sequence of George's saving of the drunk and grieving druggist Mr. Gower (H.B. Warner) from mistakenly mixing up a prescription of poisonous cyanide to an ailing child: ("You put something wrong in those capsules. It wasn't your fault, Mr. Gower")
  • the comedic scene of the high school dance with the gymnasium dance floor opening over a swimming pool as George and grown-up childhood sweetheart Mary (Donna Reed) obliviously danced the Charleston and fell into the pool
  • George Bailey's walk home after the dance with Mary while singing Buffalo Gals, and their throwing of stones at the deserted old Granville house (with Mary's prophetic wish: "I love that old house...It's full of romance, that old place. I'd like to live in it"), and George's statement of dreams for the future: ("I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Coliseum. Then, I'm comin' back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I'm gonna build things. I'm gonna build airfields, I'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I'm gonna build bridges a mile long...")
  • during their walk home, George's idealistic offer to Mary - a poetic, imaginative fantasy about lasso-ing the moon and bringing it down to Earth to her: ("What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You-you want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey, that's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon...Well, then you could swallow it. And it'll all dissolve, see. And the moon beams that shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair...Am I talking too much?"), ending with the bald, overweight neighbor (Dick Elliott) nearby challenging George to do less talking and try more romantic action: "Why don't you kiss her instead of talking her to death?"; and afterwards, the humorous scene of the loss of Mary's bathrobe and George's teasing of her, and talking to the shrubbery where she was hiding
  • after the death of George's father, his inspired address in defense of his father's character, fighting selfishness and deceitfulness with honesty and decency against the town's vengeful Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), and his speaking up for the common folk: ("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, is it 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")
George's Defense of His Father's Character
  • the marvelous scene of an extended angry and intimate shared phone conversation with George and Mary on the same end of the phone, when Mary encouraged George: ("He says it's the chance of a lifetime"), and George's outburst at her: ("Now, you listen to me! I don't want any plastics, and I don't want any ground floors, and I don't want to get married - ever - to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do. And you're...and you're...") but then immediately embracing and kissing her passionately - and their wedding in the next scene
Intimate Telephone Conversation
  • immediately after their marriage, the scene of the bank run threatening the solvency of the Bailey Building and Loan Society, and George's impassioned plea to the worried investors: ("Can't, can't you understand what's happening here? Don't you see what's happening? Potter isn't selling. Potter's buying! And why? Because we're panicky and he's not. That's why. He's pickin' up some bargains. Now, we-we can get through this thing all right. We've, we've got to stick together, though. We've got to have faith in each other!")
  • Mary's question to a depressed, troubled and disheartened George: "Why must you torture the children?", and George's complaints about his life: ("This drafty old barn! Might as well be living in a refrigerator! Why did we have to live here in the first place and stay around this measly, crummy old town?...Everything's wrong. You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?")
  • small-town father and husband George's rescue by guardian angel Second Class Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) on a bridge when he considered suicide on Christmas Eve; and then, the despondent George's wish: ("I suppose it'd been better if I'd never been born at all") - and Clarence's granting of the wish: ("You've got your wish: you've never been born") -- and soon after, Clarence's explanation: ("Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?")
  • the nightmarish, 'alternate reality' sequence of Bedford Falls (now named Pottersville after the town's despotic tycoon) without George as he staggered through the town - with the visit to his brother Harry's (Todd Karns) gravesite who would have died in the childhood sledding accident ("at the age of nine" according to Clarence) because George wasn't there to save him - and Harry would have never grown up to be a war hero, saving all the lives of the men on the naval transport: ("Every man on that transport died. Harry wasn't there to save them because you weren't there to save Harry"); Clarence reminded George: ("You see, George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?")
  • George's encounter with Mary, now an unhappy old-maid librarian with spectacles, who didn't recognize him and screamed for him to get away
  • George's breakdown and heartfelt plea to Clarence to live again: ("Get me back!...I want to live again") - his life-affirming and joyful discovery that his wish was granted and that he was alive (because his mouth was bleeding, he had a deaf ear, and he felt daughter Zuzu's petals in his pocket) ("Ha, ha, ha, ha! My mouth's bleeding, Bert! My mouth's bleeding! Zuzu's petals... Zuzu... Merry Christmas!"), followed by the sequence of his resounding ecstasy as he ran down the wintry Bedford Falls street yelling "Merry Christmas" at everything in sight (the movie house, the Building and Loan, etc.)
  • the heartwarming reunion in his home with friends and other depositors who had paid his rent, the toast by his war-hero brother Harry: ("A my big brother, George. The richest man in town"), and the singing of Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Auld Lang Syne
  • he and Mary looked at the handwritten inscription by angel Clarence in the front of the book Tom Sawyer: ("Dear George: - Remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings! Love Clarence"); and Zuzu noted how an ornamental bell was ringing on the Christmas tree (signifying Clarence's promotion to an angel with wings): (Zuzu: "Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings")
Reunited With His Family and Zuzu --
"Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings"

Young Mary Hatch: "George Bailey - I'll love you till the day I die"

High School Dance Scene with Mary

"Buffalo Gals" Walk Home - Promising Mary to Lasso the Moon

George's Pleas to Worried Bank Investors

Despairing and Ready to Commit Suicide

With Angel Clarence

Harry's Gravesite

Mary as Spinster Librarian

Wish Granted to Return

Running Through Bedford Falls Yelling "Merry Christmas"


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z