The Classic Film The FBI Called ‘Communist Propaganda’

“You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.” —It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

In A Nutshell

In the late ’40s and early ’50s, the FBI and a team of filmmakers analyzed a number of movies, searching for hidden Communist messages. When they were finished, they’d written a gigantic treatise on how to spot subversive films. And in the FBI’s opinion, one of the most radically red movies in Hollywood was It’s a Wonderful Life.

The Whole Bushel

Every December, families hang up bright lights, decorate trees with glass ornaments and gather around their televisions to watch Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. This heartwarming film has become a holiday tradition, nay, an institution. However, there’s something sinister lurking beneath all that talk of generosity and friendship. It turns out George Bailey and his angel buddy, Clarence, are really Commie spies indoctrinating freedom-loving Americans with filthy red propaganda. Well, that’s what the FBI thought anyway.

During the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, major Hollywood players came under scrutiny for their alleged ties to the Communist Party. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was especially keen to smoke out Tinseltown’s Fifth Column and had his agents work with a team of patriotic filmmakers (including Ayn Rand) to sniff out subversive flicks. The result was a 13,533-page manifesto big enough to choke a horse. Titled Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry, the file was filled with little tips on how observant agents could spot a Marxist movie. It explained how scenes from The Best Years of Our Lives and Buck Privates Come Home (starring that notoriously subversive duo, Abbott and Costello) were actually pinko propaganda. And most shockingly, the file took aim at Jimmy Stewart’s Christmas classic.

According to the FBI and their Hollywood lackies, Wonderful Life was brimming with socialist dogma, largely thanks to its leftist writers. Of course, the Bureau was making quite an assumption. It’s a Wonderful Life was penned by the husband-wife writing team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. In addition to writing beloved films like The Third Man, Father of the Bride, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the couple were also friends with a few Communists. As we all know, bad company corrupts good character, and in the FBI’s eyes, Goodrich and Hackett were guilty by association.

Since Goodrich and Hackett hung out with Commies, their screenplays were undoubtedly full of radical ideas. For example, the FBI hated Wonderful Life‘s big baddie, Mr. Potter. Played by Lionel Barrymore, Mr. Potter is one of cinema’s nastiest villains. Sure, he isn’t as psycho as Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates, but his greed more than makes up for his lack of a body count. And it was his stingy attitude that tipped off the Bureau to Goodrich and Hackett’s scheme. Obviously, by making Mr. Potter such a vile character, the writers were trying to show that capitalism is evil. The picture was intentionally attacking the hardworking businessmen of America! They even claimed this was a common ploy used by red writers to incite class envy. In the FBI’s eyes, It’s a Wonderful Life was a proletariat screed against the bourgeoisie, plain and simple.

Of course, the FBI completely ignored the fact that James Stewart and Frank Capra were as patriotic as it gets. After all, these were the same guys who made Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a story about a man who courageously fights for American idealism. In fact, Capra was so far right he even sympathized with Benito Mussolini who wasn’t exactly tolerant of liberals. But despite Capra’s political affiliations, the FBI listed It’s a Wonderful Life as propaganda from 1946 to 1956. Fortunately, the Red Scare eventually died down, and It’s a Wonderful Life has become a cherished holiday tradition, reminding everyone that no man is a failure who has friends. And that the government is full of paranoid crazy people.

Show Me The Proof

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ alleged Communist propaganda: The FBI Files and HUAC Hearings
‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ Had an FBI File, and It’s Kind of Hilarious
NY Times Obituaries: Albert Hackett, 95, Half of Prolific Drama Team

  • Jean Fraser McCarthy

    I loved the Red Scare guys.

    • OC

      Can you imagine being blacklisted on the power of a rumor or an anonymous call?

      • Jean Fraser McCarthy

        Yeah, I can only imagine. It actually didn’t happen much.

        • OC

          TOTALLY DISAGREE.

          • Jean Fraser McCarthy

            NUH UHHH! JOE MCCARTHY FTW!

  • Andy West

    Give me ‘Harvey’ any day!

  • Nathaniel A.

    One of the worst examples of Soviet paranoia I have ever heard of. Not just “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but any of the other obviously benign movies that were shamelessly painted with a red target.

  • ScepticSid

    What about The Muppets . Fozzie is obviously represents the proletariat Russian bear in eternal conflict with the Capitalist pig Miss Piggy.

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/fox-business-network-calls-muppets-269706

    • Andy West

      You could say the same about Kermit, but he was merely a puppet.

      • lbatfish

        Still, he was a Green, and not really a Red.

  • Andy West

    Why does the ‘Sorry, this was removed by KnowledgeNuts. come up on my comments?

    • oouchan

      Depends on what it is you posted. Some things are moderated right away based on word usage.

    • OC

      I’ve had comments deleted right away from Wired, LATimes, Nation, and several others and I’ve been banned from pages like CNN or LATimes but never once received an apology.
      Happens when you say anything that implicates Jews or Israel, but also when you debunk ANY party line such as “Black people can’t be racists against other Black people” which makes the rags Crazy.
      Since this site’s work is DEBUNKING myths, and since it attracts people who read, and maybe never watch TV, I’ve never been banned or deleted here.

  • People saw things very black and white back then.

    • Andy West

      Funniest comment this month

    • Jazzy

      Okay this is gold. I literally laughed out loud.

  • DdKruse

    Here, Jimmy Kimmel fixed it for us https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swZYMIdWMa4

    • Nathaniel A.

      Absolutely hilarious.

  • Andy West

    If you merely looked left them days you were under immediate suspicion, thank god times have changed.

    • lbatfish

      Back then, just an accusation of “palling around” was sometimes enough to spark genuine outrage.

  • oouchan

    It still amazes me what ignorance does to people and how it rules them. Simple education can stop nonsense such as this. Wonder what people will think of us in 100 years?

    Nice.

    • OC

      Most homes had bomb shelters and all schools did. We used the bomb. All because of the Communist Menace (that’s where the Eath’s resources haven’t been hoarded and stolen for the good of one or two families — back then — and where the buying and selling and privatization of some things is just WRONG — things like sex and air and water.)

  • UN

    im not even a christian and i know it’s a feel good classic…….what was FBI thinking?

    • Jimmy

      What relevance does religion have? You don’t have to be a soldier to enjoy war films.

    • Andy West

      Hate the film, never made me feel good, now give me ‘The Expendables’, two for one, bedong bedong bong

      • Lisa 39

        Tada!

      • UN

        well james stewert clearly stands no chance against CHUCK NORRIS or JOHN MCLAINE

    • lbatfish

      The FBI was just doing its job . . . with “its job” being defined by J. Edgar.

    • OC

      People say now that Hoover was a true patriot. And he wanted money to make his FBI world-class with scientific investagatory techniques. Which he did. McCarthy was ambitious I guess. And everyone was scared of the Russians and nuclear warfare. I believe we are similar now. Living in fear.

  • lbatfish

    The mention of Ayn Rand as one of the “patriotic filmmakers” compels me to post FuunyOrDie’s clip of Ayn Rand’s late-night talk show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ctu8Pqgrn9g

    For those interested in actual talk-show footage of her, YouTube also has some of her appearing on Johnny Carson. On his show, I mean.

    • Andy West

      I love Ayn Rand, as long as she stays away from me and my library, don’t want her tarnishing that hot spot.

      • OC

        HEAR HERE!!! I believe today she’d be diagnosed autistic.

  • OC

    It never gets stale. Every time I see that movie I get a KICK out of it. The money scene is too much.