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George Bailey: Communist


Maybe some of you have heard about this before, but I just found out this week that It’s a Wonderful Life was communist propaganda.

Communist stooge begs before capitalist hero

Or so said a FBI memo in 1947:

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.

In 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.

Read the original document here.

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  • snarkout

    Oh, man, the Red-baiting around It’s a Wonderful Life — in addition to the theme, the fact that Capra almost cast Oscar-winner and eventual blacklist victim Anne Revere as George’s mother — led to one of my absolute favorite classic Hollywood anecdotes. John Wayne crony Ward Bond passed the word to Capra that he should stay away from Revere; Col. Capra, who had served in the quartermaster corps during WWI as well as giving up Hollywood to make propaganda films for the Army in the Second World War, told quasi-draft-dodger Wayne to go screw himself, and Wayne lost his mind.

    • wjts

      My own favorite story in that genre comes from when John Ford was directing Wayne in They Were Expendable. As part of a dressing-down, an exasperated Ford asked, “Duke, can’t you manage a salute that at least looks like you’ve been in the service?”

      • That story reminds me of my very soft spot for Lady in the Lake.

  • Sly

    Clearly, Capra should have went with this version.

  • Andrew

    This is fascinating, but temporarily less fascinating than trying to figure out why BlogAds’ algorithm is targeting Thai Love Links ads here.

    I doubt it’s a communist conspiracy.

    • Malaclypse

      I’d assume that ad follows JenBob everywhere.

      • Andrew

        With pancakes?

        • DrDick

          And real maple syrup!

    • ajay

      This is fascinating, but temporarily less fascinating than trying to figure out why BlogAds’ algorithm is targeting Thai Love Links ads here.

      It keys off your browsing history, Andrew. I’m getting Amazon and cable/broadband ads.

      • Dick Gregory

        So your other interests are union-busting and tax-dodging?

    • Just Dropping By

      I’ve got Amazon.com, Vail skiing, and mortgage refinance ads coming up for me. You may wish to clear your cookies and browser cache.

    • LittlePig

      Lay off the ‘love you long time’ links and that will clear up in a few days.

      Really kinky shoe ads followed me around for some time.

    • DrDick

      I got AdblockerPlus. No problems.

  • And what color is Santa’s suit, huh? Huh? HUH?

    • flarghlet

      He is up there at the North Pole, close to them Russkies ….

      • Arynne

        And Mars is full of Communists, because it’s called the Red Planet!

  • Jewish Steel

    No, but you…you…
    you’re thinking of this place all wrong.
    As if I had the money back in a safe.
    The, the money’s not here.
    Well, your money’s in Joe’s house…
    that’s right next to yours.
    And in the Kennedy House, and Mrs. Macklin’s
    house, and, and a hundred others.

    I can see how that kind of collectivist talk could erode our national moral fiber.

    • c u n d gulag

      To counter the collectivism in that movie, we should tell people that in reality, every time on Wall Street that the opening or closing bells ring, an angel gets his/her wings.

    • Hogan

      What the hell are you doing with my money in your house, Joe?!

  • Clearly at least socialist propaganda – I thought that was obvious (and I’m not being snarky).

    Don’t even get me started on The Andy Griffith Show.

  • Steve

    What? This stiff about Georgr Baily, he good banker who just wants to keep people in their homes? It’s a Wonderful Life is capitalist propaganda.

  • AB

    How did ‘The Grapes of Wrath” ever pass muster (or did it not–I don’t know)?

    • LeeEsq

      When I first saw the GOW movie, I was really struck by the obvious leftism in it. I’m guessing that the book was so popular that Hollywood decided just to make a really left-leaning movie because they knew they would make money and that none of them predicted latter anti-Communist hysteria.

      Hollywood politcs wasn’t really conservative or liberal in the Golden Age even if the studio moguls were very conservative. Obvious politcs is bad for business unless a profit is guaranteed. Thats why GOW got away with its leftism.

  • Patrick Pine

    Apparently tin foil hats have not gone out of style over the last 75 years or so…

    • njorl

      If tin foil hatters were all nuts then how come you can’t get tin foil anymore? It proves they were on to something. I’ll bet they got the lead out of the air because it interfered with the broadcasts, too.

  • Chris in OR

    Of course, the sadly bitter irony of this is that Capra was subsequently targeted by HUAC, contributing to the end of his career.

  • The GOW book was attacked throughout the San Joaquin Valley, and of course, by people in Steinbeck’s old stomping grounds on the Central Coast around Monterey. Also, there were changes in the movie version, plus the fact that the Depression was almost over by the time it was released made a difference as well.

    While the film is somewhat stark, it has a more optimistic and hopeful view than the novel, especially when the Joads land at the Department of Agriculture camp – the clean camp.[citation needed] Also, the producers tone down Steinbeck’s political references, such as eliminating a monologue using a land owner’s description of “reds” as anybody “that wants thirty cents an hour when we’re payin’ twenty-five,” to show that under the prevalent conditions that definition applies to every migrant worker looking for better wages. The film emphasizes Ma Joad’s pragmatic, forward-looking way of dealing with their situation despite Tom’s departure, as it concludes with her spiritual “We’re the people” speech.[citation needed][2]

    From the Wiki.

  • montag

    I wonder who [redacted] is. There were plenty of eager snitches in Hollywood (the blacklist turned out to be a truly inventive way for the studios to exert even more control over the more independent writers and directors and actors, which was always the purpose of morals clauses in contracts), but the most well-known FBI informant in Hollywood was Ronnie Raygun. This predates his presidency of SAG, but, he had been on the board of SAG since 1941.

    No way to know for sure unless somebody fesses up, but the quotes certainly sound like something dimbulb Ron would say.

    • kgus

      Sounds more like director than an actor. And there must have been bigger stars than Reagan informing on their co-workers — there were certainly bigger stars testifying at HUAC.

  • jiminholland

    Given that he does talk as if he’s a director, a strong candidate for [redacted] is this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Wood

    Wiki doesn’t mention that as a condition for inclusion in his will, Wood required his children to sign oaths that they weren’t and never had been Communists.

    John Ford’s biographer Joseph McBride writes that Ford did find himself under scrutiny during the witchhunt years because of his involvement with The Grapes of Wrath and the left-liberal political positions he took prior to WW2; McBride attributes Ford’s move to the right after the war in part to opportunistic career protection.

    But as a close friend of Capra’s (who himself was a right wing Republican, some of whose films had scripts by writers with left wing affiliations), and as someone who held the blacklisting imperative in contempt, Ford would almost certainly not have been [redacted].

    • snarkout

      Ford, of course, had (literally) stood up for Joe Mankiewicz when Cecil B. DeMille was trying to get him fired as head of the Director’s Guild for Mankiewicz’s anti-blacklist stance, with his “My name’s John Ford and I make westerns” speech (although George Stevens was apparently more instrumental in stopping DeMille).

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  • LeeEsq

    At least this is written with better grammar than modern wing-nuttery. Its actually written with better grammar than analysis I’m symapthethic to.

    The entire analysis of It’s A Wonderful Life is very stupid but at the same time I can’t really get worked up about it because I really hate the MST3K mantra, “its just a show.” I’m a bit tired of elements of fandom wanting their hobbies to be taken seriously but retreat into the MST3K defense when they hear analysis they don’t like. Completely off the mark interpretation is better than nothing.

  • John F

    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.

    I just can’t get past the fact that the guy who wrote this somehow missed the fact that George Bailey was also a BANKER

    • Hogan

      It’s not a bank, it’s a savings and loan, and probably mutually held. Red to the bone.

      • John F

        it’s a savings and loan,

        which is a bank
        and a guy who runs a Savings and Loan is a “banker”

        Credit Unions are also “banks”

        and LLCs are corporations
        (and so are LLPs)

        • Hogan

          You know what “mutually held” means, though, right?

          • John F

            it means that the guys running it have no skin in the game, but fully intend to convert it at some future date thereby converting your skin into theirs

      • njorl

        So Charles Keating was a commie?

  • jake the snake

    To further implicate John Ford, consider “Stagecoach”.
    The real villain was the banker, who not only was a
    embezzler, but was the only one not redeemed by the end
    of the movie. The coward, the prostitute, the drunk, and of
    course The Ringo Kid were all redeemed in one way or another.

  • Mike Schilling

    The character of Henry Potter is also a vicious attack on Dick Cheney, though that might not have been apparent at the time.

    • rkd

      Don’t you mean Voldemort?

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