Why The FBI Thought 'It's A Wonderful Life' Was Spreading Communist Propaganda
You know those warm and fuzzy feelings you get from watching It's a Wonderful Life? Well, forget that for a second because things weren't always so peachy. The FBI once thought the beloved classic holiday film was funneling Communist propaganda to Americans.
From 1946 to 1956, the film was secretly listed under some recently-unearthed FBI documents for allegedly spreading Communist views, according to the Daily Mail. It's a Wonderful Life was one of the many films the FBI was suspicious about in their 13,533-page file, titled, "Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry." Although the full report isn't available, a PDF with 2,000 pages of excerpts surfaced when writer John Sbardellati published his 2012 book, J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies: The FBI and the Origins of Hollywood's Cold War.
The report stated:
With regard to the picture "It's a Wonderful Life," [REDACTED] stated in substance that the film represented a rather obvious attempt 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 the sources, is a common trick used by Communists.
In It's a Wonderful Life, Barrymore, in his portrayal as evil banker Mr. Henry Potter, keeps an $8,000 bank deposit in order to bring leading man George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) to financial ruin.
In addition, the PDF revealed that the FBI informant believed that the film "maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters."
The report also alleged that the film's writers, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett had close ties to Communists. It looks like the FBI spied closely on the pair as they reported Goodrich and Hackett were observed eating lunch daily with other allegedly comrade-driven screenwriters like Lester Cole and Earl Robinson.
During the 1940s to the 1960s, the Los Angeles FBI office, headed under J. Edgar Hoover, targeted—with a strong focus on Hollywood—alleged ties to the Communist party. Atlas Shrugged writer and conservative Ayn Rand was reportedly one of the masterminds who helped Hoover's team target It's a Wonderful Life . Supposedly she had set up the analytical tools in determining which filmmakers and films had Communist connections, according to Aphelis.
Other films on the list included The Farmer's Daughter and The Best Years of Our Lives. The House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) had begun investigating Communist influence in films in 1947, leading to the blacklisting of filmmakers and actors.