Monday, October 10, 2011

Judging those evil Commies

Tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM TCM is showing the seriously flawed movie The Woman on Pier 13. This is a re-release title, as the original was I Married a Communist.

The original title sounds like a fun slightly exploitative title, along the same lines as I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang or I Married a Monster From Outer Space. Robert Ryan stars as the Communist, or in fact the ex-Communist. His character, Brad Collins, is the head of the local branch of the dockworker's union. At the start of the movie, we see him getting married to Nan (Laraine Day), and then having his past catch up to him. That past is in the form of the lovely Christine (Janis Carter), who reminds Brad that he used to be a Communist. More importanly, once you're a Communist, you can never really leave. And the Party wants Brad to do something for them. That something is to start a strike against the shipping companies. Brad doesn't want to, because it's not in his workers' interest to do so. But if he doesn't, the Communists will reveal his past, which will certainly wind up in his getting blacklisted....

The Woman on Pier 13 is, as I said, a movie that has serious flaws. That largely comes down to the portrayal of the Communists. It's almost cartoonish, and it's terribly heavy-handed. The funny thing is that even though the movie is depicting stuff which has a fair bit of truth to it -- remember, the Communists were trying to get their own unions into Hollywood, which caused serious labor problems during the shooting of Night Unto Night. But the way the Communists are portrayed here is almost laughable. That having been said, The Woman on Pier 13 is the sort of movie it's fun to laugh at as you're watching it.

It was only after reading some of the user reviews on IMDb that I got a better idea of how to review a movie like The Woman on Pier 13. One of the commenters writes that the Communists are portrayed here as a sort of waterfront Mob, which is in some ways true. But it also leads to a good question one can ask whenever dealing with a movie portraying the Communists as beyond evil. Ask yourself if the movie would be any better or worse if it were about not the Communists, but about either the Mafia or the Nazis, depending upon which one would be more appropriate to the plot. In the case of The Woman on Pier 13, the movie would come across as a pale version of On the Waterfront (although to be fair, On the Waterfront came out several years later). It would have nothing to do with the fact that the former movie is about Communists. In fact, a movie like Man on a Tightrope holds up just as well as an escape-from-the-Nazis movie like The Mortal Storm. For domestic Communists, I Was a Communist for the FBI is pretty good, and right up there with The House on 92nd Street.

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