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  It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
 
Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart (center); Photo courtesy of RKO/The Kobal Collection

Frank Capra's holiday classic, built around one fateful day in the life of George Bailey, has everything: dreams, dreams deferred, love, envy, hope, despair and true happiness. And money sets it all in motion.

The hard-working families of Bedford Falls have always depended on the liberal lending policies of the Bailey Building and Loan to make their dreams of homes and businesses possible. All that joy, not to mention money not collecting the maximum interest, has infuriated the evil banker Mr. Potter for years.

When Potter finally gets the chance to destroy his rival lending institution, thanks to the fiscal carelessness of George's uncle Billy, he seizes it with malicious glee. So begins the worst, and best, day of George Bailey's life.

Jimmy Stewart is George Bailey. The actor's gawky exuberance as a young man with dreams of seeing the world gives way to easygoing charm when George settles into the family business. And as George watches his late father's dreams crumble in Potter's evil grasp, Stewart finds just the right combination of despair and dark humor as a man who believes his life is no longer worth living.

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Enter Clarence, an angel who vividly demonstrates to George how his existence has made the world a much better place. In short order, the Bailey Building and Loan is back in business, Mr. Potter resumes his miserable, lonely life and all is once again right in Bedford Falls.

Call it Capra-corn if you want, but it just isn't Christmas until George discovers that a person's true wealth is measured by the love and support of family and friends.

And that, fellow filmgoers, is the ultimate money lesson.

 
 
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