Between 1942 and 1958, J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of
Investigation conducted a sweeping and sustained investigation of
the motion picture industry to expose Hollywood's alleged
subversion of "the American Way" through its depiction of social
problems, class differences, and alternative political ideologies.
FBI informants (their names still redacted today) reported to
Hoover's G-men on screenplays and screenings of such films as Frank
Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946), noting that "this
picture deliberately maligned the upper class attempting to show
that people who had money were mean and despicable characters." The
FBI's anxiety over this film was not unique; it extended to a wide
range of popular and critical successes, including The Grapes
of Wrath (1940), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946),
Crossfire (1947) and On the Waterfront
In J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies, John Sbardellati
provides a new consideration of Hollywood's history and the
post-World War II Red Scare. In addition to governmental intrusion
into the creative process, he details the efforts of left-wing
filmmakers to use the medium to bring social problems to light and
the campaigns of their colleagues on the political right, through
such organizations as the Motion Picture Alliance for the
Preservation of American Ideals, to prevent dissemination of
"un-American" ideas and beliefs.
Sbardellati argues that the attack on Hollywood drew its
motivation from a sincerely held fear that film content endangered
national security by fostering a culture that would be at best
apathetic to the Cold War struggle, or, at its worst, conducive to
communism at home. Those who took part in Hollywood's Cold War
struggle, whether on the left or right, shared one common trait: a
belief that the movies could serve as engines for social change.
This strongly held assumption explains why the stakes were so high
and, ultimately, why Hollywood became one of the most important
ideological battlegrounds of the Cold War.
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