"I don't care how backed up the line gets, I WILL train the world's first avian bank teller!"


"I don't care how backed up the line gets, I WILL train the world's first avian bank teller!"

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

The Abridged Script

FADE IN:

EXT. HEAVEN (WHICH IS APPARENTLY IN SPACE)

GOD

Oh for the love of Me.

JOSEPH

What’s the matter, Your Divine Omnipotence?

GOD

Look down there. Some idiot wants to commit suicide on Christmas. I don’t want this jackass ruining my son’s birthday! Send somebody to clean up this mess.

JOSEPH

Very well sir, I’ll get one of our best angels onto it.

GOD

Ehh. Just send an apprentice angel with a history of failure.

JOSEPH

So that’s how little of a shit we give about this guy, huh?

GOD

Not surprising considering the rest of this movie.

JOSEPH

Fine then. Hey you, intern!

HENRY TRAVERS

Yessir?

JOSEPH

We need you to save a guy called James Stewart. He’s planning to kill himself because of a problem which cropped up like six hours ago.

HENRY TRAVERS

Oh cool, this ought to be a quick and easy briefing then! Unless of course you guys are way too obsessive about background detail.

JOSEPH

Our story begins when he was twelve years old...

HENRY TRAVERS

Dangit.

EXT. FROZEN LAKE

YOUNG JAMES STEWART and his BROTHER are cavorting on a frozen lake. The BROTHER falls through the ICE, but JAMES saves him!

JOSEPH

James lost his hearing in one ear due to that incident. But note that without James to save him, his brother would have died that day!

HENRY TRAVERS

What? There are like seven other kids there, surely SOMEBODY would have pulled him out of the ice.

JOSEPH

Look, the first thing you need to know about Bedford Falls is that James is the only guy here who isn’t completely fucking useless. You have no idea. Let’s move on!

INT. DRUG STORE

YOUNG JAMES is hanging out with YOUNG DONNA REED.

YOUNG DONNA REED

Hi, Jimmy! How are you doing with that school project where we’re supposed to pick an intense lifelong obsession?

YOUNG JAMES STEWART

I’ve decided to be pathologically driven to leave this hick town in the rear view mirror and travel all over the world! What about you?

YOUNG DONNA REED

I’ve gone with a deranged crush on you! I’m gonna marry you and tie you down to this crappy place for ever and ever and ever!

YOUNG JAMES STEWART

Huh, so your life goal involves squashing my dreams? That’s kinda shitty.

A drunken H.B. WARNER staggers out from the BACK ROOM.

H.B. WARNER

Don’t mind me kids, I may have just gotten news of my son’s sudden death but I’m fine to keep administering pharmaceuticals!

(shovels rat poison, broken glass and uranium into some capsules)

Young James, take this medicine to a customer for me.

YOUNG JAMES STEWART

Oh no. Oh man. What do I do? Tell H.B. that he fucked up? Or something that’s NOT the obvious solution? I’m totally flummoxed!!

H.B. WARNER

WHY DID YOU NOT FOLLOW MY INSTRUCTIONS?! GAH!

He BEATS THE SHIT OUT OF A CHILD until BLOOD starts POURING OUT OF THE CHILD’S EAR. And then he CONTINUES TO BEAT THE CHILD even while the child is CRYING AND BLEEDING ALL OVER THE PLACE.

YOUNG JAMES STEWART

All right, can we all agree that even with his grief taken into account this is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT NOT OKAY?!?

INT. JAMES STEWART’S HOUSE

SAMUEL L. HINDS is having dinner with his son, NO-LONGER-YOUNG JAMES STEWART.

HENRY TRAVERS

Woah! I see we’ve skipped right ahead to when James was like thirty-five, then.

JOSEPH

Er, actually he’s supposed to be about twenty-one in this scene.

HENRY TRAVERS

...You’re shitting me, right?

JOSEPH

Just play along, this is simply how things were in olden-days Hollywood. Seriously, the people who complained about Dawson’s Creek obviously never saw John Mills in Great Expectations.

SAMUEL L. HINDS

So son, you’ve spent all your school years stuck in this town, then spent four years working for me at the local Building and Loan. And now...

(looks at watch)

Like pretty much EXACTLY now... almost down to the hour... is the time scheduled for you to go do all that travelling you’re so obsessed with.

JAMES STEWART

Yes, after literally DECADES of anticipation I am now at the PRECISE moment when I get to leave this town. Surely nothing will occur within this exact, crazy coincidental timeframe to screw me over!

(spills salt onto black cat, trips under ladder into a dozen mirrors)

SAMUEL L. HINDS

(dies)

JAMES STEWART

FUCK!

JAMES cancels his trip to take over his dad’s job for a few months.

JAMES STEWART

Okay, but that was it, right? I get to leave town now?

LIONEL BARRYMORE

(appearing in puff of brimstone)

Why certainly! Meanwhile I propose that, after spending months of effort struggling to keep the Building and Loan intact in the wake of your father’s demise, we immediately say “Actually fuck it” and dissolve the whole thing, thus paving the way for me to monopolize local real estate and complete my miserly stranglehold on this town.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Sure, why not!

JAMES STEWART

Are you guys high? How can you go along with any plan proposed by one of the most obviously evil characters in movie history? If this fucker suggested I continue breathing I’d have to think twice about it!

LIONEL BARRYMORE

Now gentlemen, just because I’m sitting astride a throne made of orphan skulls and birds are dropping out of the sky in my presence doesn’t mean I’m not speaking as an honest, disinterested party! I really think it’s in the best interest of Bedford Falls that the majority of its citizens be shoveled into my leering maw.

JAMES STEWART

Well then how about I slowly boil over with righteous fury as I TEAR YOU DOWN IN ONE OF THE MOST AWESOME ANGRY RANTS EVER COMMITTED TO FILM!

(drops mic)

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Wow! All right, James, you’ve convinced us. We’ll keep the Building and Loan going-

JAMES STEWART

Great! Mission accomplished, I’m outta here, seeya suckers!

(grabs bags, sprints for door)

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

-but ONLY if you personally run it, otherwise we’ll ignore all of your obviously-correct arguments and instead side with the man who appears to be five thousand spiders wearing human skin.

JAMES STEWART

YOU FUCKING COCKWEASELS!

(hurls bags into river)

Fine. I’ll stay.

HENRY TRAVERS

Say Joseph, are all these chapters gonna be the same “noble, reluctant boy scout” thing over and over? Because I think maybe we can start skipping ahead.

JOSEPH

Look, there’s a whooole lot of plot elements we need to set up before we can start paying them off, so get used to it. Next!

EXT. TRAIN STATION

JAMES is waiting for HIS BROTHER TODD KARNS to get off a TRAIN.

JAMES STEWART

All right then, I’ve lost ANOTHER four years, still haven’t even gotten to go to college, but now Todd’s gonna take over my job and - once again - I am on the very eve of my getting off the hook and being allowed to get out of this town even a little bit! Surely the universe isn’t gonna throw yet another cruelly-timed twist of fate-

TODD KARNS

Hey Jimmy guess what, I got a wife and a job in a whole other part of the country! I didn’t say anything until because this way the crushing blow falls right onto your hopes all at once. Neat, huh?

JAMES’S MOTHER

Oof, tough break, son. But hey, you know what might cheer you up? Marrying Donna!

DONNA REED

Yes! Marry me!

JAMES’S MOTHER

STAY IN THIS TOWN

DONNA REED

STAY FOREVER

JAMES STEWART

What the FUCK! I don’t - is this a conspiracy?! Am, am I in some kind of a Truman Show scenario?! HELP! SOMEBODY HELP ME!!

DONNA REED

Shh, shush now, come and relax at my place. Notice how, in anticipation of your coming over, I’ve pretty much converted this place into a shrine to you? That’s not creepy at all!

JAMES STEWART

FUCK you, lady. FUCK your pleasant hospitality and FUCK your sincere romantic interest, FUCK your curtains and your wallpaper and just FUCK EVERYTHING.

DONNA REED

(grits teeth)

Nice try, asshole, but I’ve invested too much in this obsessive crush to be put off by mere abusive dickishness.

DONNA drags JAMES kicking and screaming to the ALTAR.

EXT. STREET

JAMES and DONNA are driving off to go on their HONEYMOON.

JAMES STEWART

(eye twitching)

All right. All right. This is my last chance. Honeymoon. I can leave for a few weeks at least. It’s not much but at least I get to see that the world exists beyond the borders of this one town.

DONNA REED

Say honey-

JAMES STEWART

BLAHHH! Oh it’s just you. For a moment, ha ha, I thought it was another improbably-timed piece of bad luck come to ride roughshod over my happiness.

(starts trembling violently)

Anyway, what is it, dear?

DONNA REED

Oh, nothing! I just wanted to say I love you. And that there appears to be an angry mob outside the Building and Loan.

JAMES STEWART

GRRRAAAAHHHHHH

JAMES jumps out of the car, picks it up and hurls it through a nearby storefront, then enters the BUILDING AND LOAN.

JAMES STEWART

WHAT. WHAT IS IT NOW.

MOB

The depression just started! There’s a run on the bank! Give us all our money!

IDIOT

(running in)

Say guys! It’s okay, I just talked to Lionel Barrymore, he told me he’ll buy our shares in the Building and Loan from us on the cheap! Then his eyes glowed red, and he let out a slow cackle which sounded like old bones grinding together, and I felt a chill run through me as though I’d been dead and buried for years. We’re saved!

JAMES STEWART

No! NO! Guys, stop panicking, we can weather this. You just need to get through the next week, which should be fine, right? You don’t pay rent, and some of you are local shop owners so you can just give each other credit, cut every corner and make it through the next seven days, surely.

MOB

(glares)

JAMES STEWART

Or... I guess Donna and I COULD give you all the money we saved for our honeymoon... if you want to force me to cancel the only vacation I’ve ever gotten to take, that is.

MOB

YES THAT MONEY MONEY

JAMES STEWART

Oh you bastards. You’re actually going to do this. You’re going to make the most decent man in town give you money out of his own pocket for the privilege of saving your stupid asses from a soulless corporate monster.

MOB

YES YES GIMME GIMME

JAMES STEWART

Why do I even bother helping this pack of short-sighted morons?

(hurls money at them)

Choke on it, you turds.

DONNA REED

Aww, it’s okay honey, we can still have a great wedding night. I’ve set us up in that abandoned building I like so much.

JAMES STEWART

...You mean the one where every window is broken, there are holes in the roof, the staircase is in ruins, and it’s completely unfit for human habitation?

DONNA REED

That’s the one! Welcome to your new home!

JAMES STEWART

Fuck my life.

INT. BUILDING AND LOAN

Years later, the DEPRESSION is over, JAMES and DONNA have a bunch of KIDS, and things are going unusually okay overall.

JAMES STEWART

Huh! I guess the secret is to completely surrender all hope of ever leaving this town and settle for whatever I can get, and that way the fates won’t be tempted to use me as a punching bag anymore. Why it’s been years since any random contrivance has come along to fuck me up the ass!

(smiles)

Of course I hope I didn’t just jinx myself by-

THOMAS MITCHELL

(runs in, flails in circles)

OH FUCK OH FUCK!! You know how you entrusted a gigantic pile of all our cash to me, your useless forgetful piece-of-shit uncle? WELL I LOST IT ALL AND THEN THE BANK INSPECTOR IMMEDIATELY SHOWED UP AND WE’RE GOING TO JAIL FOREVER, FUUUUCK.

JAMES STEWART

...I see.

(clears throat)

(has nervous breakdown)

UUUUURRRRGGHGHBBLLLLAARRRRGHH, FUCK YOU OLD MAN!!! AND FUCK YOU TOO DONNA, AND FUCK YOU TOO KIDS, FUCK EVERYBODY RRAAARRRGH, I’M MELTING DOWN SO HARD I’M SPONTANEOUSLY DEVELOPING A STUBBLE AT SIX O’CLOCK IN THE EVENING!!!

He draws a pentagram in blood and LIONEL appears.

JAMES STEWART

Help me, Lionel! I need money, do you think that out of the kindness of your heart you could spare some cash to help your most hated rival continue to thwart your evil schemes?

LIONEL BARRYMORE

Why the fuck would you ever attempt this? Anyway, bwa ha ha, you’re finished, my useless friend! Why thanks to your life insurance policy, you’re worth more dead than alive!

(lightning crackles ominously from the swirling cloud perpetually hovering over Lionel’s head)

JAMES STEWART

Why you’re right! Thank goodness it’s one of those nonexistent life insurance policies which still pay out in event of suicide. Oh well, seeya cruel world!

He skips merrily to a nearby BRIDGE. But before he can jump in and die, HENRY arrives and jumps in first, and JAMES pulls him out!

HENRY TRAVERS

See what I did there? To keep you from jumping into the river, I faked an accident to make you jump in the river! You can see why I have such a stellar track record.

JAMES STEWART

Who are you?

HENRY TRAVERS

I’m your guardian angel!

JAMES STEWART

(seizes Henry by the throat)

WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN THE PAST THIRTY YEARS?!? Also why don’t you have wings?

HENRY TRAVERS

Angels have to earn their wings on the job. Fun fact: whenever a bell rings, that means that somewhere an angel just got their wings!

JAMES STEWART

Every time a bell rings? You do realize that at any given second like a million bells are ringing around the world? Church bells, doorbells - sleighbells! Every time a sleigh horse takes a step it jingles a hundred bells or so! There must be around a hundred billion trillion fully-qualified angels out there, and they stick me with YOU? Ugh, I wish I’d never been born.

HENRY TRAVERS

Oh okay, wish granted! I’ll just completely remake all of reality for you.

JAMES STEWART

What the FUCK kind of powers do the WINGED angels have then?! Besides, I don’t believe this “angel” crap anyway.

(swizzles finger in ear)

Huh, my deaf ear has gone un-deaf, that’s weird.

(walks towards town)

Hey, the car I crashed into a tree is gone, and the tree healed itself, wonder what that’s all about?

(heads into town)

Woah, all the buildings are different and everyone’s acting strange and nobody remembers who I am, how odd. Definitely can’t have anything to do with angels, of course, that’d be silly!

HENRY TRAVERS

Wow. This is some Agent Scully-level skepticism right here.

JAMES goes through town and finds that all the homes and stores have been replaced by a BAR and another BAR and like another eight BARS and basically it’s a bustling miniature TIMES SQUARE but if every single building was just a big pile of BARS.

JAMES STEWART

Boy, this place is hectic! Apparently Lionel’s plot to squeeze every last penny out of the townspeople and convert them into slum-dwelling peasants has resulted in an enormous flood of money and business through this town. I was not aware that economics worked that way.

He runs to his own HOME, which is now even more abandoned than ever.

JAMES STEWART

Oh God, why?! Why did Lionel completely buy up and rebuild this town but leave this one huge block of prime real estate to the raccoons? Seriously this place looks like it’s been bombed, what the hell is it doing here?

HENRY TRAVERS

Not gonna lie to you, Jim, things are pretty bleak here in the darkest timeline. Your brother’s dead, your uncle’s in the nuthouse, all your friends are miserable assholes, your kids don’t exist, ice cream was never invented, pop-up ads were invented early - but worst of all is what happened to Donna.

JAMES STEWART

Oh no, not Donna! What’s wrong with her?

HENRY TRAVERS

I don’t know how to tell you this James, but... she’s SINGLE.

JAMES STEWART

OH GOD NO! Not SINGLE!

HENRY TRAVERS

I’m afraid so. Her crazy, crazy obsessed love apparently only works on you specifically, so she’s fallen prey to the worst fate that can befall a woman: not being married!

JAMES STEWART

No! Stop talking!

HENRY TRAVERS

She works in a LIBRARY, James! Like a BORING PERSON!

JAMES STEWART

(putting hands over ears)

I’m not listening! I’m not listening!

HENRY TRAVERS

SHE WEARS GLASSES!

JAMES STEWART

NNNNOOOOOO!!!

HENRY TRAVERS

So James, now that we’ve subjected you to a couple hours of intense psychological torture, have you figured out the lesson here yet?

JAMES STEWART

I think so... clearly my sacrificing myself to protect the Building and Loan has always been the only thing keeping this town from spiralling into total destruction. So if I DON’T kill myself to prevent the Building and Loan from going under, within six months everyone in town will probably be broke, dead or on fire.

HENRY TRAVERS

Er, okay, but maybe there’s a different, more family-friendly lesson in there?

JAMES STEWART

Um... I guess that my life is great, purely by virtue of the fact that an even shittier alternative exists?

HENRY TRAVERS

That’s the one we were looking for!

HENRY restores REALITY back the way it was and JAMES runs happily back home.

JAMES STEWART

Hi there family! After disappearing for hours, now I return filthy, dishevelled, bleeding, screaming incoherently, and reeking of booze! MERRRRY CHRISTMAAAS!!

DONNA REED

And look, James, when the townsfolk heard of your plight they all scraped together their meagre savings to give to you in your time of desperate need!

TOWNSFOLK

Hooray! Take our money! We’re not useless jerks anymore!

DONNA REED

And ooh, we just got a telegram from your millionaire friend who says he’ll give you more than three times the amount you need, all by himself!

TOWNSFOLK

...Uh... hooray... say, don’t suppose we could get our life savings back then...?

JAMES STEWART

Golly, a financial institution was about to go under thanks to gross mismanagement, but then the bankers were saved without having to do anything other than get handed a huge cash bailout at the public’s expense. What an unambiguously happy ending this used to be! Merry Christmas to all and to all a CHA-CHING!!

(dives into cash pile)

END.

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