- Hollywood Exiles in Europe: The Blacklist and Cold War Film Culture by Rebecca Prime
Rebecca Prime. Rutgers University Press, 2014. 258 pages, $27.95.
The Hollywood blacklist has fostered considerable scholarship, with much of it focusing on the ritual naming of names before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In Hollywood Exiles in Europe, Rebecca Prime, Libman Professor of the Humanities and an assistant professor of art at Hood College, expands our knowledge about the impact of the blacklist by concentrating on members of the Hollywood film community who refused to compromise their principles and political commitment by cooperating with HUAC. Unable to find employment due to the film industry’s boycott of alleged communists and fellow travelers, many in Hollywood elected exile in Europe and hoped to find work within the growing continental film industry. Employing film archives, memoirs, and interviews with blacklisted artists and their family members, Prime argues that despite efforts by Hollywood studios to extend the blacklist beyond the borders of the United States, American filmmakers in exile were able to make significant contributions to the development of post-World War II transnational cinema. Prime focuses primarily on the careers of Carl Foreman, Michael Wilson, Joseph Losey, John Berry, and Jules Dassin, concluding: “As Hollywood-trained, European-based professionals, they critically and materially facilitated the transatlantic economic and artistic exchange that had become a fundamental component of American and European film culture by the mid-1960s” (180).
Prime perceives HUAC interrogations as an attempt to disrupt the radical community that had developed in Hollywood in response to the Great Depression and Second World War. In addition to promoting progressive causes, the Communist Party also provided artists a possible means of rebellion against the materialistic excesses of Hollywood. Thus, Prime acknowledges that communism was appealing to many on the political left in the film capital; she maintains, however, that the studio system limited radical political expression in Hollywood films, and that the Hollywood radicals hardly constituted the type of security threat posed by Soviet spies. Nevertheless, the HUAC investigations succeeded in thwarting the growing production of social problem films that sought to expose the issues of racism and capitalist exploitation in American society.
A sense of community developed by the radicals in Hollywood also provided a degree of comfort for the exiles in Europe, who were not necessarily welcomed with open arms by their European comrades. Many on the political left, especially French communists, admired their courageous stand against the oppression of HUAC, and others were excited that the exiles would bring the expertise and prestige of Hollywood to European cinema. On the other hand, advocates of nationalist cinema believed that the Americans represented yet another manifestation of cultural imperialism and a threat to European jobs in the film industry. In addition, the blacklist proved to have a rather extensive reach. European productions featuring blacklisted writers, actors, and directors were threatened with being denied access to the American market. Accordingly, a number of the exiles were forced to work under assumed names on low budget films with little compensation. Thus, the political and economic pressures encountered in America followed the filmmakers into exile. [End Page 59]
Yet, Prime notes that there were cracks in the blacklist, which was inconsistently enforced. Blacklisted writers such as Howard Koch wrote for independent American television features such as The Adventures of Robin Hood and Foreign Intrigue (albeit, not high prestige productions). Carl Foreman signed a contract with Columbia Pictures to produce four films after seeking a clearance from HUAC in which the screenwriter of High Noon (1952) renounced his communist past but refused to name former associates. This type of clearance, however, was not extended to all of the blacklisted exiles. Joseph Losey directed many of his early London films under various pseudonyms. Yet Jules Dassin made Night and the City (1950) in London and Rififi (1955) in Paris, and both noir films earned excellent reviews and played in the United States with Dassin’s name in the credits. Hollywood Ten screenwriter Dalton Trumbo is often described as breaking the blacklist when he earned screen...