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2 The Red and the Black “Black Film” and the Red Menace We know the red we want is the red we’ve got In the old red, white and blue It’s a brave red, not a slave red That means liberty to you —Elton Britt, “The Red We Want Is the Red We Got” (Jimmy Kennedy and Bickley Reichner, 1950) The Woman on Pier 13 may well be the most symptomatic anticommunist noir, but as I noted at the beginning of the previous chapter, it’s by no means the only one.InFilmNoir AndrewSpicerstatesthattheearly“1950sgeneratedasub-cycle of noirs that was explicit about the Communist threat.”1 And in Somewhere in the Night Nicholas Christopher writes that the “films woven of red menace . . . themesarevariedandnumerous,withadecidedlyhyper-urgent,infernaltakeon urban life.”2 More recently, Wheeler Winston Dixon in Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoiaobservesthatthese redscare filmswere“noirprojectsishardlyindispute ; their visual and aural structure alone (an extreme use of shadow, constant rain, paranoid voice-over, threatening camera angles, and jarring close-ups . . . ) is incontestable proof of the noir origins.”3 ButifsuchfilmsasTheWomanonPier13,TheWhipHand,IWasaCommunistfor theF.B.I.,andWalkEastonBeacon!—toadducethemostwidelycitedquartet4 —are nowseenasanintegral,ifcontroversial,partoftheclassicalcorpus,whydidittake so long for this reappraisal? ReynoldHumphriesoffersthree“tendencies”forthegeneral,historicalneglect of anticommunist films, reasons that also shed light on the particular relation between film noir and anticommunism. The first was the assumption that the 41 The Red and the Black “Cold War produced anti-communist movies in the same way it produced anticommunism .”5 The problem here was the critical tendency to interpret film texts as if their meaning could be simply read off of a specific historical moment. The second reason was the “understandable but misguided desire on the part of Left critics generally to give pride of place to films which they can classify as works of social comment.”6 In this case, the issue was not so much the perceived presence orabsenceof“socialcomment”—sinceanticommunistnoirsexplicitly,eventendentiously ,commentoncontemporarysociety—butwhetherthecommentaryis understoodtobe“conservative”or“progressive.”Thethirdreasonforthegeneral neglect of anticommunist films was the “systematic downgrading of the films of the ’50s,”7 a tendency that has been especially aggressive in the literature on film noir where the early 1950s has historically been seen as the beginning of the end of the classical period. The working premise of this chapter is that in the 1950s film noir and anticommunism form a double helix and that even the most notorious of these red menace films is central to our understanding and appreciation of classic noir. More specifically, I argue that a close reading of these films’ generic elements, whetherthriller, “meller,”orsemidocumentary,suggeststhattheanticommunist noir represents a critical moment in the genre’s transition from the 1940s to the 1950s—from, say, expressionism to neorealism—and, moreover, that the “red” structure of feeling dramatized in these films is replete with all the attendant performative contradictions one might expect in such a complex social formation. This said, the difference between The Woman on Pier 13 and the aforementioned anticommunist noirs is that whereas Stevenson’s film is about a shipping executive , Brad Collins, who cannot escape his ex-communist past and is condemned to confront it in the form of a CP boss who’s intent on extorting him to further theparty’snefariousgoals,TheWhipHand, IWasaCommunistfortheF.B.I., Walk East on Beacon!, and Big Jim McLain feature an investigative narrative. As opposed to the private-eye detective in classic ’40s noir, however, the investigative agency in these Cold War noirs is either the FBI, as in I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. and Walk East on Beacon!, or HUAC, as in Big Jim McLain. Thus, even thoughtheprimaryinvestigativefigureinTheWhip Hand isanewspaperreporter, intheclimacticactionofthefilmtheFBIcomes,tommygunsablaze,tohisaid.At the same time, while the ideological motivation of these ’50s red scare noirs varies from germ warfare (The Whip Hand) to union subversion (I Was a Communist for the F.B.I.) to a super-secret earth-satellite space program (Walk East on Beacon!), this investigative agency is not always portrayed in a unilaterally positive light. For instance, despite its manifest glorification of the new electronic technologies of surveillance, the ’50s anticommunist noir is frequently troubled by the implicationsoftheseselfsametechnologiessothat ,forinstance, the tele-cinematicscreen 42 ’50s Noir and Anticommunism in Walk East on Beacon! can be said to become a two-way mirror that reflects the invasive practices of the repressive state apparatus even as this apparatus subjects “un-American” citizens to its panoptical audiovisual regimes. The Whip Hand: The Red Plague In February 1954 Howard Hughes announced that he was “willing to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780252099120
Related ISBN
9780252040689
MARC Record
OCLC
958469826
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-27
Language
English
Open Access
No
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