It’s a Wonderful Life has gone down in history as one of the most beloved and wholesome holiday movies in cinematic history. But the ending nearly had a shocking twist that could have been too dark for the season.
The 1946 film followed the life of George Bailey, a kind-hearted man who couldn’t seem to catch a break and always put others above himself. After giving up his dreams of college and world travel, he winds up running his family’s bank and starting a family. When the Great Depression hits, his business and personal life fall on hard times. Then after a giant sum of money goes missing from his bank, he finally snaps and decides to end his life.
The story, of course, comes full circle. With the help of a wayward, flightless angel named Clarence, George sees the goodness in himself and others. And the Christmas spirit reinstills him with love and life. In the end, Clarence earns his wings and everyone celebrates their happily ever after. While there are plenty of depressing pieces to the tale, in all, It’s a Wonderful Life is a feel-good movie. However, that happy ending nearly looked different.
According to the book, Film History, director Frank Capa went through many writers and many scripts before finally landing on the story we know today. His White Whale was the ending, though. Even after putting together the movie and starting production, Capa couldn’t decide on the perfect conclusion. So he filmed several of them.
An Alternate ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Ending Served Mr. Potter With a Dose of Karma
A second book, titled It’s a Wonderful Life: A Hollywood Classic, shares that the first filmed ending had George fall to his knees before reciting the Lord’s Prayer and begging for a second chance, yelling, “Please God, let me live again!”
Capra tossed the scene because he felt that it was overtly religious. While the movie is clearly tied to religion with Heaven and angels, Capra wanted to tone it down. So he had his writers get back to the drawing board.
Another deleted scene involved Henry F. Potter, the town’s competing banker, who was dead set on bringing down George. Potter, of course, was behind the missing money and George’s near suicide. And he never truly got a dose of karma. But an alternate ending fixed that by killing the character.
Old Hollywood had to write and film according to guidelines set by Hay’s Code, which was ultimately a way of censoring movies. One of those guidelines said that immoral characters had to be punished. So, Capra filmed a scene that showed the villainous man suffering a heart attack while counting the money he’d stolen from George.
When Capra watched the ending, he couldn’t stomach it. He believed it was too grim for his holiday tale, so he argued that Potter was effectively punished when the entire town banded together to save Bailey and his family business.
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