Marilyn Monroe was never considered political, yet her image would be entwined with the acclaimed playwright Arthur Miller. A year before DiMaggio and Monroe, began their ill-fated marriage, on January 22, 1953 the play The Crucible held its premiere at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York. It was a groundbreaking play and it defined the HUAC investigations as a witch hunt and cemented the reputation of Miller, who had been acclaimed for Death of A Salesman in 1949, when he had won the Pulitzer prize for drama. The Crucible, represents the paranoia about communism that pervaded America in the 1950s. There are clear and obvious parallels between the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigation rooting out of real and suspected communists and the seventeenth-century witch-hunt mania that hit Salem. Clearly, the necessity to “name names” was another link between the two periods. Miller wrote in his autobiography that the main point of the hearings was to have the accused make a public confession, to damn their confederates as well as the Devil. The accused would then guarantee their new allegiance by breaking ‘disgusting old vows’ in public.[i]The Crucible remains one of Miller’s most acclaimed plays and its continued revivals have painted an indelible image of the ‘witch-hunt’ as part of the hysteria of the McCarthyite period. As recently as 2015, the Melbourne Theatre Company was reviving the play to great popular and critical success. It is played all over the world to this day.
Miller certainly did not invent the term witch hunt. From at least the 1930s, the term witch-hunt has been used allegorically to describe investigations by governments to seek out and expose perceived and real political enemies, fostering a degree of social fear. One of the first to use it in terms of Hollywood in the Red Scare period was actually an arch-conservative in Cecil B. DeMille. After the 1947 HUAC hearings, the media reported that: “DeMille said he thought Reds were neither more or less active in Hollywood than in other major American cities … ‘Hollywood is a convenient target for so-called witch hunters … I sometimes think these hunters are actually hunting headlines while the real witch sits in her little red tent and laughs at them.’”
The playwright Arthur Miller handled the HUAC investigations in a far different way to Kazan. He was called long after the early investigations and he believed that his marriage to Hollywood’s most popular actress Marilyn Monroe helped spark the interest of the HUAC investigators. At his hearing, Miller talked quite openly about himself and his political beliefs. He had never been a member of the communist party, but had been active in left circles for many years. Miller refused to name any other person and his approach earned him a contempt citation from Congress. The charge was later quashed by the Circuit Court of Appeals in 1958.
made several artistic responses to the HUAC investigations through his plays A View From the Bridge (1955) and The Crucible (1953). A View
From the Bridge cannot be considered to be a direct rebuttal of On the Waterfront, but there are strong
similarities. In the play, a
longshoreman informed immigration authorities of wife’s two relatives who were
illegal immigrants. His actions were not
terribly evil, but he was destroyed by them nonetheless.
The Crucible was a powerful play
which linked the HUAC investigations to the Salem witch-hunts. Miller wrote in his autobiography that the
main point of the hearings was to have the accused make a public confession, to
damn their confederates as well as the Devil.
The accused would then guarantee their new allegiance by breaking
‘disgusting old vows’ in public. The Crucible remains one of Miller’s most
acclaimed plays and its continued revivals have painted an indelible image of
the ‘witch-hunt’ as part of the hysteria of the McCarthyite period.
Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
While informers were slated in Stalag 17, there was a small group of films which defended their role. These films were for more successful than the studio’s anti-communist efforts. On the Waterfront (1954) was a subtle defense of informing. It was a film of undeniable power with a strong central performance from Marlon Brando. The film began as a screenplay by Arthur Miller called The Hook about a doomed attempt to overthrow gangsters on the waterfront. Arthur Miller was a close friend of director Elia Kazan and they planned to write and direct the film between them. Studio head Harry Cohn had the story checked by the FBI and Roy Brewer, the powerful and corrupt head of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, for any possible communist taint. Brewer told Cohn that if the movie was produced in its present form he would pull out projectionists in any cinema that showed it. The FBI regarded it as dangerous because it could cause trouble on the nation’s waterfront at the time of war in Korea. Cohn demanded that the central gangster figure be turned into a communist to refute these criticisms. Miller withdrew the script and received a caustic telegram from Cohn saying:
IS INTERESTING THAT THE MINUTE WE TRY TO MAKE THE SCRIPT PRO-AMERICAN YOU PULL
OUT. HARRY COHN’.
was annoyed by Miller’s backing away from the project. The pair had a further falling out over their
individuals public and artistic responses to the HUAC investigations. Kazan had quit the party in 1935, but the
committee still wanted his testimony before he could continue his career in
Hollywood. Kazan decided to testify
before he committee and to name names.
He felt ostracized for his decision to testify and inform. Kazan gave vent to these feelings in On the Waterfront. The film was about the plight of Terry
Malloy, played by Brando, who was unwittingly involved in a dockside murder by
a gangster union. After they murder his
brother, – shades of I Married A
Communist – he declared to stand up to the gangsters and testify before a
Kefauver-like commission. It was scripted by Budd Schulberg, who like
Kazan, had testified before the HUAC investigators and named names of former
communist party members. Schulberg had a
long association with the communist party and had introduced one of the Hollywood
10, Ring Lardner Jr., to the party and then later named him in testimony.
Malloy’s testimony to the inquiry and his subsequent rejection by the dockers
can be seen to mirror Kazan’s history when he broke from the Communist party in
the 1930s and later testified in the HUAC hearings as a friendly witness. Kazan claimed that he testified against the
communists because he saw them as a threat to America, and was then forced to
suffer the ostracism of his former colleagues.
After many years of half-hearted denials, Kazan admitted in his
autobiography that he used the film to hit back at those in the Hollywood
community who shunned him.
I doubt that Budd
(Schulberg) was affected as personally as I was by the parallel of Tony Mike’s
story. (Tony Mike was the basis for
Terry Malloy) his reaction to the loss
of certain friends was not a biter as my own; he had not experienced their
blackballing as frequently and intensely as I had in the neighborhood known as
Broadway. I believe Budd regarded out
waterfront story with greater objectivity, an objectivity I appreciated. But I did see Tony Mike’s story as my own,
and that connection did lend the tome of irrefutable anger to the scenes I
photographed and to any work with actors.
When Brando, at the end, yells at Lee J. Cobb, the mob boss, “I’m glad
what I done – you hear me? – glad what I done!” that was me saying with
identical heat, that I was glad that I testified as I had. I’d been snubbed by friends each and every
day for many months in my old show business haunts, and I’d not forgotten nor
would I forgive the men, old friends some of them, who’d snubbed me, so the
scene in the film where Brando goes back to the waterfront to “shape up” again
for employment and is rejected by the men with whom he’d worked day after day –
that, too, was my story, now told to the world.
So when the critics say that I put my story and my feeling on the
screen, to justify my informing, they are right.
themes about informing had appeared before in Kazan’s films. Panic
in the Streets (1950) also supported informing. Two criminals killed an illegal alien after a
card game and become unknowingly infected with plague. After examining the body, a doctor realised
he had 48 hours to track down the infected killers or the disease would cause a
large scale epidemic. The film was about
a desperate search for the villains by the health authorities and the police
before the plague took hold. The
criminals continued to spread the disease throughout their haunts as the search
continued. Those who did not inform were
vulnerable to the disease. One café
owner with a key lead did not tell the authorities what he knew even though his
wife was already dying from the disease.
Informing to the authorities was not only good civic duty but essential
for the survival of the community. The
authorities could heal only those who confess, those who did not could infect
with a deadly plague.
always appeared troubled by his decision to name names before HUAC. In 1952, he directed a film called Viva Zapata which was about the Mexican
revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata and his struggles. Kazan had to juggle the complex and
contradictory demands of extolling a revolutionary leader and maintaining an
anti-communist line. In 1953, he directed an anti-communist film
called Man on A Tightrope, in which
he took great pride in using Fredric March who he claimed to have rescued off
the blacklist. Critic Nora Sayre has pointed out that the
themes of informing and betrayal reappeared in many of Kazan’s later
works. In his film The Visitors (1972) which was based on his son’s script, two
Vietnam veterans took vengeance on a former friend who had given evidence
against them after they had raped and murdered an young Vietnamese woman. In the film, the informer felt that he should
have prevented their actions rather than turning them in, which was
useless. Following The Visitors, Kazan wrote a novel called The Understudy where a reluctant informer’s testimony brought an
old friend before the grand jury. The
informer was extolled by the police for informing against a criminal and he did
everything to help his friend while dying.
 Arthur Miller, Timebends: A Life, Methuen, London,
1987, p. 195.
 For an excellent account of
Kazan’s problems with the film see Paul J. Vanderwood, ‘Viva Zapata: An American Cold Warrior’, in John E. O’Connor and
Martin A. Jackson, (ed.), American
History/American Film: Interpreting the Hollywood Image, new exp. Edn.
Continuum, New York, 1988, pp. 183 – 203.
 Kazan, A Life, p. 479. Kazan’s
claim is doubtful. March appeared in no
films between 1947 and 1950 and in a British film in 1948 which suggests that
he was blacklisted for a time, He was credited with a film in 1951 which
indicates that he was off the blacklist when he came to make Man on A Tightrope in 1952. Based on listings from Ephriam Katz, The Film Encyclopedia, Harper & Row,
 Nora Sayre, Running Time, Dial, New York, p. 172.
Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
One of the most controversial aspects of the HUAC investigations was the insistence of the investigators for names. Those named by people testifying were usually already known to the committee and it served no purpose other than to show that the witness was fully co-operative. Those who informed were also the subject of many films during the 1950s. Stalag 17 (1954) was an interesting film from a political perspective. The film was about an informer within a prisoner of war camp. Director Billy Wilder had signaled his disgust with the HUAC style investigations through his support of Mankiewicz, along with his involvement in the Committee For The First Amendment and it comes through in this film.
The authorities were the detested Nazis, and in consequence the film could not be objected to on political grounds. An informer within the camp was foiling escape attempts and passing on secrets. It was in one fragment of dialogue that Wilder and co-writer Blum got their message across. It happened when the suspected traitor William Holden tells his assistant – who no longer trusts him – that there was a German spy in the barracks: ‘It’s hard to imagine an American informing on another American. But maybe they’re not an American, maybe …’ He is interrupted before he can complete the sentence but the implication was that to inform on another American was an unpatriotic act – perhaps an un-American act – and worthy only of people with the lowest form of morality such as the Nazis. When the German informer was finally uncovered, he was brutally thrown from the barracks with clattering tin cans tied round his legs to be mown down by machine guns. It was a violent ending to a film which gave no sympathy at all to the plight of the informer. Indeed, informers had never been popular in American cinema. From The Informer (1935) through to Stalag 17 (1954), it was difficult to identify any films where the informer was a hero. Informing was usually an act of cowardice. Kiss of Death (1947) was one example where an informer was the central hero for testifying against a gangster. The line is very close to the sentiments of Moe in Pick Up On South Street. In Brute Strength (1947) directed by Jules Dassin, a prisoner says to a sadistic warder played by Hume Cronyn who wants him to inform: ‘I’m a cheap thief, but I’m not an informer.’ Dassin was one of the Hollywood community who was driven out by the HUAC hearings and blacklisting’s. He was not able to work in America for many years because of his stand.
Stalag 17, (d) Billy Wilder, Billy Wilder, Edwin Blum.
 Quoted in Victor Navasky, Naming Names, Viking New York, 1980, page x.
 Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund, The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in
the Film Community 1930 – 1960, Doubleday, New York, 1980, p. 399.
Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
The failure of the anti-communist films from 1949 to 1952 to leave their mark was attributable to three main factors: the haste and clumsy way they were produced; the obvious studio pressure to put as much vitriol as possible in the films; and finally the endless digs within the films at former members of the Hollywood community. In the first phase, the films can be read as concerted attacks on the unfriendly witnesses and those who supported them. It is not surprising that the anti-communist films had no resonance with the wider American community because they were aimed at blacklisted communist or left-wing writers, actors or directors. The films failed to separate liberal and communist critics of society, they justified civil rights abuses, depicted communists as sexually perverted, drug dealing hypocrites and they slandered intellectuals. These films would have alienated those members of the audience with any liberal sympathies whatsoever. The films also attempted to blame all America’s problems on the communists. Union troubles, race riots and demonstrations were all linked back to communist agitators and an elaborate masterplot from Moscow. The films argued that the United States would be perfect apart from these communist agents. They were political nonsense with their delusions of world wide conspiracy and the films and their ideas were rejected by the American public.
By the mid-1950s, it was
clear that the real sting had gone from anti-communist films. Strategic Air Command (1955) also showed
the swing away from red-baiting to a more moderate approach to superpower
conflict. The communists were barely
even hinted at in the script, even though the entire film is about the work of
the Strategic Air Command. This group
was constantly in flight and prepared to attack Russia with its nuclear
weapons. It would have been a difficult
task for a writer to draw out any tension from a plane flying for hours on end
and instead the film focused on Rusty Castle played by Jimmy Stewart. Castle was a major league baseball player who
was recalled into the SAC because they needed good, steady leadership in the
Airforce to maintain their nuclear threat.
He was reluctant to join, after serving during the war, but on seeing
the benefits for America, he did so. It
was a simple film which reveled in the advanced technology available to the
United States Airforce. The film lacked
a climax which reflected its underlying philosophy which was put forward by
Castle: ‘There is a kind of war on –
we’ve got to stay ready to fight without fighting- that’s harder.’
This message of a fight
without fighting resonated with Americans.
Their belief in the effectiveness of the Strategic Air Command was to be
shattered when the Russians launched the Sputnik in 1957. However in 1955, the film reassured the
nuclear jitters of the American people.
Senator Thomas H. Kuchel of California said the cause of peace was well
served by the film.
It serves free people everywhere. To the extent that all people are made aware
of our great military strength, the likelihood of aggression by those who
oppose freedom diminishes. It brings
those who view it, a graphic and moving story of the power and might of our
Strategic Air Command.
The United States needed
its nuclear weapons to keep the communists at bay. The Strategic Air Command was expensive but
it did the job and the security of the American system was maintained. Subversion was hinted at with the film’s
insistence of security. This film was
definitely aimed at reassuring the American people that America’s nuclear
weapons were in safe hands and were more than a match for the Russians.
achieved great financial success with its message of quiet confidence in the
nuclear deterrence and the effectiveness of the American forces. The cold war message had moved right away
from subversion to deal with the actual reality of Russia’s nuclear and military
capacity. When films concentrated on the
inherent strength of the United States, they were far more successful. Strategic
Air Command added a note of reassurance which had been missing from the
anti-communist propaganda of the 1950s.
It earned $6.5 million and was the fourth highest earning film of 1955. Such a huge popular reaction to an
anti-communist film had simply not occurred before.
Not even the Korean War
could provide Hollywood with the impetus to make any popular propaganda
films. The Bridges at Toko Ri (1955), which was the most popular film on
the Korean war, avoided discussing any of the major issues involved in the conflict. There were odd references to the Russians,
but the film focused on the life of sailors and pilots in the navy. The war was a forgotten task undertaken by
soldiers who would rather be at home with their wives and girlfriends. This film was the exception as most Korean
War films were box office poison.
Yet the American public
remained implacably anti-communist throughout the late 40s and early 1950s and
it would be logical to assume that these films would have reflected their
concerns and fears about communism. The
films failed because they did not deal with the audience’s real fears about
communism. Other types of films did.
Strategic Air Command, (d) Anthony Mann, Valentine Davies,
Beirnie Lay Jnr.
 Paramount Studios press
release, 31 January 1955, Box 629, Folder 4, Cecil B. DeMille Archives, Brigham
Young University, Provo, Utah, USA>
As the Korean War petered out in 1953, and memories of the HUAC investigations began to fade, most of the real sting went out of anti-communist films. The new style of anti-communist film depicted Russia as a dangerous and determined enemy which had to be treated ruthlessly. In Night People (1954), Gregory Peck played an American colonel Stephen Van Dyke who was in charge of an operation to return a kidnapped American soldier called John Leatherby. The soldier had been kidnapped because the Russians wanted an anti-Nazi couple and hoped to swap the corporal for them. The film informed us that Himmler’s men now worked for the Russians, and they wanted their revenge on the couple. The central conflict of the story rested between Van Dyke and the father of the soldier, ad American businessman Charles Leatherby played by Broderick Crawford. Leatherby felt that the Russians could be negotiated with as if they were hard-headed businessmen. Van Dyke refuted his ideas.
This is not a cash and
carry business. You are not dealing with
A & P. These are cannibals. Head hunting, blood thirsty cannibals who
want to eat us up.
The conflict between civilians and the military in dealing with the Russians was one of the central themes in many anti-communist films. Originally called The Cannibals, the film plays out the emerging confidence of dealing with the Russians. Crawford was identified with the Eisenhower administration by the fact that he played golf and had heavy political connections. Peck was a soldier who was on the cutting edge of the cold war in Berlin.
Leatherby was a tough businessman who wanted results. He found that this attitude got him nowhere
in the cold war diplomacy of Berlin.
When he arrived at Berlin Airport, he asked State Department official
Frederick Hobart what the situation was:
It’s another big squeeze
apparently. We get them from time to
time. You know. Yesterday, they held up the autobans and
they cut phone lines into East Germany.
Anything they can think of to make nuisances of themselves.
What do you think they want
Well, for one thing they want us
out of here?
Alright so we get out?
Then they may take a fancy to
Are you trying to be funny?
… I’m only sure that whatever
happens is not isolated. They kidnap a
19 year old boy, your son, and we can’t tell if its just a local needle or
the end of the film, Leatherby had seen the error of his ways and realised that
the military had the answers for the cold war.
He told Van Dyke that he could not let two innocent people be exchanged
for his son. Van Dyke replied that
although it was a major decision for Leatherby, that his opinions had never
mattered in the first place. The military,
not the civilians, made the decisions about dealing with the Russians.
Dyke discovered that his mistress and contact with the Russians was a Soviet
spy and fooled the Russians by swapping her for the soldier. When it was needed, Van Dyke was ruthless. After strangling and punching his former
mistress, he had poisoned absinthe poured down her throat. Night
People showed a blend of the paranoia of the early anti-communist films
with the a return of an assurance that America had in its military. The opening sequence of marching soldiers,
tanks and helicopters was quite impressive as they moved across the wide
CinemaScope screen. Subversion still
existed, but it was not from within the American ranks. It is interesting that they spy had been carefully
replaced by Russians, rather than indoctrinated. The final scene had Van Dyke looking over the
skyline of Berlin confident that he could handle the Russians. The film added a note of reassurance to
anti-communist films that had been missing since The Big Lift. The more
positive tone appeared to helped it at the box office. Variety ranked it 51st, making
The McConnell Story (1955) directed
by Gordon Douglas, a General introduced the story of an American ace who shot
down more planes than any other person in Korea. He said that because of people like McConnell,
women were safe in their homes, children in their schools. People were free because ‘there are no chains
on your mind’. When McConnell arrived in Korea, he was told
that this was the communist testing ground.
‘If they succeed here, there’ll be no part of the world that’ll be
safe’. The role of the army was simply to slaughter
and make them think twice before trying anything again. There was no mention of subversion within the
American ranks. The threat was simply
external. The film was reasonably
popular and was ranked 27th by Variety
with rentals of $3.5 million.
 Linking the Soviet Union with the
German Nazis in the popular imagination to become a totalitarian blur is
discussed in Les K. Alder and Thomas G. Paterson, ‘Red Fascism: The Merger of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia
in the American Image of Totalitarianism, 1930s- 1950s,’ American Historical Review, April 1970, pp. 1046 – 1064.
In the early 1950s, conservative forces in Hollywood began to see that their anti-communist cinematic efforts had been failures. The films were not popular at the box office and the critical responses were poor or weak. During the Second World War, the reverse was true. Hollywood had made many popular anti-Nazi and anti-Japanese films during the Second World War at a furious pace. There were no anti-communist equivalents of Casablanca or Mrs Miniver. Somehow these anti-communist films did not work. My Son John had an established and acclaimed director in Leo McCarey working from his own script, its main star Robert Walker was still basking in his triumph of Strangers On A Train, the celebrated stage actress Helen Hayes had returned to the screen to play John’s mother and Dean Jagger had recently won an academy award for Twelve O’Clock High (1950), yet the film was a complete disaster. Accoldades were in short supply. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did nominate McCarey for an Oscar for Writing (Motion Picture Story). Even with the star power of John Wayne, Big Jim McLain, was the twenty-seventh most successful film of 1952, grossing $2,600,000.
The reasons for their failure lay elsewhere. When Cecil B. DeMille was appointed to the State Department’s International Motion Picture Unit as a consultant to make cold war films in 1953, he decried the lack of support for anti-communist pictures.
Government would not arm its soldiers with guns made by amateurs. Neither should it arm … (the State)
Department with films by amateurs.
DeMille claimed that the Soviet Union had spent $14 billion on propaganda while the United States spent $75 million. The Soviet Union was producing better propaganda than the United States. He argued that more resources were needed to win the propaganda cold war. Yet the studios had poured in considerable resources for anti-communist films and none had worked. The films were not allocated second rate talent. Directors William Wellman, Gordon Douglas, Leo McCarey, William Dietrele, William Cameron Menzies, Elia Kazan, Samuel Fuller, Anthony Mann, and Josef von Sternberg and others represent a group of highly talented people. It was not the lack of talent which caused their failure or the pace at which they were cranked out by the studios.
the release of Walk East on Beacon
and other anti-communist efforts, the New
York Times film critic Bosley Crowther lashed out at Hollywood for its
failure to make effective anti-communist films.
He argued that the United States was in a state of confusion and anxiety
over the threat of communism and he wanted Hollywood to ‘clarify the realities
of the situation and the true extent of domestic peril.’ Crowther thought that the plots of the film
were reworkings of old ideas and reflected a deeper problem in the film
(In Hollywood) no one,
resenting aspersions, dares raise a clear contentious voice. Caution is king. Intellectually Hollywood is paralyzed.
In this grave state of
apprehension, it isn’t likely that the people out there are going to come
through with any … literal dramatization of the actual shape of the Communist
peril. Indeed it is not very likely that
anyone will henceforth want to touch the subject of communism with a ten foot
pole. Not only is it ticklish as a
topic, but pictures about it have proved conspicuously unbefitting as far as
the paying public is concerned.
One film which broke the anti-communist mould was Samuel Fuller’s Pick Up on South Street (1953). It was not an easy film to make. According to Lisa Dombrowsi, in her book The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I’ll Kill you, the script ran afoul of the the PCA, for “excessive brutality and sadistic beatings, of both men and women”. Although a revised script was accepted soon after, the studio was forced to shoot multiple takes of a particular scene in which the manner of Jean Peters and Richard Kiley frisk each other for loot was considered too risqué.
The film begins when a pickpocket Skip McCoy, played by Richard Widmark, stole some microfilm from the purse of Candy, the former mistress of communist Joey. The film contained a secret chemical formulae and Candy attempted to get the film back from McCoy for the psychopathic Joey. She falls in love with McCoy whole doing so, but McCoy was not interested and wanted to sell the microfilm back to the communists for $25,000. He eventually also falls in love with Candy, but only after he found out that she would not betray him to the communists. He was enraged when Candy was beaten and shot by Joey. He followed Joey and dealt out a savage beating in revenge.
was not interested in seeking revenge until he has his own personal motives to
do so. When an FBI agent asked him, ‘Do
you know what Communism is?’ Skip replies ‘Who cares?’ They press him to act out of patriotic
motives and he refused.
Detective: If you refuse to co-operate you’ll be as
guilty as those traitors who gave Stalin the A-bomb
Fuller later argued that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had lunch with him and studio head Zanuck, and was told that he detested Fuller’s work and especially Pickup on South Street. Hoover particuarly did not like Widmark’s character saying “Are you waving the flag at me?”, He did not approve of the the scene of a Federal agent bribing an informer and other things. “Zanuck backed Fuller up, telling Hoover he knew nothing about making movies, but removed references to the FBI in the film’s advertising.” It is simple to identify Hoover’s annoyance. McCoy was only interested in money. He said to Candy: ‘So you are Red. Who cares? Your money is as good as anybody’s.’ The film was a clear break from any other anti-communist film of the time. Indeed it turned everything on its head. The criminal world looked down on communism. Moe, who informed on Skip for $50 to the police, refused to give Skip’s address to the communists because ‘even in our crumby kind of business, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere’. Moe doesn’t even know why she doesn’t like communism. She says ‘What do I know about commies? Nothing? I know I just don’t like them.’
other anti-communist films defended the role of the informer. In Pickup
On South Street, the stance on informing was reversed.
Some people peddle apples, lamb chops, lumber. I peddle information. Skip ain’t sore. He understands. We live in a different kind of world. Once in while he gets how under the collar if I sell him short.
Moe was in informer to the police and yet despised informers to communists. The hero of this film was a unrepentant and unpatriotic criminal. The law enforcement agencies appeared to be flat-footed and easily misled by the criminals. The police even needed informers like Moe to round up suspects. Fuller was laughing at the seriousness of patriotic films and in doing so produced one of the most eccentric and individual anti-communist films of the 1950s. The communism angle is so slight that when the movie was released in France, the dubbed soundtrack changed the villains from communist spys to drug dealers. The French title “Le port de la drogue” can be translated as “Pier of Drugs”. 
Fuller repeated the formula of personal, rather than political revenge, with Richard Widmark leading a submarine in Chinese controlled waters, in Hell And High Water (1954). Widmark was a mercenary who would sell his services to the highest bidder. The submarine crew uncovered a plot by the Chinese to have a disguised B29 drop atomic bombs on Manchuria to blame the United States for starting a nuclear war. Widmark couldn’t care less until his most loyal crew member was killed by a communist prisoner. Only after his friend’s, did he become committed to stopping the communist plot. Critic Nicholas Garnham argued that ‘the Fuller protagonist is always caught in a crossfire between warring totalitarian organizations.’ Pickup on South Street finished 62nd in the Variety rankings for 1953.
The links between sexuality and communism were seen in other films, but none more pointed than My Son John (1952) which linked political subversion to sexual activity. Producer, writer and director Leo McCarey was one of the leading anti-communist campaigners in Hollywood, and his film My Son John was a serious attempt to alert America to, what he considered, a dangerous and pressing threat. McCarey was a staunch anti-Communist and had joined Wood in testifying to HUAC in October 1947. He had directed Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Marys (1945), which were very popular films with Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley. McCarey told HUAC his films were not successful in Russia because they contained God. He wanted Hollywood to produce anti-Communist films as it had done in the Second World War against fascism. In 1952, McCarey would do just that and direct one of the more feverish anti-Communist films in My Son John – the final political messages of which were fashioned by DeMille. The film seemed to have absorbed the political tensions of Hollywood during that strained time. From its opening scenes, it was a gloomy tense depiction of strangling the American family.
The film witnessed the return of Helen Hayes – the first lady of american Theatre – after 18 years away from the screen. The story began as Ben and Chuck Jefferson, played by James Young and Richard Jaeckel, went off to fight in the Korean War. They were blonde clean-cut American boys who played football, while their brother John, played by Robert Walker, was dark haired and read books. John worked at some mysterious job in Washington. Their mother, played by Helen Hayes, was distressed that he did not return for their farewell party. When he did return, Hayes was shocked to learn that he scoffed at his father’s membership of the American Legion. Suspicious increased when he told his parents that he believed that Bible stories should be taken on a symbolic rather than literal level.
the evidence mounting fast, his mother Lucille, played by Helen Hayes, made
John swear on the Bible that he was not a communist. He was quite happy to oblige because he was
an atheist and was not afraid of eternal damnation by making such an oath. The Bible was also used in a scene where
John’s father Dan sang John a song he composed for his American Legion Friends.
then bashed John over the head with the bible when he laughed. The scene appeared to be strongly influenced
by a similar scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 version of The Ten Commandments, where a mother read the story of Exodus from
the bible to her two sons. One son also
scoffed at the reading and was struck over the head by the other son with a
newspaper. In an earlier draft of the
screenplay of My Son John, the father
struck John when he scoffed at the commandment about honoring your
parents. The similarity was no accident
as DeMille’s political speech writer Donald Hayne wrote the original drafts for
the final speech by John Jefferson. To scoff at the ten commandments was the
equivalent of extolling communism for DeMille who saw them as the moral basis
to fight communism. Furthermore, to scoff was direct proof of
communist tendencies, hence the father’s righteous and violent reaction.
exercised absolute control over his staff and it would be impossible to believe
that Hayne wrote the speech without DeMille’s direction, approval and
consent. DeMille’s writers considered
themselves to be ‘trained seals’ who merely translated the director’s thoughts
onto paper. Even though he has not listed in the credits,
it is clear that DeMille had a great deal of power within Hollywood’s
anti-communist community and that power extended to influencing the
anti-communist content of films of other directors.
father Dan, played by Dean Jagger, swore that if he even thought his son was a
communist, he would take him into the back yard and shoot with a double-barrel
shotgun. McCarey’s depiction of the
all-American father was drunk, violent, and stupid. Throughout the film, the father was extremely
hostile to John’s intellectual achievements, and yet the mother’s character was
even worse. She hovered on the edge of a
nervous breakdown and there were several hints to her being menopausal. In an earlier draft of the film, the message
was clear that she was going through a ‘stage of life’ and needed to constantly
take pills. When the mother heard that John was being
investigated by the FBI for being communist, she regarded it as solid evidence
that he was guilty. In the draft script, she actually collapsed before
testifying that her son was a communist.
The audience was meant to conclude that her communist son was undermining
her mental and physical health. It would
be easier to believe that these demented parents led their children into
Like I Married a Communist, My Son John linked intellectual activity to communism. John was constantly compared with his blonde brothers. They played football and were doing their patriotic duty in Korea while John was an intellectual and a traitor. T seemed failure to play football was one of the key elements of becoming a political subversive. The mother recalled going to a football game to see Ben and Chuck play. As she supported their football team, she would turn to John and barrack for him in his own personal football game. The audience was told that John’s brothers were pulled out of school to pay for John’s education. These ideas neatly fitted with the anti-intellectual atmosphere of the McCarthyite investigators. It was a time when the word ‘egghead’ became a pejorative term for intellectuals. While making the film, McCarey told The New York Times:
(My Son John) is about
a mother and father who struggle and slaved.
They had no education. They put
all their money into higher education for their sons. But on of the kids gets too bright. It poses the problem – how bright can you
He takes up a lot of
things including atheism… The mother only knew two books – her Bible and her
cookbook. But who’s the brighter in the
end – the mother or the son.
there was something more sinister than intellectual curiosity which led to
communism. In his review of the film
Bosley Crowthey in the New York Times wrote that intellectuals were seen as
‘dangerous perverters of youth.’ It was not only in the field of ideas that he
was corrupt. John’s twisted relationship
with his mother indicated murkier reasons for the descent into the abyss. Nora Sayre noted that John was deceitful and
charming toward her and there was an undisguised hostility towards his
father. His performance was as close as
Hollywood would dare come to that of a homosexual. The father looked on in disgust when he met
his professor from his old University.
In the early draft of the screenplay, Dan says to his wife: ‘Did you see that greeting? I thought they were going to kiss each
other.’ John’s communism was the result of a
combination of anti-athletic, intellectual and homosexual tendencies.
the original screenplay, John’s mother was in a position to put John in prison
for his communist activities. She could
not bring herself to testify against John to the FBI and collapsed and was then
put into a hospital. The draft
screenplay was incomplete, but it did include notes of a speech where John
renounced his communist past while making a speech to a high school. The speech, which incriminated him, was made
even though the FBI was unable to convict him.
John was arrested and taken to prison.
In the final scene, he visited his mother in hospital and told her of
his return to the ‘side of the angels’.
film required a different ending as Walker died before the end of My Son John. Some hasty rewriting was needed, and McCarey
used some outtakes from Strangers On A
Train given to him by director Alfred Hitchcock to spin out an ending. To complete the film. John went through a remarkable conversion to
capitalism at the end of the film and was immediately gunned down by his fellow
communists beneath the Lincoln Memorial.
the film from the 1930s through to the 1950s, the figure of Lincoln was used to
bolster the political viewpoints of the filmmakers. Abraham Lincoln was the most deified on the
Presidents in the American popular imagination.
In Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939),
the dejected Smith returned to fight the corrupt politicians in the Senate after
seeing a small child in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Director John Ford repeatedly used Lincoln as
an icon of fundamental American wisdom in films such as The Iron Horse (1924) and Young
Mr Linclon (1939). In Cheyenne Autumn (1964), the Secretary of
State, played by Edward G. Robinson, looked at a picture of Lincoln, while
pondering the fate of the Cheyenne
Indians, and said ‘What would he do?’ and the problems of Cheyenne Indians
were soon resolved. Lincoln was also
used to support the closing anti-communist message in I Was a Communist for the FBI and The FBI Story (1958).
was once again the icon of traditional American values. John’s death at the feet of the memorial
showed that his political conversion and redemption was complete. He had paid his price for becoming a
communist. In the original script he
cried out: ‘I am a native American
communist spy – and may God have mercy on my soul!’ The final film made John pay for his
communism with his death. At the
conclusion, a tape recording of his planned speech was played to a graduating
I was going to help to
make a better world. I was flattered
when I was immediately recognized as an intellect. I was invited to homes where only superior
minds commuted. It excited my freshman
fancy to hear daring thoughts … A bold defiance of the only authorities I’d
ever known: my church and my father and my mother. I know that many of you have experienced that
stimulation. But stimulants lead to
narcotics. As the seller of habit-forming
dope gives the innocent their first inoculation, with a cunning worthy of a
serpent, there are other snakes waiting lying to satisfy the desire of the
young to give themselves something positive…
concluding speech described communism as an addictive drug. This did not explain why John was able to
break his addiction so easily. During
his final speech a ray of light shines down on the stage indicating God’s
approval, when John asked for God’s mercy, it was surely given.
final speech was quite different form Hayne’s original script. Hayne wanted to emphasise that the laws
against communist agents were weak and the FBI could not have convicted
John. He gave up any chance of escape
and confessed that he had been passing secrets to the Russians. McCarey, however wanted to drive home the
inherent evil of communism. McCarey’s
draft for John’s final speech was extremely close to the final film and it
seemed that Walker’s death did little to change its direction.
Once again, communism was expunged by a severe act of contrition. Both Robert Ryan in I Married A Communist and Robert Walker in My Son John had to perform this painful act to clear themselves of communism, just as those in Hollywood had to name names before the HUAC investigations in order to clear themselves. McCarey’s depiction of communism was the blackest of the 1950s. It was as an addictive drug peddled by intellectuals with homosexual tendencies to young impressionable minds. The thin academic air of college was a breeding ground for these delusions. Young people who wanted to do something positive may fall victim to its clutches. Yet the alternative in McCarey’s world was not much better. Violent and threatening, verging on psychotic, fathers and neurotic mothers were the all-American couple. These parents would sacrifice their children to the authorities through guilt by association. He film rationalized that the techniques used throughout America and Hollywood were necessary and desirable. It argued that being investigated was the same as being guilty; that authorities were impeccable in their research and pursuit of enemies and never made mistakes. John’s confession at the end of the film justified the physical and mental battering he had received from his mother, his father and the authorities. The confession was a justification of HUAC’s investigations and the stance taken by the studio heads. When the film was released, it was not surprising that DeMille said it was a great film and showed that McCarey was a great American. The film was, however, universally condemned by film reviewers. My Son John represented the low water mark of Hollywood’s dealing with communism and the film did not make Variety’s list for the year despite some heavy advertising. Most reviewers slammed the film, aside from Bosley Crowther in The New York Times who praised some aspects of it; but even he had grave concerns about its political dogmatism.
Bernard Dick focuses on Leo McCarey’s anti-communist film My Son John (1952) in some detail in his book The Screen is Red. The film’s production fell into a shambles with the death of lead actor Robert Walker, and an ending of sorts was created – with some unheralded assistance by Cecil B. DeMille and Alfred Hitchcock. The remaining film is uncomfortable to watch; it contains one disturbing scene in which an angry father attacks his communist son for laughing at his conservative jingoism. Despite the contrived conclusion, Dick describes McCarey as a master of plot resolution. He argues that McCarey gave viewers an ending that was “dramatic and reflective,”  providing an accurate description of America in the early years of the Cold War. His respectful analysis is at odds with both contemporary reviewers and later critics, who see it as a mixture of hysterical anti-communism tinctured with a vague homophobia – along with some disturbing ideas about motherhood.
 Draft of final speech of My Son
John, Cecil B. DeMille Archives, Box 439, Folder 10, Brigham Young University,
 A full discussion will be in the
chapter on biblical epics.
 Quote from unnamed writer in
Motion Picture Daily, 16 December 1949.
Accounts of DeMille’s legendary treatment of writers can be found in Ring Lardner Jr., ‘The Sign of the
Boss’, Screenwriter, November 1945,
and Phil Koury, Yes, Mr DeMille, G.P.Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1976.
 Undated draft script of My Son
John, Box 439, Folder 10, Cecil B. DeMille Archives, Box 439, Folder 10,
Brighan Young University, Provo, Utah.
 William Manchester, The Glory and the Dream A Narrative History
of America 1932 – 1972, Bantam, New York, 1975, pp. 625 – 626.
New York Times, 18 March 1952.
At the end of the original script, John asks his mother to bake cookies
for him in prison.
 Sayre, Running Time, p.96. Walker’s
performance is close to his acclaimed role of Bruno in Strangers On A Train where again his performance had strong
homosexual overtones. See Donald Spoto, Art Of Alfred Hitchcock, Dolphin, New
York, 1976, p. 212 and for a differing view see Robin Wood, Hitchcock Film’s Revisited, Columbia
University Press, New York, 1960, pp. 347 – 348. McCarey did claim that Hitchcock was a strong
influence for the film, New York Times,
9 April 1952.
 Draft script of My Son John, p.
11 Box 439, Folder 10, Cecil B. DeMille Archives, Box 439, Folder 10, Brigham
Young University, Provo, Utah.
 Walker died after being
prescribed some sedatives by doctors after emotional outbursts on the set of My Son John. He had a history of problems with alcohol and
had suffered a nervous breakdown in the late 1940s. David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema, Secker and Warburg,
London, 1975, p. 595.
 Hayne, Donald John’s Speech, 2
June 1951, Cecil B. DeMille Archives, Box 439, Folder 10, Cecil B. DeMille
Archives, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
 Hayne, Donald John’s Speech, 2
June 1951, and Leo McCarey, Leo John’s
Speech, 10 August 1951. Cecil B.
DeMille Archives, Box 439, Folder 10, Cecil B. DeMille Archives, Brigham Young
University, Provo, Utah.
 Cecil B. DeMille to Leo McCarey,
3 April 1952. Cecil B. DeMille Archives,
Box 439, Folder 10, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
 The film’s advertising focused
on a non-existent sex scene. The film
was condemned by most film reviewers at the time. One belated defence of the film is in Leland
A. Poague, The Hollywood Professionals:
Wilder and McCarey, London, Tantry Press, 1980.