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
This article points out that in George’s battle against economic oppression, he belittles the American ideals of individualism and personal wealth. By staying at the Building and Loan, George has foregone his independence and potential wealth. He complains of his draughty house and his kids’ hand-me down clothing. However, McCormick explains that the end of the film points out two truths to George: that no possessions can replace a human relationship, and that no action is as holy as making friends and neighbors. George was able to foster these friendships through his company’s struggle to combat against Mr. Potter’s economic monopoly. The Building and Loan limits Bedford Falls from turning into Pottersville, a town of vice and self-indulgence, in two ways. As people pool their money together, they help one another buy a home. In addition, the B & L serves as a voice for the people of Bedford Falls. As George is able to fulfill this role for his fellow townsmen, he has earned their trust and friendship. And consequentially, they are there for him in the final scene.
McCormick highlights George’s service to the community against Potter’s oppression. The article conveys that the economic monopoly is a source of evil. This article is extremely insightful because it highlights Capra’s taking on values that are known to be American. He heralds George’s charitable dispositions and his fearlessness of big business. George does not help finance lower income houses so that he can be saved when he needs saving; he finances these individuals to combat the evil force that could ruin Bedford Falls.
McCormick, Patrick. "Without Economic Justice There's No Wonderful Life." U.S. Catholic 58.12 (1993) p.18-19