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The Bailey Family
The protagonist of the film. A man with big dreams, but who is perpetually held back by his obligations to his community.
- 100% Adoration Rating: Everyone in Bedford Falls loves him and with good reason.
- Big Brother Instinct: He willingly jumped into a frozen lake to save his younger brother, at the cost of his hearing in one ear.
- Big Good: For the whole town. Everyone knows they can come to him for help.
- Being Good Sucks: George gave up his dreams and ambitions in order to help the people of Bedford Falls.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: Not even being suicidal will stop him from helping someone out.
- Deadpan Snarker: It is Jimmy Stewart after all.
- Despair Event Horizon: Losing the money for the company combined with a lifetime of failed ambitions leaves George utterly broken.
- Driven to Suicide: The plot of the film revolves around George feeling like he needs to end his life.
- The Dutiful Son: He had dreams of going to college and seeing the world but he gave it up to keep the business going, knowing it would have gone under otherwise.
- The Fettered: For however much George wants to get out of Bedford Falls, his responsibilities to his town keep him chained there.
- Happily Failed Suicide: He's absolutely ecstatic when he finds out that he is alive again.
- Honest Corporate Executive: He prides himself on being someone the people of Bedford Falls can come to without having to go to Potter.
- Honor Before Reason: George will always do the right thing, no matter what it costs him.
- I Coulda Been a Contender!: For all the good he does for his town, he can't help but regret not getting out and making something bigger of himself.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: George can't be bought at any price, as Potter finds out when he attempts to hire him. Even at his lowest moment, George is still willing to take the fall for Uncle Billy's mistake, even if it means going to jail.
- Nice Guy: George is one of the nicest men you could ever meet and it's why a lot of the citizens of Bedford Falls love him so much.
- Small Town Boredom: George wants nothing more than to get out of Bedford Falls and see the world. But it's not to be.
- Tall, Dark, and Snarky: He stands at 6'3 and has a very dry sense of humor.
- Tragic Dropout: George gives his college money to Harry so that he can stay home and take care of the family business. As a result, he never leaves his hometown.
- Un-person: In the alternate timeline in which he was never born.
The love of George's life, and his eventual wife.
- Happily Married: Unlike George, she is perfectly content with married life in Bedford Falls.
- Hot Librarian: In the alternate timeline. Putting glasses on Donna Reed doesn't make her not Donna Reed.
- Housewife: She works around the house rather than getting a job, as was standard for the time period.
- Single-Target Sexuality: Other men show interest in her, but she has eyes for no one but George.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: She prefers George's honest, small-town goodness over Sam Wainright's wealth and charm.
The Bailey Children
George and Mary's four children: Pete, Janie, Zuzu, and Tommy.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Tommy, the youngest, behaves in this way.
- Children Are Innocent: None of them can understand why their father is so upset.
- Daddy's Girl: Zuzu is very close with her father.
- Dead Guy Junior: Pete is named for Peter Bailey, George's late father.
- Ill Girl: Zuzu is in bed with a cold, but she recovers quickly.
George's younger and more successful brother.
- The Ace: Harry succeeds at just about everything. He's an All-American college football star, a genius at research, and a war hero to boot. However, the movie does play with it a bit by making it clear that George's frequent sacrifices enable Harry's achievements in the first place (quite literally; without George, Harry wouldn't have lived past the age of ten), thus making the point that even the supposed Ace can't accomplish everything in his life single-handedly out of pure awesomeness without the help of someone else, even in the background. This said, he does his brother proud.
- Ace Pilot: Honored by the President for shooting down kamikaze plans before they could crash into transports of US troops.
- The One Who Made It Out: Unlike George, he leaves Bedford Falls and makes a life for himself elsewhere,
- Youngest Child Wins: It appears this way to most, but Harry still considers his older brother the richer man.
George and Harry's father, the founder of the Bailey Building and Loan.
- Good Parents: George and Harry have nothing but love for him.
- Honest Corporate Executive: He runs the Building and Loan so that struggling people can afford to live in decent homes. His son inherits this business ethos.
- Like Father, Like Son: He was very much like George in personality.
- Nice Guy: Just like his two sons, Peter was a good and honest man who did everything he could to help the people of the town.
George and Harry's mother, matron of the Bailey Boarding House.
AKA "Uncle Billy", George's scatterbrained uncle, a fixture of the Building and Loan.
- The Alcoholic: Uncle Billy likes his booze just a little more than someone who handles other people's money ought to.
- Friend to All Living Things: In addition to the crow at the Building and Loan, Billy has a squirrel, a small dog, an owl, and a monkey.
- The Load: His actions threaten the Building and Loan a few times, first when he shuts the doors during a run out of panic, and then when he misplaces eight thousand dollars.
- Nice Guy: He's a bit eccentric but he's a good man.
- Scatterbrained Senior: He ties strings around his fingers to help him remember things. It rarely works.
Tilly and Eustace Bailey
Bailey cousins frequently seen working at the Building and Loan.
Bedford Falls Residents
Henry F. Potter
The richest, and meanest, man in town, and a perpetual heel to George Bailey.
- Bald of Evil: Mostly bald, and wicked to his very soul.
- Big Bad: The primary antagonist of the film. Keeping him from taking over the town is the main reason why George feels he has to remain in Bedford Falls.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: He steals eight thousand dollars from the Building and Loan and tries to send George to jail over it.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: He's frequently baffled as to why George continues to help the town despite the sacrifices he must make.
- Evil Cripple: Confined to a wheelchair and pushed around by his silent butler.
- Evil Debt Collector: Suggests foreclosing on families struggling to pay their debts.
- Evil Eyebrows: Thick, angular eyebrows that accentuate his scowls.
- Evil Is Petty: He takes immense pleasure in George's suffering.
- Evil Old Folks: One of the best examples in all of fiction. He's already an old man when George is a child, meaning he must be pushing ninety by the end of the film.
- Faux Affably Evil: He can turn on the sleazy charm when necessary but it does nothing to hide what a bastard he is.
- Jerkass: Henry F. Potter is a heartless, cold, apathetic, and sinister man throughout the entire film
- Kick the Dog: Towards the end of the movie when George comes to him for help, he bluntly tells George that he is more worthy dead than alive.
- Manipulative Bastard: He's almost able to bring George over to his side by appealing to his insecurities.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Spouts classist rhetoric about lower-income people, and uses the disparaging term "garlic-eaters" to refer to the Italian-American Martini family.
- The Scrooge: He essentially is Ebenezer Scrooge, if Scrooge were never redeemed.
- Smug Snake: Every word out of Potter's mouth drips with condescension and contempt for everyone around him.
A local taxi driver, and friend of the Baileys.
- Those Two Guys: With Bert
The local cop. Also a good friend to George.
A childhood friend of George and Mary.
A childhood friend of George, grown up to be a successful businessman.
- Catchphrase: "Hee-haw!"
- Honest Corporate Executive: Unlike Mr. Potter, he remains a decent man despite his wealth.
- Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: The rich suitor to George's poor suitor, for Mary's affections.
- The One Who Made It Out: In contrast to George, Sam leaves Bedford Falls, goes to college, makes it big in business, and gets filthy rich.
Ma Bailey's maid and closest friend.
An elderly druggist who employed George Bailey as a child.
- The Alcoholic: He's drunk at work and it's implied this happens often.
- Despair Event Horizon: Losing his son. In the alternate timeline, that combined with accidentally poisoning someone, which George had originally prevented. turns him into an utter wreck.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: At first, he seems like a cranky old drunk but it's revealed that it's due to his son dying. He is horrified with himself after hitting George and he later buys him a big and expensive suitcase with his name on it for his travels.
- My God, What Have I Done?: He becomes instantly remorseful after striking George.
- Outliving One's Offspring: His son dies of Influenza which utterly destroys him.
- Pet the Dog: He buys George a suitcase for his travels.
An Italian immigrant and proprietor of a local bar.
- Meaningful Name: His name is Martini. He's a bartender.
An employee of Martini's.
Angel, Second Class. A long-dead clockmaker sent to Earth as George's guardian angel.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: He's regarded as being a bit odd by his fellow angels.
- Guardian Angel: He's one for George.
- Nice Guy: Clarence is an incredibly caring, compassionate and kind. He's exactly what you would want in a guardian angel.
- Our Angels Are Different: He's a second-class angel. In order to move up to first class and earn his wings, he needs to help George through his crisis.
- Stars Are Souls: In the opening scene he appears as a blinking star in the night sky.
Franklin and Joseph
Two senior angels who give Clarence his task.