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Did You Know The FBI Was Against "It's A Wonderful Life" Because Of Its "Communist Message"?

The Nation - The film’s status as a classic has only come with time. At the time of its release in 1946, it was a box office failure that came under scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a subversive film that supposedly displayed evidence of Communist Party infiltration of the film industry. During the post–World War II “Red Scare,” Hollywood was a prime target of those who claimed that members of the Communist Party were using propaganda to sway the American people toward anti-capitalist positions. The author Ayn Rand—who worked in the film industry before penning novelistic celebrations of greed that became touchstones for politicians, including former House speaker Paul Ryan and US Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)—and her allies had considerable success promoting the idea that Communist directors, writers, and actors were undermining American values through popular films.

In a May 1947 memo to FDI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a special agent in the FBI’s Los Angeles field office warned, “With regard to the picture ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ [an informant] 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.”

Barrymore played Mr. Potter, the cruel and clutching banker whose machinations brought the honorable George Bailey’s building-and-loan firm to the brink of ruin, and Bailey himself to the bridge where he contemplated suicide, before a guardian angel’s counsel turned him homeward.

According to the FBI report, the informant told the field agent that “in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.” The source also suggested that the film could have been made differently, by portraying Mr. Potter as a conscientious banker who was simply “following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiner in connection with making loans” and 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.”

Giphy Images.

Two nights ago I settled in for one of my yearly traditions and favorite parts of Christmas. Housing a nice bottle of wine while watching "It's A Wonderful Life" and wiping away happy tears at the end.

Like a remote control car running on fumes from batteries drained through the course of the year, "It's A Wonderful Life" is my recharge. Every year it re-establishes my faith in humanity and theory that there are more good people in this world than bad. And ever year it couldn't come at a more opportune time, as come December 25th, the events of the year have done their best to beat that sense out of me.

But I digress…

Thank God for Jimmy Stewart. Thank God for Frank Capra for writing such an all-time story. And fuck the FBI for attempting to interfere with such a pure and wholesome story.

After I posted the following tweet on Friday night, 

I started seeing stuff like this pop up in my timeline- 

I thought it was just par for the course that is the cesspool of fake news and troll-filled twitter, but this was one of my favorite movies ever they were talking about. So I decided to look into. And low and behold, holy shit, they actually held Congressional hearings on this shit.

The author Ayn Rand—who worked in the film industry before penning novelistic celebrations of greed that became touchstones for politicians, and her allies had considerable success promoting the idea that Communist directors, writers, and actors were undermining American values through popular films.

Rand testified on the topic before the House Un-American Activities Committee and consulted with the FBI, which produced a report that echoed themes from a group she was associated with—the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. The report o “Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry” asserted:

The purpose of the Communists in Hollywood is not the production of political movies openly advocating Communism. Their purpose is to corrupt non-political movies—by introducing small, casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories and to make people absorb the basic principles of Collectivism by indirection and implication. Few people would take Communism straight, but a constant stream of hints, lines, touches and suggestions battering the public from the screen will act like drops of water that split a rock if continued long enough. The rock that they are trying to split is Americanism.

This freaking movie -

In a May 1947 memo to FDI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a special agent in the FBI’s Los Angeles field office warned, “With regard to the picture ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ [an informant] 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.”

According to the FBI report, the informant told the field agent that “in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.” The source also suggested that the film could have been made differently, by portraying Mr. Potter as a conscientious banker who was simply “following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiner in connection with making loans” and 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.”

However, the FBI report compared It’s a Wonderful Life to a Soviet film, and argued that the film’s producer and director, Frank Capra, was “associated with left-wing groups” and “made a picture which was decidedly socialist in nature—’Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.’” It also alleged that screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett were “very close to known Communists.”

I wasn't pre-law at FSU, but I was poli sci/criminal justice at Loyola, so I had to read all about McCarthyism in the 50s. 

So I can see where this type of language might ruffle the feathers of establishment. 

Noakes, who has written extensively on the once-hidden history of the FBI’s inquiry into It’s a Wonderful Life, noted in 1997:

What’s interesting in the FBI critique is that the Baileys were also bankers, and what is really going on is a struggle between the big-city banker (Potter) and the small banker (the Baileys). Capra was clearly on the side of small capitalism and the FBI was on the side of big capitalism. The FBI misinterpreted this classic struggle as communist propaganda. I would argue that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a poignant movie about the transition in the U.S. between small and big capitalism, with Jimmy Stewart personifying the last hope for a small town. It’s a lot like the battle between Home Depot and the mom-and-pop hardware store.

I think I speak for everyone when I say we're thankful to live in a time where we no longer have to worry about messaging being pushed by Hollywood, or media conglomerates. Or a time where government agencies pry into everything in the name of knowing what's best for us. Those must have been tough times.

p.s.- we had a company meeting in NY last week before the holiday, where corporate went over everything performance-related company-wide. During the podcast portion, when they were delving into the analytics of what made Barstool so successful in the podcast space, with so many giant brands under the umbrella, I was stunned to see Ben Shapiro's name at the top of all the podlast metric lists.

I still am.

The guy gets more listens, downloads, and subscribers than Joe Rogan. A lot more. He is considerably in front. I had no clue. Now I'm intrigued by what the hell I've been missing out on this whole time. I thought he was just some nerd that likes to rile people up kind of like Darren Rovell but a lot less insufferable and more self-aware.

But then I saw this clip and don't know what to think anymore.

p.p.s. - 

p.p.p.s.- Iowa's Donna Reed was a stone-cold fox by yesterday's AND today's standards.