Monday, January 23, 2017

Communist screenplays

I see that TCM is spending the afternoon with a couple of movies that screenplays by notorious totalitarian supporter Dalton Trumbo.

I think I've argued here in the past that actors certainly shouldn't have been blacklisted by Hollywood for their political beliefs. One can make a case that people who were bad for box office would have lost jobs, and that's certainly a stickier issue, since the studios can play fast and loose with the accounting numbers. But it's not as if their political beliefs were influencing the movies that much. Directors and most behind the camera people should never have been subject to a blacklist either. If anybody deserved to be smacked by studio heads, though, it was screenwriters, who more easily could use their platform to influence what wound up in the movies.

I think the best example of that airing today is A Man to Remember, airing at 1:00 PM. This is a remake of an earlier film, One Man's Journey, about a doctor who winds up spending his whole career in a small town, while his son grows up to have the opportunity to do prestigious research in the big city. Lionel Barrymore plays the doctor in the original; Edward Ellis does a fine job in the sequel. The problem is that Trumbo wrote a didactic screenplay, starting off with the doctor's funeral and telling the story in flashback, with some evil bankers going through the doctor's strongbox. Throughout the movie we get leaden plot lines about the heroic small-town doctor going up against sinister monied interests.

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (2:30 PM) isn't so bad, mostly because it's wartime propaganda. Hollywood's communists were internationalists up until the Molotov-von Ribbentrop pact in August 1939, at which point they did a volte face and became isolationists. Until June 1941 when Hitler invaded the USSR, that is, at which point they switched to a pro-war stance, and it's that latter pro-war stance that seems to be remembered.

We Who Are Young (4:30 PM) is, in tone, more in line with A Man to Remember. Lana Turner and John Shelton play a couple who both work for a bookkeeping firm and violate the firm's rules of probity; Trumbo's screenplay makes no bones that it's the bosses who are ridiculously evil as the capitalist system visits horror after horror upon the couple.

I don't think the Communists should have been blacklisted any more than, say, Leni Riefenstahl. (And Riefenstahl was a glaring omission from TCM's Trailblazing Women series.) And even more certainly the blankety-blanks in Congress shouldn't have dragooned anybody from Hollywood into appearing before them, on any issue. But it shouldn't be forgotten that Communists were, at best, useful idiots supporting a hideous totalitarian ideology who are just as bad as Holocaust deniers. It's just that they're supporting a different flavor of totalitarianism.

No comments: