Overlooked Holiday Movies That Are Surprisingly Somber


Before Frank Capra’s 1946 “It’s a Wonderful Life” became a holiday television mainstay, “The ABC Sunday Night Movie” aired a made-for-TV remake, “It Happened One Christmas,” in 1977. While it retained almost all of the original’s script, it not only recruited Orson Welles to play monopolist slumlord Mr. Potter, but also gender-flipped its central cast.

Marlo Thomas plays Mary Bailey, inheritor of Bailey Bros. Building & Loan, with Cloris Leachman as Clara ⁠(Clarence in the original) Odbody, Angel Second Class, and Wayne Rogers as Mary’s husband, George Hatch, who joins her younger brother Harry (future mockumentarian Christopher Guest) in serving during World War II.

Even when Thomas and Welles recite Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore’s lines word-for-word, the inherent shift in their dynamic, stemming from Mr. Bailey becoming Mrs. Bailey-Hatch, works with their subtly nuanced performances to elevate this remake. Stewart’s George Bailey rarely shies from venting his blustery disgruntlement over how fate has seemingly conspired to trap him in Bedford Falls, but Thomas’ Mary Bailey elicits more sympathy through her indefatigably chipper convictions, which crack only twice during this film.

Mary’s plight underscores how routinely women have been forced to defer their dreams, which might be why Welles’ Potter appears to admire (and even pity) Mary, even as he remains unwaveringly determined to destroy her.

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