Monday, 13 March 2017

Classic Movie Fact of the Week #1

To celebrate the second anniversary of Back to Golden Days, I have decided to introduce a new feature in the blog. In addition to the «Picture of the Week,» which I post every Sunday, I will be sharing a «Classic Movie Fact of the Week» every Monday. This is the first one in the series.


Did you know that...
In 1947, an FBI analyst investigating Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry submitted a memo to his director, J. Edgar Hoover, claiming that Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946), now a Christmas classic, promoted Communism by discrediting bankers.

The greatest family film of all time Communist propaganda? Sure...

 According to the memo, written by a certain D. M. Ladd and dated May 26, 1947, the film «represented rather obvious attempts do discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a 'scrooge-type' so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This [...] is a common trick used by Communists.» The report goes on to add that It's a Wonderful Life «deliberately maligned the upper-class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.»

An informant interviewed by the FBI spoke of the scene in which Mr. Potter (played by Barrymore) refuses to give George Bailey (portrayed by James Stewart) a loan. This person, whose name was redacted for security purposes, considered 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.»

How can It's a Wonderful Life discredit bankers when the film's hero is a banker?

It is, indeed, a fact that the majority of writers who worked on the script of It's a Wonderful Life found their loyalty questioned during the Hollywood inquisition that began in 1947. Dorothy Parker and Michael Wilson were prominent Hollywood radicals who were later blacklisted after being named Communists by the publication Red Channels in 1950. Donald Trumbo was blacklisted after the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings in October 1947 as one of the «Hollywood Ten» and sent to prison in 1950 for contempt of Congress. Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, who received on-screen credit for writing the film, were accused by the American Legion in 1952 of being Communist sympathizers. Although he was not called to testify before the HUAC, Capra was himself a prime target of the committee due to his prolific associations with many blacklisted screenwriters.

But this, of course, does not mean that It's a Wonderful Life promotes Communism. Anyone who has seen the film knows that George Bailey is also a banker and it was his actions that ultimately saved his family's business from financial ruin. Borrowing the words of film critic John Charles Moffitt, «I think Mr. Capra’s picture, though it had a banker as villain, could not be properly called a Communist picture. It showed that the power of money can be used oppressively, and it can be used benevolently.»

Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success by Joseph McBride (University Press of Mississippi, 2011)

«Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry» (FBI document, 1947, pages 13-14)
«The FBI considered It's a Wonderful Life to be Communist propaganda» by Zachary M. Seward for The Atlantic (December 24, 2013)

No comments:

Post a Comment