The Bedford Falls Sentinel

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Visiting the lair of the Bedford Falls scurvy little spider , the Henry F Potter Mansion

   For a presence so felt in a film as that of Mr. Potter, it's surprising we don't ever see where the man lives or what such a man would call home. Judging from his taste for horse and a coach, even in 1918 one can assume that such a building would be a grand one in all sense of the word. From a directors point of view also, it's surprising that Potter's residence isn't used as a kind of visual representation of his separation and wealth. As Clarence exclaims in his question "a king!?", such a man's castle would surely do the trick. But perhaps Capra does indeed tell us something by not showing us the Potter house. What we do see, is that when someone wants to see Mr. Potter it's always at his office in the bank. That fact that it's always at the bank that we can find him, rather than at home is more telling of the man. He spends most of hist time at work, close to his money, and where he can keep an eye on the towns financial business somewhat. His office there is decorated and fill the room. We do however see his office at home just prior to his move over to the bank. Though not confirmed it must be from his home. It's our only glimpse of perhaps what truly is likely the spider lair.

Here is the only view at potentially the Potter mansion. Notice again his own portrait hanging there (the other two are in the bank) and likewise 2 additional busts of Napoleon. 


Black Bart
    In what should be not news, everyone should know that Henry Potter was played to perfection (or infamy) by the great (and I do mean great) Lionel Barrymore. Born when the outlaw Black Bart was still robbing stagecoaches, Lionel was born into an acting family , one that can claim well over a century of performing, Barrymore has quite the famous career even when only counting jobs in moving pictures with sound. In fantastic films ranging from 'You can't take it with you' (with Jean Arthur), 'Captains Courageous' (with Spencer Tracy) to 'The Gorgeous Hussy' (with Jimmy Stewart). Lionel was almost always known prior to It's a Wonderful Life as a fatherly or grandfatherly figure with the utmost kindness or sincere compassionate nature and afterwards as mostly simply Mr. Potter. On a side note, Lionel Barrymore is also indeed related directly to the modern Drew Barrymore for whom her first, and middle names are direct takes of her famous ancestral acting surnames.

Browse some pictures, I think you'll see some resemblance. Chins maybe?
    Lionel Barrymore had a career that lasted over six decades! He passed away of heart failure in 1954. You can find his full NY Times obituary here. For more on his life, hope over to here

Hagney in the Riflemen 1959
    As Mr. Potter, through Lionel's portray we might not know where Henry F Potter is or lives during the movie but we always know and feel that he is there somewhere close. When George is feeling most down and frustrated after the visit and bragging of Sam Wainwright ... who gives him a call? When the bank run occurs and the Building and Loan almost sinks ... who gives George a call? When George comes to him desperate and afraid ... who gives the police a call? He and his 'fingers on' are indeed all over the town. Part of that must be due to his hired minions. As a rich man, and due him be confined to a wheelchair we do see various henchmen and minion women that 'scurry' around and carry out his chores. Not named, but seen many times is the man behind Potter pushing him around and likely taking a verbal abuse no one in town gets is the actor Frank Hagney. Hagney played bit parts in various films and then was seen on quite a few westerns in the 50's and 60's before his death in 1973. During the film it should be added that Potter's wheelchair henchman ages quite well from the early scenes in 1918 to the ending scenes in 1946. 

Pusher in 1918

Spider Pusher years later

   George shouts and relates Potter to his wheelchair pusher in the 'spider' scene, and walking out the door he makes the same insult to another unnamed female Potter bank minion walking in the door. This actress is Almira Sessions, who had a very long career regally acting in dozens of television shows right up to the 70's just before her death. She did everything from the 'Munsters' to 'Carolle Burnette'.

Scurvy Spider #3
    Briefest of all is the driver of Potter's carriage who we presume was canned without much sympathy whenever Potter made the change to automobiles. We can only hope he found some way into Bailey Park rather than Potter's fields. 

Potter's driver
     Speaking of the two competing residential areas in Bedford Falls, that brings us to the most vocal of Potter's employees. His rent collector. But we'll cover him when we visit the bank at a later time. Anyone know who he is? As a tip, he was the longest living adult member of the cast. But back onto the home of Mr. Potter. Perhaps some of these employee's lived there, perhaps not. It's not by accident that my imagination can't help but draw comparisons to Ebeneezer Scrooge's flat. In the various incarnations of his place in each 'A CHRISTmas Carol' film, the living arrangements and setting seem to come the closets to what I think Potter's mansion must have looked like. Drafty, wooden, open, dark, and empty. But that's as much as we can do is use our imagination. Enesco did just that when they created their version of the Potter mansion as a web exclusive piece. Not part of a series it was a special unique piece.

    As I have said and probably will say, some buildings Enesco got just right, others dead wrong. Luckily this one I believe they did a great job on. Keep looking below for my gallery for the Enesco Henry F. Potter Mansion. I think the colors are great, the height and size make for an impressive building when put beside any others of the village. The windows trim is fitting, the small tower does indeed give off a slight castle feel, and the large window also distinguish it. One of the finest Enesco put out. Here are some shots of the building in day light. As the norm, starting with the unboxing. 

Enesco Henry F Potter Mansion: Box Front. To view the rest of the gallery pics just click the 'Read More' to see them. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The sequel to It's a Wonderful LIfe, how do you follow up perfection?

    It's not hard to imagine that many sequel attempts have been made on the experience felt in this film, but it is hard to imagine how anyone , any studio, or any cast could come close to exuding or portraying the feelings Capra's 1946 film shines with. Capra toyed with the idea of a sequel late in life, but either he or some close to him quickly nixed the idea after just some rough thoughts were put to paper. As I've read the story was more or less a 1960's version of the same tale only with ZuZu Bailey being the leading force at the Building and Loan, and some new danger to the town is discovered and vanquished. Capra Jr. has said that his dad wanted to try and have Stewart and Reed come back for their roles. Happily, this idea never put to film as just the time period as well as even the basic story would have been nothing but an anchor on the late blooming success of the original film.

Wells as Mr. Potter
     What I wasn't aware of, is that in the 70's ABC did indeed do a sequel to the movie, although not a true sequel but a retelling of the original tale. Called 'It Happened One Night', the made for TV movie switched the genders of the lead role and had a Mary Bailey married to a George Hatch save the town. It uses some of the dialog from IaWL almost down to the exact wording and the story is identical really with tiny subtle changes. For instance Clarence has been switched to Clara, and Martini's Bar is now Martins.

The ending gathering in the Bailey house
    It starred Marlo Thomas as Mary, Wayne Rodgers (from M.A.S.H) as George, and the great Orson Wells as Mr. Potter. The ratings were apparently really good, and it even won an Emmy. You can watch a lot of it on Youtube seen here, as the DVD is of yet unreleased. You can read more about it here.

The Bailey-Hatch family. 

      I was terrified to even watch it after hearing about its existence as it seemed almost a sacrilege to put my eyes on a tv version remake that was made without the blessing of Frank Capra. Also let alone that it was from the 70's; a decade that I hate and literally like almost nothing that was on any screen big or small. But, it's actually not the dreadful shipwreck that it very well could have been and it comes off as just a small budget TV movie rather that a horrid remake.(retelling). Obviously this goes without even trying to compare it to the real film, as it doesn't even come even remotely close to even deserve a place beside the original film. Treating this as just a kind of homage to the older film does offer some satisfaction in listening for those little connections to the Capra version and testing your IaWL film knowledge by catching the minute dialog changes. What it really fails at is the ending scene with the family and Harry's (yes the Bailey brother is still named Harry) toast. Now I've seen a lot of plays, drama's , and attempts to replicate this scene and none have been able to deliver what Capra did. It's my favorite moment in film, in my favorite ending of all films. Everything is perfect and no matter how many times, that scene gives you a unique feeling. The 70's retelling fails miserably on this part and was painful to even watch once. Even some of the smaller local IaWL dramas have done far better. I wouldn't recommend any fan watching, but I also wouldn't discourage them either. 
     Another somewhat sequel is a 1991 TV "movie" that involved another mission for Clarence in the 90's. No other attempts that I know have,  have been made for television and definitely none have reached the big screen. Several though, have found there way to print and range in a variety of story options for any fan wanting to continue the story and return to Bedford Falls after CHRISTmas 1946 although sometimes those options can be quite dark. Continuing to revisit Bedford Falls is something that fans still talk (blog) about. Some of those talks have even spurred a list of 5 sequel openings err ... ideas. Sometimes the ideas for a sequel have stemmed from rumors about Capra's own ideas for alternate endings and story arcs of the original. Some people feel that Capra did indeed film some scenes that he later pulled for use on a possible It's a Wonderful Life alternate ending or continuation of the film's story if it was successful. As we all know it wasn't at the time and took almost 40 years before it would regain a status that warranted a second film. Alas, that was too late for all but a short SNL sketch which did show us what a 'sequel' might start with. 
     Like the ending, I just don't think I'll ever see a re-make of this film, although the late anti-bank feelings spread across the nation have made such story arc much more popular than perhaps any time since the depression. This film is the very definition of the quintessential perfect film. So many factors seem impossible to recreate or even to attempt emulation. Who possibly out of Hollywood could direct? What modern actor or actress could come close to making us believe they could portray the Baileys. In the future, I might try to set up a long time poll on what or who fans might accept if forced to choose a sequel cast. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The soul of a man should reside in church, the soul of a small town is is the church. The Bedford Falls Church

   The experience of It's a Wonderful Life stems for the most part from the atmosphere and portrayal of a 1940's small town. The aura given off by the people and places of Bedford Falls, creates a character that you don't hear or see, but can feel throughout the film. Maybe it's my biased feelings from too many Westerns but I feel that Bedford Falls, like so many small towns revolved around it's church(es). We see the main street often enough and we've visited there many times, but a church is not seen except for a few instances of stairs and doors and some brief shots of worshipers walking in. 

Opening Bell seen in the film
Before that though, at the very opening of the film we see a large bell ringing. One can assume, that this is a church bell. But, the bell does have the markings of being a replica of the famous liberty bell with is transcriptions. If that is the case, would a church cast a copy of such a bell? The Liberty Bell does have in addition to other things a bible verse imprinted on it, so it's possible.

"Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof" (Leviticus 25:10)

VJ Day famous photo that has the same IaWL 'aura'. 

    The few church segments all revolve around the towns people entering the various houses of worship for day's of prayer and thanksgiving during and after the war. Included in the shot is parishioners walking on a Truman's declared national Day of Prayer on Sunday August 19th, 1945. The day was in honor of the conflict finally ending after the Japanese surrendered. He declared the day by proclamation. You can read the entire proclamation here.
Bedford Falls National Day of Prayer 

   At least two churches are visible in the shots, one of which seems Catholic while the other simply Protestant. I'm not versed enough enough on denominational architecture to offer more of a guess than that, so you can be the judge. 

   To the left is the Catholic looking interior. Pretty spectacular site. Considering Catholics make up around 40% of New York state's population, I consider this a safe bet. Surprising Protestants only make up about 30% of NY. (Modern Statistics) It's just an assumption but I want to connect the shot of the church's welcome sign and this sanctuary as well.

The last image we see below, is another exterior view that perhaps is another church and perhaps just the entrance to one of the interior we've already seen. I'm open to any suggestions as to what could tie or distinguish it to one or the other. Either way, Bedford Falls is happily well stocked with churches. 

Large Mystery entrance

    George claims "Dear Father in Heaven, I'm not a praying man,but if you're up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I'm at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God." so we know that it appears he that although perhaps not a regular (at least prior to Clarence's visit anyway) church goer, if he did do his prayers then they would have been in one of the buildings glimpsed above. Assuming the wedding took place outside of his mother's house, he likely was married there as well. 

     Moving onto the Enesco version of the Bedford Falls church, we see they took a path and model that has its good and its bad. For village, especially a CHRISTmas village the church likely should be the centerpiece. A community building that easily outweighs a City Hall or school in terms of its meaning to the town as a whole. Here is the Enesco church for the It's a Wonderful Life village. First the unboxing. This piece is the 3rd of 4 in the great 3rd series. It's size is a good thing, as the steeple should and needs to stand out above the other building. Sadly I believe it needs a couple more inches. 

Enesco Bedford Falls Church: Front Face

Enesco Bedford Falls Church: Box Side

Enesco Bedford Falls Church: Rear side. Nice image of the first 3 sets together. 

  Click the 'Read More' to continue with the rest of the images.