Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Subprime Mortgage Crisis: It Was All George Bailey's Fault

Here I am watching "It's A Wonderful Life" for the umpteenth time - and with all the dumb ass commercials yet. So the Bailey Building and Loan gave away mortgages to people with no collateral. And mean Mr.Potter is there to say all the things we hear being said today about the lax policy. But George Bailey and his pop talk humanity. Must have been New Dealers.

Ooops! Gotta go. Clarence just pulled the switch.

POTTER: Have you put any real pressure on those people of yours to pay those mortgages?

BAILEY: Times are bad, Mr. Potter. A lot of these people are out of work.

POTTER: Then foreclose!

BAILEY: I can't do that. These families have children.

POTTER: They're not my children.

BAILEY: But they're somebody's children.

POTTER: Are you running a business or a charity ward?

BAILEY: Well, all right . . .

POTTER (interrupting): Not with my money!

CLOSE SHOT –– Potter and Bailey.

BAILEY: Mr. Potter, what makes you such a hard-skulled character? You have no family –– no children. You can't begin to spend all the money you've got.

POTTER: So I suppose I should give it to miserable failures like you and that idiot brother of yours to spend for me.

George cannot listen any longer to such libel about his father. He comes around in front of the desk.

GEORGE: He's not a failure! You can't say that about my father!

George’s father dies years later

POTTER: Peter Bailey was not a business man. That's what killed him. Oh, I don't mean any disrespect to him, God rest his soul. He was a man of high ideals, so-called, but ideals without common sense can ruin this town.
(picking up papers from table)
Now, you take this loan here to Ernie Bishop . . . You know, that fellow that sits around all day on his brains in his taxi. You know . . . I happen to know the bank turned down this loan, but he comes here and we're building him a house worth five thousand dollars.

George is at the door of the office, holding his coat and papers, ready to leave.

GEORGE: Well, I handled that, Mr. Potter. You have all the papers there. His salary, insurance. I can personally vouch for his character.

POTTER (sarcastically): A friend of yours?

GEORGE: Yes, sir.

POTTER: You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas. Now, I say . . .

George puts down his coat and comes around to the table, incensed by what Potter is saying about his father.

GEORGE: Just a minute –– just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You're right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I'll never know. But neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was . . .

Why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn't that right, Uncle Billy? He didn't save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter.

And what's wrong with that? Why . . . Here, you're all businessmen here. Doesn't it make them better citizens? Doesn't it make them better customers? You . . . you said . . . What'd you say just a minute ago? . . . They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait! Wait for what?

Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they're so old and broken-down that they . . . Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about . . . they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they're cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you'll ever be!

POTTER: I'm not interested in your book. I'm talking about the Building and Loan.

GEORGE: I know very well what you're talking about. You're talking about something you can't get your fingers on, and it's galling you. That's what you're talking about, I know. (to the Board)
Well, I've said too much. I . . . You're the Board here. You do what you want with this thing. Just
one thing more, though. This town needs this measly one-horse institution if only to have some place where people can come without crawling to Potter. Come on, Uncle Billy!


CLOSE SHOT –– Sign hanging from a tree: "Welcome to Bailey Park." CAMERA PANS TO follow George's car and the old truck laden with furniture as they pass –– we hear Martini's voice singing "O Sole Mio." Bailey Park is a district of new small houses, not all alike, but each individual. New lawns here and there, and young trees. It has the promise when built up of being a pleasant little middle class section.



MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT –– George and Mary are on the porch of the new house, with the Martinis lined up before them.

GEORGE: Mr. and Mrs. Martini, welcome home.

The Martinis cross themselves.

CLOSE SHOT –– Mary and George on porch.

(to Mrs. Martini, giving her loaf of bread)
Bread! That this house may never know hunger.

Mrs. Martini crosses herself.

MARY (giving her salt): Salt! That life may always have flavor.

GEORGE (handing bottle to Martini): And wine! That joy and prosperity may reign forever. Enter the Martini castle!

The Martinis cross themselves, shaking hands all around. The kids enter, with screams of delight. Mrs. Martini kisses Mary.


CLOSE SHOT –– Potter seated in his wheelchair at his desk, with his goon beside him. His rent
collector, Reineman, is talking, pointing to maps spread out on the desk.

REINEMAN: Look, Mr. Potter, it's no skin off my nose. I'm just your little rent collector. But you
can't laugh off this Bailey Park any more. Look at it.

POTTER: Go on.

REINEMAN: Fifteen years ago, a half-dozen houses stuck here and there.
(indicating map)
There's the old cemetery, squirrels, buttercups, daisies. Used to hunt rabbits there myself. Look at it today. Dozens of the prettiest little homes you ever saw. Ninety per cent owned by suckers who used to pay rent to you. Your Potter's Field, my dear Mr. Employer, is becoming just that. And are the local yokels making with those David and Goliath wisecracks!

POTTER: Oh, they are, are they? Even though they know the Baileys haven't made a dime out of it.

REINEMAN: You know very well why. The Baileys were all chumps. Every one of these homes is worth twice what it cost the Building and Loan to build. If I were you, Mr. Potter . . .

POTTER (interrupting): Well, you are not me.

REINEMAN (as he leaves): As I say, it's no skin off my nose. But one of these days this bright young man is going to be asking George Bailey for a job.

Reineman exits.

POTTER: The Bailey family has been a boil on my neck long enough.


CLOSE SHOT –– Potter is lighting a big cigar which he has just given George. The goon is beside Potter's chair, as usual.

GEORGE: Thank you, sir. Quite a cigar, Mr. Potter.

POTTER: You like it? I'll send you a box.

GEORGE (nervously): Well, I . . . I suppose I'll find out sooner or later, but just what exactly did you want to see me about?

POTTER (laughs): George, now that's just what I like so much about you.
(pleasantly and smoothly)

George, I'm an old man, and most people hate me. But I don't like them either, so that makes it all even. You know just as well as I do that I run practically everything in this town but the Bailey Building and Loan. You know, also, that for a number of years I've been trying to get control of it . . . or kill it. But I haven't been able to do it. You have been stopping me. In fact, you have beaten me, George, and as anyone in this county can tell you, that takes some doing. Take during the depression, for instance. You and I were the only ones that kept our heads. You saved the Building and Loan, and I saved all the rest.

GEORGE: Yes. Well, most people say you stole all the rest.

POTTER: The envious ones say that, George, the suckers. Now, I have stated my side very frankly. Now, let's look at your side. Young man, twenty-seven, twenty-eight . . . married, making, say . . . forty a week.

GEORGE (indignantly): Forty-five!

POTTER: Forty-five. Forty-five. Out of which, after supporting your mother, and paying your bills, you're able to keep, say, ten, if you skimp. A child or two comes along, and you won't even be able to save the ten. Now, if this young man of twenty-eight was a common, ordinary yokel, I'd say he was doing fine. But George Bailey is not a common, ordinary yokel. He's an intelligent, smart, ambitious young man — who hates his job –– who hates the Building and Loan almost as much as I do. A young man who's been dying to get out on his own ever since he was born. A young man . . . the smartest one of the crowd, mind you, a young man who has to sit by and watch his friends go places, because he's trapped. Yes, sir, trapped into frittering his life away playing nursemaid to a lot of garlic-eaters. Do I paint a correct picture, or do I exaggerate?

GEORGE (mystified): Now what's your point, Mr. Potter?

POTTER: My point? My point is, I want to hire you.

GEORGE (dumbfounded): Hire me?

POTTER: I want you to manage my affairs, run my properties. George, I'll start you out at twenty thousand dollars a year.

George drops his cigar on his lap. He nervously brushes off the sparks from his clothes.

GEORGE (flabbergasted): Twenty thou . . . twenty thousand dollars a year?

POTTER: You wouldn't mind living in the nicest house in town, buying your wife a lot of fine clothes, a couple of business trips to New York a year, maybe once in a while Europe. You wouldn't mind that, would you, George?

GEORGE: Would I?
(looking around skeptically)
You're not talking to somebody else around here, are you? You know, this is me, you remember me? George Bailey.

POTTER: Oh, yes, George Bailey. Whose ship has just come in –– providing he has brains enough to climb aboard.

GEORGE: Well, what about the Building and Loan?

POTTER: Oh, confound it, man, are you afraid of success? I'm offering you a three year contract at twenty thousand dollars a year, starting today. Is it a deal or isn't it?

GEORGE: Well, Mr. Potter, I . . . I . . . I know I ought to jump at the chance, but I . . . I just . . . I wonder if it would be possible for you to give me twenty-four hours to think it over?

POTTER: Sure, sure, sure. You go on home and talk about it to your wife.

GEORGE: I'd like to do that.

POTTER: In the meantime, I'll draw up the papers.

GEORGE: All right, sir.

POTTER (offers hand): Okay, George?

GEORGE (taking his hand): Okay, Mr. Potter.

As they shake hands, George feels a physical revulsion. Potter's hand feels like a cold mackerel to
him. In that moment of physical contact he knows he could never be associated with this man. George drops his hand with a shudder. He peers intently into Potter's face.

GEORGE (cont'd –– vehemently): No . . . no . . . no . . . no, now wait a minute, here! I don't have to talk to anybody! I know right now, and the answer is no!
NO! Doggone it!
(getting madder all the time)
You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn't, Mr. Potter! In the . . . in the whole vast configuration of things, I'd say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider. You . . .

He turns and shouts at the goon, impassive as ever beside Potter's wheelchair.

GEORGE (cont'd): . . . And that goes for you too!

As George opens the office door to exit, he shouts at Mr. Potter's secretary in the outer office:

GEORGE (cont'd): And it goes for you too!

Full script at


  1. Now this is scary- I was having the same thoughts about George Bailey and sub prime mortgages as I watched (besides with all those commercials, I had plenty of time on my hands to reflect).

    Happy Holidays Norm!!

  2. Thanks 17. A well deserved week off + to you too.

    So, in today's world, Potter is the hero? See today's bus. section of the Times for a cute take on this which I'm adding to this post.


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