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FEARMAKERS, THE(director/writer: Jacques Tourneur; screenwriters: from a book by Darwin L. Teilhet/Chris Appley/Elliot West; cinematographer: Sam Leavitt; editor: J.R. Whittredge; cast: Dana Andrews (Alan Eaton), Dick Foran (Jim McGinnis), Mel Torme (Barney Bond), Marilee Earle (Lorraine Dennis), Veda Ann Borg (Vivian Loder), Joel Marston (Rodney Hillyer), Kelly Thordsen (Harold Loder), Roy Gordon (Senator Walder), Oliver Blake (Dr. Gregory Jessup), Dennis Moore (Army Doctor); Runtime: 83; United Artists; 1958)
“This film can make you almost see Red!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Another hideous Red scare propaganda film from the 1950s. Its only saving grace is the skilled technical job by director Jacques Tourneur. Otherwise the film is largely saddled with endless speeches from the main characters and an outdated paranoiac viewpoint of Commies. It also suffers from a ludicrous ending, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where the Commie racketeers ridiculously get their just desserts.

Captain Alan Eaton (Dana Andrews) has been a POW brainwashed by the Chinese Communists during the Korean War. Eaton still suffers occasional headaches and dizzy spells, but the Army doctor (Dennis Moore) thinks it’s best for him to go home to California to recuperate further. Eaton tells the doctor his partner in the Washington, D.C., PR firm they run together has carried the business load since he’s been in the service and he will ask him to carry the load for a few more months.

Eaton heads to Washington to see his partner Clark Baker. Eaton meets on the plane a Dr. Jessup, who mentions he’s a scientist against the nuclear arms race (in this film that means he’s a bad guy). Jessup gives the captain a friend’s place to stay in case he can’t get a hotel room.

Eaton is surprised to learn that the PR firm that is still named the same, has been taken over by Jim McGinnis (Foran). Eaton is told by the surly McGinnis that his partner, whom he gave power of attorney to, has sold the business to him and the next day was killed by a hit and run driver. Eaton smells something fishy, but when he checks the contract he finds that his partner’s signature is on it.

Eaton contacts his former client and old-friend Senator Walder and learns that the senator suspects McGinnis of running a racket through falsifying the polling results, thereby favoring certain clients to look good while others are ruined. This is in violation of the public interest code. The firm is supporting Commie influenced groups that are trying to undermine the American government. The senator suspects McGinnis of being a paid agent of the Commies, and he wants Eaton to take the consultant job that McGinnis offered and be an insider in that firm to get the needed evidence against them. Walder introduces him to a newspaper reporter who covered his partner’s death and who suspects he was murdered, Rodney Hillyer (Marston).

When Eaton can’t get a room, he stops at the home Jessup gave him. The host is a drunk Harold Loder (Thordsen) and his wife Vivian (Veda Ann Borg). Eaton catches them going through his Army uniform pockets looking for a letter from his partner, and to get out of the house Eaton has to beat the lout up. He will later learn that Vivian is an expert forger and that Harold along with Jessup were the eye witnesses to the fatal hit and run.

Back at the office Eaton asks the flunky who works at the office, the chief statistician, Barney Bond (Mel Torme-the singer known as the Velvet Fog), about the Fletcher account. Bond’s a lobbyist on the Hill, and the senator tipped him off that there’s something shady going on about that account. Eaton tries to get Barney to help him get a master’s list of who is being polled, but when he tries to pump Barney he realizes he’s also in with the crooks. Eaton therefore gets the firm’s secretary, Lorraine Dennis (Earle), to help. Naturally they become romantically inclined 1950s style, so we see no physical contact between them. But they do make eye contact, and Lorraine steals McGinnis’ file cabinet key. Eaton uses the key to get all the evidence he needs that he’s dealing with Commies and crooks.

The finale is not suspenseful, surprising, or even interesting. But it looks good in black and white photography, and all the actors are so earnest. It makes one pause before raining on their parade. It’s too bad that such a vile script fills the screen with a witch-hunt theme that gives off a false patriotism message. This film can make you almost see Red!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”