December 21, 2022

Who's Wonderful Life is it, anyway?

A few years ago, I got into the habit of writing vaguely humorous, Christmas-themed pieces that were even more eccentric than the usual content here. One year, it was imagining "A Christmas Carol" as an episode of The Twilight Zone; another time I speculated on recasting It's a Wonderful Life with various comedy teams in the roles of George Bailey and his guardian angel, Clarence; I got two stories out of Miracle on 34th Street, beginning with Fred Gailey as the Mystery Guest on What's My Line; and a few years later looking at proposals for various series concepts based on Fred's life after Miracle.

This year, it's a return to the world of Bedford Falls. Believe it or not, although it's almost impossible to imagine anyone else as George Bailey, the always-reliable Wikipedia says both Cary Grant and Henry Fonda were, at various times, considered for the role. Needless to say, it would have been quite a different movie with someone else, so we thought it would be interesting to speculate on what a dozen or so alternate versions of It's a Wonderful Life might have looked like, and how they would have appeared in the pages of TV Guide. 

To Catch George Bailey
Having been falsely convicted of theft from the Bailey Savings and Loan, George Bailey (Cary Grant) escapes after the train taking him to prison derails. With the help of his beautiful wife Mary (Grace Kelly), Bailey attempts to recover the money by breaking into the French villa of the real culprit, international thief Le Noir Potter (Martin Landeau) while being relentlessly pursued by the police detective obsessed with his capture (John Williams). Hitchcock cameos as a gargoyle.

Twelve Angry Bankers
When sinister financier H. F. Potter (Orson Welles) attempts a hostile takeover of Bailey S&L following the sudden and unexpected death of the CEO, the CEO's son, George (Henry Fonda), must try to convince the other eleven men on the bank's board of directors to reject Potter's offer. Initially Bailey is the only member to oppose the offer and, one by one, he attempts to sway the votes of the others. Co-stars Milton Berle, Alan Hale Jr., Sid Melton.

Genesee Blvd.
Savings and loan president George Bailey (William Holden) is found floating face down in an icy river, having apparently jumped to his death from the bridge. In flashbacks narrated by Bailey, we see the events that led to his death, involving his wife Mary (Barbara Stanwyck), mistress Violet (Jane Greer), alcoholic partner Bill (Edmund O'Brien) and hedge fund manager Henry Potter (Vincent Price). Meanwhile, Lieutenant Bert (Ray Collins) is determined to get to the truth. 

The Bailey Syndrome: A Space Odyssey
After returning from the first manned mission to Mars, astronaut George Bailey (Keir Dullea) discovers neither his wife (Peggie Castle), mother (Gladys Cooper) or anyone else in his hometown has any memory of who he is. Suspicious that his flight has somehow altered history, he consults astrophysicist Sam Wainwright (Roy Thinnes), who tells Bailey he believes his ship's computer, P.O.T.T.E.R. (voice of James Earl Jones) has something to do with it.

The Best Years of Bedford Falls
Returning from World War II, Army veteran George Bailey (Dana Andrews) finds that everything has changed in his hometown of Bedford Falls. Now being run by the mob, led by gangster Potter (Edward G. Robinson), the town has turned into a haven for brothels and gambling tables. Bailey hopes to clean up the town with the help of his old friend, alcoholic Police Chief William (Dan Duryea), and former flame Mary (Gene Tierney). 

Life at Point Blank Range
After having been imprisoned on trumped-up embezzlement charges, a bitter George Bailey (Lee Marvin) returns to his former home of Bedford Falls, determined to seek revenge against those responsible for putting him in prison: his ex-wife Mary (Jessica Walter), his former partner Bill (Henry Silva), and syndicate head Potter (Richard Widmark). Along the way, he reunites with an ex-con friend (Lee Van Cleef) and his former sister-in-law (Angie Dickinson).

The Manchurian Bailey Brother
Relying on a deathbed confession from an alcoholic pharmacist (Dean Martin), intelligence officer George Bailey (Frank Sinatra) races against time to thwart a plot to assassinate President Henry Potter (Raymond Massey). The assassin? Bailey's brother Harry (Laurence Harvey), a Medal of Honor winner who was unknowingly brainwashed by the Chicoms to kill every time an angel gets its wings. Mary: Janet Leigh. Wo Fat: Victor Buono.

Do Not Forsake Me Oh George Bailey
George Bailey (Gary Cooper) finds himself standing alone against the villainous Hank Potter (Kirk Douglas) for control of Bailey's hometown after the rest of the town's citizens desert him. When even George's wife Mary (Patricia Neal) urges him to give up the fight and let Potter win, Bailey knows he has only one choice left to him and calls out Potter to shoot it out on Genesee Street at high noon. John Wayne makes a cameo appearance as the town's marshal.

Tommy Tune's Wonderful Life
After winning a local dance contest, teens George and Mary (Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland) head to New York, hoping to make it on Broadway with the backing of their friend Sam (Oscar Levant), who's just made a fortune in plastics. Their big break arrives when Potter (Bob Fosse), a famous impresario, takes an interest in them—provided Mary's willing to visit his casting couch. Gwen Verdon, Twiggy. Sammy Davis Jr. appears as himself. Delightful songs by Allan Sherman. 

Die Wonderfully Hard
When his ex-wife Mary (Sigourney Weaver) is taken hostage during a terrorist attack at the Bailey Savings and Loan Christmas party, George Bailey (Bruce Willis) attempts to free those trapped inside from the villainous Potter Meinhof Gang and its leader (Christoph Waltz), unaware that Mary already has the situation under control. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Charlize Theron, and Chris Elliot. Fantastic special effects.

The Seventh Day of Christmas
Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece. A weary knight, Sir George of Bedford (Max von Sydow) returns from the Crusades and enters into a chess match with the black-robed Potter (Bo Svenson) for the soul of his village's citizens. The penalty if he loses? Death. Olympic star Sonja Henie appears in the skating scene. Mary: Scarlett Johansson. Clarence: Dolph Lundgren. Violet: Inger Stevens. Uncle Bill: Viggo Mortensen. Shown with subtitles. Viewer discretion advised.

The problem with Hollywood today is that too many decision-makers are afraid to think outside the box. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I think any of these movies would be a cinch to join the Christmas canon. They didn't happen, but they could have, couldn't they?  TV  


  1. These are fantastic! Have a great Christmas.

    1. You should see what next year's is going to be like! Thanks, Bob--you as well!

  2. Having Orson Welles play Potter is inspiring casting, given that Welles played Potter in the 1977 gender-flipped version, "It Happened One Christmas". In this version, Marlo Thomas played Mary Bailey Hatch, Wayne Rogers played her eventual husband, George Hatch (Mary & George swapped last names.), and Cloris Leachman played Mary's guardian angel, "Clara Oddbody". I remember seeing this version (It was an ABC Sunday night movie from 1977.) before I saw "It's a Wonderful Life", which I think I saw just a few weeks later. I think the original version worked a lot better.

  3. I like your reimaginings but have to confess that I've so far escaped seeing It's A Wonderful Life 😳

    1. I'll admit that although I have the DVD, I haven't watched it in many years, and I might only have seen the whole movie through a couple of times. It doesn't happen to be my cup of tea, but I'll grant it's status as an all-time favorite of many. Everyone should probably see it once. Merry Christmas!

  4. Fantastic TV related parody, Mitchell! FYI, virtually every city in upstate New York has a "Genesee St", named for the river south of Rochester. The Genesee region was prime settler location for post-Revolutionary soldiers and families who were given land grants, hence the "Genesee Turnpike" built to go from Albany to Buffalo. (And the name of a locally famous beer...)

  5. How about "Scenes From George Bailey's Marriage" starring Martin Short playing Jerry Lewis playing George Bailey (a la SCTV).

    1. Now that is absolutely brilliant! I'm not even ashamed that I didn't think of it, because that takes true genius! Merry Christmas!

  6. Thanks, Mitchell and Happy 2023! Martin Short could plug in his Jerry impersonation into virtually any movie parody a la "Scenes From An Idiot's Marriage"...we could do an entire website on the possibilities. And as always, thank you for this website that is a labor of love that we all enjoy weekly. AFL forever...

    1. Yes! Boy, do I wish there were more broadcasts of their games available.

      Thanks as always for the kind words and for all your comments. Happy New Year!


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