Christmas Countdown — Day 3

by Kathy Larson

Day 3 was a bit of a struggle. I wasn’t feeling particularly festive after what can only be described as a ‘trying’ day. But, I persevered and after a little bit of searching I stumbled upon It Happened One Christmas.

The movie was released in 1977 and it stars Marlo Thomas. Remember her? Danny Thomas’ daughter, star of That Girl and The Marlo Thomas Show. For a while Marlo was a huge star on television and personified the all-American, girl next door. I remember watching That Girl, it was funny and, for its time, groundbreaking.

But, we are not here to discuss old tv shows. We are here to talk about It Happened One Christmas.

Essentially, this movie is a reimagining of It’s a Wonderful Life, with the main character roles reversed. Instead of George Bailey we have Mary Bailey. Instead of Mary Hatch we have George Hatch. It was a simple character switch that allowed the main plot of the movie to stay the same. Another character shift was to replace Clarence the angel, second class with Clara the angel, same designation. Cloris Leachman played Clara, and honestly, she was simply awful. It was a good thing that her role was much smaller in this adapted version of the story than was Henry Travers’ in the original.

Despite the movie hailing from 1977 it was easy to watch and not at all as dated as you might expect. That is due to the fact that they kept it true to the era of the original film — 1928 — so costumes, scenery, and attitudes were essentially the same. Bedford Falls was recognizable as Bedford Falls, supporting characters looked and sounded enough like their original counterparts that I sometimes found myself thinking they were the same actors from the 1946 IAWL.

The major changes were subtle, but important. In this version you have a strong, independent woman who wants to chart her own course through life, but, like her male counterpart George in the original story, sacrifices her personal goals and desires for the good of her family and community. The important distinction, however, is that Mary Bailey is the representation of the true feminist ideal that was being pursued in the last half of the twentieth century. She was smart, strong, beautiful, knew her own mind, was unselfish, thoughtful, and caring. On top of that she ran a successful business, managed to have and raise four children, looked after her injured war-hero husband and happily took a backseat to her younger brother’s dreams and aspirations. Through it all she remained perfectly put together, with impeccable clothes and beautifully done hair and make-up. And, unlike George Bailey, she never shows any frustration or anger at her situation (other than when she wishes she had never been born, there is no way that could have been left out of the story). Other than that one lapse, she is a stoic and smiling figure of the EVERY WOMAN all women should strive to be.

At least in the 70s. Now, of course, we know that for women to try and be all that is ridiculous. And exhausting. And not good for our mental health.

Political overtones aside, as in the original, this is charming little movie. It is not nearly as good as the original with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, but I didn’t expect it to be. If you’re looking for a feel-good movie the whole family can enjoy this will fill the ticket. We found it on Prime.

Happy holidays!