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  • Adaptation Displacement and Adaptation Expansion: Of a short story called "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: George brings his problems on himself by running an overleveraged, illiquid bank and letting his alcoholic uncle handle business.
    • It's not a bank, it's a building and loan. People make deposits and the money is then leant back out in the form of mortgages to the locals. They were generally considered to be one of the safest investments you could make until deregulation under Ronald Reagan.
    • Pottersville looks like a fun town... well, unless you're one of the poor working class whose livelihoods are destroyed.
  • Big Lipped Alligator Moment: Mary losing her bathrobe and having to hide naked inside a bush. George even lampshades it. "This is a very interesting situation I'm in!"
  • Complete Monster: Mr. Potter. Not only does he (unbeknownst to everyone else) confiscate George Bailey's Building and Loans' cash funds in order to make the business go bankrupt and frame George for bank fraud, but when the defeated George comes begging pathetically for a loan, Potter tries to have him arrested. On Christmas Eve! For losing money that Potter himself stole. That really takes something special.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: that bar scene where George gets punched ... okay, he deserved it, but did the guy that did it have to insult his kids too?
    • Well, George did insult the guy's innocent wife, who had been badly shaken by his tirade. If a line was crossed twice, then George crossed it first.
  • Glurge: It tugs on the heartstrings so hard, a reviewer coined the term "Capra Corn" to refer to it. Afterwards, Frank Capra himself started using the phrase to describe his well-known sentimental film style. Some background on it all here.
    • The Glurge aspects were lampshaded in the first Batman the Animated Series Christmas special, "Christmas with the Joker"--it was the reason why Bruce was initially unwilling to let Dick show him the movie. Dick points out that it's about how one man can make a difference, alluding to Batman's role in Gotham City.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The banks today are basically run by Potters, and the way they were run caused much of the late 2000s recession.
    • It runs the other way, too. Potter is indignant that Ernie get a loan simply because George sticks up for his character. While mainly just being a jerk, part of his point is doubtfulness that Ernie will ever be able to pay it back. During the 2000s, some banks gave out loans to people they knew couldn't pay them back, which has been cited as a major cause of said recession. Some of these were very Potter-esque dealings designed to screw lower class people over, but others were cases of the banks being screwed over - being cajoled into making poor decisions under the pretense of it being the right thing to do.
      • The difference is, George's Building and Loan was never really intended to make a profit. The 2008 mortgage crisis was caused by banks offering mortgages that they knew were worthless, and then betting on their customers to default, thereby making a tidy profit on the failure.
    • And often they were forced into those poor decisions by the government with no alternative, not just pressured into them by misguided morals.
  • Iron Woobie: George Bailey.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Mr. Potter is a hateful and greedy man throughout the whole movie, but what he does to George near the end is where he crossed the line into Complete Monster territory and became immortalized as one of the most memorable and hateful villains in cinema.
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  Mr. Potter Why, George ... you're worth more dead than alive.

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  • Narm: In the Alternate Timeline, George learns that among other things, 1) the Building & Loan went bankrupt, 2) his Uncle Billy is now in an insane asylum, 3) all his old friends are cynical and miserable, 4) his brother Harry drowned in the ice when he was a little boy, and 5) all the people whose lives Harry saved in the War died. He asks Clarence what happened to his wife, Mary. Clarenece first says, "You don't want to know," which seems to imply that what happened to her is even worse than everything else we've seen so far. He then says, "She became an old maid." The complete Values Dissonance of that line and the build up leading up to it completely shatters what had been an effective Nightmare Fuel and Tear Jerker that Pottersville had been up to this point.
  • Tear Jerker: The entire last act of the movie set on Christmas Eve, culminating in "I want to live again!".
  • What Do You Mean It's for Kids?: For one thing, the Bar Brawl in the Martini bar when George looks so depressed, and the whole Alternate Universe part, with other bar brawls where the Martini bar used to be; the attempted arrest of George and Clarence for trespassing at a still-dilapidated house; the hand-biting; the possible Attempted Rape of Mary; and it all ends with police attempting to shoot George by firing guns as he runs away. And this was under the Hays Production Code.
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