J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies
The FBI and the Origins of Hollywood's Cold War
Publication Year: 2012
Between 1942 and 1958, J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a sweeping and sustained investigation of the motion picture industry to expose Hollywood's alleged subversion of "the American Way" through its depiction of social problems, class differences, and alternative political ideologies. FBI informants (their names still redacted today) reported to Hoover's G-men on screenplays and screenings of such films as Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946), noting that "this picture deliberately maligned the upper class attempting to show that people who had money were mean and despicable characters." The FBI's anxiety over this film was not unique; it extended to a wide range of popular and critical successes, including The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Crossfire (1947) and On the Waterfront (1954).
In J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies, John Sbardellati provides a new consideration of Hollywood's history and the post-World War II Red Scare. In addition to governmental intrusion into the creative process, he details the efforts of left-wing filmmakers to use the medium to bring social problems to light and the campaigns of their colleagues on the political right, through such organizations as the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, to prevent dissemination of "un-American" ideas and beliefs.
Sbardellati argues that the attack on Hollywood drew its motivation from a sincerely held fear that film content endangered national security by fostering a culture that would be at best apathetic to the Cold War struggle at best, or, at its worst, conducive to communism at home. Those who took part in Hollywood's Cold War struggle, whether on the left or right, shared one common trait: a belief that the movies could serve as engines for social change. This strongly held assumption explains why the stakes were so high and, ultimately, why Hollywood became one of the most important ideological battlegrounds of the Cold War.
Published by: Cornell University Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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This book began at the University of California, Santa Barbara, under the guid-ance of Fredrik Logevall, along with Nelson Lichtenstein, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, and Charles Wolfe. I thank each of them for their enthusiastic support and always helpful advice. In my career as both teacher and scholar, I am constantly striving I am also indebted to the UCSB Center for Cold War Studies for both mate-...
Introduction: Hollywood’s Red Scare
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Henry F. Potter is the resident scrooge of Bedford Falls. A greedy slumlord, Mr. Potter is a powerful shareholder in Bailey Bros. Building & Loan Association. When the Depression of 1929 reaches Bedford Falls, Potter selfi shly schemes to entrap more townspeople in his sties. But the Building & Loan is run by George Bailey, a man who sacrifi ces individual success for the sake of the commu-...
1. A Movie Problem
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The idea that Hollywood could be subversive is as old as the industry itself. The culture wars at the turn of the twentieth century witnessed the rise of mass amusements as a challenge to a Victorian America grounded in distinct class and gender divisions, especially in the realm of entertainment. This Protestant culture faced the challenge of new immigrants, many of them Catholics and Jews ...
2. The FBI’s Search for Communist Propaganda during the Second World War
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You should direct your investigation particularly toward determining the extent of the Communist Party’s influence and participation in Historian Eric Hobsbawm envisions the grand alliance of the Second World War as “a moment of historical paradox in the relations of capitalism and communism, placed, for most of the century—except for the brief period of antifascism—in ...
3. Producing Hollywood’s Cold War
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Despite the attitude of the press and other informational processes now antagonistic to Communism on a national scale, Hollywood and the film industry still remain the key spots of contamination by this ideology. The motion picture producers themselves have never reacted to this The year is 1945; the great struggle has finally ended in victory. Three of democ-...
4. The Coalescence of a Countersubversive Network
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The Party is content and highly pleased if it is possible to have inserted in a picture a line, a scene, a sequence, conveying the Communist lesson and more particularly, if they can keep out anti-By 1947 the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its anti-Communist allies viewed Hollywood as the central battleground in the domestic cold war. In order to wage ...
5. The 1947 HUAC Trials
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I never as a citizen want to see our country become urged, by either fear or resentment of this group, that we ever compromise with any The show began on Monday, October 20, 1947. Microphones and loudspeakers amplifi ed the air, fl oodlights swung from the majestic chandeliers, and law-men steered the crowd of hundreds eager to get a glimpse of Gary Cooper or ...
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I’m gonna have to ask her questions. She being a truthful woman, every answer is going to incriminate her son. It could be quite a Though it is impossible to take measure of the fi lms that were not made due to the stifl ing of dissent in the early Cold War, we can take note of a new cycle of movies that explicitly sought to explain the stakes of this confl ict. Since most of ...
Conclusion: Three Perspectives on the Death of the Social Problem Film
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As the 1940s drew to a close, the Cold War intensifi ed. The “twin shocks” of 1949—the Soviet detonation of the atomic bomb and the “fall” of China to Mao Zedong’s Communists—heightened fears of the red menace at home and abroad. In February 1950, Joseph McCarthy began his anti-Communist ram-page with his Wheeling, West Virginia, speech in which he boldly claimed to ...
Appendix: Analysis of Motion Pictures Containing Propaganda: An FBI Filmography of Suspect Movies
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Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2012