It’s a Wonderful Life: Commie Propaganda?

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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 


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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  1. “I am curious as to your thoughts on his post.”

    Overwrought comes to mind. Viewing George Bailey as a modernistic wrecker of Bedford Falls is an imaginative interpretation but not one that I agree with. Bailey is simply attempting to help people get homes of their own. With a growing population that would not be possible with existing housing stock. As a denizen of small towns my entire life, except for my seven years at the U of I, I have never been sympathetic with the impulse that small towns should be preserved in amber. They are not museum pieces for tourists to admire the quaint folkways of the inhabitants, but living communities that will inevitably change over time. Items of value will be lost as a result of the change, but items of value will be gained.

  2. In fact, my commie, ex-twin brother employs (received an email on the topic Christmas Eve) the movie, and its “Potter” caricature, to indict capitalism, in general, and so-called “banksters”, in particular.

    The “Potter” character is not a capitalist or a banker. He is a thief (e.g., the deposit money in the newspaper).

    Likely, George Bailey isn’t a “saint.” The raison d’etre for building and loan associations and Federally-chartered savings and loan associations was to finance residential housing. Such institutions often used commercial banks to clear checks and to finance operations. In general, the bit about Potter calling the loan isn’t how it would have worked. And, from 1933, the Federal Home Loan Bank System served the financing role. Although, their terms were not much better than “Potter’s.”

    I see GB’s actions taken as much as any other motive to preserve the institution to which his father and uncle gave their working lives. It is unlikely that GB advanced a home loan to anyone that did not meet certain credit standards, as in, the ability to repay the loan.

    And, if you place any trust the state, consider this factoid from yesterday’s instapundit, “Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.”

  3. You are right they should not be. The question is what sort of land use attends the additional housing stock. You should have sidewalks, street trees, and proximity to commercial strips. It is also bad form to dig up cemeteries. Deneen does not mention that poor planning of commercial development has been rather more damaging to the urban landscape than suboptimal residential tract development. No hook for that, though, as George Bailey was the proprietor of a savings bank that undertook only home mortgage lending (and a fairly novel and unusual sort of mortgage lending by the standards of 1928).

  4. Observant people there in the Forties could not be unaware of a Communist infiltration and conspiracy in the movie industry. as well as in the federal government. Joseph McCarthy was ultimately vindicated. What a pity it was not before he died. I saw this movie when it was first released, and I did not think it was a real threat to anyone.

  5. I thought for sure this was an urban legend, but apparently not. Perhaps it was a case of “when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” — with the Nazi threat gone by 1946 and the Soviets now in the position of World Enemy Number One, anything that appeared to be at all critical of capitalism was suspect.

  6. The Red Menance was very real in 1947 abroad as was Communist infiltration in Hollywood. Ronald Reagan, New Deal liberal, began his trek from Left to Right as a result of dealing with Communist dominated unions, often using violent tactics, during his several terms as President of the Screen Actors Guild in the late forties and early fifties. The problem was that the FBI was often as clueless in dealing with internal subverison by Communists as it was in dealing with the Mafia which Hoover at this time steadfastly denied existed.

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