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Ooops, Clarence!! Possible Timeline Anomalies in 'It's A Wonderful Life'


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Showing 1-16 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 2, 2009 3:23:56 AM PST
We just watched it tonight, and I had a question about where this scene fit in the historical time-line aspect of the film. I always thought this scene represented the onset of the Great Depression in October 1929. But--if the High School dance is for the Class of 1928, and Harry Bailey then goes off to college (in George's place), returns married 4 years later, which prompts Ma Bailey to push older brother "mossback" George to go re-introduce himself to Mary, and they wind up getting married fairly soon thereafter---then they are leaving on their honeymoon sometime in 1932, not 1929!!! Notice that when George pulls Uncle Billy into the back office to ask what is going on there is a picture of Herbert Hoover on the wall, so we are being told it is sometime between 1929 and 1933. There is no other mention that a Depression or crash had already been going on, so it makes me wonder about the timeline, which is otherwise fairly meticulous, it seems.

Oh--one other incongruity I noticed just before the great final sequence. If they all wept on VJ Day (which was in mid-August 1945), and Harry Bailey is being decorated by the President -- let's presume for action near the end of the war -- then why is it Xmas Eve and the dead of winter in Bedford Falls? Maybe Truman was still decorating heroes in late December '45, I really don't know, but that one struck me as maybe being a little off, too.

Anyone else notice these? Obviously, they don't matter and do not mar this great film, but just stuck out a little upon viewing it tonight.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2009 10:43:25 PM PST
Doug Molitor says:
There were 1,450 bank failures in 1932. And Medals of Honor take a long time to vet and be awarded; in rare cases they took forty years or more. There is one definite timeline problem: Clarence says Harry Bailey died at the age of nine, even though his tombstone reads 1911-1919. But then, arithmetic was probably not Clarence's strong suit - remember Joseph says he has "the I.Q. of a rabbit."

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2009 5:48:35 AM PST
Thanks, Doug, for a most helpful, informative, and constructive response. Often, folks are uppity and rude in these comment threads, so I appreciate the elegant reply. I guess I had presumed they were trying to portray Black Friday, as the dialogue ("That has all the earmarks of a run") indicates that it is more or less the first time anyone has actually seen one, rather than something that had been going on for a few years already. Everyone in the town seems to have been carrying on rather routinely until that day, working & saving, donating generously to the newleywed's vacation fund, offering promising jobs in research to Harry Bailey, etc. Just before that, Hee Haw Sam advises them to get all their money together to invest in plastics. So, prior to the wedding, it seemed to me that things were more in the booming phase more so than sliding into the depths of the Great Depression in '32. Still, there are many ignorant presumptions I may be making in all this.

i Googled some material on bank failures in 1932 and found that the situation was deepening over the course of 1930-1933, with ongoing waves of public panic and bank failures, before a total collapse in '33. There were two major episodes in 1932, one in June that centered in Chicago, and a larger wave of closures towards the end of the year. So, yes, the Honeymoon-stopper could well have been in any of those years. It just seemed that this was a first in Bedford Falls, but how likely was that really, by that point in time?

Well, this is getting a bit thick for a Frank Capra movie, but it does look as though he and the screenwriters were attempting to recreate a sequence of events that had some basis in fact--a bit odd considering all of the fantasy and willing suspension of disbelief that underlies the central crisis & action of the film!!

Good catch on Harry Bailey's age, too! In 1919, George was 12, and when he comes back to work at Mr. Gower's after his ear heals, and we see the telegram about the death of Gower's son from influenza; the telegram is dated 1919, which was in the midst of the great post-WW1 flu epidemic, so that piece of the timeline holds together. George would be roughly 21 when his father died in 1928, about 25 if he got married in 1932, and about 38 at the time of the movie, just after WWII. Harry would have been about 34 at the time he got his Medal of Honor.

It is interesting that the action of the movie is closely tied to the 2 wars, an epidemic, an economic disaster, and a bout of suicidal despair. Other Capra films similarly feature suicide or desperate violence--Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds, and Mr. Smith coming to mind. The country, I think, was pretty traumatized within that 30-year window, and it is perhaps hard for us now to be in those particular historical shoes, those which the film's contemporary audience would have been wearing. But the film is very much about redemption, reclamation, and starting over--and what makes that kind of survival possible. Clearly, the film's statement is that relationships and interconnectedness--lined with lots of ready cash--are the key elements.

I was thinking that there may be some way to link the idea of George Bailey's altruistic "bail-out" to the more recent bail out, and that the act of the bail-out is somehow very American, not a Socialist innovation imported from Russian shores, as the rhetoric characterizes it.

Ol' Clarence, hare-brained though he may have been, certainly devised a clever, ingenious solution to George's problem, we must give him that! Perhaps it was his penchant for alcohol, seen in Nick's Place, that rattled his thinking capacities!!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 2, 2009 1:50:50 PM PST
R. Harding says:
Yeah. I also always wondered about the "rush" on the building and loan, but I attributed it to the fact that word got out that Uncle Billy lost the deposit of five thou. Could that be it?

Posted on Nov 2, 2009 2:13:28 PM PST
No, R. Harding, those are two separate incidents in the film. The run on the bank occurs in the middle of the film right after George gets married; Uncle Billy loses the money towards the end of the movie, before the whole final fantasy sequence. The loss of the money is a large part of what sets the whole thing in motion.

Posted on Nov 2, 2009 5:49:59 PM PST
A Customer says:
gotta have the edge

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 27, 2009 2:46:02 PM PST
HRS says:
Since Clarence was promoted to AF1 (Angel First Class), his duties have obviously kept him from clearing up any confusion with respect to the timeline of Harry Bailey's death had George not been born.

1. When George Bailey inquired how old Clarence was, he responded "293 years old, next May." During Clarence's earthly lifetime, it would have been common to colloquially refer to Harry's age as either "8 years old" or "in his ninth year". Clarence's utterance that Harry "broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine," could have meant "in his ninth year".

2. Let's say Harry was born 1-Jan-1911 and died 20-Dec-1919...he would have been less than 2 weeks from his ninth birthday. Angels always round up when it comes to age (this is evidenced by the manner in which Clarence refers to his own age.)

3. Remember that Clarence, as an angel, had a bit of heavenly perspective. In Heaven, earthly life begins and age is reckoned from time of conception, not birth -- that would put Harry "at the age of nine" when he died.

Merry Christmas, all!

Posted on Dec 12, 2009 4:13:29 PM PST
Kevin-94 says:
I always wondered, at the end, when Mary says to Mr. Martini "How about some wine?!" Is she offering him some, or is she expecting him to provide all her guests with free wine?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 25, 2009 6:13:12 AM PST
Jared Jones says:
Brilliant!!! Star Trekkian canon-worthy!!!

Thank you for a geeky, SciFi smile, this Christmas morn.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 10, 2010 11:46:23 AM PST
Uncle Billy lost 8K dollars.

Posted on Dec 13, 2010 2:12:42 PM PST
Paul Woodson says:
I always thought the wedding/bank collapse scene was 1929, too, until my wife & I caught the "Class of 1928" banner at the HS dance. We began asking questions.

Although the wedding day COULD have been in 1932, frankly, everybody's response seemed to be far too SURPRISED by the events transpiring for it to really be over 3 years since the great Collapse on Wall Street. I called "Error!" at first, but then considered that MAYBE the "Class of '28" banner was not to congratulate the graduates, but to WELCOME the incoming freshmen, meaning the dance really took place in 1925. That worked out fine in my mind, but then remembered that if George was 12 in 1919, when he saved Harry, he would only have been 18 in 1925, and we know he's older than that (about 22) because he graduated HS about 4 years ago, and Mary is 18 in that scene!

So I have to revert to the 1932 theory for the wedding/crash scene, but I HATE that, because as I said, the whole town (businesses, townspeople, etc.) seem taken completely aback by the turn of events! If the beginning of the crash had been 3 years previous, wouldn't everybody be expecting something like this already?

Anyway, good call, Harvey, and I wish the timeline were better thought out.

Posted on Dec 17, 2010 11:36:06 AM PST
T S says:
I have seen this picture over 15 times over the last 25 years and never tire of it. In fact, I see a new angle or detail each time, a sign of a growing appreciation that remains with anticipation until the next viewing. There probably isn't another film that exceeds my wonderment over the "sleeper" that Capra created and it leads me to wonder if he really knew what he had here.

The big picture/overall redemptive value of It's A Wonderful Life far overshadows any technical gaffs made by its creators. The somewhat serious existential question of one's self esteem and bottom-line worth as a person is an issue presented by Capra in a whimsical light. The concept is one which many may have entertained at some point in their lives -- what if I had never been born/it would be better if I had not been etc -- and one which stabs at the very root of the soul.

It is no wonder that this role is said to be one of Jimmy Stuart's favorites -- and that is quite a statement considering the varied and extensive career he had!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 21, 2010 8:00:44 PM PST
This is a great dsicussion string!

I just listened to the Lux Theater version of IAWL on CD--it was a 1946 radio show version of the movie with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. In there, they specifically mention that it was the bank run of 1932 that occurred George and Mary were leaving on their honeymoon. And as that radio show was airing, Stewart had just returned from a week of premieres for the film in Texas, so it was a contemporaneous production. In addition to shortening it to an hour (more like 40 minutes after the Lux soap commercials--ugh, at least after the first one), there are a few changes in there, like "Zuzu's petals" becomes "Zuzu's bell," to make things work a little better in the shortened time frame. I bet the mention of the year 1932 was meant to make it easier to understand what was happening. (But good points, Paul W. about the surprised townspeople.)

And tonight on SNL Christmas special, they had the "lost final reel" of IAWL, where Uncle Billy remembers that he gave the $8,000 to Potter and the townspeople go to his office and beat him. Classic!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2013 5:37:57 PM PST
Craig Walker says:
I believe she is asking Mr. Martini to provide wine to the guests who wish to partake. This goes along with the theme of everyone giving and being charitable to George & others on Christmas eve.

Posted on Dec 14, 2013 9:42:57 PM PST
Speaking of everyone being charitable to George, it also goes the other way. I hadn't noticed (or at least remembered) before watching it for maybe the 10th time in my life tonight how not only does George save 2 lives when he was a kid (his brother's and whoever would have received the poison that Mr. Gower mistakenly mixed at the pharmacy), and not only does he make virtually everyone in Bedford Falls' life better, but he also made Sam Wainright rich by his thinking up the idea for Sam's plastics company--and further, when he and Mary are sharing the phone, I never really paid attention to what he was saying to Sam, but he gives him some solid business advice on where to locate his factory. No wonder Dam authorized his office to wore George up to $10,000 (or whatever it was)--he owed his success to George. George Bailey really had the golden touch!

This movie is like an onion--you can keep peeling back layers. (Also, it always brings some tears to my eyes.)

Posted on Aug 2, 2014 8:03:13 AM PDT
Eric Edwards says:
My dad grew up in a small community. I sometimes learn about major news items that were happening when he was in jr. high to his high school days and he never learned about a few of them until I mentioned them to him and a time or two at least he would not even believe me. Back then the country and the world wasn't connected by a WEB some places were very insular and could more or less function by themselves. People from a certain age on can't seem to comprehend what was going on 80 years ago let alone 800.
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