The Inevitability of George Bailey and Mary Hatch.

I've often described myself as a hopeless romantic, or as Yves Montand perfectly said, "I'm incurably romantic." One of the greatest joys in life to me is seeing the glamorous leading lady and her handsome leading man coming together, a union that is (almost) always gloriously sealed with a kiss. Luckily, Second Sight Cinema is celebrating all kinds of cinematic kisses with the "You Must Remember This... A Kiss is Just a Kiss" Blogathon. Valentine's Day weekend wouldn't be complete without checking out the great roster here.



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Paris When it Sizzles is a movie that loves to be meta about its art form, and as a result, it has a lot of interesting quotes that reflect on the craziness of Hollywood. My favorite of these lines is easily when William Holden's cynical screenwriter leans into Audrey Hepburn's cheerful secretary and tells her that his screenplay must employ a liplock, where "the two enormous and highly paid heads come together in that ultimate and inevitable moment, the final, Earth-moving, studio rent-paying, theater-filling, popcorn-selling kiss." Indeed, kisses in the movies are highly anticipated affairs, a culmination of chemistry and romance that have proven to be irresistible time and time again. This kind of pressure makes them awfully tricky, though. The slightest thing during a kiss can potentially ruin the whole moment for you, which can sometimes spoil you a bit on the couple as a whole. I can't remember what film I was watching, but when the kiss happened, some strands of the woman's hair got in on the smooch and when they pulled away, I could see the hair still attached to the guy's lips -- it quickly grossed me out.

One cinematic kiss that has a lot to live up to comes from that Christmastime favorite It's a Wonderful Life. It's a movie that I can't help but relegate to the month of December, yet when I heard about this blogathon, I knew I had to discuss Life because it has a kissing scene that gives me all the emotional cliches: my heart swells, I grin, sometimes I get teary-eyed, and my toes curl in absolute glee. You may know what moment I'm talking about, but if you don't, you're in for a treat.

George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) has always wanted to be a part of something bigger than his hometown. From the minute we meet him, we see his hunger for adventure, for a life that extends beyond the confining Bedford Falls. The universe, however, has other things in store for George, an invisible hand constantly keeping him in one spot. Over time, George becomes more restless, with only flashes of irritation and heartsickness illustrating to the viewer that he hasn't given up on the idea of exploring. It's during one of these outbursts that George realizes that he can't let go of part of Bedford Falls: Mary. Mary (Donna Reed) has been in love with George ever since they were little, but his dreams of traveling allowed for some pretty big blinders. One night at a dance, the twosome reconnect and spend a fun, sweet evening together, singing "Buffalo Gal (Won't You Come Out Tonight)" and Jimmy Stewart delivering this beautiful piece of dialogue:

"What is it you want, Mary?  What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey, that's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary..."

Unfortunately, minutes later, George is told his father had a stroke and for a few years, Mary and George go their separate ways until a crisp autumn night finds George wandering the streets and hesitantly arriving outside of Mary's house. She's been waiting for him to show up at her door, but her hopes of being swept off her feet in a moment of magic are deflated by George's crankiness. He knows he has feelings for her and if he spends more time with her,
it's likely they'll get married. Why is this bad? It would be just one more thing tying him down to Bedford Falls. How could he go out and conquer the world if he has a family to support? So it's with lots of reservations that George accepts Mary's invitation to come in the house. She plays "Buffalo Gal" on the phonograph and puts her drawing of George lassoing the moon in a prominent place -- anything to remind him of that wonderful night. Her disappointment is palpable as he
brushes aside all remembrances, making her feel like that night was silly and forgettable to him. This isn't exactly done out of malice. Earlier that day, George thought he was on his way out of Bedford Falls because his brother Harry returned from college and would be taking over his job at the family's Building and Loan. However, Harry arrived with a new wife and a potential new job, sinking George's dreams once again. But Mary doesn't know this. Fed
up, she asks him why he came and he angrily implies that it was a mistake. He leaves and Mary breaks the "Buffalo Gal" record in frustration. And then the phone rings. It's Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson), an old pal of George's and Mary's kind-of beau. (By the way, what is the deal between them? When we see Sam, he has a girl draped over him. He's a decent guy, but isn't this saying he's cheating on Mary?)

Mary doesn't really want to talk to Sam, but her mother anxiously demands that she does -- clearly, she wants her daughter to marry the wealthy Sam over poor, average George. When George comes back in to retrieve his hat, Mary gets the idea to catch his attention by acting as if she's thrilled to speak with Sam. When she mentions that George is there, Sam asks her to give the phone to him. "Hey, what are you doing, are you trying to steal my girl?" he jokingly
asks. "Nobody's trying to steal anybody's girl! Here's Mary," George replies with annoyance, not noticing that Mary is wiping away tears. The audience can just barely hear Sam on the receiver as he tells Mary to get on the extension so he can talk to both of them about a business venture he wants to do in Bedford Falls. "Mother's on the extension," Mary says with a throb in her voice. They're forced to share the phone, their closeness slowly
overwhelming them. They keep talking to Sam, but only halfheartedly. George's eyes are glued to Mary, his replies slightly delayed as if Sam's voice snaps him out of a daze. Mary feels George watching her, and you can practically see her heart beating faster as she nervously looks straight-forward instead of meeting his gaze. We hear Sam beg Mary to encourage George to invest in this new business idea, declaring that "it's the chance of a lifetime."

 
She finally looks at George. Their faces are just centimeters away. If you strain, you can hear their breathing quicken. "He says it's the chance of a lifetime," she almost whispers. Two, three seconds of silence. George drops the phone and shakes Mary by the shoulders: "Now, listen to me... I don't want to get married, ever, to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do! And you're, and you're --" Mary's tear-covered face becomes George's downfall. They embrace, saying each other's names, George kissing her cheeks and then her lips. Her mother is scandalized, but they don't care. Right now, it's just the two of them and despite George's misgivings, their marriage will prove to be his anchor and Mary his saving grace.

Frank Capra made such a magnificent picture, and nowhere is that more apparent than this scene. He gets the audience so involved in Mary and George's relationship, and then he puts the camera right up close to them, making us feel like we're right there. There's no score, no swelling of the music when the couple finally collapse in each other's arms -- all we have are the sounds of the actors, including the far-away voice of Sam. I love this touch. Cutting between Mary's house and Sam in New York would have diffused all tension, not to mention breaking the electric connection between Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. The muted intonation of Sam going "Will you tell that guy I'm giving him the chance of a lifetime? The chance of a lifetime!" sounds like the disembodied voice of the universe, proclaiming that George and Mary are inevitable and they should stop trying to fight it.

Interestingly, Stewart had Capra delay this scene for as long as he could. Life was his first film coming back from service in WWII, and filming such an intimate, romantic scene made the actor uncomfortable, especially after his absence from the screen. "A fella gets rusty," he said, but obviously the scene had to be done. To be sure Stewart couldn't shy away from Reed, Capra re-staged it so they had to share the phone and it was actually done in one take. The director was happy with the result, but one person wasn't: the script girl. Apparently Stewart and Reed had left out a whole page of dialogue, but Capra wasn't concerned, saying "With technique like that, who needs dialogue?" Agreed. You can see the scene for yourself by clicking here. Enjoy, and happy Valentine's Day!


With love,
Michaela

Comments

  1. One of my favorite films! Thanks for a lovely post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading! It's also one of my faves, and practically perfect in every way.

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  2. I can understand the script girl's chagrin, but we don't need the dialogue because we're living that scene - and it is magnificent!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed! Forget the dialogue, those looks say it all. I love how Capra includes us in the scene, much like Hitchcock did the same year with Notorious.

      Delete
  3. Oh yeah - one of the best kisses ever.As I was thinking about which kiss to write about, James Stewart seemed to appear in a lot of them. I guess he was a pretty good kisser!

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    Replies
    1. It's true, Jimmy was part of some breathtaking kisses. I think this one is my favorite, but the one in the green-lit motel room from Vertigo runs a very, very close second. Thanks for reading!

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  4. I love that story about Reed and Stewart leaving out a whole page of dialogue. Capra was right – they had plenty of technique! Such a romantic scene. You would never know Stewart wasn't looking forward to it.

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    1. It makes me curious what they left out...must research! Jimmy Stewart was a total sweetheart, but romantic scenes have a history of, well, freaking him out. I know on The Philadelphia Story, that scene with Katharine Hepburn when they get drunk and kiss, Stewart made George Cukor upset because he couldn't get the lines right. I can only guess how apprehensive he was to do those long, swirling kisses in Vertigo.

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  5. From the "Lasso the moon" moment until this kiss, my heart melts! Indeed, it's one of the loveliest scenes in film history, and George and Mary are one of the cutest couples ever. I didn't know Jimmy delayed the scene and they ended up skipping a lot of deialogue! I think Capra was right: a moment like this need no dialogue!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    Le

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed on all counts! George and Mary are perfect candidates for America's Sweethearts, but that doesn't mean they can't have their steamy moments. Reed and Stewart were just superb. Thanks for reading!

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