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IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – THE DISCARDED “POTTERSVILLE” ENDING

The screenplay for the 1946 holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life went through any number of drafts before reaching its final version. The following, coffee-stained pages were recently discovered among the personal papers of director Frank Capra after they were donated by his estate to Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. They reveal a fascinating, unused ending for his most famous and beloved film.

EXT. BRIDGE OVER RIVER – NIGHT

          MEDIUM SHOT

          George Bailey, disheveled and despondent, runs into frame.
          He arrives at the same spot where he was standing when
          Clarence had jumped into the river. He seems to be searching
          frantically for someone.

                              GEORGE
                    Help me, Clarence! Get me back! I
                    don't care what happens to me! Get
                    me back to my wife and kids! Help me,
                    Clarence, please!

           He collapses over the rail, folding his hands in prayer.

           CLOSEUP

           He begins to sob.

                              GEORGE
                    I want to live again! Please, God,
                    let me live again!

           A few bars of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” are heard
           on the soundtrack.

                              CLARENCE
                           (off-camera)
                    Uh, yeah, about that...

           MEDIUM SHOT

           Clarence has sidled up next to George on the bridge.
           He looks apologetic. At the sound of his guardian angel's
           voice, George turns and is overjoyed to see the funny
           old man again.

                              GEORGE
                    Oh, Clarence! Thank god you're here!
                    You've shown me how wrong I was to wish
                    I'd never been born! You taught me how
                    precious my life was and what a fool
                    I'd been not to appreciate it! This is
                    the best Christmas present a guy could
                    possibly have!

                              CLARENCE  
                    Oh, uh, that's fine, George. Just fine.
                    But...

                               GEORGE
                    But what? Tell me, Clarence! I'll do
                    anything to set this right!


                              CLARENCE 
                    Well, it's kind of a funny story, George.
                    You see, I sort of overestimated the 
                    authority I'd been granted here on Earth
                    as an angel, second class.

                              GEORGE
                    Overestimated? Wh-what does that mean?

                              CLARENCE 
                    It means that my magic is all used up,
                    George. The boys upstairs granted me the
                    power to drastically alter the very fabric
                    of time and space to prove a point, but
                    I could only do it once. Apparently, this
                    was permanent. In retrospect, I probably
                    should have checked on that.

                              GEORGE
                    Permanent? You mean I'm....?

                              CLARENCE 
                    Stuck here in Pottersville? I'm afraid so.
                    But it's not all bad, George! Think of this
                    as an opportunity!

                              GEORGE
                         (starting to lose it)
                    An opportunity?! Why, you senile, old
                    halfwit! Do you have any idea how stupid...

                              CLARENCE 
                         (not listening)
                    Look at it this way, George! You're an
                    honest, hard-working, self-sacrificing man.
                    Now you have a chance to use those qualities
                    in a town that really needs them. We both
                    saw what Pottersville was like! Just think 
                    of the satisfying work you have ahead of you!
                    Like Mr. Gower, for instance! I'll bet that
                    deranged, penniless derelict could really
                    use a friend right now!

                              GEORGE
                    Yeah, but...

                              CLARENCE
                    And Ma Bailey! Didn't she look like a woman
                    in sore need of some Christmas spirit?

                              GEORGE
                    Clarence, you're not...

                              CLARENCE 
                    And then there's Mary! Pure, sweet, 
                    almost as pretty Mary Hatch! It's a lead
                    pipe cinch that she doesn't have a date
                    for New Year's Eve!

                              GEORGE
                         (quite angry now)
                    Were you even paying attention back there,
                    Clarence? Huh? How am I supposed to do any
                    of that? I have no money and no ID! The 
                    entire town of Pottersville thinks of me
                    as some deranged drifter. Mary screams if
                    I so much as make eye contact with her. And
                    Bert the cop literally tried to shoot me
                    in the back not ten minutes ago.

                              CLARENCE 
                    Well, I never said it would be easy!

                              GEORGE
                    My best option now – my BEST option, mind
                    you – is to turn myself into the police and
                    hope they don't kill me on sight! At least
                    that would keep me out of the cold for a
                    while.

          Clarence tries to slink away.

                              CLARENCE 
                    Well, I can see that you have things under
                    control here, George, so I'll just be...

                              GEORGE
                         (lost in thought)
                    Of course, it would help if I had a more
                    substantial crime to confess to. Like a
                    homicide maybe. Yeah, that'd do it.

                              CLARENCE 
                    Homicide, George? What homicide?

                              GEORGE
                    Well, Clarence, imagine if I did something
                    like... oh, I don't know... THIS!

          WIDE SHOT

          In one deft motion, George Bailey lunges at Clarence, grabs
          him by the lapels, and tosses him over the railing.

          OVERHEAD SHOT

          Clarence plunges into the river, a look of mute horror
          frozen on his face. His body lands on some jagged rocks
          with a sickening, cracking sound. The current overtakes
          him, and he disappears from view.
                            
          CLOSEUP

          A waterlogged copy of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” bubbles
          to the surface, but the river soon carries it away.

          MEDIUM SHOT

          George stands on the bridge, looking over the railing and
          admiring his handiwork for a moment. In the distance, a
          bell tolls the hour of ten. George lifts his head a little
          to listen, and he cannot help but laugh a little at this.

          WIDE SHOT

          George dusts his hands off with finality and steps away 
          from the railing. He straightens out his posture, uses
          his fingers to neaten his hair a bit, and takes a few
          deep breaths of the invigorating winter air.

          CRANE SHOT

          The bright, garish lights of Pottersville are seen on the
          horizon beyond the bridge. The juke joints and dance halls
          light up the night sky. George, his back to the camera, 
          starts walking toward town with renewed purpose.

                              GEORGE
                         (to himself)
                    Say, I'm pretty sure I saw Violet Bick
                    being tossed into a paddy wagon earlier
                    tonight. She has a caboose a fella would
                    renounce his citizenship for! Maybe once
                    the pigs are done with her, she and I
                    could get together. A gal like that could
                    really help me find the answers.

          He continues walking, his figure appearing smaller and 
          smaller on the screen.

          FADE TO BLACK.          

Written by Joe Blevins

Joe Blevins

Originally from Flint, MI, but now making his home in the suburbs of Chicago, Joe Blevins is a self-described darkener of doorsteps and a chronicler of all things that truly do not matter. Of late, he has been wasting the time of readers through The A.V. Club, Splitsider, and his own blog, Dead 2 Rights, which used to be about zombies before those became a cliche. Now it’s about god knows what.

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