In this article, Hoakes explains that It’s a Wonderful Life was one of the eight movies in 1947 that the FBI investigated for subversive and communist undertones. The three categories that determine a subversive film were:
I. Values or institutions judged to be particularly American are smeared or presented as evil in a movie.
II. Values or institutions deemed to be particularly anti-American or pro-Communist are glorified in a movie.
III. Casual references to current events are made that either belittle American political institutions or promote the Communist party line.
The FBI claimed that It’s a Wonderful Life contained elements of the first two categories. As the film demonizes Potter and discredits the banking system, it violates category I. As the rights of the common man are glorified and defended, it violates category II. However, Noakes explains that these two claims are not accurate. The film does not negatively portray capitalism; it depicts two forms of capitalism (Bailey and Potter) and supports the version that focuses on small business and the working class. Focusing on the working class, however, does not make it a communist film. Instead it focuses on the home owning rights of the working class, a strictly capitalist belief.
This article is notable because it stresses George Bailey’s positive influence in his community. He is practicing a more proper and humane form of capitalism. While there are those that view Potter and big business as the basis of American capitalism, Bailey and Capra remind the viewer that the common man is equally important to the running of the economy. The film calls for neither socialism nor communism. Bailey acts out of his own charitable will to help individuals afford a home. In doing so, he ensures that there will be happy customers and happy workers in the economy.
Noakes, John A. "Bankers and Common Men in Bedford Falls: How the FBI Determined That 'It's a Wonderful Life' Was a Subversive Movie." Film History 10.3, The Cold War and the Movies (1998), pp. 311-319
JSTOR keyword: 'it's a wonderful life' - first document