- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2000

At this time of year, VCRs and television broadcasts hum and glow with Frank Capra's classic "It's a Wonderful Life."

The film stars Jimmy Stewart as the dejected chief of a threatened savings and loan who is on the verge of taking his own life when an angel intervenes and reveals to him the positive contributions his life has made to others.

This lead character, George Bailey, returns to his home in Bedford Falls to find that the town has rallied at Christmastime to make good the money lost on an errand by his absent-minded Uncle Billy. This keeps the Baileys' savings and loan out of the clutches of that avaricious old villain, Mr. Potter.

It is surely heart-warming, and now a staple of holiday viewing.

However, some recently discovered film director's notes suggest a possible story line quite distinct from the now well-known version. Piecing it all together produces a rather more cautionary, even quite jaundiced, alternative to "It's a Wonderful Life." The prevailing theory of cinema experts regarding this alternate version is that it was merely some film student's project to redo the classic in the light of contemporary cynicism. Here's what happens:

George Bailey indeed entrusts a pixilated Uncle Billy with $10,000, which he promptly loses somewhere in Mr. Potter's bank. Yes, scheming old Mr. Potter spots the money, realizes its origin and holds it in secret while weighing whether to return it straightaway and rescue a foundering company he covets or hold on to it at least a while (perhaps for keeps).

George still winds up in a delirium on the bridge, in a snowstorm, contemplating a fatal plunge. Suddenly a besotted Clarence arrives, muttering bromides about things not being "all that bad."

At first thinking himself accosted, George angrily thrusts the stranger away from him, squeaking: "Money. It's all about money." Clarence drunkenly assumes he is being robbed and hands over a wallet containing thousands.

George finds his problem is "miraculously" solved by the intervention of a generous "angel," who stumbles off into the night.

But before George makes the deposit to save the S&L;, the townsfolk turn out at his home and present him with another $10,000. What to do? Later, learning that the S&L; has been saved from going belly-up and seeking to ingratiate himself with George in order to further his own plan to acquire the thrift, Mr. Potter discreetly returns the $10,000 he found.

George secretly deposits $10,000 in a Swiss bank account. Upon spotting a dejected Clarence in a bar, George hears about the loss of a wallet to a stranger on the bridge, and how a large sum of money took wings. Clarence seems not to recognize George, who realizes the true shape of things in his earlier delirium.

George decides to cover his tracks by helping Clarence recover his wallet. The two return to the bridge. While Clarence is distracted, George secretes the wallet in the snow and scatters several hundred dollars around. He calls Clarence over, who is elated to have recovered less than a tenth of all he had lost. He offers, and George accepts, a $50 reward.

George now has enough to repay the townsfolks' money and $10,000 deposited in Switzerland.

But George either learns not at all or only too well: The next year, he returns Uncle Billy to the bank. And another deposit is "lost." The town shaking its head ("again?") about poor, old forgetful Uncle Billy, and suspicious of the Potter bank, makes up the loss once more. This time they decide to raise the money through a Town Council special property-tax assessment "for the public good."

A puzzled Potter grills his staff about the "missing" cash, even cane-rapping and threatening to dismiss his chief clerk.

In a board meeting, Potter rails that George Bailey is out to ruin his reputation through imputed theft by creating situations where Uncle Billy loses money at the Potter bank: "Why else would anyone entrust such sums to that doddering fool? Once is perhaps a mistake bad business. But twice? It's diabolical, I say. Diabolical."

Mr. Potter finally offers to extend a line of interest-free credit in the full amount, as a "good-will gesture." He later forgives a portion of the repayment to allay growing distrust and harassment against him in the town. At least it stops the pile-up of parking tickets on his horse-drawn coach, and the breaking of his bank's windows.

With all this good will, George Bailey's Swiss bank account and the S&L; both prosper.

In the meantime, George helps "well-connected" strangers from Manhattan build homes and commercial buildings in Bedford Falls. Be-bop clubs and racketeering operations including prostitution and gambling begin to flourish and debauch the town. The crusty moralizer Potter tries to stem the flood but is swept aside.

After about five years, while on a trip to Europe, George, Mary and the kids decide to remain abroad for good, settling into a nice business of handling currency transactions and sales of art "acquired" during the war. The S&L; is left in the care of Uncle Billy.

Eventually, after some bad loans to shadowy parties, Uncle Billy drives the S&L; into the ground and sells the shell to Potter. This puts Potter on his back financially. But he is "rescued" by the mysterious "new money" interests, of which he becomes the principal captive and cat's paw. Uncle Billy vanishes without trace. Rumors of suicide, or wandering dementia, circulate in the town.

But one day Clarence, back from a tour in Europe, tells the crowd at the renamed Fat Chance Bar & Casino that he was sure he spotted his old "benefactor" George Bailey on a posh street in Madrid. There George was, with wife Mary, leaving Generalissimo Franco's lavish holiday levee accompanied by a retinue of polished former German officers and glittering celebrities.

Clarence said he could have sworn that in the midst of them all dressed to the nines and squinting into the bright Spanish sunlight was Uncle Billy, big as life in shiny wing-tipped shoes.

The revised script closed with this message: "The poor have no monopoly of virtue and the rich no monopoly of greed."

Benjamin P. Tyree is deputy editor of the Commentary pages of The Washington Times and is the author of the above spoof.

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