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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist examines 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 Blacklist features case studies of many canonical Cold War titles, including The Red Menace, On the Waterfront, The Robe, High Noon, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Excerpt

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 pioneering Running Time: Films of the Cold War, published in 1982, to J. Hoberman’s An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War, published in 2011. 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’s Spartacus (1960), Stephen Farber says of Dalton Trumbo, one of the original Hollywood Ten: “The screenwriter introduced one sly touch tweaking McCarthy-era watchdogs. Near the end of the movie, after the revolt is crushed, the tyrannical general, Crassus, announces ominously, ‘In every city and province, lists of the disloyal have been compiled.’ ” In a documentary about The Robe (1953), included as a special feature of the Blu-ray edition of the film, UCLA professor Jonathan Kuntz says: “People often look at certain movies in the 1950s during the blacklisting era and see kind of coded representations of the whole blacklisting experience. Certainly On the Waterfront and High Noon are classic examples of Hollywood films of that period that can be read as being really or secretly about the blacklisting experience. The Robe has to fall into that category also. At the end of The Robe we have a tribunal in front of Caligula that is just like the 1947 HUAC hearings.” The evidence appears to be all around us. Many important Hollywood films produced between 1948 and 1960 are seen, in one way or another, as responses to the blacklist, McCarthyism, and the Cold War.

Yet this widely shared understanding of the relationship between Hollywood film and its political context did not emerge fully formed in the . . .

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