It’s a Wonderful Life – What’s the Difference?

published on July 2, 2020

Merry Christmas

>> The holiday season is upon us, which
means it's that magical time of year when

you can It's A Wonderful Life
on every single channel

>> Brother Ernie,
you do your hair on my wedding night

>> No, no

No, cut,
>> This film is arguably the high point of

Jimmy Stewart's illustrious career

Earning him a best actor nomination and

still sitting atop Esquire's prestigious
top 40 Christmas movies of all time

>> Merry Christmas, reporters

Where's Mary?

>> Comparatively, the book that inspired
the classic film has far less notoriety

If you try to find it on the Internet,

you might waste a lot of time on a
fruitless search wishing someone had told

you ahead of time that the book
is called The Greatest Gift

>> The wee little book that
inspired the movie was written by

Philip Van Doren Stern

The thing is less than 40 pages with a
nice, big font and a handful of drawings

>> Looking at this tiny book
you'll wonder how Frank Capra and

his writing team turned it
into a 130-minute film

Fortunately, we're about to tell you

I'm Flin Gaves,
>> And I'm Casey Redman

And it's time to ask

>> What is it you want, Mary?

>> No, no, just what's the difference?

Both the film and
the book start on Christmas eve

In the book George is looking
over the edge of a bridge

Well, in the movie we hear people in
the town of Bedford Falls praying for

God to help George

>> There are a lot of people asking for
help for a man named George Bailey

>> At that point things diverge massively

The book's entire plot serves as
just the last third of the film

The rest of the movie story
was invented for the screen

Starting with the conversation between
God, Joseph and an angel named Clarence

Here we get some back story in
a narrative vehicle that can jump

through time as we learn
about our protagonist and

the history that brought George
to the point of suicide

>> You sent for me

>> Yes, Clarence

>> While the movie introduces
Clarence in the cosmos,

Doren Stern thrusts them into
earthly matters immediately

Also the author didn't bother to name
the angel swooping in to help George

just calling him stranger

We're going to keep calling them Clarence
in both mediums because, it's easier

Is everything, everybody cool?

>> So book and movie Clarence's purpose is
to show George what his town would be like

if he'd never been born

When George makes and is granted this
wish, it delivers us into a Dickensian

world where George gets a terrifying
what if glimpse of life without himself

The book starts with this moment, everyone
we meet is meeting George as a stranger

with their back story only
coming through George's thought

The movie keeps George's wish moment for
the end,

which makes the audience care more
about the world George's exiled from

We get scenes from childhood, George
saves his brother, Harry from drowning

George keeps the grieving pharmacist, Mr
Gauer from accidentally poisoning a child

George helps his hard working father
stand up to greedy Mr Potter

Then we jump ahead to see Jimmy Stewart
playing a Man of About 20, and

not necessarily looking or
sounding the part


>> Anyway, these events from George's
youth paint him as a wonderful man

A person you have to care about because
he cares so deeply about others

It makes us eager to
find out what went wrong

But again, the movie adds a ton of new
material to flush out the wee 40-page

booklet into a less wee
feature film run time

So a lot of little differences
really starts to add up

Things like how George doesn't leave
Bedford Falls in the movie because his

father has a stroke and dies, leaving
George to take over the family business

But in the book, George's father is alive
and well, look at him still kicking

Although George spends the whole movie
fighting with old Mr Potter who tries to

push everyone out of business and
very nearly causes George to kill himself

In the book, there's no Mr Potter

>> Or how in the movie George can't hear
out of one ear from when he saved his

brother from drowning in icy waters

But in the book, they were swimming
in August and he hears just fine

>> There are lots and
lots of these examples

So, let's jump ahead to what happens after
Clarence, the guardian angel arrives

Movie Clarence dives into the freezing
river, forcing George to jump in and

save him

The angel then boldly refers to himself as
an angel saying he's come from heaven and

making both George and
the tower guard think he's nuts

>> Angel, second class

>> Book Clarence isn't as on the nose,

just making it clear that
he wants to help George

He grants George's wish
of never being born and

then gives him a satchel
full of brushes so

George can pretend to be a traveling brush
salesman when he meets people around town

Keep a low profile

>> Clarence lingers in the movie,
walking along as George looks for his car

The book makes no mention
of George being absolutely

hammered when he first meets Clarence

While in the movie he's already been in a
bar fight, stumbled out into the snow, and

then crashed his car
into a neighbor's tree

It's all because Uncle Billy lost eight
grand and George thinks he's going to jail

over it, an important motivation in
the movie that's not in the book

But more on that in a minute

>> The tree that gets hit in the movie
still has literary relevance,

as in the book George walks past it and

remembers when his car had scratched
some of the bark off and left a scar

That scar is now gone,

and it's the first indicator that
something funny is going on

As book George sees more
evidence that something's amiss,

he realizes he needs to
play Clarence's game and

pretend to be a stranger in order to
figure out who's who and what's what

>> Movie George is drunk and

angry, yelling at everyone about how
they know him, and he knows them

Of course,

he can get away with this in the film
because we know what he's been through

We know these people and we're also upset
when they treat George like a lunatic

But the two biggest differences between
the literary and cinematic worlds of

Bedford Falls after George Bailey stopped
existing or the town itself, and Mary

>> Well,
there's ought to be Martini's place

>> The town is essentially
the same in the book,

just that the people closest
to George have changed

In the movie the place is
now called Pottersville

And it's full of bars and dancing clubs

I guess this is bad but
it honestly looks kind of fun

>> As for Mary,
she's with a different man in the book

Art Jenkins

George's visit with her is cut
short when Art comes home, and

that is what sends George looking for
Clarence to make everything right again

>> For Frank Crapa and
the movie versio,n it had to be darker

Instead of being married to a drunk
abuser, she is unmarried and

works at the library

Mary, not the books

Movie Mary, beautiful as she was,

never found a man without
George Bailey in the world

And had to wear glasses

When George tracks her down,
not only does she look like a nerd,

she also does recognized him and
thinks he's potentially a deranged killer

Just like in the book, interacting with
Mary sends George over the edge, and

he heads back to the bridge to pray for
things to return to normal

>> Give me back,
I don't care what happens to me

Get me back to my wife and kids

>> At this point, the book leans pretty
heavily into the gravity of suicide

George was about to give away the greatest
gift of all, the gift of life

The movie mentions suicide being
a terrible and illegal thing

But the emphasis is on how
Rich George's life was,

how many people he touched and
lives he made better

>> Ones life goes back to normal,
book George cruises through town happily

revisiting all the places he
went when he was a stranger

The movie features a similar run but

with all the people we met over
the last two hours of watching

He even yells Merry Christmas
to the evil Mr Potter

>> Happy New Year to you in jail

>> Evil Mr Potter might be the biggest
plot point in the move that leads to

deviations from the book

George is just generally sad in Doren
Stern's story, upset about being stuck in

a dead end job, and never really
having done anything with his life

>> George deals with
the malaise in the movie,

but the reason he's thinking about
jumping off a bridge is that Uncle Billy

accidentally put an envelope with
eight Gs in Potter's newspaper

And Potter kept it because he knew it
would ruin George's lending company

He even called for
George's arrest because Potter sucks

So while movie George is stoked
to be alive and running through

town like a maniac, there's still
the issue of the missing money

>> I'm sorry, but
I've got a little paper here

>> I bet it's a warrant for my arrest

Isn't it wonderful?

I'm going to jail

>> Conversely, everything is completely
hunky dory in the book as he speeds home

He's got no loose ends to tie up so he
just gets to smooch his wife and be happy,

which is exactly what he does

Then before he can launch into the story
of his crazy night, he notices the brush

he gave her, back when he was
a brush salesman who never existed


>> Doren Stern wanted us to think
that angels might be real but

their brushes are 100% real,
of that I am sure

>> When movie George
gets home happy as he is,

we still don't know how
he'll get out of the jam

That's when we get the famous
heartwarming scene with

all the people from Bedford Falls whose
lives George Bailey has touched coming in

to pour money on the dining room table

All the fabricated backstory
pays off in the biggest way with

everyone playing a part
in Georges salvation

Finally, instead of finding a brush
left behind in the book, George finds

a copy of Tom Sawyer left behind and
dedicated to George by Clarence

Dear George, remember no man
is a failure who has friends

Thanks for the wings, love Clarence

Bell rings, angel wings, happy tears

>> Clarence's line
really hits its mark and

defines the beauty of the film
that doesn't exist in the book

George never realized his
plans from early adulthood

Staying broke in Bedford because
he couldn't stop helping people

Then in the hour of his greatest need,

thanks to all the people
who once needed him

He sees what a wonderful life he's got

>> And that's it

Thanks for watching

Be sure to subscribe

And remember,
every time you like a Cinefix video,

an angel gets its wings, see?

I don't have your wings here, Clarence

Your wings are in that Cinefix video,
and that movie list, and

that old episode of
things you didn't know

>> Merry Christmas, everyone

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