It Happened One Christmas
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The film, a gender-reversal remake of the classic It's a Wonderful Life, centers on Mary Bailey Hatch, a young woman who dreams of seeing the world but is forced by circumstances to remain in her small hometown as head of the family's Building & Loan business. On one particular Christmas Eve, in a moment of financial crisis, a severely depressed Mary contemplates suicide but is rescued by her guardian angel, Clara Oddbody, (Cloris Leachman) who shows her the positive effect she's had on everyone she's met throughout her life.
- Marlo Thomas as Mary Bailey Hatch
- Wayne Rogers as George Hatch
- Orson Welles as Henry F. Potter
- Cloris Leachman as Clara Oddbody
- Barney Martin as Uncle Willie
- Richard Dysart as Peter Bailey
- Cliff Norton as Martini
- Archie Hahn as Ernie Baker
- Christopher Guest as Harry Bailey
The supporting cast includes C. Thomas Howell, Dick O'Neill, Doris Roberts, Karen Carlson, Gene Conforti, Morgan Upton, Robert Emhardt, Ceil Cabot, Bryan O'Byrne, Rita George, Dan Barrows, Med Flory and James E. Brodhead.
Lionel Chetwynd's teleplay, directed by Donald Wrye, varies little from the original screenplay, even using most of the original dialogue. Thomas served as executive producer for the project.
In this version, the gender reversal makes Mary Bailey Hatch rather anachronistic for the 1940s time setting. Revisions in the script include fleshing out and exploring some of the characters who are citizens of Bedford Falls to a greater extent than in the original. When George, Harry (George's brother), and the Hatchs' friends, Bert and Ernie, go off to fight in the Second World War, each sends letters to Mary describing their experiences. All four characters are shown in uniform, interspersed with actual war footage. Another brief scene depicts George attempting to readjust to civilian life after the war has ended. However, the characters of Ma Bailey (played by Doris Roberts), Violet Bick (played by Karen Carlson), and Sam Wainwright (played by an uncredited Jim Lovelett) are practically reduced to bit parts, in contrast to the more full-bodied performances interpreted by Beulah Bondi, Gloria Grahame, and Frank Albertson, respectively, in the 1946 film. The musical score is by Stephen Lawrence, and the cinematography by Conrad L. Hall.
Promotion and release
The film had its premiere on Sunday, December 11, 1977, and was one of the very rare instances when the ABC Sunday Night Movie showcased a made-for-television film rather than one that had been shown in theatres.
The remake was first broadcast at a time when the original film rarely was aired on television and, as a result, many viewers were unfamiliar with its source. However, once the James Stewart-Donna Reed version returned to the airwaves on an annual basis, the remake slipped into obscurity.
The reviews were mixed at best. After its initial airing, in a New York Times follow-up article, it was revealed that Frank Capra, the director of the 1946 film It's A Wonderful Life, had denounced the remake as "plagiaristic." The ratings, however were very good—so good, in fact, that the telefilm was re-broadcast on ABC twice in 1978 and 1979. But, by that time, the original It's A Wonderful Life had begun its resurgence on television, and it eventually eclipsed It Happened One Christmas.
Leachman received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama or Comedy Special; art director John J. Lloyd and set decorator Hal Gausman also received nominations.
It Happened One Christmas is rarely shown today, and has not, as of 2009, been issued on DVD. It can be viewed at the Paley Center for Media (formerly The Museum of Television & Radio) in New York City and Beverly Hills, California.