Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Matt Cvetic story

If you enjoy those old anti-Communist movies from the early 1950s -- either because you agree with the poliitcs or because you enjoy how the strident nature of these movies detracts from the story -- you have a chance to catch another one: I Was a Communist For the FBI, this afternoon at 3:45 PM on TCM.

Frank Lovejoy stars as Matt Cvetic, a steelworker in Pittsburgh who was recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the Communist Party because, of course, the CPUSA was doing all sorts of nefarious things. In the case of this movie, it means infiltrating labor unions and taking them over, so that the strikes can serve the interests of the Party and not the workers. (To be fair, Hollywood had already seen Communist-tinged labor strife around the making of the movie Night Unto Night) The Communists are also trying to infiltrate our teachers, presumably because the teachers would then put a more positive spin on Communism. It's Matt's job to investigate this stuff and report ot the FBI. He doesn't get very far until the strikes get violent enough for Eve (Dorothy Hart), one of the teachers who is a Communist sympathizer, to be turned off the Communists by the Party's use of violence. Our heroic anti-Communists save the day! (This is another case where we have to give the studio a bit of a pass, as the Production Code wouldn't have let there be aay other outcome.)

I've suggested before that when dealing with anti-Communist movies, you really need to look at them in the light of what they'd be like if they were going after the Nazis or the mob instead, whichever one would make more sense in the context of the movie. In that light, I Was a Communist For the FBI isn't terrible, although there were certainly better anti-Communist movies. Also, there are movies about spying on the Nazis to which we can compare this one, especially Confessions of a Nazi Spy and perhaps The House on 92nd Street, although the latter one also has the World War II backdrop which changes the tenor of the story somewhat. I think both of those movies are better than I Was a Communist For the FBI.

There's also the problem that Matt Cvetic's real story probably isn't all that interesting. Certainly, it's nowhere near as heroic as what's presented in the movie. The real-life Cvetic seems to have been in it just as much for the money as anything else, and a raging drunk to boot. How the FBI could use such a person is a good question, but then J. Edgar Hoover did a lot of strange things at the FBI.

I Was a Communist For the FBI has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

1 comment:

damnyanqui said...

Just curious.
Particularly with the gift of post Cold War hindsight...
Why the need to to look at the movie "in the light of what they'd be like if they were going after the Nazis or the mob instead?"
Are the Nazis or the mob, both of whom have murdered far, far, fewer people than the communists, somehow more compelling villains?
For decades, through hundreds of communist cells, the Soviets and their fellow travelers have infiltrated the United States on numerous fronts, organized labor, academia, entertainment, government...
Sure there are mobsters in Vegas and Hollywood, but nothing like the communist presence.
And the Nazis? Effectively none at all.
"I Was a Communist" was made in the early years of World War 3 and the threat of Soviet communist infiltration, while recognized, was little understood.
Today, reams of wiretap files, declassified in the 1990s show us that, yes, the Soviets were indeed engaged in massive infiltration of the United States through communist organizations trying to foment revolution.
Technically, movies like "I was a Communist" may suffer from the clunky writing and filmmaking techniques of their era. But in terms of the story they tell, many of them were prophetic.
Update the cars and clothes and you could remake some of them set in the year... oh... 2014.