I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. (1951)


(director: Gordon Douglas; screenwriters: Crane Wilbur/from Matt Cvetic as told to Pete Martin in their article in the “Saturday Evening Post”; cinematographer: Edwin DuPar; editor: Folmar Blangsted; music: Max Steiner; cast: Frank Lovejoy (Matt Cvetic), Dorothy Hart (Eve Merrick), Philip Carey (Mason), Dick Webb (Crowley), James Millican (Jim Blandon), Ron Hagerthy (Dick Cvetic), Paul Picerni (Joe Cvetic), Frank Gerstle (Tom Cvetic), Russ Conway (Frank Cvetic), Hope Kramer (Ruth Cvetic), Kasia Orzazekski, (Mrs. Cvetic), Eddie Norris (Harmon), Konstantin Shayne (Gerhardt Eisler), Roy Roberts (Father Novac); Runtime: 83; Warner Bros; 1951)

“A propaganda film from Warner Brothers about the Communist influences in America.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A propaganda film from Warner Brothers about the Communist influences in America, that is as subtle as a sledgehammer conking you over the head. It’s a Red Scare film with the Commies acting the part of gangsters. It’s told in a gritty documentary-style.

“I Was A Communist” is an intellectually bankrupt story and is filled with misleading political innuendos; such as, the Civil Rights groups are all influenced by Communists and that the House Un-American Committee hearings are merely patriotic actions used in combating the Communists. It was hard to stomach all the inaccurate slime this film spread, yet its film noir story is grippingly tense.

For the last nine years steelworker Matt Cvetic (Lovejoy), who is a member of a large Slovenian Pittsburgh family, has been working for the FBI as an undercover agent who has infiltrated the Communist party and risen high-up in the command structure. This has caused him tremendous conflicts with his high-school son and his many brothers. His brother Joe hates his guts, and his elderly mother loves him as a son but is confused about why the rest of the family is ashamed of him.

A Communist top executive Gerhardt Eisler is trailed by the FBI to Pittsburgh where he conspires with Matt’s immediate bosses Blandon and Harmon to stir up trouble in the steel town by causing a race riot, starting a steel strike, plotting to divide and conquer the American people by feeding them misleading information, and sabotaging the steel plant.

Matt is rewarded for his good party work, by being promoted to chief party organizer. But with that job, he’s further spied upon by other party members as they are determined to weed out possible traitors from their organization. But Matt has managed to bug all the rooms his superiors operate out of, as the Pittsburgh FBI bureau chief keeps tabs with him on a daily basis.

Because Matt’s son, living with his grandmother, is in trouble in school, Matt is called into the principal’s office and learns his kid is getting into fights defending his dad from being called a dirty Commie by the other students. His son’s attractive teacher Eve Merrick comforts Matt, and surprises him by visiting him later that evening in his apartment. Eve tells Matt she’s also a Communist party member and that there are a number of other teachers who are also members. Through the FBI bug, he learns that the party asked her to spy on him.

Fed up with his family and the communities hatred of him, Matt writes a letter to his son telling about his undercover work and gives it to the priest to tell his son if something should happen to him. But at his mother’s funeral the priest returns the letter because he is being sent to Rome, while his brother Joe attacks him and causes the letter to fall out of his suit pocket. Eve is undetected as she picks up the letter and keeps it.

Matt feels his mission has been compromised, but the FBI bug proves that Eve does not tell Blandon of the letter. It seems Eve has become disillusioned with the party for its violent and unfair tactics, and no longer believes in their ideals. Out of necessity, Matt is forced to report her to Blandon after a bloody steel strike upsets her. She’s peeved at the Communists hired goons who wrapped their weapons in Jewish newspapers to beat the striking union workers. They attempted to make it appear as if the steel bosses did this, and they would then come on the side of the workers with funds to fight them in court and offer words of support.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

But Eve is suspected of being a traitor and when she tells them she’s quitting the party and giving the FBI the names of the other Commie teachers, Matt acts fast to usher her out of town before she gets killed. When Eve goes back to her place to pack, Matt is followed by two Communist agents who kill an FBI agent sent there for her protection. Matt sneaks Eve out the back way of her apartment building and puts her on the train, but the Commie agents followed them and he has to defend himself when they try to kill him and Eve. The agents are found dead on the tracks. But, at last, Matt appears before a federal probe of Communist activities and discloses his mission and all the info he could offer about the Communist organization he worked for. His undercover work results in the arrest and conviction of 11 top American Communist leaders. This brings great relief to his son and his brother Joe.

The film is based on the real-life experiences of Matt Cvetic. But the story is only partially true. It falsely glorifies him, as in real-life he wasn’t a very nice person. The real Matt Cvetic was an alcoholic and had a nasty temper. Supposedly, he beat his sister-in-law so badly she required hospitalization. This is a troubling film for today because of its misinformation, though in its time it was very popular.