October 12, 2007
Hollywood's Hidden Anti-Communist ClassicBy Thomas Lifson
A generation or two of Americans have grown up indoctrinated, in schools and by the popular culture, to believe that a bizarre dementia seized many Americans in the early 1950s: the groundless belief that a Communist conspiracy existed. Never mind the revelations of the Venona Files, never mind the fact that a Communist spy ring stole the secrets of the Atomic Bomb. There was nothing to get excited about beyond the suffering of the innocents victimized by evil right wing fanatics.
The cultural victory of the left has been all but complete. So the Hollywood Ten are sainted, and Elia Kazan, one of the most brilliant film makers of the last century, became a pariah in the film making community for having "named names" before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Kazan faced turned backs in the audience at the Academy Awards when he received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. Former blacklisted writer Abraham Polonsky told Reuters,
There was a brief moment, however, when Hollywood made a few anti-Communist movies. If you have cable TV and something to record it on, don't miss capturing for your library a virtually unknown classic film -- an anti-Communist classic film: I Married a Communist. Saturday morning at 7:15 AM Eastern, 4:15 AM Pacific, Turner Classic Movies is showing it under its later and less-controversial title, The Woman on Pier 13.
Luckily Ted Turner has no control over the eponymous movie network. If he did, we might never see this gem. No DVD is in release for the movie. The only way you can see it is on TCM. So don't miss your chance. I love this movie. You are going to want to share it with your friends. Here's what you'll get:
The lead is Robert Ryan, little remembered now, but a smart and popular leading man of the day. He plays Brad Collins, a man running from his past as a Communist. Collins was lured into the Party Back East by his then-mistress. Breaking with her and the Party, he moves out to San Francisco and takes his new name. He works his way up in a shipping company, marries Larraine Day, and loves The American Way.
Disrupting this happy picture, the Party and his old mistress return to him. The Party has business on the San Francisco docks, and needs him to betray his company, his wife and his country. Nothing will be allowed to stand in the Party's way.
For once in your life, you will see a dramatic portrayal of the evils of American Communists. They are horrible people, and the movie portrays them in this light. Personal feelings matter naught; the Party is god-like, and those who exercise its power are ruthless.
Okay, maybe there is what might be called heightened drama here. But the fact is that Communist apparatchiks could indeed be ruthless. Stalin was their boss, and he didn't hesitate to have those who got in his way liquidated. By the millions.
The film is extremely valuable for students and other young people who have not been taught that there was a real Communist Party in the United States, one which subverted unions and senior government officials, and answered to Stalin. If they know anything about the era, it is the Hollywood version: innocent and well-meaning people were cruelly persecuted by right wing fanatics, pursuing a fantasy of subversion that was not really serious. Just a few youthful indiscretions.
It is actually an excellent film in its own way. The acting is very good, and so is the direction. It is not a cartoon but rather a solid and engaging dramatic movie. Worth watching, even without the historical significance. It is one of the very few windows into the genuine and grounded fear of Communist subversion in the era the Iron Curtain dropped on.
The film is a rare artifact of an artistic moment that quickly vanished. During WW II, Stalin was "Uncle Joe" and Hollywood portrayed the Soviets as noble and patriotic in a few films like The North Star, written by the vile Stalin apologist Lillian Hellman. The reaction to HUAC and Joe McCarthy turned Hollywood against ever making another movie of this anti-Communist sort. I Married a Communist snuck in before that happened, released in 1949.
It is an RKO product. RKO is by far my favorite of the old Hollywood studios, next-door to Columbia on Hollywood's "Poverty Row", operating on a low budget basis, but nurturing extraordinary talent with a fair degree of freedom, and producing the defining work of the film noir genre. The cast of business titans involved at one point or another in owning RKO ranged from Joseph P. Kennedy and David Sarnoff to Howard Hughes. This film came out after Howard Hughes took over RKO, and it is unclear to me whether or not Hughes had a hand in it, but he did not hesitate to intervene in film production, so it is quite possible. There are tales that the strongly anti-Communist Hughes assigned suspected leftists to the film, and fired them if they refused to work on it.
Based on his career, the director Robert Stevenson may have himself been effectively blacklisted by Hollywood... because they hated blacklisting so much. After 1952, he turned to television work, vastly lower on the prestige scale in those days. When he was eventually able to make it back to films, they were for Disney, and some of them were extremely good, like Old Yeller and Mary Poppins.
The year before he made I Married a Communist, Stevenson directed another compelling movie which also is strangely unavailable on DVD: To the Ends of the Earth. It is an exciting combination of film noir and spy movie, with Dick Powell chasing down the heroin trade to exotic locales. The brutality of the heroin trade as portrayed is shocking. The legendary Harry Anslinger, head of the Bureau of Narcotics, the DEA's predecessor, makes three cameo appearances in the movie.
Robert Stevenson is no longer among us. But perhaps one of the conservative film festivals could someday feature one or two of his classic films as a posthumous tribute. He is a forgotten director of real significance.
Don't miss Saturday morning's showing.
Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.