Did the FBI Believe That It’s a Wonderful Life Was Communist Propaganda?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The FBI felt that It’s a Wonderful Life was communist propaganda.

Nowadays (and for quite some time), Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, is viewed as a film classic and more specifically, a Christmas classic, shown on television every year in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

However, amazingly enough, in 1947, the FBI had a different view of the film.

In a 1947 FBI memo about Communist infiltration of the film industry, the following was written about the film:

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.

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.

Isn’t that fascinating?

The legend is…


Thanks to Michael Dean for suggesting this one and thanks to Will Chen for the transcription. Check out Chen’s site here for the original FBI documents.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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4 Responses to “Did the FBI Believe That It’s a Wonderful Life Was Communist Propaganda?”

  1. Wouldn’t we all love to know who Mr. “Redeacted” was? They never noticed this was an Americanized version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

  2. Unfortunately, the FBI reports and files that confirmed there really were “Reds” that had infiltrated higher stations in US government were only able to be released (thus proving their existence, and silencing those who claimed it was all merely a “scare”) until the 1990s, a 50-year silence for reasons of National Security. MANY films during the 50’s were indeed communistic propaganda pieces, for instance “High Noon”: “We know this is a left-wing film because it was made by leftists like producer Stanley Kramer and scriptwriter Carl Foreman [both members of the Communist Party, the latter later blacklisted] who later said it was.” (author Peter Biskind, out of his book “Seeing Is Believing”). It is not at all difficult to see the propaganda and “gentle persuasion” of Marxist/Progressivist themes in film- not only are they *not* covert, they are overt! For instance- in It’s a Wonderful Life the wealthy capitalists shown as greedy, mean old (and 100% Caucasian gentiles) coots. One need only perceive the characters or even the plots of these films to get the general idea. Anyone remember the old standard plots where the father character desperately urges his brood to “leave the farm! its endless work!” to find a career and education in the Big City, where livin’ is easy and there are no horrible, bigoted and uneducated boors (like in the country- you get the drift)? I, unfortunately had my perceptions altered by being convinced that the rich were “terrible” and the poor, well, they were the honest, kindly, generous hard-working Americans. Boy were we told a bunch of nonsense!

  3. @Kristin
    You are exaggerating! If you think High Noon is a communistic propaganda because Stanley Kramer and Carl Foreman were members of the Communist Party, why would you think It’s a Wonderful Life directed by a Catholic Italian-American director is?
    Furthermore, several biographers suggest have suggested Frank Capra had discovered Roman Holiday’s true author was the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo and refused to direct. Probably you must think Roman Holiday is also a communistic propaganda because of its writer.
    Many right-wing people have confused Catholicism with Communism because both defend the poor.

  4. At least we know who “redacted” is now …

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