In Dec. 1945, “The Stork Club” starring Betty Hutton, Barry Fitzgerald, Don DeFore premiered; and then in January 1947, “It’s a Wonderful Life” came out with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed heading up that story. Both are feel-good movies that helped me relax from the news this week. (Both movies are available on Prime Video.)
These two classic films use a water ruse to stir the attention of the key character at the start and hook the viewer into the story. Jerry Bates, in the Stork movie, is wasting time on the wharf when the wind blows his hat off his head. Almost catching it at the edge of the pier, Jerry falls into the water where he promptly struggles to stay above water. A local hat-check girl from the New York Stork Club, Judy Peabody, is sunning and realizes the guy is in trouble. Diving into rescue the day, she pulls what she thinks is a water-logged tramp out of the water and wants to help him right away by getting him a job at her place of work. Like George Bailey in the Wonderful Life, Judy is struggling to make ends meet.
As a young singer in the entertainment industry, she hopes getting her foot in the door as a hat-check girl will open doors to a singing career. However, she doesn’t beg the darker side of depression as George does while looking over the railing contemplating suicide. The angel, Clarence saves George, even as George rescues Clarence from drowning. Similarly, Jerry becomes Judy’s financial savior, even as Judy saves Jerry from a rich but super selfish life.
Both tales beckon the audience to appreciate the transcendent life, the life that is measured in selfless acts for others. As Clarence blesses George with a walk-back in time where he was never born, George learns that his life has meaning when he sees how life would have been different if he had not been alive there to pull his young brother from the water when the ice cracked and gave way to his weight, when his own mother doesn’t recognize him, when his wife doesn’t recognize him, and then a flower in his pocket from his littlest child reminds him that “when a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” Ultimately, the community piles the money in the family living room, saving the family bank and keeping home owners in their homes and not in Potter’s pockets.
Judy, like George, has a lot to learn. She keeps her good fortune a secret from her fiancé who is back from military service and who is Sgt. Danny Wilton, a band leader. Danny thinks Judy is having an affair, then another, and another. Nothing could be farther from her truth. But she doesn’t want to hurt his ego and with her new inheritance, from anonymous source, tries to set up housing for his band and work out gigs for the musical troop, too. Danny is unappreciative because he wants to do it himself and doesn’t want money from a girl being kept. Finally, after faux-pas’ situations, she comes clean and explains to him how Jerry, a millionaire, wanted to make her happy after she had saved his life. Her selfless acts became convoluted because of innocent lies; but the outcome she comes to is speaking the truth.
Both the Stork Club and Wonderful Life are uplifting movies that use home, hearth, and humor to pull the viewer into the story line. Family friendly, these pro American Dream movies are romantic and historical in their look at the post WWII culture. The audience is ultimately reminded that good souls help others and speak honestly.