In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Caught in the Crossfire: Adrian Scott and the Politics of Americanism in Hollywood
  • Daniel J. Leab
Jennifer E. Langdon, Caught in the Crossfire: Adrian Scott and the Politics of Americanism in Hollywood (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). Also available without charge at

Oh no, not another book about one of the Hollywood Ten!!!

But this response to a very worthwhile book would be a great mistake. Jennifer Langdon, currently Associate Director of the Humanities Institute at the University of California, Davis, has written, with great insight and verve, a jargon-free work about Adrian Scott, a Hollywood writer/ producer. Considered by many as "the quintessential Popular Front Communist", Scott was responsible for several critically and commercially successful socially conscious films.

Blacklisted as a result of the 1947 HUAC hearings, he served a term in prison for contempt of Congress and thereafter could not put his career back together again. Attempts at independent production failed; he paid his bills by writing under an alias with a front for TV, a medium he disliked. Production stints under his own name during the late 1960s and early 1970s as the black list petered out proved dissatisfying and did not work out well. He died in 1973. Ms. Langdon agrees with his widow that "Scott's time had passed, that his creative style and [End Page 280] political vision – so powerful and influential in the hey day of the Popular Front and the studio system – was out of step in the New Hollywood".

Scott, and what is probably his best known film, Crossfire (1947), are at the center of this incisive and combative study (not every reader will agree with her revisionist view of Communists in Hollywood). Her in-depth treatment of the film takes up over a third of the book as she recounts Scott's struggles and negotiations to get Crossfire made, the production process, and the contradictory but generally favorable critical and political response. Dealing with anti-Semitism in the context of a film noir mystery, it was a box office hit (moreover, not only were the returns surprising to the studio but the film's costs were low so the profit margin was quite high).

Langdon's views of a particular brand of movie industry liberalism during and immediately after World War II are unlikely to be compatible with those who see a "Red Hollywood". She is not always convincing and occasionally a bit strident, but never off-putting. Along with Scott, other key players in this tale are his close associate, director Edward Dmytryk, and the screen writer John Paxton (who worked harmoniously with both men on Crossfire and some of the other feature films they made together), as well as RKO studio head Dore Schary, for whom Scott produced this archetypical social message film.

In detailing the life of Crossfire, Langdon has made excellent use of source material ranging from FBI files to studio records to the papers of various involved individuals She also conducted a series of trenchant interviews, now all the more valuable because many of the interviewees have died. The author, it seems to me, is on solid ground in her interpretation of two other films produced by Scott, directed by Dmytryk, and written by John Paxton. One of these films is Cornered (1945), which although ostensibly dealing with fascism in Argentina, seems more relevant to Hollywood's Communist cultural establishment. The other, Murder, My Sweet (1944), based on a Raymond Chandler hard boiled mystery novel, has according to Langdon "a visual style" that became "a leading strategy for conveying the shifting politics and mood" of the post World War II period.

This book is available on-line as part of "Gutenberg-e", a joint project of the American Historical Association and the Columbia University Press funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. This project began 1999 when Robert Darnton, then President of the AHA, under took "to save the historical monograph". Gutenberg-e Project judges (noted historians) select dissertations for a prize which includes cash and the reward of being placed on-line as e-books by Columbia University Press. As one reviewer of the Project has pointed...