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It Happened One Christmas (1977)

It's Christmas Eve 1944 in the small town of Bedford Falls, New York. A despondent and suicidal Mary Bailey Hatch is praying for guidance on what to do about an incident no fault of her own... See full summary »


Donald Wrye


Philip Van Doren Stern (based upon a story by), Lionel Chetwynd (written for television by)
Nominated for 2 Primetime Emmys. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Marlo Thomas ... Mary Bailey Hatch
Orson Welles ... Henry F. Potter
Wayne Rogers ... George Hatch
Cloris Leachman ... Clara
Barney Martin ... Uncle Willie
Karen Carlson ... Violet
Dick O'Neill ... Mr. Gower
Doris Roberts ... Ma Bailey
Richard Dysart ... Peter Bailey
Cliff Norton ... Martini
Archie Hahn ... Ernie
Christopher Guest ... Harry Bailey
Gino Conforti ... Sassini (as Gene Conforti)
Morgan Upton ... Bert
Robert Emhardt ... Judge


It's Christmas Eve 1944 in the small town of Bedford Falls, New York. A despondent and suicidal Mary Bailey Hatch is praying for guidance on what to do about an incident no fault of her own which threatens her name and the community standing of her longtime family business, the Bailey Building and Loan, which she took over after the passing of her father. What Mary does not know is that most in town, including her husband George Hatch and their children, are also praying for her. All the prayers are heard by Joseph, God's gatekeeper of prayers. As there are no other angels available on such a busy day, Joseph assigns Clara Oddbody, angel second class (i.e. she has yet to receive her wings), to Mary's case, which he reluctantly does as Clara has never been assigned a case on her own in the two hundred years she's been in heaven for good reason. As Clara learns about Mary's case, she sees a selfless woman who always wanted to explore the world but never did, while others around her were... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


ABC's Holiday Classic! See more »


Comedy | Fantasy







Release Date:

11 December 1977 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

It Happened One Christmas See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


In the run on the Building and Loan, it is George's $2,000, not Mary's, that saves the enterprise. This is an example of added texture created by gender-swapping the roles, as Mary remains dependent on George financially. Conversely, as they enter their marriage, each brings an asset to the union, as George's construction is funded by Mary's Building and Loan. See more »


When the townspeople sing Auld Lang Syne in the Baily/Hatch house, there is no attempt to sync the song with their lip movement. See more »


Version of It's a Wonderful Life (1946) See more »

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User Reviews

Remake with reversed lead roles is just fair
24 December 2018 | by SimonJackSee all my reviews

"It Happened One Christmas" is very exact in copying the original film, "It's a Wonderful Life" of 1946. But, with one twist. And that is the reversal of the leading male and female roles. So, Marlo Thomas plays Mary Bailey, in place of James Stewart's George Bailey. She marries George Hatch, where Stewart's Bailey married Mary Hatch.

The original film soon became one of an unwritten list of movies that most people would think would never - or, should never be remade. And, indeed, no one to date has tried to remake "It's a Wonderful Life." It remains a holiday favorite movie shown over and over at year's end on television. Even nearly two decades into the 21st century, people still watch and enjoy that classic Christmas film.

So, the only thing to do, if one was a female star who wanted to make another "It's a Wonderful Life," was to change the lead characters - that is, reverse the roles, for a whole different film. And, that's what Marlo Thomas did with her own Daisy Productions company. To have any chance at success, of course, the film would have to tell pretty much the same story. That's because the Hollywood record of revising hit movies in remakes was not very good. But remakes that closely followed the stories of very popular films often could achieve some success just on the coattails of the original story.

Marlo Thomas does a fine acting job in this film. But her performance lacks the passion and range that James Stewart gives in his lead role. And another thing hanging over this reverse remake was matching a considerable cast of supporting players. In the original film, several characters are important parts of the story. Not only Uncle Billy, the angel Clarence, brother Harry, Mr. Gower, Bert, Ernie and Mrs. Bailey, but Mr. Potter. Even an actor with the stature of Orson Welles, couldn't come close to portraying the tension around the smirking and domineering tyrant, Mr. Potter, as played by Lionel Barrymore. Nor could any other supporting role come near to that as played in the original film.

Besides that, some of the changes that this TV film made with the role reversals seem strange and don't work very well. In the original film, George Bailey was rejected for the draft because of hearing loss in one ear that made him 4F. In this film, George Hatch actually goes off to war when he has three small children at home. Toward the end of the war, he returns seriously wounded and no one but wife Mary is at the train station to greet him. By then, his children are older, some of them probably not able to remember their dad, as Mary notes.

The original film of 1946 didn't need to make many cultural adjustments. The scenery, clothing, vehicles and customs were not that far removed even from the earliest scenes portrayed. But, "It Happened One Christmas" wasn't able to handle that challenge convincingly more than three decades later. While the sets were designed to reflect the late 1930s to early 1940s, the cast looked like people of the 1970s put into costumes of the 1940s. They frankly didn't look their parts for the age.

This film isn't a bad one, but it's not much more than fair. Perhaps, if "It's a Wonderful Life" had never been made, this movie would seem to be somewhat better. But with an icon like the original, one can't help but compare the stories, the times, the situations, the actors and the performances. And that's what relegates "It Happened on Christmas" to just a so-so film.

Because of those strange things in the role reversals noted above, and with no superb performances to match the many in the original film, the best one can do is to give this movie five stars.

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