The FBI Believed That ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Was Communist Propaganda
The FBI Believed That ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Was Communist Propaganda

The FBI Believed That ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Was Communist Propaganda

Patrick Lynch - March 22, 2018

The FBI Believed That ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Was Communist Propaganda
Second Red Scare Propaganda Poster – Patrick Hubert Design

Did Certain Films Spread ‘Suspect’ Ideas?

In the modern era, the notion of Communism being spread through the cinema seems ridiculous but it was a clear and present danger in the period immediately after World War II. Remember, this was an age when television had yet to reach the masses so the cinema was regarded as the best way to spread ideas. At that stage, more people went to the movies each week than church and school combined. With this in mind, it is easy to see that the cinema was a great way to spread an ideology.

Organizations such as the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA) joined HUAC and the FBI in pressurizing the movie industry to spread ‘American’ ideology while ensuring that ‘suspect’ ideas such as Communism were either not given the time of day or were portrayed in a negative light. When It’s a Wonderful Life was released, the FBI didn’t see a heart-warming tale of human kindness and redemption. Instead, it saw a Communist movie that demonized the rich which exaggerating the plight of ‘the people’.

The actions of the FBI were also a reaction to the formation of the Popular Front which gained momentum in the mid-1930s. It was a coalition of left-wing thinkers who wanted to create a cultural project which showcased works of art that were politically progressive and socially relevant. Movies that followed this line of thought featured working-class heroes, were antiracist, and also antifascist. Interestingly, there was a brief period during World War II where Hollywood allowed the showing of pro-Soviet movies such as Mission to Moscow in 1943. This film showed a false image of the Soviet Union at a time when America was its ally.

The FBI Believed That ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Was Communist Propaganda
Frank Capra – Wikipedia

As far as It’s a Wonderful Life is concerned, the FBI and HUAC decided not to take action after a lengthy investigation. To be fair, there were a number of Communists who worked on the movie and if you want to read too much into it, you could see why the FBI thought it was Communist in the context of the time. The richest man in the town was also the worst human being while poor George Bailey was trampled on by the elite.

However, it is crucial to note that while several writers and crew members were socialist, Frank Capra was certainly not. As well as being an ardent Conservative, Capra despised Franklin D. Roosevelt and was closer to being a fascist than a Communist. In fact, not only was he a lifelong Republican, but Capra also admired Mussolini and Franco and believed that America was the land of opportunity and a place where you can solve your problems within the existing system. Therefore, we have to conclude that regardless of the FBI’s suspicions, there is no way that Capra would knowingly be party to Communist propaganda.


Where Did We Get This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources

“The Working-Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret..” Michael Zweig. 2012.

“Ready 2 Go: 15 Heart-Changing Programs for Youth and Young Adults.” Randy Fishell. 2008.

“The FBI Once Thought ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Was Communist Propaganda.” Hoai-Tran-Bui in Slash Film. December 2017.