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Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist

Reading the Hollywood Reds

Jeff Smith

Publication Year: 2014

Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist examines the long-term reception of several key American films released during the postwar period, focusing on the two main critical lenses used in the interpretation of these films: propaganda and allegory. Produced in response to the hearings held by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that resulted in the Hollywood blacklist, these films’ ideological message and rhetorical effectiveness was often muddled by the inherent difficulties in dramatizing villains defined by their thoughts and belief systems rather than their actions. Whereas anti-Communist propaganda films offered explicit political exhortation, allegory was the preferred vehicle for veiled or hidden political comment in many police procedurals, historical films, Westerns, and science fiction films. Jeff Smith examines the way that particular heuristics, such as the mental availability of exemplars and the effects of framing, have encouraged critics to match filmic elements to contemporaneous historical events, persons, and policies. In charting the development of these particular readings, Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist features case studies of many canonical Cold War titles, including The Red Menace, On the Waterfront, The Robe, High Noon, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Published by: University of California Press

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

List of Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Any time a book takes as long to write as this one has, one finds that there are many, many people who provided assistance and help along the way. The origins of Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist date back to my time at Washington University in St. Louis. At the outset I especially want...

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Introduction: What More Can Be Said about the Hollywood Blacklist?

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pp. 1-16

The notion that many films made between 1948 and 1960 commented on American politics of the period is so commonplace as to be banal. Several books analyze this relationship, ranging from Nora Sayre’s pioneering Running Time: Films of the Cold War, published in 1982, to J. Hoberman’s...

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1. A Bifocal View of Hollywood during the Blacklist Period: Film as Propaganda and Allegory

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pp. 17-49

We have seen that a comparatively small but important group of postwar American films have been interpreted as Hollywood’s response to the Red Scare. But what produced this consensus view of postwar American cinema? Along with the appearance of the earliest histories of the blacklist and...

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2. I Was a Communist for RKO: Hollywood Anti-Communism and the Problem of Representing Political Beliefs

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pp. 50-82

In the wake of the 1947 hearings conducted in Washington by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) Hollywood produced several overtly anti-Communist films. Film historians have offered slightly different accounts of the number of anti-Communist films made during the...

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3. Reds and Blacks: Representing Race in Anti-Communist Films

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pp. 83-117

In a 1953 article for Sight and Sound, critic and future director Karel Reisz offered a catalog of various features common to anti-Communist films made in Hollywood. Besides the element of gangsterism, Reisz noted several other traits, including Communism’s relationship to science, intellectualism...

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4. Stoolies, Cheese-Eaters, and Tie Sellers: Genre, Allegory, and the HUAC Informer

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pp. 118-170

No issue related to the Hollywood blacklist has been as contentious or as emotionally charged as the question of “naming names.” Although many of those blacklisted felt anger toward the studio executives and producers who callously cast them aside, a special sort of contempt was reserved for...

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5. The Cross and the Sickle: Allegorical Representations of the Blacklist in Historical Films

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pp. 171-196

In an essay in Danse Macabre best-selling author Stephen King writes, “If horror movies have redeeming social merit, it is because of that ability to form liaisons between the real and unreal—to provide subtexts. And because of their mass appeal, these subtexts are often culture-wide.”1 For...

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6. Roaming the Plains along the “New Frontier”: The Western as Allegory of the Blacklist and the Cold War

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pp. 197-238

As Time magazine’s review of the 1952 western California Conquest notes, the plot covers a period between 1825 and 1841, when “Mexico-ruled California was torn by internal strife, and Russia, France, England and the U.S. were trying to take over the territory.”1 Within this political tumult...

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7. Loving the Alien: Science Fiction Cinema as Cold War Allegory

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pp. 239-272

On July 23, 1953, David Platt of the Daily Worker reported on a dispute between Hollywood studio bosses and J. Cheever Cowdin, new chief of the U.S. government’s overseas film program. Cowdin urged the studios to include more anti-Communist content in their work, but, according to...

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Conclusion: Old Wounds and the Texas Sharpshooter

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pp. 273-278

While this manuscript was being reviewed, two things occurred that reinforce the roles of both the Hollywood blacklist and allegorical interpretation as important parts of contemporary film culture. First, on November 19, 2012, the Hollywood Reporter issued a public apology for its role in the...


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pp. 279-314


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pp. 315-328


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pp. 329-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780520958517
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520280687

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Motion pictures -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Motion pictures -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Cold War in motion pictures.
  • Communism and motion pictures -- United States.
  • Blacklisting of entertainers -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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