Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
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This collection of essays on the films and television programs made by those caught up in the Communist witch hunts of the 1940s and 1950s represents a move to better understand the role of progressive politics within a capitalist media industry. In part, the essayists have written in recognition of the extraordinary if controversial output of the historian of left-wing American culture Paul Buhle and his...
Chapter 1: Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Christian?: The Strange History of The Robe as Political Allegory
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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 King, the value of these subtexts is that they endow popular fictions with a social and cultural significance that...
Chapter 2: Un-American: Dmytryk , Rossellini, and Christ In Concrete
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Richard Maltby begins his influential account of the relation between Hollywood and the House Un-American Activities Committee with an assertion of its centrality to our understanding of the relation between American film and politics. “No adequate history of the Cold War in America can be written without reference to the blacklist and other agencies of cultural repression that were generated by those...
Chapter 3: “A Living Part of the Class Struggle”: Diego Rivera’s The Flower Carrier and the Hollywood Left
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This chapter explores a curious visual legacy of the Hollywood Left. The Flower Carrier, a 1935 easel work by the flamboyant Mexican muralist and Communist Diego Rivera, is prominently displayed in several films released during the period in which Hollywood was under intensive scrutiny from HUAC.1 The recurrence of The Flower Carrier across The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), In a Lonely Place (1950),...
Chapter 4: A Monarch for the Millions: Jewish Filmmakers, Social Commentary, and the Postwar Cycle of Boxing Films
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Champion (1949) opens and closes with a ringside radio commentator setting the scene for Midge Kelly’s defense of his championship title: “Listen to the crowd. Actually, they’re cheering more than a man tonight. They’re cheering a story; a story that could only have been lived in the fight game: a story of a boy who rose from the depths of poverty to become champion of the world.” After being brutally...
Chapter 5: The Violent Poetry of the Times: The Politics of History in Daniel Mainwaring and Joseph Losey’s The Lawless
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In the decisive scene of the 1950 independent production The Lawless, small-town newspaperman Larry Wilder (Macdonald Carey) sits in a thin rectangle of light surrounded by darkness, contemplating a momentous decision. He can risk his safety and use his newspaper to save the life of a Mexican teenager railroaded by the system, or he can do nothing and save himself. From the dark, he hears a voice:...
Chapter 6: Dark Passages: Jazz and Civil Liberty in the Postwar Crime Film
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In the moments leading up to the climactic scene of Otto Preminger’s 1959 Anatomy of a Murder, Jimmy Stewart sits down at the piano and plays the music of Duke Ellington.1 The setting is the home of defense attorney Paul Biegler, played by Stewart, who waits with his co-workers and closest friends—fellow lawyer Parnell McCarthy and secretary Maida Rutledge—for a verdict in the controversial...
Chapter 7: Documentary Realism and the Postwar Left
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In 1943, Noel Meadow, a New York publicist and one-time tabloid journalist, bought the Stanley Theatre in Manhattan for the purpose of exhibiting wartime documentary films.1 Meadow had been the press agent for the Stanley in 1942, when it broke U.S. attendance records for a Soviet film with Guerrilla Brigade, the American release of the 1938 fiction film Vsadniki. Set during the First World War,...
Chapter 8: Cloaked in Compromise: Jules Dassin’s “Naked” City
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The Naked City (Universal, 1948) was Jules Dassin’s heartbreaking big break. The film was a commercial and critical success, its vivid depiction of New York recognized with Academy Awards for best cinematography and editing. Yet Dassin walked out of the film’s premiere in tears. Gone were his shots of bums on the Bowery, his satirical jabs at Upper East Side socialites; what remained was a portrait...
Chapter 9: The Progressive Producer in the Studio System: Adrian Scott at RKO, 1943–1947
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A key figure in the circle of young progressive filmmakers working at RKO during the 1940s, Adrian Scott was both one of the “salaried underpaid producers” and one of the Reds. A member of the Screen Writer’s Guild, the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, and other progressive groups, Scott was in many ways the quintessential Popular Front Communist: committed to the tripartite agenda of anti-fascism, antiracism,...
Chapter 10: The House I Live In: Albert Maltz and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism
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Frank Sinatra wrote this letter to Albert Maltz in August 1945.1 Pride of the Marines, with a screenplay by Maltz that told the story of returning veteran Al Schmid, had just been released. But this was not simply a fan letter from one of America’s most popular entertainers to a notable screenwriter. In fact, Maltz and Sinatra had collaborated only three months earlier on the production of the RKO short...
Chapter 11: Red Hollywood in Transition: The Case of Robert Rossen
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In his important essay on the work of the Hollywood Left, Thom Andersen asks whether there is anything either politically or aesthetically distinctive about the oeuvre of the writers and directors associated with the Communist Party in the thirties and forties. Andersen partly answers his question by proposing the notion of film gris as a hybrid form of film noir and as a distinctive creation of left-wing...
Chapter 12: Swashbuckling, Sapphire, and Salt: Un-American Contributions to TV Costume Adventure Series in the 1950s
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The mid-to-late 1950s witnessed the appearance of a number of costume adventure series on Britain’s then-new commercial television channel, ITV, on national and local TV in the United States, and, indeed, on TV stations in many other parts of the world.1 These series, which were an increasingly important component of what Brian Taves has identified as the third of four major cycles of costume adventure in...
Chapter 13: Hollywood, the New Left, and FTA
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The effects of the anti-Communist witch hunts of the late 1940s and 1950s were profound. As Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund have explained, politically engaged directors, writers, and actors on the left of the political spectrum found that “opportunities for political activism virtually ceased to exist in the ‘new era.’ ”1 Leftist organizations in Hollywood such as the Independent Citizens Committee of...
Chapter 14: Red Hollywood
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More than a quarter of the century has passed since Hollywood began its purge of Communists and fellow travelers, but the Hollywood blacklist, as it has come to be known, has not yet passed into history, although it has already had at least three generations of historians. We know what happened, or we can find out easily enough if we are too young to remember. And the meaning of these obsessively...
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The republication of “Red Hollywood” after twenty years is for me a somewhat melancholy occasion. I always regarded it as a preliminary text, a historiographical prelude to the definitive study of the Hollywood blacklist I would one day write. But that day never quite arrived, although my interests in the questions I posed there never waned....
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We wish to thank the editors of Film Studies: An International Review for permission to publish revised versions of the essays by Jeff Smith, Erica Sheen, Brian Neve, and Peter Stanfield that first appeared in winter 2005. This issue contains additional work on the blacklist and television by Steve Neale, on Adrian Scott by Jennifer Langdon-Teclaw, on Sinatra and postwar liberalism by Karen McNally, and interviews...
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Notes on the Contributors
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Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 85 photographs, 2 tables
Publication Year: 2007