I don’t recognize the right of the committee to ask me these kinda questions

Now here’s a movie I want to see. Judging by the trailer it’s all about the Hollywood Ten (specifically Dalton Trumbo) and HUAC and the blacklist. That’s a fascinating subject. If you want to read up on it, Eric Bentley has an excellent collection of extracts from HUAC hearings, Thirty Years of Treason.

One of Dalton Trumbo’s lines from the trailer:

Many questions can be answered ‘yes or no’ only by a moron or a slave.

Some background:

After the Second World War, as tensions began to simmer between both the United States and Soviet Union and the Hollywood studios and unions like the Screen Writers Guild, the House Committee on Un-American Activities turned its eyes towards the entertainment industry, suspecting communist infiltration and propaganda. In October 1947, HUAC opened hearings on the matter, interviewing writers, directors, actors, executives and others in order to find evidence of communist subversion. Most famous among these individuals were ten who refused to confirm their involvement in the Communist Party. The Hollywood Ten, as they became known, were cited for contempt of Congress and served prison time. Others suspected of communist sympathies were denied work by the studios, forcing them to work under fronts or pseudonyms. Others, whether for political reasons or out of reluctance to lose their jobs, cooperated, naming more individuals for HUAC to question.

One of those was Elia Kazan. On the Waterfront – one of the great movies of all time – can be read as an allegory defending Kazan’s naming names for HUAC.

One of the ten was Herbert Biberman, who later made the unabashedly leftist movie Salt of the Earth, which is both a joy and a joke, full of clunky agitprop lines. John Sayles jokes about it in his first movie, Return of the Secaucus Seven. (Are we at enough levels of meta yet?) An article by Steve Boisson  originally published in the February 2002 issue of American History Magazine gives lashings of background.

When director Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront opened in 1954, critics and audiences hailed the gritty movie about Hoboken dockworkers and applauded Marlon Brando’s performance as the ex-boxer who ‘coulda been a contender.’ At the next Academy Awards ceremony, On the Waterfront won Oscars for best film, best director, best actor, and best supporting actress.

Another movie about beleaguered workers opened to quite a different reception that same year. Like Kazan’s film, Salt of the Earth was based on an actual situation, in this case a mining strike in New Mexico. Both movies were shot on location with the participation of those who had lived the real stories. And both movies shared a history in the Hollywood blacklist. There the similarities ended. Kazan and his writer, Budd Schulberg, had both named names — identified movie people they said were Communists — when questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Some saw their movie, in which Brando’s character testifies against the racketeers who run the docks, as an allegory in support of informing. The people behind Salt, in contrast, were unrepentant blacklistees whose leftist political affiliations derailed their careers during the Red scares of the 1950s. On the Waterfront was a hit and is remembered as a classic film. The makers of Salt of the Earth struggled to find theater owners willing to show their incendiary movie.

One more level of meta – Woody Allen starred in a 1976 movie about the blacklist, The Front.

Because of the blacklist, a number of artists, writers, directors and others were rendered unemployable, having been accused of subversive political activities in support of Communism or of being Communists themselves.

Several people involved in the making of the film – screenwriter Bernstein, director Ritt, and actors Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough – had themselves been blacklisted. (The name of each in the closing credits is followed by “Blacklisted 19–” and the relevant year.) Bernstein was listed after being named in the Red Channels journal that identified alleged Communists andCommunist sympathizers.

I haven’t seen it since it came out but I remember it as pretty good.

Here’s the last minute of the movie:

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