Cinema Purgatorio CP12

Cinema Purgatorio #12 regular cover, art by Kevin O’Neill

Annotations for “It’s a Breakable Life” in Cinema Purgatorio #12

Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Kevin O’Neill

>Go to overall Cinema Purgatorio annotations index
Go to Moore-O’Neill Cinema Purgatorio stories annotations index

Note: Some of this is obvious, but you never know who’s reading and what their exposure is. If there’s anything we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.

General: Moore and O’Neill’s film-within-a-comic is a takeoff on It’s A Wonderful Life, commenting on the abuse heaped on Hollywood stunt doubles.


Page 1

panel 2

  • “Retch for the Sky” is a takeoff on the 1956 British film Reach for the Sky.
  • Lex Barker (1919-1973) was an American actor, known for playing Tarzan.
  • “I hate chimps” sounds like a play on Barker’s Tarzan role, perhaps combined with Charles Atlas bodybuilding advertisements which sound like but don’t actually state “I hate wimps.” (For what it is worth, Moore parodied Atlas in Tomorrow Stories #7’s Splash Brannigan story.)
  • The hypodermic in Barker’s torso may be meant to imply steroid use. There do not appear to be any rumors that he used drugs.
Metro Goldwyn Meyer lion logo via Pineterest

panel 5

  • “Necro Golden Mane” is a play on Metro Goldwyn Meyer logo screen. The lion is decomposing, and the film is burning in this version.
    • Commenter Greenaum reminds us that the film may be burning because the material used to make film before about 1952 was highly flammable.

Page 2

panel 1

  • Title card for It's a Wonderful Life
    Title card for It’s a Wonderful Life

    “It’s A Breakable Life” references the title of the celebrated 1946 Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life.

panel 2

  • The characters are George Bailey, the protagonist of Wonderful Life, played by actor James Stewart, and his wife Mary Hatch Bailey, played by actress Donna Reed.
  • “Aw, gee” is either a direct quote, or a typical statement made by the folksy-speeched Bailey. Throughout the story Bailey’s dialogue is peppered with “golly”, “well, I’ll be!”, etc.
  • “Mr. Potter” is Henry Potter, the banker villain of Wonderful Life.

panels 4-6

  • The man’s face and body are different as Bailey has been replaced by a shorter stuntman (as explained later.)

Page 3

panel 1

  • “Everything would be swell if I’d never been born” echoes a plot point from Wonderful Life, where Bailey’s guardian angel shows him an alternate reality where he had never been born.

panel 2

  • Again Bailey has been replaced by a stuntman.

panel 4

  • Note that “Potters Gas Co.” has left a dangerously exposed gas main with inadequate safety features, no doubt to save money.

panels 5-6

  • Again Bailey has been replaced by a stuntman.

Page 4

panels 1-2

  • The river with icy blocks echoes a scene in Wonderful Life where Bailey contemplates committing suicide.
  • The bridge is as depicted in Wonderful Life, though the camera angles are different.
  • These form a fixed-camera sequence.

panel 3

  • Again Bailey has been replaced by a stuntman.

panels 4-6

  • In It’s a Wonderful Life, the angel Clarence jumps off the bridge and screams for help, prompting George to jump in and rescue him.

Page 5

panel 1

  • “Dickens” is a reference to the author Charles Dickens, whose story A Christmas Carol informs the plot of Wonderful Life.
  • “Clarence Brokebody” is a reference to Clarence Odbody, the guardian angel assigned to save Bailey in Wonderful Life.

panel 7

Page 6

panel 1

panel 2

  • Mack Sennett was an early film director.
  • The Sennett event described – suggest??

panel 3

  • Yakima Canutt was an early stuntman.
  • “To pull a Brodie” is slang for doing any kind of stunt. The word is apparently derived from Steve Brodie who alledgedly jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886.
  • Charles Hutchison was an early Hollywood actor. He broke both wrists doing a stunt for a Pathé serial.
  • 108 – suggest??
  • Yucca Nutty – suggest??
  • Scenes shown, left to right
    – tree??
    – rope ladder??
    – punched man ??
    – Roman soldier – from CP#2
    – running man with white hat?? (twice) (possibly a cowboy – from CP#7)
    – man being hit by a bottle and chair, typical of a western bar brawl.
    – broken teeth??
    – horse??
    – Police officer – from CP#1
    – Flame of Remorse – from CP#3

Page 7

panel 1

  • Potter and Assistant
    Potter and Assistant

    Mr. Potter is Henry Potter, the banker villain of Wonderful Life.

panels 2-3

  • Again Bailey has been replaced by a stuntman.

panel 5

  • “Willya lookit that!” is either a direct quote, or a typical statement made by the folksy-speeched Bailey in Wonderful Life.

panel 6

  • “Rename the town Baileyville” is a play on Wonderful Life‘s alternate timeline shown where the villain Potter has renamed the town Pottersville.
  • “Canoodle” is old-fashioned slang for showing affection, cuddling. Even after becoming a megalomaniacal murderer, Bailey’s language remains restrained.
  • “Rota” means “rotating schedule of assignments”.

panel 7

  • “Every time God heeds my prayer…” is a play on the conclusion of Wonderful Life where every time a bell rings it means that an angel has just earned his wings. Note that Bailey is ringing a bell.
  • “It’s A Wonderful Life” is of course the full 1956 movie title being parodied.
  • The list with “Mary” and “Violet” is apparently the women who Bailey will “canoodle.” Mary is Mary Hatch Bailey, Bailey’s wife in Wonderful Life. Violet is Violet Bick, a secondary character in Wonderful Life. Violet is Mary’s rival for George’s affections, and portrayed as a “loose” woman.
  • Mr. Potter’s head now adorns the top of a memo spike. Presumably, Bailey is sitting at what was Potter’s desk, but doesn’t mind if Potter’s blood and spinal fluid drip onto paperwork that doesn’t concern him.

    Potter's skull
    Potter’s skull
  • There is a small skull near Bailey’s feet. This was a trinket on Potter’s desk in It’s a Wonderful Life; it had a chain attached, and may have been a watch fob.

panel 8

  • The End
    The End

    The typography on “The End” mimics Wonderful Life.

  • The narrator’s belief that this constitutes “a happy ending” is revealing of their own character.

Page 8

panels 1-2

  • The exit sign is partially broken, reading merely “EX”. This is suggestive of “ex-husband”, and possibly many other compounds indicating a former status. Also of Sartre’s play “No Exit“, which depicts a bleak and inescapable afterlife (and is the source of the famous phrase “Hell is other people.”)

panel 4

  • It seems that there is indeed “no exit” here.
  • Cut-off sign reading “STAL” – Commenter Greenaum suggests “STALLS”, a somewhat old-fashioned name for the seating area of a theatre.

>Go to Purgatorio Annotations Index
>Go to Cinema Purgatorio #13 Moore and O’Neill annotations

14 thoughts on “Cinema Purgatorio CP12

  1. Page 7 Panel 5
    One interesting thing here, O’Neill’s depiction of George Bailey’s breaking of Mr Potter’s neck IMO looks somewhat like an art swipe from Wonder Woman 219 (1987-2006) in which Wonder Woman breaks Maxwell Lord’s neck.
    I could be wrong there though.


  2. “Yucca Nutty” would seem to be inspired by Yakima Canutt’s name. A state of potential brain damage caused by stunt work (like prizefighters end up with), getting hit on the head, as well as in a wider sense other permanent disabling injuries, I’d think.

    STAL would be “Stalls”, a particular part of the seating in a theatre, and later cinemas. Particularly since many cinemas have been converted theatres, since cinema drove popular theatre out of business.

    I can’t think of anything particularly satanic or purgatorial about STAL.


  3. Oh yeah, regarding the “happy ending”. Alan’s reeeeaallly been spreading it on thin here. We’ve still no idea who our protagonist is, or who bloody Geraldine might be. I’m thinking, now, stepdaughter, since she moved in with Ms X, treated the place like a hotel (according to our unreliable narrrator), and our cineaste friend seems jealous of her.

    I don’t think she’s a lesbian lover, Ms X hasn’t let anything lesbianesque slip, though neither has she anything else, of course. Maybe Geraldine’s her mother in law? Husband’s mum? Moving in when she’s old and splitting up their relationship, as nightmare mothers in law are wont to do.

    Maybe we should catalogue all our girl’s statements. There’s only a page or two per issue, and I’m sure we’ve a few months before the next bloody issue! I can recall learning almost nothing from her, just a vague impression and possibilities, with no strong reasons to think one way or the other.

    The theme, if there is any, of the films, is mostly humans being helpless in an uncaring universe. So maybe Geraldine is Cthulhu’s mother. The other theme is perhaps powerful people being cruel to the people under them, and getting away with it in fine style. So maybe the protagonist is Margaret Thatcher?

    Give us a clue, Alan!


    1. He actually gave several clues in #11, and my notes for P1 of that chapter collate them with past tidbits. My money is on Geraldine being the daughter, though stepdaughter and mother-in-law are also reasonable.

      ISTR Moore saying in an interview that CP was about “not horror film, but the horror of film”.


  4. Just another thought, inspired by Prog 9…

    Different CHARGES for minors… As in criminal charges. Because it’s wronger, generally speaking, to commit crimes against children than it is against adults, right? So people who hurt kids might be expected to suffer a worse punishment.

    Not sure how it all ties up, but fits with the general theme.

    As far as the horror OF film, there’s 2 different stories. The weird and horrible old films, and our lost season ticket holder herself. No strong thematic links between the 2 sets of stories yet, as far as we can tell, but then Watchmen, Halo Jones, and plenty of others, ended up fitting together all through the story since the beginning, you just didn’t notice that until you’d read the last episode.

    I notice in Episode 9 we’ve seen part of her face, and one-and-a-bit hands complete with a wedding ring.


  5. Another little note, while I wait for the next issue to hit the shelves…

    The burning film in the “Necro Golden Mane” might be a little reference to the nitrocellulose film stock used in early cinema. It was extremely flammable, and even sometimes explosive. Really the wrong sort of thing to put in front of a tightly focussed very bright light! Now and then film archives and cinemas have had fires because of it. It only gets less stable with age.

    But at the time there weren’t any better plastics available.

    It’s a well-known phenomenon among people interested in old film, I’m sure Alan and Kevin will have heard of it. It adds up to one more awful thing about our favourite cinema!

    Liked by 1 person

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