A perennial classic that both embodies and transcends Christmas-based films, Frank Capra's 1946 (released in January of 1947) film It's A Wonderful Life tells the story of everyman George Bailey, who struggles against every sort of bad luck to make things better for his family and indeed his whole hometown, often sacrificing his own dreams for their good, but growing frustrated and despondent that he is doing any good at all. The famous climax, where an oddball apprentice angel shows him the terrible lives of those around him had he never been born, is at turns both heartwarming and terrifying, but leads to the finale where he reclaims his life, such as it is, and finds that the good he has done is also appreciated by all those he has helped. The film has even been known to surprise those of a more cynical bent, as the film's events really put George through the wringer.
The last scene shows the town coming to George's rescue in a big way, but this wasn't always the very last scene.
The fate of Mister Potter
Unlike his more heroic surname namesakes, Harry and Sherman, Henry Potter is what the lead angel (possibly Saint Joseph) calls him in the intro : A greedy grasping old sinner, one even pre-reform Scrooge might dislike for his ostentatiousness and self-indulgence. Throughout the film, he schemes and very nearly succeeds in taking over the one thing in town he doesn't own : The Bailey Savings & Loan, run by George's family, run to help the citizens of Bedford Falls have a chance at home ownership and betterment. In fact, the other world George enters shows that George was the only thing stopping this takeover from happening. 'Pottersville' may seem livelier and have more entertainment, but Potter's total grasp means most everyone leads lives of quiet misery with no hope of doing better for themselves or their children. In the main universe, Potter's slimiest moment comes when George's forgetful uncle leaves a deposit at the bank on the counter, only to have Potter seize it. George's S&L is now short of a required deposit and a bank examiner's visit will likely see him imprisoned, leading to his despair and the ultimate rescue by the townspeople. With no further mention of the lost money, it seems Mister Potter goes down as one of film's great Karma Houdinis. Though one could argue the thwarting of his plans and the implied growing loss of his cheap rundown rentals income is enough, film audiences have often wished that some manner of comeuppance had been made.
Laser Guided Karma
One ending had George Bailey falling to his knees and reciting the Lord's Prayer, but Capra felt that any religious expression was best kept subtle, to widen the appeal of the story's message. One that was apparently fimed brought grim justice to Mister Potter, taking shape when he keeled over from heart failure while counting his stolen money. Capra felt this was too mean-spirited, and that Potter's defeat, if not already achieved, was now inevitable as the town slipped out of his grasp, age made him ever more infirm, and especially with George's renewed spirit.
While Capra typically did not keep unused or discarded footage or such, it remains possible that this ending exists somewhere, although even in complete form it may merely be as a very brief, not fully realized scene.