Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Populism of It's A Wonderful Life

It's A Wonderful Life would fit right in with our times. The story of George Bailey is essentially a working mans story or rather a populist tale. George's quest to go to college is rooted in the fact that there will be a bigger world open to him once he has an education under his belt. Harry his brother goes and comes back the man moving into the bigger white collar world of his wife, but George stays behind in penny anne world of the Building and Loan to sweat it out in the small town of Bedford Falls.

The populism of the story is found in the ancillary characters of the town and George's family of his mother who runs the Bailey boarding home and his father the patriarch of old.  We are drawn to Ernie the cab driver, Bert the cop, Violet Biggs the harlot, Mary Hatch the small town girl who goes to college, but returns to the small town provincial world of Bedford Falls. Sam Wainright is the exception who comes from a rich family and moves in the bigger world of New York. Sam will bail George out but he is juxtaposed against George 's provincialness, his small town virtues that keep him in the town while others go on to find fortune and fame.

Henry Potter is the the arch type villain of the one percent. The man of the upper crust who is incurably corrupt, but holds all the power strings and is eternally trying to get the Building and Loan and bring down George. Again it is George's everyman qualities against the powerful banking interests of the privileged class with the final showdown when Potter accuses George of losing the eight thousand dollars. In the final scene of the movie George is rescued by the populace, Annie the housekeeper, Mr. MGower the druggist, Bert the cop, Ernie the cab driver, and finally Sam Wainright is given redemption by wiring him the money as Harry Bailey eschews the bigger world of a military ceremony to rush back and help his brother.

The movie resonates still because we respond to populist sensibilities. We inherently distrust the Potters of the world or the powers that be. We are now in an age where people rail against bonuses and the one percent getting all the wealth. This is why Its A Wonderful Life is still relevant. We are, after all, in the year 2010, a populace that still yearns for the small town life where good trumps evil and the rich guys lose in the end.
Rocket Man will be out in January

Books by William Hazelgrove