The screenplay for the 1946 holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life went through any number of drafts before reaching its final version. The following, coffee-stained pages were recently discovered among the personal papers of director Frank Capra after they were donated by his estate to Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. They reveal a fascinating, unused ending for his most famous and beloved film.
EXT. BRIDGE OVER RIVER – NIGHT MEDIUM SHOT George Bailey, disheveled and despondent, runs into frame. He arrives at the same spot where he was standing when Clarence had jumped into the river. He seems to be searching frantically for someone. GEORGE Help me, Clarence! Get me back! I don't care what happens to me! Get me back to my wife and kids! Help me, Clarence, please! He collapses over the rail, folding his hands in prayer. CLOSEUP He begins to sob. GEORGE I want to live again! Please, God, let me live again! A few bars of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” are heard on the soundtrack. CLARENCE (off-camera) Uh, yeah, about that... MEDIUM SHOT Clarence has sidled up next to George on the bridge. He looks apologetic. At the sound of his guardian angel's voice, George turns and is overjoyed to see the funny old man again. GEORGE Oh, Clarence! Thank god you're here! You've shown me how wrong I was to wish I'd never been born! You taught me how precious my life was and what a fool I'd been not to appreciate it! This is the best Christmas present a guy could possibly have! CLARENCE Oh, uh, that's fine, George. Just fine. But... GEORGE But what? Tell me, Clarence! I'll do anything to set this right! CLARENCE Well, it's kind of a funny story, George. You see, I sort of overestimated the authority I'd been granted here on Earth as an angel, second class. GEORGE Overestimated? Wh-what does that mean? CLARENCE It means that my magic is all used up, George. The boys upstairs granted me the power to drastically alter the very fabric of time and space to prove a point, but I could only do it once. Apparently, this was permanent. In retrospect, I probably should have checked on that. GEORGE Permanent? You mean I'm....? CLARENCE Stuck here in Pottersville? I'm afraid so. But it's not all bad, George! Think of this as an opportunity! GEORGE (starting to lose it) An opportunity?! Why, you senile, old halfwit! Do you have any idea how stupid... CLARENCE (not listening) Look at it this way, George! You're an honest, hard-working, self-sacrificing man. Now you have a chance to use those qualities in a town that really needs them. We both saw what Pottersville was like! Just think of the satisfying work you have ahead of you! Like Mr. Gower, for instance! I'll bet that deranged, penniless derelict could really use a friend right now! GEORGE Yeah, but... CLARENCE And Ma Bailey! Didn't she look like a woman in sore need of some Christmas spirit? GEORGE Clarence, you're not... CLARENCE And then there's Mary! Pure, sweet, almost as pretty Mary Hatch! It's a lead pipe cinch that she doesn't have a date for New Year's Eve! GEORGE (quite angry now) Were you even paying attention back there, Clarence? Huh? How am I supposed to do any of that? I have no money and no ID! The entire town of Pottersville thinks of me as some deranged drifter. Mary screams if I so much as make eye contact with her. And Bert the cop literally tried to shoot me in the back not ten minutes ago. CLARENCE Well, I never said it would be easy! GEORGE My best option now – my BEST option, mind you – is to turn myself into the police and hope they don't kill me on sight! At least that would keep me out of the cold for a while. Clarence tries to slink away. CLARENCE Well, I can see that you have things under control here, George, so I'll just be... GEORGE (lost in thought) Of course, it would help if I had a more substantial crime to confess to. Like a homicide maybe. Yeah, that'd do it. CLARENCE Homicide, George? What homicide? GEORGE Well, Clarence, imagine if I did something like... oh, I don't know... THIS! WIDE SHOT In one deft motion, George Bailey lunges at Clarence, grabs him by the lapels, and tosses him over the railing. OVERHEAD SHOT Clarence plunges into the river, a look of mute horror frozen on his face. His body lands on some jagged rocks with a sickening, cracking sound. The current overtakes him, and he disappears from view. CLOSEUP A waterlogged copy of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” bubbles to the surface, but the river soon carries it away. MEDIUM SHOT George stands on the bridge, looking over the railing and admiring his handiwork for a moment. In the distance, a bell tolls the hour of ten. George lifts his head a little to listen, and he cannot help but laugh a little at this. WIDE SHOT George dusts his hands off with finality and steps away from the railing. He straightens out his posture, uses his fingers to neaten his hair a bit, and takes a few deep breaths of the invigorating winter air. CRANE SHOT The bright, garish lights of Pottersville are seen on the horizon beyond the bridge. The juke joints and dance halls light up the night sky. George, his back to the camera, starts walking toward town with renewed purpose. GEORGE (to himself) Say, I'm pretty sure I saw Violet Bick being tossed into a paddy wagon earlier tonight. She has a caboose a fella would renounce his citizenship for! Maybe once the pigs are done with her, she and I could get together. A gal like that could really help me find the answers. He continues walking, his figure appearing smaller and smaller on the screen. FADE TO BLACK.