Wendell Jamieson has a terrifically contrarian take in the NYT on the great, sugar-sweet tear-jerker, "It's a Wonderful Life." Jamieson has loved the movie ever since his teacher showed it one day after school in 1981. But the reasons he considers it such a classic are not especially sentimental.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.
He also picks up on a hilariously unintended consequence that becomes apparent after watching the movie so many times. It's the part that has George Bailey (James Stewart) seeing what his bucolic - and quite boring - town of Bedford Falls would look like if he had never been born. You know the part: Bedford Falls is replaced by Pottersville, a nightclub-filled haven for showgirls and gamblers.
Here’s the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking.
Not only is Pottersville cooler and more fun than Bedford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring manufacturing to Bedford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Wonderful Life” manufacturing in upstate New York has suffered terribly. On the other hand, Pottersville, with its nightclubs and gambling halls, would almost certainly be in much better financial shape today. It might well be thriving. I checked my theory with the oft-quoted Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy at New York University, and he agreed, pointing out that, of all the upstate counties, the only one that has seen growth in recent years has been Saratoga.