It’s a Wonderful Life, a timeless Christmas classic, has become a part of many holiday celebrations. It has been shown for many years and is remembered for the touching story of George Bailey. It was directed by the famous Frank Capra. But the story of how this It’s a Wonderful Life almost went in a different direction, with alternate endings that might have changed its impact, is still not widely known.

It All Began with ‘The Greatest Gift’

The short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern is where It’s a Wonderful Life got its start. Stern’s short story was the spark that started the whole thing, but it took a lot of artistic skill to turn it into a full-length movie. Well-known writers Dalton Trumbo, Clifford Odets, and Marc Connelly tried to adapt the book at first, but their efforts failed. Not giving up, studio RKO saw the chance and bought the rights to Stern’s story, which began a trip that would change everything.

Here comes Frank Capra, a master of telling stories through movies. Capra and his production business, Liberty Films, had a deal with RKO to distribute movies. When Capra was asked to adapt The Greatest Gift, he saw it as a chance to bring the idea to life. He bought the rights from RKO and put together a team of five screenwriters to carefully write a story that fit his vision because he wasn’t happy with the ones that were already out there. Capra was known as a perfectionist who pushed the limits of what was possible and expected nothing less than the best from his team.

It’s a Wonderful Life Alternate Endings Explained:

The Lord’s Prayer and Its Rejection

In the end, the screenplay for It’s a Wonderful Life was up to Capra’s high standards, and filming could begin. But finding the ideal conclusion was still an ongoing process. In the original ending scene, George Bailey knelt down and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Since Capra dislikes films with obvious religious undertones, he rejected this version even though it fit with the film’s overall themes. The final version substituted a more understated scene in which George begs, “Please God, let me live again!” This prayer maintained the film’s spiritual tone without directly addressing God.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Potter’s Dark Demise

Another intriguing alternate ending involved the film’s antagonist, Henry F. Potter, portrayed by Lionel Barrymore. The Hay’s Code, a strict set of rules that governed movies during Hollywood’s Golden Age, usually required that bad characters would be punished by the end of the movie. Although this wasn’t usually the case, Potter’s fate changed in a big way. 

At first, Capra had planned for him to die a horrible death while counting his stolen gains, but he changed his mind. The director thought that such a harsh finish would be too unpleasant and chose a more complex one instead. In the final cut, Potter is not directly punished, but he does see the town come together to support the Bailey family, which indirectly stops him from doing what he wanted to do.

Why the alternate endings matters?

The revelation of these alternate endings sheds light on the delicate balance between darkness and light in It’s a Wonderful Life. The film could have taken a starkly different trajectory, potentially altering its enduring appeal. While the narrative grapples with themes of depression, defeat, and even suicide, the chosen conclusion transforms it into a joyous Christmas classic. The enduring popularity of the film, evading the pressures of reboots and critiques for nearly 80 years, stands as a testament to Capra’s commitment to perfection. It was not just about the right script but, crucially, the right ending.

It’s clear that It’s a Wonderful Life is more than just a movie; it’s a cinematic legacy as we look at the different ends. Capra’s careful method and unwavering commitment to writing the perfect story have been remembered for generations. This beloved holiday story isn’t just about the sweet story of George Bailey; it’s also about the complicated choices that made its fate possible.

It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the great movies of all time. It shows how powerful stories can be and how important it is to have a satisfying ending. Even though the different ends will only be remembered in the annals of film history, they give the story more depth as it develops. By looking into these little-known aspects, we learn more about the complex lines that come together to make a classic and beloved movie.

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