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(Credit: RKO Radio Pictures)

Film

The classic Christmas film that the FBI hated

@Russellisation

Sure, so the title of this article sounds like the most generic piece of clickbait you’d find in the darkest corner of the world wide web, but it is also indeed the truth, with the FBI taking a personal dislike to what some believe to be the most definitive Christmas movie of all time. Whilst the American FBI may not be too quick to bark orders at any contemporary piece of cinema, back in the post-war era of the nation, things were a little more tumultuous. 

Enjoying a flourishing economy after the end of WWII in 1945, America relished the new freedom of the 1940s, where industry turned away from wartime produce to more liberating items of convenience for all. An influx of positivity pervaded the country and the potential for the future of the country was promising, be it not for the threat of the looming cold war and the scare of communism that was sparked shortly after victory in the mid-1940s. 

Coinciding its release with the end of the war, It’s a Wonderful Life from Frank Capra demonstrated such optimism in America at the mid-point in the 20th century, telling the story of a normal man who is gifted with a revitalisation of life. Released at Christmas in 1946, It’s a Wonderful Life stars James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore and was voted as the ‘most inspirational film of all time’ by the American Film Institute. 

Shortly after the film’s release in 1946, the FBI considered the film’s strong anti-consumerist message as subversive Communist propaganda believing It’s a Wonderful Life upheld significant anti-American values. According to Professor John Noakes of Franklin and Marshall College, “The casting of Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ resulted in the loathsome Mr. Potter becoming the most hated person in the film. According to the official FBI report, “this was a common trick used by the communists”. 

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Making reference to the real document that the FBI created that read, “This picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters,” John Noakes asserted that “Capra was clearly on side of small capitalism and the FBI was on the side of big capitalism”. 

Now recognised as a nostalgic American Christmas classic, it seems as though the FBI let this one go, putting it down to a difference of opinion in the ever-paranoid climate of mid-twentieth-century America. Nominated for five Academy Awards when the film was released, including for Best Picture, it’s evident that the reach of the film spanned far and wide, tapping into a particularly pertinent message for the zeitgeist of ‘40s America. 

Today, it is It’s a Wonderful Life’s focus on its own message of anti-consumerism that makes it such a timeless Christmas film, particularly in a world that has become ever-more focused on commercial values.