Some of us consider It’s A Wonderful Life to be one of the least appealing films ever made, but even our disdain cannot compare with the FBI’s assessment of the 1946 Frank Capra ode to codependence. The Bureau thought that the film was a piece of Communist propaganda with an anti-consumerist message.
According to Professor John Noakes of Franklin and Marshall College:
The casting of Lionel Barrymore as a “scrooge-type” resulted in the loathsome Mr. Potter becoming the most hated person in the film. According to the official FBI report, “this was a common trick used by the communists.
What’s interesting in the FBI critique is that the Baileys were also bankers,” said Noakes. ” 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.
In a memo entitled “Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry,” agent D.M. Ladd tells FBI director J. Edgar Hoover that it was totally unnecessary to portray Old Man Potter as a “mean character,” and that making him such meant that the Capra “deliberately maligned the upper class.” It is possible, of course, that Ladd actually believed the case he made, but it is just as possible that he was doing his best to get on the good side of Hoover, who made a career out of seeing Communists under every rock and around every corner.
Capra, by the way, also made Why We Fight, a series of documentary films commissioned by the U.S. government during World War II to convince both military personnel and the American public that U.S. involvement in the war was necessary.