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What makes "It's A Wonderful Life" so special?

(Or, "Whatever happened to Mary Hatch?")
A work in progress...

There are a couple of segments at the bottom I will work in or include in a proper organization of this page:
After reading "In Search of Donna Reed" and,
The Rest of The Story, why there is no sequel, and why there is no other movie with "George and Mary" after this one.

A re-awakening
I saw "It's a Wonderful Life" for the first time as an adult recently, you know that sappy flop (not) that just happens to be one of the most watched Christmas movies after SIXTY YEARS? What I saw was not what I remembered seeing. I replayed the scenes that seemed to have such a magical effect on me, most of them also just happened to have Mary Hatch/Bailey in them. I replayed them in slow motion and even stepped through some of them frame by frame.  What I began to realize caused me to wonder how I could have missed all this before. Almost all of the really special things I feel about this movie have to do with Donna Reed. Yes Jimmy Stewart was good, but it was only against the backdrop of Donna Reed's Mary that I believe he became great in this role.

I realized that I had never really noticed Donna Reed before, other than that she was different from what I'd heard about her. My dad didn't watch the Donna Reed show, so it was never on. I never really noticed her in anything else, except maybe for glimpses of the TV show.  After watching the young Miss Reed closely in It's a Wonderful Life I find it hard to believe that she was only offered bland squeaky clean roles afterward. I can't imagine that no one could have seen the things I now see in this movie, and in Donna Reed's character Mary Hatch. She is just such a foxy lady in this-even given the standards of the day. Her eyes and facial expressions show a fun, playful spirit that she seems to be well aware is a contradiction to the prim and proper front Mary presents to the world. Although she won her Academy Award for the role of Alma in  From Here to Eternity in the role of a prostitute toned down, it was really only the outward image of the role that was so different. The major difference was in the clothes and that she was more edgy, was allowed to be more wild. I don't think she showed any fire or spark I hadn't seen in her as Mary, she just wasn't as polite. As for steamy attractiveness, Alma can't hold a candle to sweet little Mary!

I must assume that everyone here has seen this, so this is not so much a spoiler as a bit of a guide. These are just some of the things that I saw In IAWL that I'd never noticed before. Perhaps I imagine that some these are things that Capra might have used to flesh out the characters in the minds of the actors so that they could better perform a scene. These are mostly just things that I would imagine that some of the characters would have known, and that would have explained why they did and said and felt the ways they did at certain points. If the actors didn't know these things, it looked like they did to me.

"I'll Love you till the day I die"
After a few viewings of a library copy of the original RKO DVD, I pulled up a site listing a few "bloopers." As I searched parts of the film for these and began to add some of my own, I also began to study some of the scenes for nuances and little things you can't see at full speed. In slow motion and frame by frame I George Bailey, I'll love you till the day I die.couldn't read the labels in Mr. Gowers Drug Store, but I saw the tape on the counter that showed young George and Mary where to be when he bends down to get her ice cream and she whispers in his bad ear that she will love him till the day she dies. Notice that he is the only one in his gang that has a job at the age of twelve. It was no accident that she was in Gowers Drug store that day. She was in awe of the boy who would like coconuts only because of where they came from. He was honored to be able to taste something from so far away, and she should be too! He might be willing to help her learn to appreciate such things-but she would have to keep up. When he sees the telegram he is putting coconut on her ice cream without a further word about it. He didn't haveShe gets coconuts. time for foolish or helpless women, and is not a sucker for their charms.
Mary knows long before we meet her that George Bailey is everything she wants in a mate. At eight years old she has already been keeping her eye on this friend of her brother's who is so sure of himself. No mention is ever made of her father, and her mother's name is alone on the mailbox. Perhaps his confidence and determination caught her eye. His leadership of his gang is without discussion or contention, he was someone who naturally takes charge and others naturally follow him.

It is Georges compassion for others that is actually struggling against the wanderlust that drives him. After seeing the telegram, most people -especially 12 year old boys, wouldn't think to try to comfort an angry grieving man who is well on his way to being drunk. His compassion is what put him in the back room in time to realize that Mr. Gower had read the old label and filled the prescription from a bottle he had apparently reused. It could have been something as simple as boric acid he used for rat and mouse control. Notice his deep respect for the drunken Mr. Gower. His dilemma is not what to do, but how to do it without being disrespectful. Compare that to his reaction to Potter's degrading treatment of his father. While Potter is feared, he is not respected. Young George goes so far as to physically demonstrate the difference by pushing Potter as he is ushered out. Potter is nothing more than a bully to George Bailey.

These character traits have not gone unnoticed by the two girls who vie for his attention through the years. Violet certainly likes him, and she looks up to him in a Young Mary cries for George.way similar to Mary, only Violet seems to seek his approval more than anything permanent and will happily go out and share her candy with other boys. Mary will savor her ice cream with George alone (she would share it with him, but wouldn't dare to ask, yet...). She is willing to go anywhere with him and has complete confidence that she will be happy. Stepping through the scant seconds of little eight year old Mary wincing in reaction to him being beaten by a drunk Mr. Gower is proof that she is sincere in her promise. The way she jumps with the impacts as if struck herself, the trace of tears in her eyes, the dimpling of her chin are evidence of the feelings she has for him that will only grow with time. When the angels discuss how George never told a soul about the near tragedy that day, enduring the blows that may have actually finished off that ear, no mention is made of how Mary heard it all and apparently never even told George that she had, but it was added to the accumulating weight of her prayers for him over the years. That such care was taken to show a sensible, empathetic, and caring Mary as a child in this one scene is evidence of the quality of this film.

"I want a BIG ONE!"
Who is that looking in the window?
The next time we see George he is ready to go exploring. As he stands there telling Joe how big a suitcase he will need, I watched the man unloading the truck across the street, the traffic driving past, and the people walking by the shop on the street outside. At one point two women pass from right to left. The one closest to us seems to be paying a lot of attention to George, seeming to be pointing him out to her older looking companion. I can't help but wonder if that is Mary Hatch walking with a friend to pick up her dress for that night?

The last Supper
george turns his back on his dad. The "Last meal at the Bailey Boarding House" scene is one that is profoundly sad for me. Peter Bailey is getting tired and seems to realize that he can't protect his people from Potter much longer. He has weighed the hopes and dreams of his son against the needs of an entire town and sees it to be a sacrifice worth making. He evidently does not see in Harry the same abilities and fundamental concern for people that he knows George possesses. He won't try to force him into taking over at the B&L, but he can't see how it will survive otherwise. He knows Potter will easily crush his brother and only the qualities of leadership that would make George such a success at following his own dreams will be enough. George decides to go to the dance as a way of not prolonging what is a very uncomfortable impasse: He doesn't yet understand the importance of what his father does in a way strong enough to counter his restless spirit. As he is about to leave we see the signs of utter hopelessness that his father will struggle with into the night.

The Charleston
The "Charleston Dance Contest" scene is one of the most memorable of the entire film, and is a turning point. Gloria Grahame's Violet seems genuinely upset when Marty steals George away from her to dance with his kid sister, she is able to guess that she won't be able to get him back! But, her happy-go-lucky nature is once again revealed if we look over the shoulders of the crowd, by the time George sees Mary, Violet is hugging and laughing with Sam. Notice that Marty is well aware that a dance with George will give Mary "the thrill of her life." While George may not have been so aware of Mary as they were growing up, she was his close friend's little sister. Marty may not have taken her seriously, but her feelings for George were something he saw every day. I can imagine her volunteering to go find Marty because he was always with George, and the rest of the gang. Sam says "Momma wants you, Marty. Momma wants you, Marty.", like it was something they heard a lot! Poor little Mary, George may not have noticed passing her on the street "almost every day", but she sure noticed him!

A stunt woman or stand-in is mentioned for Donna, and I assumed it would be for the fall into the swimming pool-or maybe for the dancing, so I spent some time looking to see if I could see. Jimmy and Donna would not have been expected to take the fall-too much risk for a major player, but they did look to fall onto something before the switch. I saw that Donna did all of her own dancing, with a clowning Jimmy Stewart next to her. During the series of dance steps that resembled "strolling" back and forth before the plunge, she looked to be very light on her feet. She may not have been a trained dancer, but she didn't look half bad to me. Actually, she looked great! I saw a Donna Reed at 25 who is simply lovely. She is so natural throughout the film, but given the nature of this scene she looked totally at ease and seemed to be really having the time of her life. She looked like she was only aware that she was dancing with the man she loved. It seemed effortless.

Lasso The Moon
Even if a stunt woman took the initial plunge, it is Donna in the pool immediately after, and she is having a blast with a clowning Jimmy Stewart. Despite the corniness of the "Lasso the Moon" Scene it shows more of the seemingly flawless interaction between Stewart and Reed that would have made a sequel and other films together truly special. It is important to remember here that he has had no idea that Mary is seriously interested in him, except for the usual little flirts and such of a little girl. The remark that Marty makes at the dance is taken as an exaggeration most likely. Mary, on the other hand has spent most of her life dreaming about hugging and kissing and marrying George Bailey. That he has not really noticed her as a potential mate has likely resulted in many sad nights for her. This is also something her brother would be aware of, and may be part of the cause of her mothers disgust with him four years later. He has suddenly been made aware of changes in her that he is having a bit of trouble ignoring. He probably thought well of her all along and liked her as Marty's little sister, but never thought about her beyond that. Even in the drug store scene earlier it is easy to see the more aggressive way he reacts to Violets advances: "Help you down!?" But then how he turns to Mary ands almost tenderly asks if she's "...made up her mind yet?" His thoughts of any girls have obviously been in continuous competition with his dreams of getting away, but he sees in Mary more of a kindred spirit. He is excited about going to college, but ignoring what he is feeling for her this night is not something he is able to do. He does try to distance himself a bit when he says "You, you look wonderful! You know, if it wasn't me talking I'd say you were the prettiest girl in town." While she may not be the most beautiful, Mary is most likely the most attractive. The only time I have seen her look any cuter was in the candid photo of her studying her script in the "It's a Wonderful Life" book, also in a bathrobe it seems.

You can see that she is very happy to hear this, but she coyly tries to get him to commit himself just a little bit more with:
"Well, why don't you say it?" She is on top of the world now! Watch how she begins to swing the belt of her robe around with her left hand as she walks. This night has definitely taken on new meaning for her! Now, George is still coming to terms with his friend's little sister who is suddenly not so little any more. His character is 22 I believe at this point, and this young lady was a little girl to him what seems only a few days before. This is evident in his stumbling over his thoughts about her looking older "without your clothes on" oops, "...without a dress on." oops! He is saved when he steps on the belt of her bathrobe which she has dropped by now and has been dragging. She exposes an enticing bit of bare leg to us but not to him before chastely clutching the robe around herself. She then feigns royalty by requesting "my train, please," extending her hand. He drapes "her caboose" over her outstretched arm and she rewards him with "You may kiss my hand." I don't know about you, but if I were him I would have done it. Once you start kissing body parts it is only bound to get better. Mary does this innocently enough, but I think she already knows this and is allowing him to start off slow. Once he has her hand, though the sparks have already started to fly and it's as if he is aware for the first time that he is "alone" with a beautiful girl that he really does like a lot and suddenly can see the possibilities. She is not quite ready to lose control of the situation right there on the street, as she does have a reputation to protect. She may have resigned herself to waiting him out up to the point that he showed up at the dance and approached her. Now that she has gotten his attention she is counting on being pursued, but we already know that she does not plan on getting away! Watch her face and eyes. I love how she slowly starts to sing and walk away while it is obvious she does not really want to. Maybe her thinking is more like "not here!"

Hatful of Wishes vs One heartfelt wish
He counters her very light resistance by reverting to boyish bravado using the "watch me throw a rock at the old house trick."  This is similar to the way he "wishes he had a million dollars" on the the cigar lighter and shouts "hot dog!" if it lights the first time as if it is a sure sign it will come true. She resists this silliness because she really does have plans for this old house and the more glass missing, the more damage she will have to repair later. She has been dreaming of this possibly since before that day in Gowers Drug store.  He breaks the glass and she asks what he wished for. It's not that she believes that it is any more likely to come true now than before, but she really wants to know what he would wish for if he thought he would get it. As he begins to elaborately detail his plans for his life, you can see in her face that she is becoming increasingly uneasy. It is as if the confidence and cocky self assured nature that she was in such awe of as a little girl is giving power to the "whole hat full" of wishes he is proclaiming. Almost in self-defense she suddenly bends and picks up her own rock. She closes her eyes and makes a wish that is probably more like a prayer, then throws her "counter wish" rock with surprisingly deadly accuracy. While he had boldly shared his plans for the future, she slowly walks away starting a new verse of "Buffalo Gals" with a self satisfied look on her face when he asks what she wished for. As they finish the chorus in harmony once more he sings: "What'd-you-wish-when-you-threw-that-roooock?" to the last note in the song. Suddenly he realizes that he has stirred up something in her. He is planning on leaving right away, but he's genuinely interested in what she suddenly had a such a intense desire to wish for. Maybe he realizes that he doesn't want to say goodbye all of a sudden? While I definitely think that she intends to become much more to him than Marty's kid sister before this night is over, she was not about to expose her fragile hope that he would include a Mary in those grand plans of his. Especially a Mary who's dream is just to cuddle in front of a fire with him right across the street.

A Mary in the Bush is worth...
Mary is not so much the goody-two-shoes she is portrayed to be, but she is also not Violet -who later on leaves two men on "stand-by" while she explores the possibility of a date with an uncharacteristically wandering George. Although she had made up her mind about George long ago, their relationship at this point has consisted of parts of two dances with each other, a dunking,  and a long, slow walk toward home. That she would have let him kiss her later that night on her porch or maybe in the parlor is probably true, but his intensity is still a little bit much for her and I think she wanted it to be at a more romantic moment, not in response to a dare from a guy sitting on a porch. As corny as it was, his offer to lasso the moon for her was the first romantic thing he had ever said to her. She doesn't care what he is saying, all she knows is that he is talking about doing things for her in a way that she has been waiting her whole life to hear. He is saying that she is special to him and that he wants to make her happy. I doubt she thought he was talking too much. She would have probably listened to talk like that all night!
Startled by the sudden intrusion of the man on the porch, at first she is amused as they discuss a topic that she has spent no small amount of time pondering herself. Rather than have their first kiss become a farce in front of strangers, she decides after unsuccessfully trying to cut off George's boasting, to simply not be there for him to kiss. That he is standing on her belt again and that she, in her hurry to get away, doesn't notice and is not clutching her robe shut is plausible enough. Perhaps by the time she notices she has already begun to lose it and the momentum is working against her. She's a young healthy girl, and judging by her dancing ability earlier she probably could get moving quickly. This is indeed "A very interesting situation!" In spite of the embarrassing nature of it and her obvious desire to continue the courtship under terms more of her choosing, I think indignant Mary is not entirely unhappy that George will require her to agree to some sort of deal in order to get her robe back. I can think of no promise he might force her to make that would not work in her favor. As he is driven away at the notice of his father's stroke she rises showing concern for his father, and probably a good measure of disappointment at the loss of what had become an definite opportunity to bring their relationship up to a level of sustainability.

By the time we see George again several months have passed. He has given up his trip to Europe to help tie up loose ends at the B&L, and if he has seen or talked to Mary it has been only formal, because we later find that the relationship has not progressed. Mary has apparently gone away to college. It is not too surprising that the board might only go against Potter if he stays. Even without college he has proved his abilities, and if he leaves someone else would have to take an active role in what they already know is not not a very profitable business. That none of them is willing to do it, or trust it to Uncle Billy alone is understandable. Harry is untrained, and in the short time that George has had to train him he would not be able to replace his father even without the threat of Potter. George is trapped. It has taken him four years to save up enough to go to college. It will be four more years before he will have anyone available he can trust to take care of the B&L, but at least Harry can be educated and capable of doing it when he gets back. I don't know if George has given up on going to college by the time Harry gets back. He is reading job offers in far away places that require experience. It is obvious that he wants to go no matter what.

After Harry returns with wife in tow, George decides to free him from his promise. As Harry goes back for the luggage George approaches Ruth to ask about the job her father has offered. Note the change of expression on George's face.  Stewart gives the appearance of a man who has willed himself to erase the shock and despair he feels and show only the happiness and good will for his brother that he also feels as he determines the relative benefits of the two possibilities. It is reminiscent of the way his father looked the night he had the stroke. Smiling with love for the son who can no longer contain his passion to go out into the world and fulfill his dreams. Smiling with understanding and letting him go to the party as a way out before letting the facade down to reveal the despair and hopelessness his decision will mean for him in the future.

Perhaps at this point he realizes that Harry will never be able to take his place in his father's battle against Potter. Maybe he sees that by trapping his little brother he would ruin his future too just to get away. It might not prevent the fall of the B&L, and his chances of doing anything really significant with his life at this point are greatly diminished. Any success he managed to obtain would be set against his brothers wasted opportunity and the ultimate fall of the community into the control of Potter.
His face is a mask now that barely covers his despair at the only future left to him. He is able to be pleasant and to let his genuine happiness at his brothers prospects show through, but he is an like caged animal. He is bound by the duty to carry on his father's good work, but he doesn't get the same sense of fulfillment from it that his father got. His mother understands but there is little she can do. As long as there is Potter, she knows that George and the B&L are the only hope many of the people of the town have to just achieve a decent quality of life. She does know that Mary Hatch is back from school and that she has been in love with George for a long time. He knows that she is "the kind of girl who can help him find the answers", it's the questions he doesn't like-"How can he be happy staying in Bedford Falls?" When she tells him that Mary "Lights up like a firefly whenever you're around." it is as good a description of the way Donna plays Mary as you can get.

...thoughts of Mary
George knows what he will begin to feel when he goes and sees Mary, but he also sees her as one more thing that will bind him to Bedford Falls. This is not really fair to her, as I think she would go anywhere with him. He can't hate his father, and he won't blame his brother for wanting his own life. That he is depressed is apparent, he sees no way out of a situation in which he doesn't believe he will ever be happy. His desire for Mary Hatch is an enigma to him. He knows she will love him and be happy with him here in Bedford Falls, but he knows that he will never be able to bring to the relationship what he feels she deserves. It's almost as if he hates himself for wanting her the way that he does, and he hates her for wanting him to. He wants to be able to give her the moon, to be that explorer she was so enamored with in the drug store. He feels like he has become a failure and he really can't understand why she refuses to see him that way too.

When he leaves his house he immediately puts off seeing Mary and goes downtown to walk and think. He knows that Violet would not be happy with him in the long run, and takes a little of his frustration out on her. When he asks her what she is doing tonight, her:  "Not a thing." is said in a way she has been saving just for him. The things he has in mind for the evening are unimaginable to her, but she is so taken off guard by his sudden openness that she doesn't catch on that he's pulling her chain until the end when her sincere objections are met with a an exaggerated: "OK, just forget about the whole thing!"
I personally think that if he had asked Mary to do what he'd asked Violet to do in town that she might have called his bluff. Maybe that's why he got it out of his system before going over there?

The Parlor Scene
This and the phone scene it leads into are my favorites in the entire film. If I had not already fallen in love with Donna's portrayal of Mary Hatch (as well as the young Mary played by Jean Gale), these would have done me in. As it is, I find it almost impossible to watch it without experiencing very profound reactions. What makes this so powerful is that they enter it at opposite extremes of the emotional spectrum, and with expectations that are only slightly less so. Throughout this scene Donna's ability to present such a complicated mix of feelings in such a natural way is what makes her so adorable. She is back from college and shows a little more confidence in the beginning. As she runs down the stairs, to put the Lasso's picture up, and turn on the music, she is showing a much less mature and worldly side. We can feel her happiness and see the pure joy in her sincere smile. The frank sincerity of Donna Reed here makes me wonder if it is not Donnabelle Mullenger at home with the role we are seeing. His thoughts of a female such as this awaiting his arrival in such a state, contrasted with the the rising discomfort that ends in heated "Good Night!"s has a leveling effect on both of them that sets up the phone scene.

It has been four years since her first romantic encounter with George was cut short by his father's death. By the time he has squared away the Building and Loan and gotten trapped into staying to keep Potter at bay-she has gone away to college.
She has been back three days and has most likely been wondering how to rekindle the spark that he was feeling the last time they were together. That they have not corresponded is made apparent  by the setting,  she attempts to resume the relationship at the same point as the last time we saw them together.  She has evidently nurtured that hope every day since that night, and sees George's arrival as something of her dream come true. That his mother has called is proof that the interest is mutual, or so she believes. It seems that she has kept in touch with Mrs Bailey in some way since she is aware of Mary's arrival and that she is still only interested in George. While she is correct about this and explains away knowing that Mary isn't interested in Sam with: "I've got eyes haven't I?", there is no indication that George and Mary have seen each other in the three days since her return from school. Since Mrs. Hatch has San Wainwrite in mind for Mary, it is apparent that George's mom is working in cahoots with Mary.

While Mary is quite obviously, and very believably happy to see him, she doesn't take his surly attitude at face value-as if she had been tipped off. Her playful banter is light and her goal seems just to get him to come in and just relax with her. She sees his indecision on the walk and says "What are you doing, picketing?" She sets the scene by putting on Buffalo Gals, which I notice is already on the record player and has probably gotten some use in the last three days. She counters his reluctance with "Well are you coming in or aren't you?", which would be plenty of encouragement coming from a lovely young lady that he must know is in love with him by this point. His insistence that he "...didn't tell anybody he was coming over." is his way of telling her not to expect too much. He can't help but notice that she is just as lovely as he remembers. He is also aware that she has dressed for him has expectations that he possible wanted to avoid. She answers his grudging "Where'd you get that dress?" With a hopeful and flattered "Do you like it?" Jimmy is much taller than Donna, and they are standing in the doorway as this takes place. The tone of his voice when he answers 'It's all right." indicates that it is more than the dress that he likes. Her smiling cheerful voice combined with her expression and body language say that she is very much aware that he is looking at the way she fills the dress, and that she does not mind his attention at all.

If George had been able to get out of town, he would likely have never come back. His cynicism is obvious in his challenge to her as to why she didn't go to New York after college.
Her response that she worked there for a couple of vacations possibly indicates several things: She has skills marketable in New York at a rate which will pay her room and board and let her save up some. She has been pursued by Sam (and probably others) who is also in New York, and has decided George is the only man she wants. Since her mother is dead set against George, I believe that she has been in regular communication with George's mother, who possible knew of Harry's news before he arrived and called or wrote her so she would be there. She sums up all of her reasons in one word, "homesick."
"Homesick? for Bedford Falls?" He says in a biting way that would make a lesser woman feel ashamed.

"Yes, and my family and...oh, everything." The hesitation before "oh, everything." makes it obvious that she is thinking: "and YOU!" Which she avoids the temptation to say, leading him into the parlor where the hand drawn/stitched "George Lassos the Moon" that she has put on prominent display will make this point obvious even to depressed George.
When he tries again to deny that he has come to see her on purpose, her exasperation shows: "Would you rather leave?"
"No, I don't want to be rude." he says in a half hearted way.
She replies with polite persistence: "Well, then sit down." She is still pleasant, only her smile is just a bit forced. She can't help but be happy to see him, how can he not be happy to see her?
He stops and looks the sketch (or needlepoint work) she has done showing him lassoing the moon. She smiles as she remembers that night and is certain that this will get through to him.
He passes up this opportunity to acknowledge that she has been thinking about him and waiting for him since that night, and bitterly expresses his inability to do anything worthy of her with "Some joke, huh?"
At this point perhaps she is beginning to truly realize that the cocky, self-assured, generous personality of the man she loved has a dark side that is being revealed only to her. It is as if he sees in her all the things that his life can't be, and can't bring himself to hope that they could be happy together when all the other areas of his life are so hopeless.
Mary is still not ready to give up, but her smile falters a bit. His: "Well, I see it still smells like pine needles around here." is accepted as a perfectly good complement. "Thank you." She says as sweetly and sincerely as she can manage. She is looking around trying to think of a way to snap him out of his funk when her face lights up with an idea. She waits for the music a bit and then joins in: "...And dance by the light of the..."
She stops short as he turns and gives her an irritable, questioning look. "What's the matter?"
After a moment as she sits there feeling like a fool he says "Oh, oh, yeah...yeah..." , and waves his hat as if he just remembered that they had sung that song together, but didn't recall how wonderful and close they had felt doing it.  At this point he seems to decide that there is nothing more to say and looking at his watch, starts to get up. "Well, I..."
With a look of panic on her face she desperately tries to save the conversation-such as it is.
"It was nice about your brother Harry, and Ruth, wasn't it?" She asks with a hopeful smile, still trying get through to him that he is still the only one she wants. She is happy his brother has found a good wife, she hopes his brother will be as happy for him...soon.
He dead pans:
"Oh . . . yeah, yeah. That's all right."
As she watches him distractedly handling his hat as if wasn't impressed with his new sister-in-law her smile fades into concern once more: "Don't you like her?"

GEORGE (very irritably)
"Well, of course I like her. She's a peach."

MARY, looking like she just realized the reason he seemed to suddenly lose interest in her:
"Oh, it's just marriage in general you're not enthusiastic about, huh?"

GEORGE, still irritably in a somewhat forceful tone:
"No, marriage is all right for Harry, and Marty, and Sam and you."

When her mother calls down the stairs she is still stunned by this. He knows that she is not interested in Sam, and she is hurt that he would so casually suggest she go marry someone else.
At this point we watch her hopes begin to dissipate. Her next question would have been more direct, and his answer likely to have more lasting effects. He is spared this when Donna's mother realizes she is with someone and asks who it is. Mary flatly and benignly answers "It's George Bailey, Mother."
 Mrs. Hatch's contempt for George is something she has decided, she knows he will never have much and she sees a chance for security for Mary with Sam. That her daughter has been carrying a torch for him since childhood has likely caused her untold grief. Donna's Mary innocently fields her mother's questions and then turns them into a challenge in a voice that has acquired just a hint of ice and is almost devoid of emotion. When her mom asks "What does HE want?" The tone of Mary's reply feigns a little girl's innocence: "I don't know."
 Mary then turns and asks him almost coldly: "What do you want?" This is George's chance to take charge of the situation. "Not a thing!" is NOT the right answer an exasperated Mary wants to hear. Mary is tired of her mother pushing her at Sam, and she's tired of George deciding that Sam would be better for her as well, she explicitly tells him what her idea of what he should want and at the same time tells her mother not so much what George wants, but what she does:"He's making violent love to me, mother!"
Slow this part down so you can see her eyes and watch her mouth. I wish Capra hadn't been so quick to cut from this angle! The last frame of this shot shows a Mary who has just told George and her mother in no uncertain terms exactly what she wants and is not the least bit ashamed of it. She can't help a bit of a devilish smile to go along with the "so what are you going to do about it?" look in her eyes as cuts them directly to meet his exasperated reaction. Donna knows that the last time she let Mary run away from a kiss it cost her four years. She is not about to let George Bailey get away without a fight-this night.

Mrs. Hatch does not intend to let Mary's lifelong infatuation with George get out of hand, she brushes Mary's challenge to her meddling aside, "You tell him to go right back home!" is hardly the response you would expect to the lurid scene Mary has very plainly stated is taking place downstairs. "...and don't you leave the house, either!" makes me believe she doesn't trust her Mary as far as we might. I think Mary has been letting her know in no uncertain terms that George is her number one choice and will remain so until he is dead or married to someone else. Then her mother says in a voice dripping with syrup:
"Sam Wainwright promised to call you from New York tonight."  She is impressed by this and sincerely believes that if Mary will just talk to Sam his charm will work it's way on her as well.

Mary's frustration boils over when George seems about bail out on her and leave her to her mothers matchmaking efforts with Sam.  George  equates having Mary with giving up his dream of "Seeing the World", even though she knows he would still be duty bound to stick by the B&L, and she would be miserable. But he is correct in his assumptions as well. Once they settle down and the inevitable children start to appear, the likelihood of leaving - even if something changed at the B&L, would be about zero. But, if he can't leave anyway, the answer to the question of "How could he be happy here?" is definitely Mary.

George doesn't know what to do. He is an uneducated failure and will end up a broken man just like his father, and he sees no way out of it. That Mary was the kind of girl who could help him find the answers, he was sure. That she could make him forget his dreams he was sure of too, and afraid. I think he really wanted to just talk it out with her, but he couldn't find a way to reach that point of easy intimacy they had shared four years ago. He is determined to allow her to choose Sam and stammers about "her mother not having to" (worry about him), "and I didn't come over here" ("Court you !" is definitely not what he wants to say now and he knows it.)  I think Mary would have settled for anything that showed he was interested in her. "A swim and a scandal" would have even been something she could deal with! That's all Mary can stand, if he didn't come over to stand up for her, then "What-did-you-come-here-for?" she challenges in a direct and clipped tone as she rises to her feet.

He can't admit he's smitten, and can't see that as justification for ruining her life too. He seems to remember at this point what he came here for. Mary "was a girl who could help him find the answers", his mother had said. It's not going to come out very well, though:
"I don't know. You tell me. You're supposed to be the one that has all the answers. You tell me."
At least she had him talking and feeling again. He might have admitted that he came over there because he needed her to help him make something out of his life, but he just wasn't there yet. She might have changed the outcome at this point with something such as: "First I need to know what the questions are, George." This would have put them at a more level partnership, but changed the emotional tone, and eliminated my favorite Mary Hatch scene!
We must remember that up until this point he has not so much as even kissed her hand. No matter how many times I read it in a review, THEY ARE NOT CHILDHOOD SWEETHEARTS! They have only dated one single solitary time! While it is true that she has been thinking of him in this way for at least fourteen years, he only knows she will make a good wife, but is only aware of the way he feels when he is near her...but he wasn't near her for very long, and that was four years ago.

She is crushed. She is an attractive, intelligent, educated, and charming young lady. The man she has dreamed of for years is crazy about her, but she can't figure out a way to get the stubborn dolt to admit it!  That she has had hopes for him since she was eight is true, and she obviously open to his attentions, but she will not "chase" him. At every point of hesitation she has challenged his indecision:
"What are you doing? Picketing?" (Mary Hatch unfair!?) and:
"Have you made up your mind?"
She rushes to prepare, but then puts the question to him again at the first sign of reluctance: "Well, are you coming in, or aren't you?"
When he says once too many "You know I didn't tell anyone I was coming over here!"
She is quick with: "Would you rather leave?"
Now that he has refused to commit to pursuing the relationship we see a part of her that has risen up in defense of her tender side. The little girl who was so happy that he noticed her dress won't fully return until Donna has placed her cheek to cheek for a last stand.
Now issues another challenge, his last chance to respond in a way that she would find acceptable-she thinks.
"Why don't you go home?!"  It sounds final, but we know it is not.  Her challenges have been progressively more demanding  and this one is pretty much an ultimatum. If he is going to do anything to stop her slide toward another mate, this is his chance. If the telephone scene had not been scripted yet, I could still see him turning it around. All he has to do is just stop, look her in the eyes, and in that stuttering way begin to pour out his heart to her...

On The Phone
What happens when they are compelled to share the telephone receiver at the request of beloved Sam Wainwright is pure magic. That George does not date is not stated, but a given. That she is saving herself for him is evident to everyone but him-till now. When she called him back in, notice that he came right in and walked up to her without any coaxing? At the point that she says "Mother's on the extension." The look on his face says it all to me, he already feels like a bum for making her cry. If he noticed that the record was not playing any more, it seems that the fragments would have been clearly visible on the floor. I know that when he got close he smelled her hair. That can be an intoxicating, that IS a very intoxicating thing. Under circumstances like this, I'm half surprised he didn't just pass out from pheromone overload! She is thinking of everything except what Sam is saying over the phone. That she is slightly past the verge of tears and is obviously upset over him and besides that is pretty much an all round perfect female that he has had the hots for for at least fours years, more or less, makes putting them in such close proximity so powerful. She is so sweet and seems to be unaware of the power that she has. Donna plays this so perfectly close to the emotional edge, Mary seems just about to be overcome at several points in the scene, turning to gaze up at him in an almost pleading way. Even the tiniest movements over her head as if out of her control add to the emotional charge that makes every guy who watches this want to grad her up what seems like about an hour before tough-as-nails Stewart caves. The hopes and dreams of her entire life seemed close to fulfillment when she heard he was coming over, and then crashed in the parlor when she realized how enraged he was at being trapped here once more. Now she is spending what may be the last moments of hope so very close to the only man she will ever love, and has no idea how she can compete when all his pent up anger and frustration seem to be released by the very desires (for her) that she has sought to stir! She is on the verge of a complete loss of control no matter how this will end. She fights for control of her voice when she is called upon to respond to Sam, and he rewards her with the message she is to give George that will finally push him over the edge. She dutifully turns her sweet emotionally charged face up nose-to-nose with George and manages to whisper: "He says it's the chance of a lifetime..."

Well, Jimmy finally cracks. She doesn't seem to know what is coming when he grabs her by the shoulders and shakes her with rage and frustration. She is quite literally at the junction of the terrible forces raging against each other inside of him. She is the catalyst that has caused him to face the dragons inside of himself. His duty to the town is a constant that has been barely capableI wanna do what I wanna do! of restraining the power of his hopes and dreams of the Pirate he envisioned himself to be as a boy.  The wild spirit within him seems to know that she will change the balance of that power forever.  I don't know what the rest of the dialog was for that scene, but it is as if the power of the rage she is subjected to is reducing it's effect on him. It's as if this part of him hates her for making him want to stay. I think she would have wept no matter what at this point, she deserved a good cry, that's for sure. (Heck, at this point I deserved a good cry!) Whether it's for her or for him or for broken hearts and dreams it makes no difference. Things have changed by the time he says "I wanna do what I wanna do!" -the balance has shifted. I don't know what he was about to say "she was" ("And you're...and you're!  I don't know, maybe "Not gonna chain me down?") , but by the time he got to that part he had vented most of the energy needed to resist his desire for her, and the staying home and being happy party had won most of the seats in his heart. He tosses a page or two of dialogue and what follows is about as sincere looking hugs and kisses as I've seen, on screen or off.

George's courtship of Mary would have been fun to watch, but this is just an overview for the sake of Clarence...right? (If it is true that the way the movie shot is not the way it was presented, I could only hope that whoever did the cutting had the foresight to preserve the scenes and even the frames that were cut. I don't know what happens to things like that, but I do hope they exist someplace and that someone realizes before it's too late that changing the order of the film in post production does not matter at all! While it makes it easier to watch and understand why we are being shown what we are, it is the quality of the production of each individual scene that gives the movie it's magic. The chemistry that was created between Jimmy and Donna is priceless. If there are more scenes or just more footage of them together it would be wonderful indeed to be able to see. Out takes and cut scenes are so much a part of what is presented today, I can think of no reason that releasing this material should not be done.)

The Bootlegger's Wife
Cutting to the wedding and then to the cab ride we are treated to few moments of bliss between the two. I can't help but love Mary's "sweet innocent" reaction to being handed a wad of money to "count": "I feel like a bootlegger's wife!" She knew the benefits of an all-cash business."
As they discover what is going on at the bank, and by extension, the Building and Loan, at first she seems to only concerned about her honeymoon. Her: "George, let's not stop. Let's go!" sounds like she is just being a selfish and doesn't care enough about anything else to realize how important this is. As he starts toward the B&L, she tries to get him to abandon what she knows is their town in crisis. Pathetically she pleads: "Please, let's not stop, George.", although you can see in her face that she knows it is hopeless. She is so sweet looking out the back window with her sad eyes. It took me a while to realize that Mary knows all the while exactly what is going on. This is HIS dream she is being selfish for. She went away to college knowing the whole time that she would come back for George and marry him if at all possible. She also knew about the building and loan and what kind of man his father was.  

The point that is glossed over a bit is that they will be going places on their honeymoon that are most likely in those brochures that George dropped on the sidewalk that night. His mother knew Mary was the girl for him and she probably picked up those travel ads for Mary's benefit later. George has $2,000 that he has saved up waiting for Harry to return they have decided to spend on a fantastic honeymoon. That he is doing this for her is an illusion she has spent a great deal of time and effort to craft. Her desire to be pampered in as many of his previous travel destinations as possible was a fantasy he was willing to accept. We already know that she has been in New York working through at least two college breaks, even being there with rich Sam is not a temptation. They could have invested the money in a house, or in the plastics factory, or even a new car, but having made this man her life's work there was only one thing in their future that she fears- the turmoil inside of him that he had bottled up for so long. Her selfish pleading in the cab is for HIS dream, not hers. She's begging him to do for her what she knows he won't do for himself-turn his back on others in a time of need in order to save himself.

...something funny at the bank
Mary went away to college during the time that George was cleaning up unfinished business his father left behind. That he was devastated at the loss is indicated that he is still wearing the black band of mourning on his arm (I don't know what the customary time frame for doing this is.) We know that they had essentially not been in contact since the night of the dance. We don't know for sure what her plans for the future are at this point, but she certainly does. That she doesn't plan to be a useless or foolish woman is apparent in that she went to college at all. Without a father they would have lived modestly, and he father doesn't seem to have left a small fortune so she has to pay what she didn't get from scholarships. Her work in New York was probably to that end, but unless she was able to get a well paying job I can't imagine her being able to save much, so her skills are apparently marketable. Mary is a formidable young woman who turns to whatever task she takes on with single minded determination. I have no doubt at all in my mind that she would have focused her studies on things that George would possibly need in a wife, and would certainly need in a partner. Her management of the later tasks the USO and the ongoing restoration of their home would indicate business management skills- I'm sure her understanding economics and banking were such that the implication of a run on the bank were perfectly clear to her, as were the chances of the B&L of being able to survive such a crisis-with or without George.

Nuances of Things Unspoken
That he has given her the money "to count" seems to imply some things that I think are true, and that make a few details of what follows more plausible and their relationship more "real." Yes, of course it shows that he trusts her, but it also implies certain separation that he has made-or has tried to make. Once inside the B&L he is faced with a business crisis. I wouldn't put it past Potter to have even orchestrated the passing of the police cars with sirens wailing to maximize the panic of George's customers and friends. I read someplace that Potter had caused the bank to call their loan,. This could have been a condition of his before the funds would be granted. As George comes out of the office and tries to calm them down, this has it's desired effect. As he is explaining the simple mechanics of operating a business like this and trying to settle the people down-as we see Mary and Ernie slipping in behind the crowd and behind the counter. Mary watches with concern but waits to see what George will do. Even as George leaps the counter and begs the people not to give in to fear and sell out to Potter she is silent. Only when it is obvious that George needs to be able to give them something he just hasn't got does she speak up. Notice that George never looks at her during this time. He doesn't do anything that would even suggest that he knows that they have any money at all. Contrast this with his immediate willingness to reach into his pocket to help out Violet Bick when she decides to leave town. It says in the script that she has a beauty shop, perhaps the jealousy of other women has become a problem. We know only that he has written a character reference for her and pulls what must be a significant amount of money out of his pocket if it is to cover train fare and living expenses until she can get a job and a paycheck. It looks like three digits on the back of one bill. He passes it off with "It's a loan. That's my business. Building and Loan.", but they both know it's a gift that isn't likely to be paid back. That he feels no guilt over the lipstick on his cheek indicates to me that there has never been the slightest chance of him seeing more in her than a friend.

A Change of Plans

She sees that he is able to fight the panic and that he believes he can continue to hold off Potter. All his fathers dreams are in the balance, if they lose "...there will never be another decent house built in this town." The security of the ones people are paying on now will even put at risk under the control of the unscrupulous Potter.  If they can just hold out one week until the bank opens they can do it. But the people don't even the money to be able to wait that long. She sees George's anguish over not being able to do what she knows he wants to do, but even then she leaves their degree of commitment up to him: "How much do you need?" is her question to him as well as the crowd. She only hesitates a second, possibly as she decides that if she waits for him to even consider asking for it the moment will be lost and it's usefulness to him will be greatly reduced. At this point all she want to know is the level of commitment. Typically, George will do whatever it takes, when he says "Hey! I got two thousand dollars. Here's two thousand dollars. This'll tide us over until the bank reopens." She already knows what she has to do. The trip is off. She now knows that win, lose, or draw-the "success" of their honeymoon will be up to her. As George is leaping back over the counter Mary deftly hands him the money while he is still in the air half way over. It's almost like she is passing the baton to the next runner in a race. Before George has even completed the first transaction with greedy "$242 Tom", she can be seen saying something to Ernie. I hear the word "hurry" on my DVD, maybe preceded by "let's"? Then they slip unnoticed out of the B&L.

Mary Takes Charge
The next scene is generally considered sappy and unbelievable by many, I think. Not me. It was almost three o'clock when she left the B&L, she knew that they couldn't close up until 6 PM-so she had three hours. I think that she already knew what she would try to do. I think that she first had Ernie take her over to 320 Sycamore so she could look over the house and determine that it was still suitable for what she had in mind. I say "still" because I think she had been in that house before, lots of times. I can see her as a child playing in that old house. That she loved it and wanted to live in it would have been enough for her to have looked it over and maybe even pretended sometimes when she was younger that she was there with George. I could even imagine her taking a broom over there and sweeping it out where she could, and knowing where the rain came in, and what rooms leaked, and what rooms would not have leaked if the kids had left the windows alone. The possibility that she had even calculated what it would take to make it livable comes to mind.

Then I think she went home and called Mrs. Bailey and started to gather the resources she would need to pull it off. She got her team together and they worked like dogs for a couple of hours getting it all set up. She started the chickens (once the dust had settled), and went to prepare the rest of the food. She then went home and cleaned up and changed into the nice purple dress she was wearing that day in the Parlor and called him just after six when she knew they would close up. Then she and anyone doing last minute food work returned and set up the table and made sure she was ready while Bert finished up on the windows. Without wind, perhaps the eves made the posters more for privacy and visual effect than keeping out the rain.

That Donna's Mary is a strong willed, determined, and resourceful woman who is intelligent, straightforward, articulate and just happens also to be feminine, attractive, modest, and genuinely sweet natured. I don't think that it's a coincidence that these same qualities are possessed by Donna Stone of her later fame. I have only seen the introduction to the show recently, and I can't recall anything that I might have seen before, but I was surprised at how attractive her "character" was to me. I think the reason Donna was so flawless as Mary Hatch is that she essentially was Mary Hatch. Her poise and confidence allowed her to slip into the role so completely that the emotions and expressions are genuine, so they feel real. When I slow it down and watch her eyes and her mouth and the subtle gestures and nuances of how she plays a scene I can't help but be drawn to the woman behind them. What most people fail to see in Mary Hatch is fire and spice that she reveals so demurely. I'm sure that those who steadfastly cast her in the girl next door roles that she became bored with, saw plenty of the fire and spice they refused to acknowledge - in her reactions.

There are jewels in many later scenes. I don't agree that the "Old Maid" Mary made Donna look silly. (She DID say that she married him to keep from being an old maid in the George Bailey lassos stork scene.) She looked like she might have not been interested in other men and had quenched her spirit of exploration in literature. At any point, her reaction to this mad man begging her to tell him what happened to their kids was believable.

For those with problems believing the unmarried Mary:
Ah, yes. But, this isn't about what would have happened if they had never married, it's about him not having been born at all. George had an influence on the town, and Mary, from the very beginning, not just on her adult life. He is the natural leader of his "gang", and is outgoing and adventurous, but he is also respectful and considerate. Not his response to Violet asking him to help her off her stool: "Help you down?!" Then when he turns to Mary he almost tenderly asks, "Have you made up your mind yet?"

With no George around to direct them into better ways, the gang might have turned mean. We are told that Harry still died, though the circumstances might have altered a bit, his loss may have eliminated the presence of more "gentle" boys of intellect. The others didn't have the natural leader and dedicated brother to start the rescue, the stigma put on them for allowing Harry to drown would have been harsh-and added to their own grief and guilt.  Mary would not have had George to look forward to at the end of a trip to tell Marty "Momma wants you!" She might have been run off or worse. At the loss of their only son, George's father may have died much sooner, having lost hope long before. With the loss of the B&L I know that Martini died trying to save his family from a house fire in the shack in Potter's field, since there was no Bailey Park to move to or B&L to finance him. This is reduced to the sad look on Clarence's face when asked what happened to Martini. The downward spiral of the town would have most likely begun some years before the night of the dance when Peter's stroke took place in reality. A lot of people lost money in the bank failure. What if Mrs Hatch had her money in the B&L? Just because she saw that he had no prospects doesn't mean she is blind to the needs of the town. Under Potter, she might have even lost her home.

A destitute Mrs Hatch would have had a negative effect on Mary's life, the combination of this and the loss of his role model in George may have sent her brother in a totally different direction. A jaded Mary, coming from a home reduced to poverty by Potter, familiar with the leers and cat calls of Marty's friends and living in a town populated with angry men would not have been the same. I see her rejecting the predominant jobs available for women in the booze,and other joints, and losing herself in intellectual pursuits. Now, not having the resources for the education she wants, settling for the much smaller world in which a hopeless George also sought refuge becomes plausible-the library.

Amongst the sea of mean angry people in the Potterized version of reality, there are indications of ongoing struggles. I found oneA Good-Girl in a bad town. at Nick's Bar. When the destitute and downtrodden Mr. Gower walks in he is teary eyed from the cold. His coat is stuffed with newspapers to try to fend off the weather, but that he is losing this struggle day by day is obvious. Look at the mean faces in the crowd, but find the cigarette girl between and behind George and Clarence. As Nick gives Mr. Gower what could easily be a fatal soaking, everyone laughs except her. We see in her face that evil has not completely won over good, but that it is prevailing. She is very upset, but unable to intervene and most likely keep her job. A few others look on in feigned agreement or determined disinterest, like the Hispanic waitress. The placement of a "good-girl" into the scene shows that the fall of Bedford Falls will not simply turn it into a uniformly changed town, it will cause moral "pain" to many. It's a good thing this was in the alternative universe. That Hispanic lady broke the spell for just a second. Watch her eyes...gotcha! The way they mug for the camera now days it wouldn't be noticed, but in a Capra film?

A Maternal Donna or Capra?
Donna knows what Mary will be telling George.After they get the Martini's settled into their new house and are talking to Sam and Jane in front of Sam's limo, Mary does something that is a bit of foreshadowing. Just as Sam says "Jane, I offered to let George in on the ground floor in plastics and he turned me down cold.", watch Mary. She seems perfectly happy to stay there and notMary is in bliss! go to Florida, and has been giving George very loving looks, but now there is a tiny movement in her face and she very deliberately puts her hand on her belly in a maternal looking way and focuses on it for a second (a wave of nausea?), then looks up at George with a look of pure bliss on her face. Donna already knows what Mary will be telling George a couple of scenes from now, I wonder if it is her thinking up ways to pass the moments and add to the movie, or Capra? (Donna was well known to add flavor and spice to her more bland roles, but a lot of these efforts were cut. In "Gentle Annie" her barmaid character put up with her last pinch on the rear and dumped beer on the pinchee-giving her motivation to quit that was cut when the pinch itself was deemed too risky.)

More maternal moves?
In the kitchen before he goes to see Zuzu, George is attacking the home Mary has been slaving to make for him. The final assault is against her family itself: "Wrong? Every thing's wrong! You call this a happy family?" Then he says something that causes Donna's Mary to react in a subtle maternal way again: "Why do we have to have all these kids?" When he says this, she immediately moves the serving utensils she is holding almost protectively to cross over her belly and holds them there for a moment before moving to put them down.

Mary in the kitchen.Mary's maternal instincts.

A little bit of daddy
Watch Mary's reaction when George starts to kick the architectural models down. She already knows that he is in a rage, but now her reaction is almost more of a "startle reflex", like a baby would make if suddenly scared. She is as helpless as the children at this point, and this gesture seems to convey it very well.
Mary, pre-startledMary startledMary frozen

She doesn't regain her adult instincts until Janey breaks down with her adorable "Oh daddy!"

Protective Mary

Who let the Dragon out?
In the kitchen as his anger and frustration seems to grow at every turn, the quaver in Mary's voice when she asks him what's wrong sounds so genuine as she is becoming aware that something so horrible has happened he refuses to even say it out loud.
This culminates in the phone rage and explosion in the living room. Janie is so cute you just want to hug her! When Mary finally says "Why don't you...!" It's as if she is going to say "...tell me what's wrong!", but at the last minute she's maybe a little too scared to even ask him to tell her what it is. Maybe it is the rage of his "dragon" that she fears too much to risk stirring it further?

Clarence Oddbody, Dragon Slayer!
I used to think that Clarence only provided relief from the immediate danger of suicide, while Mary did all the heavy lifting of saving him, Uncle Billy, and the B&L. Now I realize I was wrong. Clarence did something that Mary could never do, he slew George's Wanderlust Dragon! He taught him a lesson he would never forget, that he cared about the people in his life more than he wanted to go exploring. When Clarence told him he had no identity, George could have simply said "GREAT I'm off to Bermuda!" By allowing him to see the effects of the loss of his influence in their lives, he created the means for George to see beyond the immediate and get a glimpse of what his father had seen all along: That some great men lead a very quiet existence, and do their great works day by day in the lives of those they touch.

Potter's wheelchair drawing
George passes Potter's chair drawing.This is a set detail in the scene after the ones showing Mary fixing up the house. In the clip of George going up the stairs late at night, just as he picks up the ball from the post hit "pause"! Look between his elbow and the step ladder, there is a crudely drawn picture of Potter in his wheelchair on the wall with "Potter" written above it! Zoom helps a lot! You can also hit pause just as he gets to the ladder if you are quick, it may be a little bit clearer this way. I've lightened the image to the left for clarity.

Potters Wheelchair drawing on stairway wall.
Mary working on the stairway wallpaper.

Actually, You can see this drawing peeking out behind the top of the ladder in the previous
scene of mary putting up wallpaper while standing on the board to George's left in the image above.

(to be continued)
There is a LOT that I haven't gotten to yet, and a lot of parts I have to work into this. If you want my take on something, please feel free to email me!

After reading "In Search of Donna Reed:
The lack of a sequel or a continuation in subsequent films is really hard to bear.  This is explained in part two, below. This is stuff written independently as an attempt to summarize, and it seems different stuff came to me. I'll Work them all together as time permits.

 If you’ve never seen It's a Wonderful Life, go watch it first. If you don’t like it, come back. Did it look cold at the end? If it did, it’s a far better film than you realize. For those who want to dig deeper: I loved this film so much that I watched it a LOT. At some point I began to realize that some things were much deeper than I thought. And one thing didn’t fit.

I found myself having very strong feelings about this Mary who was so enticing, yet such a good, sweet girl. But there was something missing. I mean...this is Donna Reed, right? And this Mary Hatch that she was playing is really something. She’s throwing off so much sexual tension in the “lasso the moon” and the sharing the “telephone” scenes there should be St Elmo’s fire, or ball lightning or at least sparks flying off of her! So... I guess my question is: Where did she go? I mean, Whatever Happened To Mary Hatch? I don’t mean in the movie, I mean in Donna! She didn’t pick up all that fire, and spice, and passion on the set. So what changed her after the movie was done?

I was obsessed with finding the truth, now I am about sharing it, but not to put a downer on the casual fan. What we see in Mary Hatch, is all Donna. That was stuff that she brought from home! What happened to her afterward makes this film a memorial to her in my mind. When she created the Donna Reed Show, TV sensors stripped away much of her ability to express the sensual side, they even took away her double bed! Look me up in forums under Donna Reed, I'll post what I see as Mary's side of the story. Things that Donna acted Mary's part as if she were aware of. Maybe I have room for just a taste:

 In the Parlor scene: George sticks to his "just passing by" attitude, so Mary tells him and her mother where she thinks the relationship should be with a line that ought to remove all doubt: "He's making VIOLENT love to me, mother!" Then sweet, good-girl Mary sits primly and gives him a look that should have been on the front page along with her winning the Oscar story! Denying his feelings now, when she has laid hers bare is like a slap in the face. If he didn't see the obvious and come to court her, then "What-did-you-come-here-for?
It's almost like Donna has come to the rescue of Mary's or maybe Donnabelle's pride. The young lady who stood in the doorway so sweetly proud that he noticed her new dress- and how she filled it, doesn't fully return until Donna has managed to get her cheek to cheek with George using Sam as an unwitting accomplice. As in the only other time they have been alone together, proximity and circumstance finally does what sweet little Mary had never been able to.

Capra’s Mary is either very much like Donnabelle Mullenger at heart and she is completely at ease being herself in front of the camera, or Donna Reed has suffered from an unimaginable lack of recognition for her ability, or both. Maybe it's Donnabelle who slowly loses control over her emotions as she is using these precious minutes just to be close to George one last time. I don't know. I do know that I have played this scene dozens of times-in slow motion and even frame by frame, and I am totally taken by Donna Reed in it, every-single-time. I just can't convince myself that it isn't real. Donna Reed was that good.

Her naturally sweet nature and pleasant attitude are a canvas that Capra uses to highlight George’s anguish more clearly. When a despondent George comes home -I feel for him. When he hugs his kid and weeps, I feel more. ...But, when Mary realizes that something is wrong and it shows on her face, I choke up a little.

True to the Donna Reed many found unbelievable later, Mary gets to the bottom of the problem and calls in a lifetime of good-girl markers. When a tearful Mary tells people that a deserving George is in trouble and needs their help, who could refuse? When finally George realizes that his really is "A Wonderful Life!" My only regret is that he does not fully grasp just how much of that is due to the determination and undying love of one woman. If Mary was really Donna Reed at heart, maybe George was only being true to Jimmy Stewart.

The Rest of The Story:

This is more of the details in this film, some Capra's, some Donna's, some maybe only in my mind, and the rest of the story...

I rediscovered Donna Reed less than a month ago. I had forgotten just how good she was in It's a Wonderful Life. The more I saw, the more I looked. The more I looked, the more I realized just how far the public perception of her is from reality. I found a copy of Jay Fultz's "In Search Of Donna Reed" online and ordered it. By the time it arrived I had become immersed in IAWL facts and all I could find out about this woman who had seemed to appear and shine so brilliantly for a moment and then disappear. My only memory of her show was that it seemed loved and hated, my dad hated it so it was never on. A week before this I had been perfectly willing to accept and believe she had been the "Ice Princess" they said she played on TV. Soon I would learn that, for some strange reason, she was the undeserving victim of a very determined slander campaign. I picked up the book and met Miss Donnabelle Mullenger. She was the sweetest little girl who just seemed to get better with age.  Two days later I felt as if a near and dear relative was at death's door. Even though I knew that twenty years had passed, I had to finish reading it in my car...

Donna Reed was so much more than what she is known for. According to everyone in her life, yes, she was really just as nice as she came across on her show-(I have yet to see it!), but she is so much more than that. She was discovered when her photo as a college beauty contest winner was put in the paper, but she was scrubbing floors to pay her way through that college! It was determination and hard work that brought about the mastery of her craft that put her opposite Jimmy Stewart in IAWL, not just luck and good looks. Yes, she is the prim and proper young lady that is easily contrasted with Violet's more free expression of femininity. But, in subtle movements, the way she walks, how she uses her hands, holds her head, and uses her eyes and mouth, we see a Donna who, far from being an Ice Princess, could melt candles from across the room. When George asked about her dress in the doorway, the way she responded made me think of a little girl showing off her dress to Daddy, a hint at the lifelong desire for his approval that would make her Mary so vulnerable in a matter of minutes was perhaps a little bit of Donna as well.

I started making a few notes to organize my thoughts on all these little things I kept noticing. What they seem to add up to is a Mary I don't think George or Capra could have made this movie without (I mean the movie that just keeps on growing through time.) Maybe instead of Donna learning to be Mary, she just let Mary be her. That presence that seems to make others so much more effective, maybe it was just her.

Now a lot of this is just what I see as internal thoughts and stuff that works with the way the scenes are played. Some are the most simple and slight things that Capra might have been looking for: For instance, when George comes in all mad (about having to go to jail), notice the soothing tone of her voice. Mary is used to George coming home in foul moods; he's been doing it for years! What bumps the effect up for me is how she reacts a little when he is mad and puts a nice face back on, but to see him all mad and hugging Tommy and crying is slightly different. Her reaction is subtly different, her alarm at this indicates, to me at least, that he is not as close to the kids as we might think at this point. (this is not on that other page) When he yells at Janie at first, she reacts just like her mom does! Her tone of voice is the same! She reasonably explains why she has to keep playing and doesn't even stop or get upset. Mary continues to "manage" him after he erupts at the thought of the families coming over and sweeps him into the kitchen.

Here she reacts not to his anger, but the target of it. He never attacks Mary, but when he attacks the house, she reacts as if he had. She is still in control throughout, but with Donna the small things indicate so much more than sweet, good-girl Mary shows. She finally asks directly, "George, what's wrong?", and we can see that her fear level of is way up the scale already when she almost loses it and a perfect little quaver comes out with "wrong". Her eyes already indicate that she is a lot more upset than a casual look would indicate.

Donna's Mary is afraid of very few things. Donna used an the winter. They had coal oil lamps. In Jay's book she said she didn't want to get married the last time until she had seen his "Dark Side." She held him off for several years, so I know this is a big deal for her. Well, sweet little Mary already knows George's dark side. In fact, that was her motivation to break her own window in a house she had planned on living in probably since she was 8 or before. What she feared in George was what was coming out in the kitchen. He wasn't attacking his problem, but the things that held him there. She had seen his restless wanderlust in the drug store as a little girl and countless times when she volunteered to go get her brother for her mom, who would be with George. (Sam was very familiar with "Momma wants you Marty! Momma wants you Marty"!) Since the only reason he had for making those other "ties" that bound him to Bedford Falls was the permanent anchor of the B&L, the only real reason he would have for attacking those other things would be if he no longer had that anchor.

In her parlor she discovered what it was like when the explorer in him was kept bottled up too long and then somebody or something started to shake George up. He might have wanted to be with her-but not in Bedford Falls. That's what she saw when he dropped the phone and grabbed her, all that rage and turmoil came pouring out at her. I don't think "Mary" expected him to kiss/hug her until he actually did. Maybe after venting, the balance of power swung into her favor and "those" feelings swept him over the edge. She knows that it's been building up for a long time, that's why she was so intent on getting him out of town even if the Building and Loan failed. She could deal with a minor thing like how to live. She was confident enough to spend a year's income on a honeymoon that she could do without, in places he wanted to see.

I'm sorry. I get going. Some of this is on the page, some I didn't know until just now. I like Mary Hatch Bailey, and I am head over heels, shamelessly, hopelessly, in love with the only person on earth I believe could have made her so completely and perfectly real, Donna Reed.

As for Jimmy Stewart....I am trying to forgive him. I think that Donna had, or she might not have even considered a sequel. One more movie with Jimmy would most likely have given her the studio title of Star, instead of Featured Player. Instead she began a downward spiral of B movies and cookie-cutter "...and the woman who loved him" type roles. Would it make it any easier to bear crushing injustice and humiliation ...if years later you are able to say that "Maybe it was Meant To Be?" Maybe after, but certainly not during. I have only been able to see Gun Fury and From here to Eternity, in neither she had the fire she had as Mary Hatch Bailey. She did get the Oscar for Alma, and showed her jubilation, but the parts still didn't come to her.

I know she was able to forgive him, so I guess I will too. I really always liked Jimmy Stewart and had wondered why they had not done any other movies together after having such perfect chemistry in IAWL. Donna might say to ask "Miss Allison", as she did for years when asked to participate in something held for Jimmy. You see, Donna had already been costumed for the part that June would play in The Stratton Story when Van Johnson was determined not to be right for the role. You may be able to see in your mind the relief and maybe a bit of ecstasy on the face of 27-year-old Donna Reed when she found out Stewart would replace him. I imagine that she was ready to give her part whatever it took to erase the disappointment that It's a Wonderful Life had brought. Liberty Films had gone under from the losses, and somehow they had not gotten a single Oscar (Go see The Best Years Of Our Lives and you will understand their, and my, shock.). Now she had been given a chance to redeem herself (in his mind, at least) and make up for all of that by making a movie with a man that she knew she made sparks with whenever they were on a set together!

Now, try to feel what she must have felt to be told that he "had to think about his career" and was rejecting her for the lead opposite him. That he actually believed that she had been the reason the public had rejected his (and her) best work.  Knowing that Donna never felt as sure of herself as she appeared, I can't help but see her as Mary, shocked and stunned that what seemed to be such a wonderful turn of events would turn into a real life re-enactment of of the Parlor/Phone scene...but without the redeeming turn at the end - the hurt would go on for years. I read that that little speech Alma made was fueled with her feeling about home- about how "When you are proper, you're safe."  Now I think it was a little bit closer to her than that.

But, if this had not happened, they would have probably made more films together, as he and June did. The Donna Reed Show, which was born out of frustration in not getting the parts that should have come to her, along with the financial benefits, would likely never have been. I'm sure it eased the pain, but I know she endured years of hurt before she saw the good that came out of doing her show. Then she began to get letters. They said they hoped she didn't mind if they thought of her as their mom. Letters that said when things got to be more than they could deal with in their own home, she would be their refuge. Donna had over 35 million viewers at her peak in 1962. Sacks full of mail like that would have eased the hurt, but only after years of feeling like it would never end.

In Conclusion:
The thing that gets to me the most, is that she would not be allowed the dignity of proving herself then- as time would over the years, with Jimmy. From what I‘ve read online and off people can’t really figure out what it is that has made “It’s a Wonderful Life” such a classic. Yes, Jimmy Stewart is good, but is he better than he was in any of his other great roles? I don’t think so. All of the other elements it has are present, if not quite to the same high standards and in the same amounts, in other films that have not touched people’s hearts and stirred their emotions like this one has. All except one. Donna Reed. Unfettered, uncut, in top form and in a decent role where she was allowed to be her best. She is positively radiant - knowing full well that in a lot of scenes that radiance would shine on someone else. It was Donna as she would perhaps never be seen again. I honestly believe that she brought the magic that lets “Life” live again.
From what I’ve found, I don’t think anyone else realizes just how much she adds to this film. Everyone else looks better when she is in a scene with them. The warmth and comfort she radiates is every bit as tangible as Jimmy’s hopeless despair, and gives it the sharp edge that cuts so bitterly when it turns to rage - but she does it so smoothly that her role appears to be almost passive. The quality she brings to every scene she is in makes the ones without her seem empty.
 Watch it again with me, and see if you don't agree...

Green Dolphin Street
Lana's gorgeous. If i play that part, it'll ruin the picture
Donna didn't want the role of Marguerite Patourell (left) in the beginning, claiming that no one would believe
Hart's character chose her over Lana Turner (right).

Apparently Donna had never seen herself in a mirror. She was correctly cast as the prettier of the two sisters.
Donna Reed outshines lana Turner in Green Dolphin Street.

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