It is a Wonderful Life – for the bankers…

By | 7 December 2015

It’s a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas fantasy drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra, based on the short story “The Greatest Gift”, by Philip Van Doren Stern and, though it was initially not a huge success at the box office and took a while to recoup the initial investment, it is now among the most popular in American cinema and has become traditional viewing during the Christmas season.

It tells the story of lovable George Bailey, who has spent his entire life postponing his dreams of travel and giving of himself to his family and friends and the people of Bedford Falls –14590063748_df16b806c6_m most notably through continuing to run the small Building and Loan bank his kindly father set up, even to the extent of donating his honeymoon savings to support it when the banks were crashing, in order to prevent rich skinflint Mr. Potter from taking over the entire town.

But on Christmas Eve, George’s sweet but dotty Uncle Billy loses the business’s $8,000 and when the bank examiner discovers the shortage later that night, George realizes that he will be held responsible and sent to jail and the company will collapse, finally allowing Potter to take over the town. Finally, in desperation – Potter having pointed out that he was of more value to his loved ones dead than alive – he goes out to throw himself off a bridge. Fortunately for everyone, his Guardian Angel, Clarence, is watching closely and contrives to show him how wonderful his life has been/is. After a long and clever revelation of how things would have been in the town if he had never existed, George appreciates his life anew, asks for a second chance, and returns to face the bank auditors and police who are waiting for him, only to find that Mary and Uncle Billy have rallied the townspeople, who donate more than enough to cover the loss.
An interesting tale of corporate greed, manipulation and bullying on the side of Mr Potter – a salutary tale to anyone involved in the convoluted world of big business, banking and investment – especially those of a gentle, caring, trusting and responsible disposition. So before venturing into this world, or in preparation for potential legal cases in this area, take a look at some of the resources available from the law library on banking history and regulations.

Articles such as ‘A treatise on the law of banks and banking’, are available on the University database ‘Making of Modern Law’ (on Oxlip, SOLO or the BLL’s legal databases list), and ‘Rebuilding consumer trust with back-to-basics banking is in the Proquest database ( on Oxlip or SOLO – as this is not a law specific database). I retrieved these article titles by running a search on ‘banks’ in the title field on the ‘Articles & More’ tab on SOLO, but as all of our full text databases are not searchable from here you should always consider carrying your search out within the individual full text databases to be sure you have captured comprehensive results.
Another result of my search was the online article ‘Banks, free banks and the US Economic growth’ You will see from the SOLO record that this is an Electronic Legal Deposit item, with the regulatory note:

Online access is restricted: available via Bodleian Libraries reading room PCs only

– ie it is an article in a journal (Economic Inquiry) the Bodleian Libraries receives by copyright which we now hold in electronic form only. If you come across one of these articles or journal titles you will only be able to follow through to the full text if you are coming to the item from one of the computers within the Bodleian Libraries’ IP range. If you are, you can click to view online and, after passing through, and accepting, the copyright declaration you will arrive at the full text and be able to read or print (strictly within copyright allowances) online. Alternatively you can request print outs from eLD items. ELD is going to be an increasing part of our collections so if you want to learn more about how it works, take a look at our lib guide on Law journals, working papers & articles.
And there are always books, of course. Currently most of the law library’s books are organised by jurisdiction and author, so that a subject search on SOLO is required to find everything, from every jurisdiction, on a given topic eg Legal aspects of regulatory treatment of banks in distress has international coverage and can be found at: Internat 590 A846a while United States securities law… is filed at USA 510 B292a3. We are, however, well into the process of reclassifying the book collection by subject, using the Moys legal classification scheme, so that eventually, as we restructure the library and reorganise the collection, all – or most – of the books will be together and organised by subject alongside the UK’s collection which has already been reclassified eg Paget’s law of Banking KN303.PAG 2014. This means that once you have found the number for the subject of interest, you should be able to browse the shelves to find more relevant and useful items.
Happy Christmas vacation, everyone. If you are going to watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ again, or for the first time, this Christmas enjoy this heartwarming tale and be assured that in fantasy, unlike real life, the bad bankers lose out instead of paying themselves off with a handsome farewell bonus.