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Movie Villain Monday: Mr Potter - It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s Movie Villain Monday and as promised, this week we have another Christmas movie villain suggested by Nick and Liz on Facebook.

It’s Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Who is Mr. Potter?

Henry F. Potter is the main antagonist in what is regarded as one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. He’s a mean and greedy banker and the wealthiest man in the fictional town of Bedford Falls.

He was played memorably by Lionel Barrymore (also later by Orson Welles in the 1977 tv remake, It Happened One Christmas).


Mr. Potter owns the bank and most of the businesses in Bedford falls, except for the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan which is a constant irritation to him.

Caring only about money, he profits off the town’s people, many of whom live in his rental properties (often referred to as slums).

George Bailey (played by James Stewart), desperate to see the world and go to college, reluctantly takes over the building and loan after his father dies. Although it doesn’t make a profit, Bailey offers loans and helps the town’s resident’s buy their own houses when the bank won’t, thus costing Mr. Potter money. As long as the Building and Loan stays open Mr. Potter is prevented from having full control over the town and its residents.

On Christmas Eve $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s money is misplaced (accidental handed to Potter in a newspaper). Seeing an opportunity to finally be rid of it and George Bailey, Potter says nothing and calls the police to arrest him for misappropriation of funds.

We all know what happens then...


As previously mentioned Mr. Potter cares only about money. He has no compassion for people and their personal circumstances, only making more money.

He is determined to see the end of the Bailey Brothers Business and Loan (his only competition) and tries various tactics to shut it down, even offering George Bailey $20,000 a year to be his assistant. Seeing his true intentions though George refuses.


Potter is a mean, greedy, sinister and cold hearted old man who’s willing to take advantage of any situation to get what he wants.

Everything he does is motivated by greed, money and a desire for more power over people and the town of Bedford Falls.

Physical Appearance:

Mr. Potter is a stone faced old man with white thinning hair that he combs over and thick dark eyebrows. He’s always smartly dressed in a suit and wears round spectacles.

Although it’s never mentioned in the film, Potter is confined to a wheelchair as a result of Polio. Lionel Barrymore who played the miserly old man was actually wheelchair bound himself due to a hip injury and severe arthritis.

Mr. Potter's appearance was apparently based on the famous 1930 painting, “American Gothic” by artist, Grant Wood.

Trivia: Casting

As is often the case, a number of other actors were considered for the part of Mr. Potter (originally named Herbert Potter) before Lionel Barrymore was cast. Among the long list of actors was the legendary Vincent Price as well as Thomas Mitchell who ended up playing Uncle Billy in the film.

At the time Barrymore was well known for playing Ebenezer Scrooge in radio dramatisations of “A Christmas Carol” so seemed the natural choice for the role. He’d also worked with director Frank Capra and co-star James Stewart on the Oscar winning film, You Can’t Take It With You (1938) some years earlier.

Trivia: Accusations of Communist Propaganda

The FBI apparently wasn’t a fan of It’s a Wonderful Life and considered it communist propaganda. In 1947 they published an internal memo that said “the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a 'scrooge-type' so that he would be the most hated man in the picture". Apparently that’s “a common trick used by Communists." Who knew?!

Trivia: The Simpsons

Any fans of The Simpsons out there might be interested to know that the character of Mr. Potter partly inspired the character of Mr. Burns in the popular cartoon.

Mr. Potter ranks at #6 on The American Film Institute’s list of the 50 Greatest Villains in American Film History (Hannibal Lecter holds the top spot).

“You’re worth more dead than alive.”

Thanks for another great movie villain suggestion!

Well if you made it this far, thanks for reading. I had to watch It’s a Wonderful Life again last night to re-familiarise myself with it. I hadn’t seen it for a few years and I’d actually forgotten what a lovely film is!

I’m taking a couple of weeks off Movie Villain Monday now so I can concentrate on eating and drinking lots over the Christmas period, but it’ll be back in the new year!

Thanks to everyone who’s suggested a villain this year.


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