HOLLYWOOD ON TRIAL(director: David Helpern; screenwriter: Arnie Reisman; cinematographer: Barry Abrams; editor: Frank Galvin; cast: John Huston (Narrator), Joseph McCarthy, Edward Dmytryk, Dalton Trumbo; Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: James C. Gutman/Juergen Hellwig/Frank Galvin; MPI Home Video; 1976)
“It’s all frightening stuff but presented in such a bland way that it doesn’t really show the fear and paranoia that was sweeping the country during those Cold War days.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
David Helpern’s political documentary as narrated by John Huston chronicles the events in the America of 1947 that led to the investigation of Communist activity in Hollywood by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The documentary begins with newsreels showing Roosevelt’s New Deal, the politics and climate of the 1930s, and the rise of trade unions. It then focuses in on the testimonies of the Hollywood Ten (1-Edward Dmytryk, the only one not a screenwriter 2-Albert Maltz 3- Ring Lardner Jr. 4- Lester Cole 5- Dalton Trumbo 6-John Howard Lawson 7-Alvah Bessie 8-Samuel Ornitz 9-Adrian Scott 10-Herbert Biberman). They were randomly chosen and as advised by their lawyers were told that they would win if they stood together (the liberal Supreme Court would take their case and rule in their favor) and refused to cooperate with the Congressional committee headed by Chairman J. Parnell Thomas, clinging to their belief that the First Amendment would protect their creative and political views. The big question being “Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” As a result of not answering that question they were found in contempt of Congress and later jailed and, at the same time, the film industry fired and blacklisted them–a list Hollywood refused to admit existed.
The documentary uses archival footage to show the Hollywood Ten as they testify, the most interesting part of the film. It goes on to show how these victims of the witch hunt, most were members of the left leaning Screenwriter’s Guild, were persecuted and how widespread the fear of the witch hunt grew as it reached out to actors. It told of those who went to prison, those who recanted, and how a general fear spread over Hollywood forcing a conformity. It introduces us to Senator McCarthy, who copies in the senate the HUAC witch hunt. The film includes interviews with some of the blacklisted victims some 30 years later, as they tell the hardships they faced and how some resorted to using aliases to earn money or went into exile abroad. There’s also an interview with Ronald Reagan, who applauds the blacklist as a good thing for the country. It’s all frightening stuff but presented in such a bland way that it doesn’t really show the fear and paranoia that was sweeping the country during those Cold War days when some powerful politicos acted unconscionably as demagogues to bring down a reign of terror across the country.
REVIEWED ON 1/30/2006 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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