There's this memorable scene in director Frank Capra's classic "It's a Wonderful Life," in which the evil Mr. Potter causes a run on George Bailey's (Jimmy Stewart's) small Building and Loan company.
With seemingly everybody in town clamoring to remove their savings, George is desperately trying to make the money he had originally planned to spend on his honeymoon last so his business won't go under.
George is begging the townsfolk to trust him and only take out what they absolutely must. The first man in line is a curmudgeon named Tom, who has $242 in the Building and Loan.
GEORGE: All right, Tom, how much do you need?
TOM (doggedly): Two hundred and forty-two dollars!
GEORGE (pleading): Aw, Tom, just enough to tide you over till the bank reopens?
TOM: I'll take two hundred and forty-two dollars.
George starts to count out the money, and Tom throws his passbook on the counter.
GEORGE: There you are.
That scene became all the more vivid to us this week when we heard about the failure of the huge IndyMac Bank. On Friday, federal regulators seized the Pasadena, Calif.,-based company.
Many of those who have money in that institution were every bit as irrationally worried as George Bailey's customers.
It didn't seem to matter that deposits up to $100,000 are fully insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
It took at least three police squad cars to keep the peace at a bank branch in Encino, Calif., on Tuesday. People who had lined up as early as 1:30 a.m. were furious, and only the threat of arrests kept things from getting very ugly indeed.
Of course, it's hard to really blame folks for being more than a bit nervous these days. Everywhere we look, things seem to be spiralling out of control.
The inflation rate is the highest in 26 years, food and gas prices are getting oppressive, airlines, newspapers and trucking are suffering along with most every other business.
In 1953, Charlie Wilson (not to be confused with the senator of the same name who was the subject of the movie "Charlie Wilson's War) famously declared "What's good for General Motors is good for the country."
Wilson, who was Secretary of Defense at the time and a former CEO of General Motors, would be appalled at this week's news of the carmaker's woes.
GM said Tuesday that it plans to lay off salaried workers, cut truck production, suspend its stock dividend and try to borrow $2 billion to help it get by.
That's a whole lot more than George Bailey needed, but let's remember that George managed to get through his troubles, albeit with a little help from an angel earning his wings.
The way things are going, our country may need a whole squadron of angels to get out of this mess.