If you’re planning to sit down with your family this week and watch the classic holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life, be forewarned: It might make you a Communist.
At least, that’s what the FBI thought back in the days of the Red Scare. A portion of an unearthed 1947 FBI report reveals that the agency was suspicious of the Frank Capra film, and believed it to be possible Communist propaganda. In fact, the FBI listed It’s A Wonderful Life as part of the possible “Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry” from 1946-1956.
Why? For one thing, Mr. Potter, the banker and the film’s villain, “represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture.” This, the report said, is “a common trick used by Communists.”
The report also describes a scene in which Potter won’t give Jimmy Stewart‘s character, George Bailey, a loan: “[T]he 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.”
As Quartz reports, the House Un-American Activities Committee held a hearing on the film’s Communist messaging in 1947, during which film critic John Charles Moffitt testified in defense of it: “I think Mr. Capra’s picture, though it had a banker as villain, could not be properly called a Communist picture. It showed that the power of money can be used oppressively, and it can be used benevolently.”
Something to think about in case that ill-advised sequel ever gets off the ground.
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