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Abraham Polonsky


Andrew Dickos

Publication Year: 2013

Abraham Polonsky (1910-1999), screenwriter and filmmaker of the mid-twentieth-century Left, recognized his writerly mission to reveal the aspirations of his characters in a material society structured to undermine their hopes. In the process, he ennobled their struggle. His auspicious beginning in Hollywood reached a zenith with his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Robert Rossen's boxing noir, Body and Soul (1947), and his inaugural film as writer and director, Force of Evil (1948), before he was blacklisted during the McCarthy witch hunt.

Polonsky envisioned cinema as a modern artist. His aesthetic appreciation for each technical component of the screen aroused him to create voiceovers of urban cadences--poetic monologues spoken by the city's everyman, embodied by the actor who played his heroes best, John Garfield. His use of David Raksin's score in Force of Evil, against the backdrop of the grandeur of New York City's landscape and the conflict between the brothers Joe and Leo Morse, elevated film noir into classical family tragedy.

Like Garfield, Polonsky faced persecution and an aborted career during the blacklist. But unlike Garfield, Polonsky survived to resume his career in Hollywood during the ferment of the late sixties. Then his vision of a changing society found allegorical expression in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, his impressive anti-Western showing the destruction of the Paiute rebel outsider, Willie Boy, and cementing Polonsky as a moral voice in cinema.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xiv

The indelible noir images in Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil (1948), vivid with New York City’s propitious allure yet tinged with the melancholy of one’s aloneness in the city, resonate in our imagination long after the film ends. The power of these images cannot be divorced from the power, poetic and incantatory, of Polonsky’s dialogue. ...


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pp. xv-xviii

Filmography and Bibliography

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pp. xix-xxviii

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The Best Years of Our Lives: A Review

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pp. 3-7

About this time each year, the Academy Awards remind us of the fictional odds and ends produced in the Hollywood studios. I suppose everyone will agree that The Best Years of Our Lives stands above its competitors as life itself dominates our fictions. ...

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Odd Man Out and Monsieur Verdoux

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pp. 8-16

Whenever I think of modern times, I see a continuing crisis. Above the airplanes that circle the globe, scientists tell us, is an atomic cloud, radioactive, created at Bikini, and now a kind of planet to our own. Upon the earth itself every headline proclaims new disasters, and if every dream dreamed this night were continuously flashed on a screen ...

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Hemingway and Chaplin

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pp. 17-28

In the lifetime of an artist after he has created a body of work, an instant arrives when the pressure to speak with his own voice, as if privately, becomes irresistible. All works of art whether they are called objective or subjective and no matter who pays for them, the artist, the patron, the publisher, or the state, express the artist’s point of view. ...

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A Utopian Experience

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pp. 29-32

I am often asked if it is possible to conceive a scenario as a particular literary form. Having tried this experiment, I hope my story might interest all those who, like me, have had the most disappointing results in this pursuit. It is mainly in the obstacles of three hazardous conditions: the producer, the director, and the script itself. ...

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Conversations with Abraham Polonsky

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pp. 33-54

In 1948, a writer, whose experience, with the exception of two previous screenplays and two unmemorable novels, had been primarily in radio, made an adaptation of another writer’s undistinguished, journalistic novel to the screen, and directed a film of it. The event would not seem to be a particularly auspicious one ...

Interview with Abraham Polonsky

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pp. 55-74

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Interview with Abraham Polonsky

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pp. 75-88

Polonsky wrote in 1966: “The blacklist has never been abandoned. It has extinguished itself little by little. Those who haven’t perished in the course of these witch-hunts are still around, for the most part doing new projects. Me too.” Polonsky co-wrote the screenplay for Don Siegel’s Madigan (1968) under trying conditions ...

Interview with Abraham Polonsky

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pp. 89-100

Interview with Abraham Polonsky

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pp. 101-116

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How the Blacklist Worked in Hollywood

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pp. 117-129

I never paused to consider compromise. When you start to ruminate, you get into trouble. If you start to ruminate on the question of betrayal, you are very often in the process of betraying. You don’t necessarily have to do so, and you may not, but then you have a lot of self-punishment and self-pity going on all the time. ...

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Making Movies

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pp. 130-132

Up to Romance of a Horse Thief, the film I have just finished, such images as I used in my movies originated in the eye, and whatever was visionary, however defined by memory, began with an event, not someone else’s memory of an event. Of course, my memory of my memory of an event is already bogged down in the ritual of critical philosophy. ...

Abraham Polonsky: Interview

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pp. 133-149

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On John Garfield

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pp. 150-153

I met John Garfield when I went to see him and his partner, Robert Roberts, to tell them the story of Body and Soul. A new friend, Arnold Manoff, had just come to work at Paramount Pictures, just a few blocks away from Enterprise Studios. Manoff had been trying to make something of the Barney Ross story, ...

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“A Pavane for an Early American”: Abraham Polonsky Discusses Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here

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pp. 154-169

This 1980 discussion with Abraham Polonsky that I moderated with the audience of the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Filmex) was actually my second extended discussion with Polonsky about Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, which I regard as one of the great American films. ...

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Interview with Abraham Polonsky and Walter Bernstein

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pp. 170-175

Walter Bernstein and Abraham Polonsky talk to Robert Siegel about writing the early CBS television program You Are There when they were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. The two men, together with the late Arnold Manoff, submitted scripts through fronts, individuals who lent their politically acceptable by-lines to the banned writers’ works, ...

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Interview with Abraham Polonsky

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pp. 176-191

Abraham Lincoln Polonsky, the son of a Jewish pharmacist, grew up in New York and graduated from City College and the Columbia Law School. He taught at City College and started writing for radio, scripting episodes of The Goldbergs, during the mid-1930s. By the end of the decade he was also writing for Columbia Workshop Theatre ...

Selected Sources

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pp. 192-194


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pp. 195-201

E-ISBN-13: 9781621030676
E-ISBN-10: 1617036609
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617036606

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013