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Friday, December 23, 2011

Things That Really Exist: Marlo Thomas in a Second-Rate 1977 Version of It's a Wonderful Life

Posted By on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 at 12:00 PM


This may be hard to be fathom, but in the mid-1970s, It's a Wonderful Life was not yet considered an unimpeachable holiday classic, but was instead a somewhat obscure financial flop which had just entered the public domain. Its television ubiquity was yet to be.

This is why the public didn't give two figs that the 1977 TV movie It Happened One Christmas starring Marlo Thomas (kids, ask your grandparents) was a brazen, sometimes shot-by-shot remake: because nobody really knew, or cared, about the original.

Besides, there was no Twitter or blogosphere yet. How were they going to express their righteous anger? On their CB radios? Anyway, I'm going to assume you know Life by heart. If you don't, I kinda envy you.

Space-Heaven is a patriarchy, and Joseph is a dick. (Fight pay TV!)

That's Wayne Rogers of M*A*S*H (and little else) in the Donna Reed role.

The one bit of truly inspired casting: professional slummer Orson Welles as Mr. Potter.

Orson saying "playing nursemaid to a bunch of garlic eaters and taxi drivers" may be reason enough for this movie to exist.

Who's going to jail? Not Marlo! I'm no fashion expert, but I think her clothes are a little anachronistic for 1944.

Cloris Leachman as Clara, the Goofy Guardian Angel. (You're better than that accent, Cloris.)

There's a dustup at Nick's on the "what if" reality, which we'll call Earth-2.

Pottersville, Earth-2's Reeperbahn. More red lights, please!

Wayne Rogers has become a mechanic on Earth-2. Hey, at least he's not a librarian.

I honestly believe the original film's reputation is largely based on the final 10 minutes: specifically, the run down the street on Earth-1 yelling "Merry Christmas" at things and places...

...and the big-sing-along at the end. As Harry Bailey, an impossibly young Christopher Guest not only gives the worst line reading of his career, but the editing suggests that he's staring at Marlo like he wants to finish what Earth-2's Wayne Rogers started. Seriously, watch him at 0:41-0:44. It's creepy.

The rediscovery and redemption of It's a Wonderful Life pushed It Happened One Christmas into its own indefinite obscurity. Last I heard, it's available only on Betamax -- in Pottersville.


Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8 p.m.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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