I have lost count on how many times that I have actually seen this film. For years I would gather with family and friends and we would all watch this film, together. What is very unusual for this Christmas film is that none of this film actually takes place on the actual day itself. The last quarter of this film takes place on Christmas Eve.
The basic idea of this film is that, When is a man truly rich and how much one mans life can change those all around him. On this Christmas day we should all be asking ourselves that same question. What can we do to make it a better place and are we willing to do what is needed, like "George Bailey" does in this film?
Here is the entire plot of this film from Wikipedia and this has huge spoiler alerts all over it.
On Christmas Eve 1946, George Bailey is deeply depressed, even suicidal. Clarence Odbody, an Angel Second Class, is sent to Earth to save him — and thereby earn his wings. Joseph, the head angel, is told to review George's life with Clarence.
George as a boy (Bob Anderson) saved the life of his younger brother Harry from falling through ice — at the cost of the hearing in one ear; weeks later, George stopped his boss, local druggist Mr. Gower (H.B. Warner), from accidentally poisoning a child while grief-stricken over the death of his son (from influenza).
From childhood, George's greatest ambition has been to see the world and design bridges and skyscrapers. However, George repeatedly has to sacrifice his dreams for the well-being of the people of Bedford Falls. Four years older than Harry, he puts off going to college until Harry graduates from high school to take over the family business, the Bailey Building & Loan Association, essential to many of the disadvantaged in town. But on Harry's graduation night, as George discusses his future with his date Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) — who has had a crush on him since she was a little girl — his father suddenly has a stroke and dies. Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), a vicious slumlord, seizes the opportunity to gain control of the Board of Directors and decides to end the "sentimental hogwash" of home loans for the working poor. George persuades the board members to stop Potter; they agree, but only on condition that George himself run the business. George stays.
Harry goes on to college, but George's hopes of leaving Bedford Falls upon his return are dashed once again when Harry unexpectedly brings home a new wife. Her father has offered Harry a job in his company too good to turn down. Although Harry offers to do precisely that to help his brother, George cannot bring himself to ruin his brother's prospects.
George's mother conspires to set George up with Mary, despite her having a boyfriend — Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson), an insouciant friend of George working in New York City, who has the catchphrase "Hee haw!" — and George and Mary do eventually get married. On their wedding day, George and Mary witness a run on the bank that leaves the Building & Loan in serious danger. Potter, sensing another opportunity, offers George's clients "50 cents on the dollar", but George & Mary decide to use their honeymoon cash to lend the townspeople what they need to quell the panic until their funds are restored. Later, Mary (with the aid of cabbie Ernie and Bert the cop) concocts an elaborate mock honeymoon in their new house.
George then starts up Bailey Park, an affordable housing project, with bar owner Martini and his family as the first homeowners. They and the other residents are rescued from paying high rents in Potter's Field; Potter grouses that their homes "are worth twice what [they] cost... to build." Potter tries to derail the competition by tempting George with a job at eight times his current salary, but George realizes that Potter is trying to bribe him and vehemently rejects the offer.
Over the next several years, George and Mary raise a growing family. When World War II erupts, George is unable to enlist due to his bad ear. Harry becomes a Navy pilot and is awarded the Medal of Honor for shooting down 15 enemy aircraft, including two kamikaze planes that were about to crash into a Navy troop transport.
On Christmas Eve, while on his way to deposit $8,000 for the Building & Loan, Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) encounters Mr. Potter and, bursting with pride, shows him the newspaper article about his nephew, about to be honored by the President. Absentmindedly, he leaves the deposit envelope with the $8,000 in the folds of the newspaper; Potter discovers it later in his office and keeps it. That day, the bank examiner is to inspect the Building & Loan's records; George discovers Billy's mistake and becomes unhinged while searching town for the money. Returning home, George sees his whole life as a massive failure and meaningless sacrifice. In desperation, George tells Potter that he has misplaced the $8,000, and appeals to him for a loan to rescue the company. Potter, knowing that Uncle Billy has actually misplaced the money, reacts with subtle surprise to George's admission. Potter turns George down and, smirking, insults him. Later, George crashes his car into a tree during a snowstorm and runs to a nearby bridge, intending to commit suicide. Before George can leap in, however, Clarence the angel jumps into the water. After a shocked George saves him, Clarence reveals himself to be George's guardian angel and pleads to help him.
George bitterly wishes he had never been born. Clarence then shows him what the town would have been like if George had never existed. Bedford Falls is called Pottersville and is mostly a slum with Main Street dominated by pawn shops and sleazy bars. Bailey Park was never built; the land is part of a desolate cemetery. George's home remains a run-down, abandoned mansion. George sees the people he knows and loves, but in this alternative world, none of them recognize him and their lives are hard and grim. His mother is a widow running a boarding house, and Mary is a spinster librarian; both are lonely, embittered women. Uncle Billy has been in an insane asylum for years, while Harry is dead, since George was not around to save him when he fell through the ice. Consequently, the men Harry would have saved in the war have also perished. Violet is a dancer who gets arrested as a pickpocket. Mr. Gower was convicted of poisoning the child and is reduced to panhandling. Martini no longer owns the bar. Ernie and Bert, although still friends, are much darker characters, and think George is insane when he claims to know them.
George returns to the bridge and calls upon Clarence and God to let him live again. His prayer is answered and George is returned to the moment he met Clarence. George runs home, filled with a new appreciation of what he has accomplished. There, he finds that his friends and family have collected a huge amount of money to save George and the Building & Loan from scandal and ruin. Seeing how many lives he has touched, and the difference he has made to the town (and having helped Clarence earn his wings), George Bailey realizes that despite his problems, he "really had a wonderful life".
To me it has always been the perfect Christmas film. Its a film about love, hope, honor and ultimately a mans' salvation. We are shown this one man "George Bailey", we are shown all of the stops in his life that made him into what he is today. It has not been easy and on the eve of Christmas, he is about to be thrown into jail for allegedly stealing $8,000 from his Building & Loan.
Then we are shown what the world would be without this one man. It is a darker and a more harsher place because for all of his so called bad works, he really did a lot to save this town and in the end the town saves him.
So if you are looking for a film to watch on this special day, then please gather with your friends and your expat family here in Korea and try and see "It's a Wonderful Life"