'Un-American' Hollywood

'Un-American' Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era

FRANK KRUTNIK
STEVE NEALE
BRIAN NEVE
PETER STANFIELD
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj4pd
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  • Book Info
    'Un-American' Hollywood
    Book Description:

    The concept of "un-Americanism," so vital to the HUAC crusade of the 1940s and 1950s, was resoundingly revived in the emotional rhetoric that followed the September 11th terrorist attacks. Today's political and cultural climate makes it more crucial than ever to come to terms with the consequences of this earlier period of repression and with the contested claims of Americanism that it generated.

    "Un-American" Hollywoodreopens the intense critical debate on the blacklist era and on the aesthetic and political work of the Hollywood Left. In a series of fresh case studies focusing on contexts of production and reception, the contributors offer exciting and original perspectives on the role of progressive politics within a capitalist media industry.

    Original essays scrutinize the work of individual practitioners, such as Robert Rossen, Joseph Losey, Jules Dassin, and Edward Dmytryk, and examine key films, includingThe Robe, Christ in Concrete, The House I Live In, The Lawless, The Naked City, The Prowler, Body and Soul,andFTA.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4397-0
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)
    Frank Krutnik, Steve Neale, Brian Neve and Peter Stanfield

    This collection of essays on the films and television programs made by those caught up in the Communist witch hunts of the 1940s and 1950s represents a move to better understand the role of progressive politics within a capitalist media industry. In part, the essayists have written in recognition of the extraordinary if controversial output of the historian of left-wing American culture Paul Buhle and his collaborators Dave Wagner and Patrick McGilligan.¹ Throughout the collection the authors acknowledge Buhle’s work on reopening debate on the Hollywood Left and the blacklist, as well as the attention paid to the blacklistees and...

  4. 1 Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Christian? THE STRANGE HISTORY OF THE ROBE AS POLITICAL ALLEGORY
    (pp. 19-38)
    Jeff Smith

    In an essay inDanse Macabre, best-selling author Stephen King writes, “If horror movies have redeeming social merit, it is because of that ability to form liaisons between the real and unreal—to provide subtexts. And because of their mass appeal, these subtexts are often culture-wide.”¹ For King, the value of these subtexts is that they endow popular fictions with a social and cultural significance that allows them to tap into the deeply held fears and anxieties of their readers. It is through these subtexts that the horror film has commented on a host of social and political issues, including...

  5. 2 Un-American: DMYTRYK, ROSSELLINI, AND CHRIST IN CONCRETE
    (pp. 39-50)
    Erica Sheen

    Richard Maltby begins his influential account of the relation between Hollywood and the House Un-American Activities Committee with an assertion of its centrality to our understanding of the relation between American film and politics. “No adequate history of the Cold War in America can be written without reference to the blacklist and other agencies of cultural repression that were generated by those encounters,” he claims. “But those events are now well documented, and their history has been written more than once. What remains to be said?”¹

    In answering this question he identifies what he describes as “the mutually supportive melodramas...

  6. 3 “A Living Part of the Class Struggle”: DIEGO RIVERA’S THE FLOWER CARRIER AND THE HOLLYWOOD LEFT
    (pp. 51-78)
    Frank Krutnik

    This chapter explores a curious visual legacy of the Hollywood Left.The Flower Carrier, a 1935 easel work by the flamboyant Mexican muralist and Communist Diego Rivera, is prominently displayed in several films released during the period in which Hollywood was under intensive scrutiny from HUAC.¹ The recurrence ofThe Flower Carrier across The Woman on Pier 13(1949),In a Lonely Place(1950),The Prowler(1951), and several other films amounts to an enigmatic communication from a turbulent past. In a mysterious and provocative instance of countertextual inscription, this painting is incorporated within the flow of images to emblematize...

  7. 4 A Monarch for the Millions: JEWISH FILMMAKERS, SOCIAL COMMENTARY, AND THE POSTWAR CYCLE OF BOXING FILMS
    (pp. 79-96)
    Peter Stanfield

    Champion(1949) opens and closes with a ringside radio commentator setting the scene for Midge Kelly’s defense of his championship title: “Listen to the crowd. Actually, they’re cheering more than a man tonight. They’re cheering a story; a story that could only have been lived in the fight game: a story of a boy who rose from the depths of poverty to become champion of the world.” After being brutally battered by his opponent, Kelly, played by Kirk Douglas, makes a dramatic comeback in the final round of the bout and holds on to his title. His victory comes at...

  8. 5 The Violent Poetry of the Times: THE POLITICS OF HISTORY IN DANIEL MAINWARING AND JOSEPH LOSEY’S THE LAWLESS
    (pp. 97-112)
    Doug Dibbern

    In the decisive scene of the 1950 independent productionThe Lawless, small-town newspaperman Larry Wilder (Macdonald Carey) sits in a thin rectangle of light surrounded by darkness, contemplating a momentous decision. He can risk his safety and use his newspaper to save the life of a Mexican teenager railroaded by the system, or he can do nothing and save himself. From the dark, he hears a voice: “Remember, you like this town, you like your place in it. Don’t let that heart of yours start bleeding.” The faceless leading citizen exits, and Wilder paces the room, from the blackness of...

  9. 6 Dark Passages: JAZZ AND CIVIL LIBERTY IN THE POSTWAR CRIME FILM
    (pp. 113-129)
    Sean McCann

    In the moments leading up to the climactic scene of Otto Preminger’s 1959Anatomy of a Murder, Jimmy Stewart sits down at the piano and plays the music of Duke Ellington.¹ The setting is the home of defense attorney Paul Biegler, played by Stewart, who waits with his co-workers and closest friends—fellow lawyer Parnell McCarthy and secretary Maida Rutledge—for a verdict in the controversial murder trial that provides the subject and dramatic architecture of Preminger’s film. Now, as all three await the jury’s decision and muse on the uncertainties and mysteries of the law, Stewart’s Biegler improvises a...

  10. 7 Documentary Realism and the Postwar Left
    (pp. 130-141)
    Will Straw

    In 1943, Noel Meadow, a New York publicist and one-time tabloid journalist, bought the Stanley Theatre in Manhattan for the purpose of exhibiting wartime documentary films.¹ Meadow had been the press agent for the Stanley in 1942, when it broke U.S. attendance records for a Soviet film withGuerrilla Brigade, the American release of the 1938 fiction filmVsadniki. Set during the First World War,Vsadnikiwas produced to glorify the Soviet Army on the eve of World War II, and its U.S. release in the midst of that war was part of the broader nurturing (and exploitation) of U.S.-Soviet...

  11. 8 Cloaked in Compromise: JULES DASSIN’S “NAKED” CITY
    (pp. 142-151)
    Rebecca Prime

    The Naked City(Universal, 1948) was Jules Dassin’s heartbreaking big break. The film was a commercial and critical success, its vivid depiction of New York recognized with Academy Awards for best cinematography and editing. Yet Dassin walked out of the film’s premiere in tears. Gone were his shots of bums on the Bowery, his satirical jabs at Upper East Side socialites; what remained was a portrait of a city that James Agee described as “bursting with energy, grandeur, sunlight, and human variety” but stripped of the stark contrast between wealth and poverty that the director considered its most defining aspect.¹...

  12. 9 The Progressive Producer in the Studio System: ADRIAN SCOTT AT RKO, 1943–1947
    (pp. 152-168)
    Jennifer Langdon-Teclaw

    A key figure in the circle of young progressive filmmakers working at RKO during the 1940s, Adrian Scott was both one of the “salaried underpaid producers” and one of the Reds. A member of the Screen Writer’s Guild, the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, and other progressive groups, Scott was in many ways the quintessential Popular Front Communist: committed to the tripartite agenda of anti-fascism, antiracism, and progressive unionism, but inspired less by Marxism than by the American tradition of radical democracy.¹ Screenwriter John Paxton, his friend and longtime collaborator, saw the wellspring of Scott’s radicalism as his “compassion and great intolerance...

  13. 10 The House I Live In: ALBERT MALTZ AND THE FIGHT AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM
    (pp. 169-183)
    Art Simon

    Frank Sinatra wrote this letter to Albert Maltz in August 1945.¹Pride of the Marines, with a screenplay by Maltz that told the story of returning veteran Al Schmid, had just been released. But this was not simply a fan letter from one of America’s most popular entertainers to a notable screenwriter. In fact, Maltz and Sinatra had collaborated only three months earlier on the production of the RKO shortThe House I Live In. It would become an important text of the Popular Front, that coalition of left and liberal forces devoted to anti-fascism, the fight against lynching and...

  14. 11 Red Hollywood in Transition: THE CASE OF ROBERT ROSSEN
    (pp. 184-197)
    Brian Neve

    In his important essay on the work of the Hollywood Left, Thom Andersen asks whether there is anything either politically or aesthetically distinctive about the oeuvre of the writers and directors associated with the Communist Party in the thirties and forties. Andersen partly answers his question by proposing the notion of film gris as a hybrid form of film noir and as a distinctive creation of left-wing filmmakers in the period from 1947 to 1951.¹ Although more recent research has greatly increased knowledge of the film production of the Hollywood Left, there is still work to be done in exploring...

  15. 12 Swashbuckling, Sapphire, and Salt: UN-AMERICAN CONTRIBUTIONS TO TV COSTUME ADVENTURE SERIES IN THE 1950S
    (pp. 198-209)
    Steve Neale

    The mid-to-late 1950s witnessed the appearance of a number of costume adventure series on Britain’s then-new commercial television channel, ITV, on national and local TV in the United States, and, indeed, on TV stations in many other parts of the world.¹ These series, which were an increasingly important component of what Brian Taves has identified as the third of four major cycles of costume adventure in the period prior to the 1990s,² included “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (initially broadcast in the United Kingdom from 1955 to 1959 and on CBS in the United States from 1955 to 1958), “The...

  16. 13 Hollywood, the New Left, and FTA
    (pp. 210-224)
    Mark Shiel

    The effects of the anti-Communist witch hunts of the late 1940s and 1950s were profound. As Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund have explained, politically engaged directors, writers, and actors on the left of the political spectrum found that “opportunities for political activism virtually ceased to exist in the ‘new era.’”¹ Leftist organizations in Hollywood such as the Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions and the local chapters of the U.S. Communist Party disintegrated. Many leftists were jailed or forced into exile or into lives of quiet compliance guaranteed by the continuing watchful eyes of the FBI. After...

  17. 14 Red Hollywood
    (pp. 225-263)
    Thom Andersen

    More than a quarter of the century has passed since Hollywood began its purge of Communists and fellow travelers, but the Hollywood blacklist, as it has come to be known, has not yet passed into history, although it has already had at least three generations of historians. We know what happened, or we can find out easily enough if we are too young to remember. And the meaning of these obsessively remembered events should also be obvious enough. Anti-Communist hysteria produced a senseless, vicious purge whose victims happened to be famous and, in some cases, glamorous or interesting. But do...

  18. Afterword
    (pp. 264-276)
    Thom Andersen

    The republication of “Red Hollywood” after twenty years is for me a somewhat melancholy occasion. I always regarded it as a preliminary text, a historiographical prelude to the definitive study of the Hollywood blacklist I would one day write. But that day never quite arrived, although my interests in the questions I posed there never waned.

    I have returned to these questions a number of times in the past two decades, and these subsequent works have been enriched by collaboration with my friend Noël Burch. In 1986 we began to dream about making a film that would prove that the...

  19. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 277-278)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 279-336)
  21. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 337-338)
  22. Index
    (pp. 339-362)