It’s a Wonderful Life: Commie Propaganda?

Hard to believe, but there was an FBI report in 1947 that deemed It’s a Wonderful Life as Communist propaganda:

To: The Director  

D.M. Ladd  

COMMUNIST INFILTRATION OF THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY   (RUNNING MEMORANDUM)

There is submitted herewith the running memorandum concerning Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry which has been brought up to date as of May 26, 1947….   With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”, [redacted] stated in substance that 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. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.

>In addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [redacted] related that if he made this picture portraying the banker, he would have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiner in connection with making loans. Further, [redacted] stated that the scene wouldn’t have “suffered at all” in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown. In summary, [redacted] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and “I would never have done it that way.”   [redacted] recalled that approximately 15 years ago, the picture entitled “The Letter” was made in Russia and was later shown in this country. He recalled that in this Russian picture, an individual who had lost his self-respect as well as that of his friends and neighbors because of drunkenness, was given one last chance to redeem himself by going to the bank to get some money to pay off a debt. The old man was a sympathetic character and was so pleased at his opportunity that he was extremely nervous, inferring he might lose the letter of credit or the money itself. In summary, the old man made the journey of several days duration to the bank and with no mishap until he fell asleep on the homeward journey because of his determination to succeed. On this occasion the package of money dropped out of his pocket. Upon arriving home, the old man was so chagrined he hung himself. The next day someone returned the package of money to his wife saying it had been found. [redacted] draws a parallel of this scene and that of the picture previously discussed, showing that Thomas Mitchell who played the part of the man losing the money in the Capra picture suffered the same consequences as the man in the Russian picture in that Mitchell was too old a man to go out and make money to pay off his debt to the banker.

Ironically Frank Capra, the director of the film, was a life long conservative Republican, as was the star of the picture, Jimmy Stewart.  Lionel Barrymore, who portrayed Potter, was also a staunch Republican and lost a role after FDR’s death in which he was to portray FDR, due to protests by the Roosevelt family stemming from Barrymore’s outspoken support of Thomas E. Dewey in the 1944 presidential race.  The FBI memo is an example of why I take a jaundiced view of big government.  Government bureaucrats will always find rubbish like this to fill their time and justify their budgets.

Thank goodness the FBI never saw this alternate ending:

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3 Comments

  1. It was part of the zeitgeist. For a couple of decades after Black Friday, Americans of all stripes looked upon bankers with a very jaundiced eye. Too many items of scandal had come out during the various investigations not to tarnish the whole profession. Think of the villainous banker in John Ford’s “Stagecoach”, scarcely a left-wing tract.

    On the other hand, there is no doubt that Communists were very very deeply penetrated into Hollywood. Most of the result of Hollywood infatuation with Communism are now forgotten, but I have heard – and tend to believe – one truly extraordinary rumour. Did it never strike you, watching Casablanca, that the one less than perfect feature of that perfect movie was the Paul Henreid character? To me, he was quite bland, neither forceful enough to make a convincing rebel leader nor character enough to make a convincing rival for Humphrey Bogart. I always thought they should have hired someone like Spencer Tracy for the part. But apparently the Henreid character was somehow supposed to be modelled on the famous Communist agent Karl Radek, and in the end he ended up looking no more than a pale and unconvincing vision of uprightness.

    • “Think of the villainous banker in John Ford’s “Stagecoach”, scarcely a left-wing tract.”

      In the original True Grit Fabio in 1969, John Wayne’s character, Rooster Cogburn, talks about robbing a “high-interest” bank in New Mexico immediately after the Civil War in order to get a grub stake. Cogburn is supposed to come across as a lovable rogue, but he would not have done so if he had confessed to robbing travelers on a stage coach for example. As you point out, it has nothing to do with politics. I think it goes back to the post Civil War where cutthroats like Jesse James were turned into folk heroes still fighting against the Union and its financial agents.

      “On the other hand, there is no doubt that Communists were very very deeply penetrated into Hollywood.”

      Quite correct, especially the unions in Hollywood. Reagan began his movement from the Left to the Right as a result of dealing with Communist dominated unions during his many terms as President of the Screen Actors Guild.

  2. Wonderful. I agree.


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