(director/writer: Leo McCarey; screenwriters: Myles Connolly/John Lee Mahin/story by Leo McCarey; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: Marvin Coil; music: Robert Emmett Dolan; cast: Helen Hayes (Lucille Jefferson), Van Heflin (Stedman), Dean Jagger (Dan Jefferson), Robert Walker (John Jefferson), Minor Watson (Dr. Carver), Frank McHugh (Father O’Dowd), Richard Jaeckel (Chuck Jefferson), James Young (Ben Jefferson), Todd Karns (Agent Bedford); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leo McCarey; Olive Films; 1952)

“Paranoiac emotionally overwrought Red Menace drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Conservative filmmaker Leo McCarey (“Going My Way”/”Duck Soup”/”The Awful Truth”)with passionate conviction directs this paranoiac emotionally overwrought Red Menace drama that’s based on his story, and is co-written by him, Myles Connolly and John Lee Mahin. The reactionary social drama is a revealing product of its time period, that tells us through the use of fear-mongering how the American way of life is being threatened by the atheist, sabotaging, and home-wrecking communists. It’s a reminder of how many Americans saw things so narrowly during the Cold War days. It’s set in the midst of a real-life witch hunt by right-wing HUAC politicians against those they thought were not conforming to the American way of life, and this pic was their masterpiece. It loses its grip on fairness with a corny, heavy-handed and too convenient patriotic jingoist finale. True believer McCarey promotes his Apple Pie repressive political agenda by defending the church, the nuclear family, the American Dream, suburban conformity, the Korean war and capitalism from commie attackers. Things are resolved when the anti-hero rat-like commie spy protagonist confesses to his errant ways of sabotaging his country by giving a speech to college students at his alma mater warning other youths not to make the same mistakes he did.The FBI agentwho taps his phone, is seen as the great American vigilant against traitors.

It marksthe return of celebrated stage actress Helen Hayes to the screen after away for almost two decades. Real-life tragedy hits when one of its stars, the 32-year-old Robert Walker, unexpectedly died before the film wrapped due to a bad reaction to prescription drugs he was taking because of psychological issues. In the final reel, the shots of Walker are taken from footage of his appearance in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951).

In a serene unnamed lily-white suburban small-town (filmed at Manassas, Virginia), near the nation’s capitol, the respected, patriotic and devout Catholic couple of doting housewife Lucille (Helen Hayes) and her domineering school teacher husband Dan Jefferson (Dean Jagger), are visited by their two darling obedient jock soldier sons (James Young and Richard Jaeckel) before they ship out to the war zone in Korea. The Jefferson’s pompous eldest son John (Robert Walker), a bright young man with a good federal agency job in Washington, D.C., is a no show. John, who hasn’t seen his parents in a year, shows up the next week and frightens the friendly local priest (Frank McHugh), his American Legion super-patriotic dad and Bible spewing mom with cynical subversive talk about the church, his country and family values. His parents who brainwashed him to share the same beliefs they do about God and country, suspect he might be a communist after listening to all his cynical comments. That’s confirmed for them when he’s investigated by FBI agent Stedman (Van Heflin).