December 18, 2019

Recast It's a Wonderful Life? It's about time!


Since we went about reimagining one Christmas classic last week, why not take on another one this week? After all, for many people, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without watching It's a Wonderful Life on TV. I'm not one of those people—there's something about the dimwittedness of George Bailey that irritates the hell out of me. (And I like Jimmy Stewart!) I mean, sometimes you just want to grab him by the shoulders and slap him: “Don’t you get it, man? Clarence is an Angel! When he tells you that you don't exist in this world, believe him!” Until NBC mercifully stepped in a few years ago and obtained exclusive TV rights to the movie, one lived under the constant threat that someday they would find It's a Wonderful Life airing on every station, a kind of Orwellian nightmare that could turn even the biggest Christmas fan away from the Yuletide season forever. It's humbug, I tell you (keeping in the spirit of things).

I'll admit, as I always do, that I could be wrong about this; judging by the number of people who cite the movie as their favorite, I probably am.* So I've had to live with its presence; we even own it on DVD, though I don't think we've ever watched it. It just seemed somehow sacrilegious to not have it. But think of how dull life would be if had the same tastes and liked the same things?

*Of course, I have my own favorite, as I've mentioned before.

With that in mind, a few years ago I started thinking about how the movie might be saved, or at least made more palatable for people like me to watch. And then the answer came: remake the movie as a buddy picture with George and Clarence being played by a famous comedy team! Now, adaptations of It's a Wonderful Life have been done many, many times, probably as often as A Christmas Carol—after all, what better way to show someone the value of their life by demonstrating how different the world would have been without them? But unlike Carol, nobody has ever tried to actually remake the original story with the original characters; instead, they invariably try to shoehorn it into a program's existing cast or storyline, and that misses much of the story's character.

I realize that the Frank Capra estate probably has some kind of firewall constructed to prevent such an action, but at this website we live in world where pretty much anything can happen, restricted not by the laws of man but the creativity of the writer. So why not this? Let's see what might happen if we recast the two leads, and let their chemistry carry the rest. Herewith, a half-dozen suggestions for comedy teams that might be able to pull it off, and the relationships on which their performances would be based:

1. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (Jeeves and Wooster)
I think this might be my favorite of all the variations. Laurie, who's been in way better shows than House, would be perfect in adapting his well-meaning but bumbling Bertie Wooster to the uncomprehending George, while Fry, who was simply unflappable as the faithful valet Jeeves, would be a stellar Clarence. Fry and Laurie are always wonderful together, and it would be terrific seeing them take on this pair.

2. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope (The "Road" movies)
Another thought that makes me smile. With Crosby as the cool, hip Clarence and Hope as the neurotic George, these two could give Wonderful Life a well-needed facelift. "C'mon, Junior, don't you get it?" Crosby/Clarence says. "You were never even hatched from the egg." Bonus points for casting Dorothy Lamour as Mary, and Joan Collins as Violet.

3. Jackie Gleason and Art Carney (The Honeymooners)
This one makes me laugh out loud. Imagine the look on Gleason's face when he finds out that his guardian angel is Ed Norton! You know, the expression that says, "Why didn't you just let me die back there?" And Clarence saying, "Georgie boy, you don't wanna be living down in the sewers with me." The more I think about it, the better it fits.

4. Tony Randall and Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple)
Or Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, if you prefer; either way, it works wonderfully. "George, George, George," Felix/Clarence says sadly, "you've made such a messy life for yourself. But just imagine if you'd never been born in the first place?" One drawback: Clarence's loud honking from his sinus condition after he and George are pulled from the freezing water.

5. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (all their movies together)
Two scenes describe it all: Lewis/George falling to pieces when he finally figures out the truth of what Martin/Clarence is showing him, and the scene in Potterville where George runs after the spinster Mary: "Lady!  Hey, Laaaady!" To which Clarence, with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, replies, "Pally, you got a lot of learnin' to do."

6. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (Sherlock)
Not one you'd immediately think of, but then, why not? Could anyone be more precise, logical and irritating than Sherlock Holmes as Clarence? Not only would he demonstrate that George was now living in an alternate world, but he'd go on to explain exactly how it had all happened. Of course, you'd still have to explain how he and George survived going over  Reichenbach Falls. Andrew Scott (Moriarity) makes a cameo appearance as Mr. Potter.

See how easy it is? (I imagine it'll become the latest at all the office parties.) There are other options, of course: Charles Grodin and Robert DeNiro (Midnight Run, and wouldn't that be dark?) or Peter Falk and Alan Arkin (The In-Laws), but you get the idea. I'm willing to stake my reputation that any one of these combos would make for a better movie than the original. Well, maybe that's being a little presumptious, but you'd have to agree that at least it would be a different one. And I'd be only too happy to see if you can come up with some others. TV  


  1. Excellent satire, Mitchell. How about an SCTV version with Dr Tongue with Bruno as Clarence. Or Johnny LaRue finally wishing and getting the Christmas Eve crane shot from angel Vic Hedges?

  2. How about Peter Cook & Dudley Moore,?


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!