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Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist

Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist: Reading the Hollywood Reds

Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 364
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  • Book Info
    Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist
    Book Description:

    Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklistexamines the long-term reception of several key American films released during the postwar period, focusing on the two main critical lenses used in the interpretation of these films: propaganda and allegory. Produced in response to the hearings held by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that resulted in the Hollywood blacklist, these films' ideological message and rhetorical effectiveness was often muddled by the inherent difficulties in dramatizing villains defined by their thoughts and belief systems rather than their actions. Whereas anti-Communist propaganda films offered explicit political exhortation, allegory was the preferred vehicle for veiled or hidden political comment in many police procedurals, historical films, Westerns, and science fiction films. Jeff Smith examines the way that particular heuristics, such as the mental availability of exemplars and the effects of framing, have encouraged critics to match filmic elements to contemporaneous historical events, persons, and policies. In charting the development of these particular readings,Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklistfeatures case studies of many canonical Cold War titles, includingThe Red Menace,On the Waterfront,The Robe,High Noon, andInvasion of the Body Snatchers.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95851-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction: What More Can Be Said about the Hollywood Blacklist?
    (pp. 1-16)

    The notion that many films made between 1948 and 1960 commented on American politics of the period is so commonplace as to be banal. Several books analyze this relationship, ranging from Nora Sayre’s pioneeringRunning Time: Films of the Cold War,published in 1982, to J. Hoberman’sAn Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War,published in 2011.¹ Aside from these book-length studies by academics and cultural critics, references to politics are found in myriad paratextual materials for films produced during the blacklist period. In the booklet accompanying Criterion’s edition of Stanley Kubrick’sSpartacus(1960),...

  7. 1 A Bifocal View of Hollywood during the Blacklist Period: Film as Propaganda and Allegory
    (pp. 17-49)

    We have seen that a comparatively small but important group of postwar American films have been interpreted as Hollywood’s response to the Red Scare. But what produced this consensus view of postwar American cinema? Along with the appearance of the earliest histories of the blacklist and the memoirs of blacklisted writers, as well as the industry’s belated recognition of those writers’ contributions, a third aspect of American film culture of this period fostered the impression that Cold War–era cinema was fertile territory for the exploration of political subtexts: the introduction of film criticism into the academy. Although this aspect...

  8. 2 I Was a Communist for RKO: Hollywood Anti-Communism and the Problem of Representing Political Beliefs
    (pp. 50-82)

    In the wake of the 1947 hearings conducted in Washington by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) Hollywood produced several overtly anti-Communist films. Film historians have offered slightly different accounts of the number of anti-Communist films made during the late 1940s and early 1950s, but most estimate that close to fifty such films were produced.¹ Brian Neve, for example, suggests that the height of the cycle occurred during the three-year period from 1951 to 1953, when some forty-one anti-Communist films were released.²

    As I noted earlier, these titles display many of the devices and techniques that were commonly associated...

  9. 3 Reds and Blacks: Representing Race in Anti-Communist Films
    (pp. 83-117)

    In a 1953 article forSight and Sound,critic and future director Karel Reisz offered a catalog of various features common to anti-Communist films made in Hollywood. Besides the element of gangsterism, Reisz noted several other traits, including Communism’s relationship to science, intellectualism, neurosis, and megalomania respectively. In the middle of Reisz’s list, however, is a particularly incisive, if often overlooked, aspect of Hollywood’s representation of Communism, namely its inclusion of Jews, African Americans, and other people of color in the Communist cells depicted onscreen. Interestingly, Reisz distinguishes this subtype of Hollywood Communist from the others by suggesting that their...

  10. 4 Stoolies, Cheese-Eaters, and Tie Sellers: Genre, Allegory, and the HUAC Informer
    (pp. 118-170)

    No issue related to the Hollywood blacklist has been as contentious or as emotionally charged as the question of “naming names.” Although many of those blacklisted felt anger toward the studio executives and producers who callously cast them aside, a special sort of contempt was reserved for HUAC informers. Consider, for example, the infamous controversy surrounding Elia Kazan’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1999 Academy Award Ceremony. Kazan is among the most honored filmmakers in the Academy’s history, having won three Oscars for Best Director, but many jeered the announcement of his award, saying that the moral cowardice he displayed...

  11. 5 The Cross and the Sickle: Allegorical Representations of the Blacklist in Historical Films
    (pp. 171-196)

    In an essay inDanse Macabrebest-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 their readers’ deeply held fears and anxieties. It is through these subtexts that the horror film has commented on a host of social and political issues, including scientism, racism,...

  12. 6 Roaming the Plains along the “New Frontier”: The Western as Allegory of the Blacklist and the Cold War
    (pp. 197-238)

    AsTimemagazine’s review of the 1952 westernCalifornia Conquestnotes, the plot covers a period between 1825 and 1841, when “Mexico-ruled California was torn by internal strife, and Russia, France, England and the U.S. were trying to take over the territory.”¹ Within this political tumult conflict emerges between two factions led by ambitious and wealthy Spaniards. The first, Don Arturo Bordega (Cornel Wilde), hopes to bring “peace and freedom” to the territory by placing it under U.S. rule, while the second, Don Fredo Brios (John Dehner), plots to turn the territory over to the Russians, who will then set...

  13. 7 Loving the Alien: Science Fiction Cinema as Cold War Allegory
    (pp. 239-272)

    On July 23, 1953, David Platt of theDaily Workerreported on a dispute between Hollywood studio bosses and J. Cheever Cowdin, new chief of the U.S. government’s overseas film program. Cowdin urged the studios to include more anti-Communist content in their work, but, according to Platt, the executives pushed back, warning that such a policy risked ruining the reputations of American films abroad. “We can see their point,” said Platt:

    Suppose, for example, Alan Ladd were to follow up the shooting of the sinister gunman Jack Palance in “Shane” by turning to the audience with: “We got rid of...

  14. Conclusion: Old Wounds and the Texas Sharpshooter
    (pp. 273-278)

    While this manuscript was being reviewed, two things occurred that reinforce the roles of both the Hollywood blacklist and allegorical interpretation as important parts of contemporary film culture. First, on November 19, 2012, theHollywood Reporterissued a public apology for its role in the blacklist, some sixty-five years after it was instituted. Written by W.R. Wilkerson III, the son of the magazine’s founder, the article claims that theHollywood Reporter’s virulent anti-Communist campaign had its roots in Billy Wilkerson’s failed attempt to establish his own studio. Blaming the studio brass who seemingly crushed his dream, Wilkerson used theHollywood...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 279-314)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 315-328)
  17. Index
    (pp. 329-350)