Brian Neve Interview

Interviewed February 14, 2010

Can we start with your response to what are some common misconceptions about the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), in terms of its aberration in the long liberal democratic tradition in American culture and politics?

I suppose there are at least two ways of looking at this. I think the dominant perspective on HUAC, which most people would accept to a large extent, is that it was a fairly disgraceful episode in American history when the Supreme Court essentially refused to privilege First Amendment rights in circumstances where there seemed to be issues of national security, which, for the Supreme Court at least, came before. Or that was their rationale, and so they failed in 1950 to hear the appeals of Dalton Trumbo and the other Hollywood Ten. Of course, as you know, in 1947 most of the Hollywood Ten – and indeed the Hollywood Nineteen – really felt they would win on appeal. It was something of a shock to them when it failed.

Victor Navasky in his 1980 work, Naming Names, to some extent revived interest in the whole issue of the blacklist after quite a long period when it was not enormously discussed or analysed, and in which he talks about morality. He sees the issue in terms of moral questions and, undoubtedly, it is to a good extent. He sees it as drawing on a fundamental moral resistance to informing and naming names, and telling tales. And of course there were certain individuals – notoriously Elia Kazan, who, in part because of his previous radicalism, or at least his membership of the Communist Party in the 1930s – were seen as pariahs partly because they were seen as naming names, but also renouncing their friends and choosing to help themselves and to allow themselves to work by appearing before the committee. When you talk about misconceptions, I think there have been those: the way the politics of the resisters influenced their decisions, other than simply a moral decision not to appear before a Committee they felt had no constitutional legitimacy. The political questions have been understated and were understated in Navasky.

If you look at Thom Anderson’s long piece (Red Hollywood, 1996), and I think he was the first one to make this point, most of those who resisted the Committee were the most politically involved and, in most cases or virtually all cases, had been Communists. Certainly there were cases of people who were not Communists and who resisted – I can think of one or two well-known cases – but on the whole most resisted and they resisted in part because they were very strongly committed and involved.

[But] most of those who appeared before the Committee were long out of the Party and felt that they did not want to sacrifice their careers for a cause they no longer believed in. I’m not saying that to justify the Kazans of this world, but there is a sense in which you can take an even more cynical view, if you want, and say that people were following the Party line in appearing before the Committee, and resisting the Committee. Certainly if you were actually in the Party, if you were still involved in that group of people, however you saw the Party and whatever its connections with the Soviet Union, you would find it almost impossible to suddenly alienate yourself from a social group that included your best friends. Whereas someone like Kazan, if you want to be sympathetic, you could say was out of the Party for something like sixteen years, so there were not the pressures on him to in some way end intercourse. We’ll talk about Kazan [later], and you’ll probably want to come back to him. But this is a certain political fact and despite the nature of their political commitment to the Party, there has been a tendency of liberal thinking to somehow not mention that people were in the Party, as if it were not relevant. But I think it was relevant. It’s not a matter of questioning them or saying that their views were unacceptable, it’s just a question of recognising that the Party was quite important to the way in which they saw the debate and saw the whole issue of the House Committee.

And there were some, not Kazan I don’t think, but others who made at least a principled stance before the Committee in naming names, at least you might be able to say that. I think there were some people – Hugh Adley, Richard Collins, and I think someone like Collins convinced himself, rightly or wrongly, that the Party was uncritical about everything that was becoming clear about Stalinism, and the treatment of the Jews – because it was often Jewish people [who were persecuted] – and what was happening in the Soviet Union after the war. I only mention that because I think some people are so committed that they find it difficult to accept there could be people who would actually think it was their constitutional principle, a national principle, their patriotic principle. They may be wrong, but in the circumstances of the time some people did believe that. Many people appeared before the Committee and named names because they were opportunistic, and this was a way to get the Committee off their back and to get work. The situation was a bit more complex than some simple “good guys resisted, bad guys named names.” That simple notion I’ve always resisted a bit.

I think it is important to understand the full historical and political context which gives rise to these decisions, which are easy to interpret in retrospect, but the commitment to the Communist Party of America, or fellow travellers, was a very important part of their working, cultural and artistic life, and obviously their political life. But because you have talked about the sins of Stalinism in your work, I was wondering whether you feel that Stalinism and the Communist Party USA had weakened the resistance, had contributed in some way towards weakening the resistance of the Hollywood Left to these attacks?

Oh yes, though the Popular Front of the late 1930s, and then the revived Popular Front after the Nazi-Soviet Pact-well after the Pearl Harbor-collapsed, there still existed elements of the Popular Front. If you look at films of the late 1940s, film noir, and certain films in Abraham Polonksy’s body of work, Body and Soul (1947) with Robert Rossen, Force of Evil (1948) and some other films, you find a certain critical edge which reflects something of the Popular Front notions. But in some ways it collapsed not just because of the Cold War, it collapsed because what was happening in the Soviet Union was being accepted as something even Communists had to come to terms with. The Paul Jarricos of this world went on till 1956 and left after Nikita Khrushchev’s speech. But there were others who were beginning to leave, and to leave the Party.

I’ve given a lecture on liberalism in which I mention Arthur Schlesinger’s 1949 book The Vital Center, quite a strong influential book which argues that liberals, including their left wing, must organise to defend against the extremism of the right and the left. According to that reasoning, there were connections, even if diametrically opposed, between the fascism that the Allies had fought and indeed the Soviet Union. The point is that for many, as what Abraham Polonsky told me, the feeling was that “yes, of course, the Communist Party committed many crimes and committed very stupid things, and the Soviet Union of course did even more stupid and appalling things,” but there was no necessary association between being a Communist in America and support for that regime. People may have preferred to overlook what was happening in the Soviet Union, and read the more glowing reports in The New York Times to take a fellow traveller’s view, a David Coat view of the whole. Nevertheless these people had a right to their view and it was a right that should have been protected and safeguarded by the First Amendment, and it wasn’t in these particular circumstances.

You refer to the internal repression in the CP branches and particularly the Hollywood branch, which is really interesting.

Well, I didn’t mean repression (because) in some ways the Communist Party was a very laid back organisation. Robert Rossen famously didn’t pay any fees and some didn’t even turn up to meetings. So I think it was fairly relaxed. It was really J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and their obsession with the Communist Party as this dedicated top-down structure that strengthened the Committee’s charge that radical films were being created. But radical films weren’t being created, just that for those who had eyes to see, there were some films that at least were critical of the capitalist system.

Absolutely, it wasn’t for nothing that Polonsky was declared a very dangerous citizen. I guess the FBI’s personnel at that time were maybe more far sighted than people give them credit, and then the sharp socio-political realignments occurred, starting in 1945, which leads me to the election of Eric Johnston as the head of the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America]. Do you see any political significance in his choice at that particular time?

If you’ve read about who he was then you know he was the ex-leader of the Chamber of Commerce, and of course he famously said there would never be any blacklist in his history. He’d written books about the need for corporate change and involvement of corporate responsibility in the post-war years. I think there was a sense in which the MPAA wanted to put these divisions behind America, and those Communists who wouldn’t repent and deny (their involvement) were sacrificed to what was seen, at least by some, as the threat from outside.

Talking about Kazan, his wife Molly was tremendously anti-Communist, and in fact wrote a play in 1956 in which she tried to berate naïve liberals from this perspective. There were questions of political pressures, family pressures, and all of these things I’ve talked about to Larry Ceplair in Los Angeles, who’s written about a number of these individuals. All of them have slightly different stories [because] there were no completely similar sets of circumstances that led people to act in the way that they did. I think it’s quite a complex set of circumstances.

But you were asking about Eric Johnston.

Also about the timing of his appointment, which, in fact, leads me to the so-called Original Moment. Even though Eric Johnston came in a bit before those crucial years in the lead up to 1947, when we have a conflation of some quite extraordinary and unique developments.

The strikes in particular.

And on top of the continuous strikes, there was the impending Paramount decision, the Waldorf statement, and the first HUAC hearing.

These were shocks to the system, weren’t they? And there was a sense in which some Hollywood insiders felt that there was a potential coup about to take place. This was partly as a rise of independence, partly for tax reasons at that time, and the way in which already the studios were beginning to lay off people, and, as you say, the Paramount decision sort of increased that. As you know, Jon Lewis has argued that the blacklist was sometimes partly welcomed by the studios because it enabled them to lay off staff and be more flexible in terms of the hiring practices. The HUAC came in a period of real crisis for the whole studio system, at the beginning of the decline in movie attendances, which made the studios particularly vulnerable. That’s one of the reasons why they didn’t really resist the HUAC business.

What do you think brought about this change? Why did it all start unravelling in that year? I guess what I’m after are what objective factors brought about this, if it’s possible to say?

The Republican victories in the 1946 election as well as the strikes led to all sorts of disputes between the various unions – the CSU [Conference of Studio Unions] and IATSE [International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees] – led to a lot of rhetoric blaming the unions and the supporters of those who manned picket lines during that period. The FBI was working with the Committee. The Committee really had the idea in 1947 of holding hearings and managed to get these studio people, including Jack Warner, who rather naively blurted it all out about the Communists he’d fired, and often as inaccurate information, which he later withdrew.

But this atmosphere created the need for Communists to defend themselves and prove their innocence. The information was there, the FBI had studied the thing, so they were able to call people up and there were a lot of pressures on the liberals, the Bogarts and the Bacalls, who flew out to Washington in 1947. You were beginning to get the collapse and breaking up of the Popular Front. Liberals, for their own purposes, were saying, “Well, we must save ourselves really.” It was Schlesinger’s view that liberals must, in order to preserve liberalism, including an element of the Left, break their connections with Communism, because in the light of the Cold War, during the shift from fascism to red fascism, any association with Communism is going to make it very, very difficult for them to be heard. So I think those were key developments in 1946 and 1947, and even though the Hollywood Nineteen and the Ten wanted to fight, they didn’t really know what they were getting in to.

When you talked about misconceptions, one of the other issues is really how much of the whole “taking of the First Amendment” in 1947 was really a result of advice by Communist Party lawyers, and how much of this was the right thing to do to some extent. And, in fact, people could not just give information about themselves because if they did, they would be asked questions about other people and trigger the unacceptable nature of it. Nevertheless the point is that it would have been possible, and perhaps this is looking in hindsight, for people in the Party to have a news conference and say, “Yes, we’re Communists, and fuck you!” Why didn’t the Party say that?

And it would not have been unconstitutional.

That’s right. But there was a sense in which some people like, say, Edward Dmytryk, changed their position. Jarrico is interesting because he was into the Party quite late and he said there was a kind of logic in the establishment position. The logic was that if you’re now fighting a war – albeit a cold war – with communism, you don’t particularly encourage those who are strongly allied and give them as much free speech or support as possible. There was a kind of logic in that. I think there was a need to get over this whole issue of the Manichean notion of the Communist Party as somehow an enemy within. It wasn’t. But those who were in contempt of the Committee, by essentially not answering the question, or being outspoken, in some ways gave the impression to many neutrals that this may be wrong. It played along in some sense with the myth that they had something to hide.

So they strengthened their prosecutors’ legal case.

Yes, I think so and yet I don’t know. If you asked Polonsky, he would say, “Well, okay, we did the best we could, but we resisted really.” But if you look at some of the advice that came in from one liberal lawyer, and various other Communist lawyers, it was towing the Party line. That may not have been the best advice in the long term.

That was 1947, but if one goes back a decade such problems didn’t exist – Popular Front was at its peak, and Robert Rossen did some interesting work in 1936-37.

I think Robert Rossen was a great director and he’s quite interesting in that he wasn’t a leading Communist. Both Polonsky and Rossen were slightly annoyed that they weren’t part of the Hollywood Ten. They felt their radicalism wasn’t being sufficiently recognised. But Rossen was working for Warner Brothers in the late 1930s, in the Popular Front era, and making critical films that chimed with the Warner Brothers genres at the time – working class, social problem films, not radical, but certainly films that raised social issues. In the war years of course radicals were even more in demand. John Howard Lawson and others who knew about resistance movements were almost virtually the only mention of the Holocaust in films directed by or written by a radical writer.

What do you feel about Rossen’s Racket Busters (dir. Lloyd Bacon, 1938), one of the earlier films he wrote?

It’s in the tradition of headline or journalistic stories that were based on court transcripts. That one was based on Thomas E. Dewey, who was a prosecutor in New York. There are some elements of it that were critical of what you might call capitalism or bossism, and there is a general proletarian ethos about that film.

Was it out of sync with the times, because that was made three or four years after the Production Code began to put pressure on the content?

The Production Code was in 1933 and came amid some very radical films, radical in all sorts of ways, about sex and other issues in 1930s. Add talkies and the Legions of Decency in the mix and you got a fright, that this was going to be a real threat, and so then the Production Code was administered.

But by the late 1930s a revival of a slightly less radical kind of social problem film was evident and it coincided a little bit with the Popular Front. In the 1930s, Hollywood was still looking and employing a lot of writers from New York. There was a Depression on, a lot of writers who might have thought of themselves novelists or wanted to be novelists, were nevertheless in Hollywood, a place where writing was in demand. So Rossen, who wanted to be a playwright, Polonsky as well, and the Kazans, and all these people from New York, and Dmytryk, who was from Canada, and others who had been in the Communist Party in a more radical period, longer than Trumbo, went to Hollywood.

There was obviously a specific milieu there, but do you think that Rossen’s critique of the social business or capitalist relation in Racket Busters – the conflation of unionism, the union bosses, the mobsters, mafia types, and the business people – went a little bit too far for those particular times.

I don’t think people recognised that. If you look at the reviews, very few did. But those are empirical questions and I don’t think these kinds of films, if you look at them today, are particularly radical. In some ways, Racket Busters imposes the notion that people can own their own trucks and things like that, which was not really realistic. I think New Masses did actually point that out. But at the end of the film, somebody says, “We’ve got to stick together.” At one level that’s one of these simple phrases you could say is the placing in of radical motifs, but I think there’s a bit more going on in that film in the sense of it naturally being about the ordinary lives of the workers.

Hollywood film in the 1930s had to connect in a sense to the Frankfurt School paradigm. It had to divert people through escapism because that was in some way central to the system and the Production Code, but it had to sufficiently engage people. It had to convince people that the films were of some relevance to their real lives, and people’s real lives in the 1930s were of course unemployment and poverty. There is some sense of social reality, from Wild Boys of the Road (William Wellman, 1933) in the early 1930s, right through to films about the South, and They Won’t Forget (Mervyn LeRoy, 1937) and Dust Be My Destiny (Lewis Saler, 1939), and films about drifters, juvenile delinquents or people who were struggling, which was put in a social context. It wasn’t radical then or now, but it was distinctive, I think, and it came from writers with a social or political involvement. Whether they joined the Party to find the best parties or girls or whatever, there was a commitment there to certain social values. But rarely in the way practiced by Abraham Polonsky. Polonsky was a unique individual I think, because he was clearly an intellectual, and as he kept saying to me, “I never thought I’d end up in the movies.” His big friends were Supreme Court justices and such, and he had a kind of dialectical view, a very complex view of political ideas. I don’t think Rossen was as committed as that.

Would it be a fair assessment of Rossen to say that he was more of a 1930s man than a 1940s man, which was more Polonsky’s time, well before he was stopped in his tracks by political reaction?

Well, All the King’s Men (Robert Rossen, 1949) is an interesting film in the sense that you can see it from the Left perspective as a kind of selling out. There is a story that at the first showing of All the King’s Men there were indications that it was shown or certainly discussed in Communist Party circles and was found to be wanting in terms of analysis, because of course it was based on Huey Long. I think Rossen really was not terribly interested, he rode the zeitgeist and the zeitgeist had moved on by the late 1940s, and was in some ways really more in tune with the notion of the abuse of power, which was more of a 1940s threat, the danger of all-powerful power. There’s almost a notion of autocracy and totalitarianism represented by Huey Long. Then there’s the interesting figure of a fellow traveller. It’s interesting because it’s an early example of the kind of electoral spin, the way in which elections take place, and the way in which that fellow traveller who always goes back to South Landing, is a kind of archetype of the 1930s fellow traveller, who attaches himself to a radical cause but really lacks a sense of distance, and then finally does the distance himself and separates himself from the past he now denounces. So, in some sense you can see certain motifs that connect a little bit with the whole business of the movement away from the Communist Party.

Anyway, I think Rossen had moved on. He had made that film, he made a short, and he directed Johnny O’Clock (1947). There’s certain radicalism in the writing, the notion that the boss figure, the gangster figure, was a controlled capitalist mechanism. There are some nice motifs in that film but I don’t think it was political. It was largely part of the way political people used the norms and genre of film noir, political thriller, to introduce ideas which were slightly hidden in the genre.

Did Rossen and Polonsky, who came from similar geographical areas, grow up in a socialist culture in the 1920s and 1930s?

I think Polonsky certainly did and Rossen to an extent. Those were the ideas. If you were young and alive in the mid-1930s, or if you were a son or daughter of a Jewish immigrant, then you generally tended to be at the bottom of the pile, and if you were Jewish there may have been other pressures like anti-Semitism, as dramatised in Gentleman’s Agreement (Elia Kazan, 1947). There was also a sense that you may have been attracted to the Communist Party of USA.

I’ve done some work on Cy Endfield recently, in fact I’m writing a book on him, and throughout the 1930s he conducted a correspondence with Paul Jarrico. They were both students and it’s interesting the way in which they, as radicals, as youngsters, looked at the ideas of the time. They were all reading books on the collapse of capitalism and what was happening because that’s what people thought was happening.

That’s interesting. Any serious artist in that period coming out of the Great Depression was conditioned to think in terms of replacing capitalism. It’s very different to contemporary preoccupations of filmmakers.

They all read John Strachey’s book (The Nature of Capitalist Crisis, 1935). Even Kazan mentioned it in his testimony. I think a lot of them felt that way, so in that sense the Communist Party did represent the future. And of course the Communist Party in the Popular Front era from 1935 had stopped talking about social fascism, about Roosevelt as a social fascist, so there was a sense in which the whole policy of the Party was to cooperate with other liberals, against fascism and against the fascism of, say, treatment of black people in the South. The Communist Party was still sticking up for workers and was defending the rights of black Americans on trial in New York.

In the final analysis, would it be fair to say that the ultimate aim of the HUAC was to destroy that culture, to uproot it? What is your feeling?

Well, I think that’s the way history worked out but I don’t think it was the objective. That’s putting too much historical self-consciousness on HUAC, which was a fairly shambolic body of ne’er-do-wells and opportunistic politicians, some of whom probably thought they were doing the right thing. But if you include the FBI, there was a wider sense that these powers felt that Communism, domestic Communism, was not in tune with the new ideas and, indeed, was a potential threat. In America after the Korean War, and certainly in 1950, when Americans were actually fighting in Korea, the feeling was, “Why should we protect the civil rights and free speech of Communists when essentially we are fighting Communists in North Korea?” Or, at least, “We are fighting North Koreans because the Soviet Union gave them the go-ahead to fight?” So I think many liberals had mixed motives really. Some to save themselves, and other people by 1950 were not prepared to be seen in support of the Communist Party because the Communist Party was too associated with the enemies of the United States.

And by that time the objective conditions for radical filmmakers were very difficult.

Unless it was disguised. The great period of film noir, spanning perhaps the period between 1943 to the early 1950s, and later where there were one or two trailing films, such as Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), which are quite interesting to discuss [in terms of] whether noir’s rise and fall corresponded to some extent with the rise and fall of radicalism, and the way that radicalism was driven out, if you like.

But I don’t think there was any kind of complete plan really. I suppose Hoover had a plan, but he didn’t really have the ability to completely control things. It was the circumstances, including the set of circumstances Jon Lewis talks about in his article about blacklisting (“How the Blacklist Saved Hollywood”) as somehow a convenient way in which the Hollywood machine could lose staff and move away from the seven-year contracts and restructure its talent’s independence. And to some extent studios perhaps felt threatened by this new independence.

Enterprise Productions was a strange thing because it released through MGM, one of the most conservative studios. But that was something else entirely. Ben Roberts appears in Body and Soul and Roberts was John Garfield’s manager. He and others were fairly radical people to be so near the production centre. And I think there was a belief amongst some of these radicals that they had played quite a role in the war years, and though they didn’t really see the fundamental change coming, they felt that new kinds of ideas, new humanist ways of discussing issues [provided] different ways of looking at films – Bicycle Thieves had opened in New York, for example – and you didn’t have to work through the Hollywood model. Even a film like All the King’s Men used far more location work than was ever the norm in Hollywood in the war years or the pre-war years.

Which leads me to a very important issue here, a possibility, or if we can use some historical counter-factuals, the “what ifs.” What if it were possible for some form of American neo-realism to develop, because films like Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di bicilette, Vittorio De Sica, 1948and Open City (Roma, città aperta, Roberto Rossellini, 1945) had a huge impact, and just at the right time in the post-war crime film. Do you see that as one viable counter-factual or alternative, a new direction for American cinema, something based on realism both in style and content?

Yes, it was a tendency that certainly was important. Location shooting was also important because studio sets were very expensive, so there are all sorts of other reasons why I think there was a shift to location shooting. It was a way of making films, giving films greater impact, as with Jules Dassin and his police procedural film, Naked City (1948), which was the first film he really made on location. [The film] was cut, of course, because Albert Maltz was by that time before the Committee and it was felt that Maltz’s contribution to the script should essentially be written out, as with some of the scenes that particularly referred to the disparity of wealth. For example, some scenes in New York are diminished, so if you look at the film today it doesn’t quite seem to justify the reputation that it perhaps had for a time.

But there was a sense in which location shooting also allowed filmmakers, like Kazan, to take charge, in line with the auteur theory, because they were not controlled in the traditional way. Kazan made Boomerang (1947) and Panic in the Streets (1950) for 20th Century Fox, but he wasn’t subject to the kind of control that he was when he made Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) or Pinky (1949) simply because he was working on location and physically that was just not possible.

It was also true that most people still worked within certain norms of the Hollywood model (because) it was difficult for the Hollywood model to change. You got a kind of a drama-documentary, a Hollywood version if you like of neo-realism, if you like. But the social ethos of a Rossellini film and such was still something outside the possibilities [for Hollywood filmmakers].

Putting the social realist style aside for a moment, do you feel that the late 1940s noir, which took full advantage of the conventions of the genre of the American crime film, which is very American in its essence and form, could have yielded better aesthetic and artistic results had that been allowed to develop, if I can put it that way, or HUAC had not suppressed people like Joseph Losey or Polonsky?

As you say, it’s a counterfactual. All you have to say is that the 1950s did see the rise of colour film, epics, and the road-show movies. The nature of the battle with television was partly to move to themes and forms and genres that would produce a mass audience, things that couldn’t be seen on television. I’ve just been working on Baby Doll (1956), and Kazan was always saying to Jack Warner, “Show them things that they can’t see on television,” and that was sex, reflecting the impact of imported European films, which were more adult in some ways. I think those themes and forms were going to come, they were part of the post-war economic growth, and post-war economic growth meant that the proletarian views in the 1950s were to some extent out of kilter with their time really. You could still have those views and a sense of social class and the unions were important, but in a sense they didn’t connect with the zeitgeist that was increasingly shifting.

Also the fundamental notion of the cinema was shifting, in which the double bill had gone and the studios just wouldn’t make small-budget films. They hadn’t the roster of stars, and they wouldn’t make those kinds of small-budget films which gave opportunities to directors like Rossen, and so the new people came in from television in the 1950s. But Polonsky once said in an interview, “Perhaps we should have thought about documentary, but you were not going to make much money, documentary was not a kind of viable commercial forum.”

We can get on to On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954) and Paul Jarrico’s famous resistance film, Salt of the Earth (1954), which was banned, suppressed by the projectionist union, because both in different ways attempted a degree of realism and use of locations.

Actually Jarrico famously declared that “Salt of the Earth was the crime to fit the punishment.” Could you comment on that?

I think that’s true. I also think it’s a little bit true of Force of Evil, even though that took place a number of years earlier, in 1948. Polonsky certainly saw the writing on the wall: that he wasn’t going to get too many opportunities to move into direction, and that was his one opportunity really.

That was how Jarrico felt as well.

Yes, and Polonsky’s film was fairly well disguised, so no one really saw that Force of Evil had slipped out into the world without much announcement, whereas Salt of the Earth was notorious by that time because we’d gone through the whole HUAC period and it was fairly clear these people were communists, and therefore the projectionist union refused to show the film, though I’m not sure the film would have gotten a huge mass audience. It was too specialist really, and Pauline Kael famously thought it was full of Soviet propaganda. It got a pretty good reception considering the fact that hardly anyone had seen it. But, yes, that’s right, [Jarrico] wanted to make a film that challenged the whole individualist harmless entertainment, or, as Richard Maltby says, paradigms of Hollywood in the 1950s.

But I’m not sure it would have caught on, even if it had been allowed a release, because it was in some ways against the nature of the industry in the mid-1950s, which was driven by the road-show, gender, Doris Day, all sorts of new notions. But certainly it was a major reflection of the way in which film could be different, and it raised, but way before its time, issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and solidarity, working-class solidarity and such. It was one of a number of films, which, apart from its own reference points, also made references to the melodrama or dramaturgy of the HUAC that was a major motif of 1950s life – the notion of selling out, the notion of solidarity, as against the claims of the individual.

Salt of the Earth was made I think the same year as the other film about unionised or organised labour, On the Waterfront.

I think it was released in 1955.

You say that On the Waterfront and Salt of the Earth are two polar opposites in their approach to social reality even though both films are realist in style.

They are clearly different in the sense that the emphasis is much more typically on Hollywood in On the Waterfront in that you have a star. Admittedly. Marlon Brando wasn’t so much a star in those days, he hadn’t appeared in that much, but he was still a reasonably big draw. Frank Sinatra was originally going to get the part of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, but don’t forget this was a Sam Spiegel production and, though Spiegel was sort of “European”, he was nevertheless a real big Hollywood operator. But they were operating in New York, and Kazan did have certain independence.

Regarding Budd Schulberg’s role in the film, there’s some material that came out about him which discusses the whole involvement of Arthur Miller in the early versions of that film and whether there was a thematic shift. Even though some people are very anti-Budd Schulberg, I met him and interviewed him, and to give him his due he was somebody who had involved himself in the struggles of the longshoremen for about a year. His commitment to them is well known. It didn’t fit terribly well into a kind of left perspective because the union was in fact part of the problem; the union was itself rather illiberal in relation to the struggles of the insurgents. On the Waterfront gets part of this, but the trouble is it blames the union by concentrating only on the union, except for that one shot of the boss figure, the stevedore boss, who looks at the television and says, “If Johnny Friendly calls, we’re out.” It’s a reasonably prominent little scene, but it is designed to indicate that there was a wider corporatist plot, if you like, that it wasn’t just the bad unions here.

Of course John Howard Lawson interpreted it at the time as an anti-union film, but certainly it’s much more than that. It’s also a film about the autonomy of the individual. Ironically, of course, what appealed to Kazan – although not apparently to Schulberg -was precisely the degree to which it was a metaphoric reference to his own struggles to separate himself from the Party, or at least the ethos that you must never testify against the Party. It’s about consciousness in some ways, it’s a sort of existentialist movie about Terry Malloy’s consciousness, but Malloy’s was a very different kettle of fish from the key figures in Salt of the Earth.

This existentialism, is it too exaggerated? Is it fair to say that this recourse to individualism or subjectivity of a star actor like Brando can be traced to the legacy of the HUAC, the blacklisting, and certain avoidance of a social and political component? Or is that reading too much into it?

Let me come back to that. Obviously the blacklist affected the Hollywood agenda – probably the economic changes, business notions of what kinds of films should be made, and what films were successful and what films were unsuccessful. Many film noirs, including Force of Evil, had not been enormously successful at the box office. No one was going to create a whole genre around this since there was a move to colour and epics. Film noir was probably in decline.

Regarding Brando’s individualism, existentialism, I’m curious to know whether you think that weakens the film.

It may seem like copping out, but I think there’s a genuine mixture in On the Waterfront. Schulberg was sympathetic to the struggles of the longshoremen, indicated in the way in which the script of On the Waterfront was endlessly rewritten, mainly on Schulberg’s demand for something tighter, clearer. With some of the other characters who were other insurgents, one gains the impression that this was a social solidarity movement, but the more it was reworked it became simply or at least more centrally about Terry Malloy’s conscience, and indeed the issues of conscience remain.

The other point is that Budd Schulberg was trying to defend the film on the grounds that around the last draft, the New York Crime Commission actually did receive testimony from individuals, including some of the individuals he knew. So this notion of people appearing before a committee to testify about the corruption of the New York docklands was something not invented simply to provide an analogy with HUAC. It was actually something that was relatable a bit. I think Schulberg felt that HUAC was given a bit more emphasis than he wanted and he wasn’t entirely happy with the ending. Though, God knows, you could read the ending in certain different ways as well – the gate falling down and people trapped in this workplace. Nevertheless there are the reaction shots of Father Barry and Edie looking rather benignly on at the half-dead Terry Malloy. There was no agreement about how to handle this ending as far as I can see. There was agreement about the whole script except for that last couple of pages, and a distinction, a disagreement, ensued between Schulberg and Spiegel about how the ending was shot, and Kazan, ever the compromiser, compromised between the two. So I don’t think the film is illiberal, and John Howard Lawson and others may have wanted to see it in a particular light, but I think they were making their politics very central to their interpretation. And I think the film addresses to some extent another completely different issue, which is really about the young 1950s rebel, completely different from the James Dean type, which expresses a completely different paradigm and thinking.

It does reflect the degree to which solidarity [could] become a collective action, a key theme in Eisenstein’s work, but was never a key theme in Hollywood movies, even though you get bits and pieces of it in Racket Busters and other films. It’s invoked in war films like John Howard Lawson’s film about the Merchant Marines, Action in the North Atlantic (Raoul Walsh, Lloyd Bacon and Byron Haskin, 1943) and such, in which people say, “We’re all brothers now.” Or it’s in resistance films where collectivity is part of the national ideology, as in Frank Capra’s Why We Fight (1942-45), which was shown to GIs to tell them that they were part of a collective struggle. But after the war, one returned to individualistic things.

I think On the Waterfront has this individualism, but it’s a strange individualism, an unusual individualism, and Brando was a strange star. He wasn’t a conventional Hollywood star, and there are bits of neo-realism in scenes such as Malloy and Edie around the swing. They fit quite well into the neo-realist film of 1949, but the politics don’t entirely work, and I don’t think Schulberg was entirely happy with it. I’ve never taken the view of Richard Maltby and others that Kazan on the whole was a kind of Cold War liberal, if you like, trying to make out there was a sharp shift toward films of bad conscience after his testimony. I totally disagree. America America (Elia Kazan, 1963) on the whole perhaps celebrates America, but it also celebrates the struggle of poor people to get to America and in ways that they felt were to liberate them. And A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957) is certainly a film that is highly critical of the new culture industry in New York, of television and film. It’s a self-reflexive movie about these very things, which is why left-wing periodicals gave it a good review.

You relate the values of On the Waterfront and obviously Marlon Brando’s input, the new elements of American culture which the film introduced to the audience, or put a mirror against, but compare it to Force of Evil and Polonsky’s treatment of these particular relations. You talk about two central relationships in these two films, one between the brothers Joe and Leo Morse in Force of Evil, and Charlie and Terry Malloy in Waterfront. Do these characterisations, these main characters, reflect their creators’ politics or their level of social awareness?

Let’s try to come back to that. There’s just one other point I raised, which is really about method acting, which I think is quite important to the way in which Kazan worked. Kazan’s work expresses a notion that things are a struggle, there is always a question of struggling, partly against yourself, and I think this is something which was a little bit connected with the whole development of the actors’ schools and different approaches to acting. Kazan’s kind of Method acting was particularly good at internalising conflict, something that was less clear in the late 1930s and 1940s drama, where, on the whole, stars like Henry Fonda in the Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940) are not lacking in self-doubt but are strong figures in some ways.

Certainly John Garfield in Force of Evil was a kind of a key figure who brought his own persona to his films. Although the ending was mainly imposed as far as I can see by the Production Code, Polonsky obviously tries to use the ending, tries to make the best of a bad world, to really suggested notions of this eeriness in the sky, of corporate Wall Street, gangsterism and capitalism, and the lottery in terms of capitalism. It is safely set in the 1930s but it is never made clear where it was set really. It seems to be set in the past in some respects, but I don’t know. There’s a great time difference between those two films, I’m just trying to think of how to characterise it, though ironically it was Schulberg and Kazan’s film that came out better (in terms of) the real social problems it deals with.

I guess that’s how I was trying to characterise it, that Polonsky imposed his views through his main character, Garfield’s Joe Morse, providing a broader social perspective, whereas through the character of Terry Malloy there’s more of a subjective approach.

I think that relates to Kazan’s own actor-centred perspective, whereas Polonsky, as a writer, was clearly writer-centred, so there’s a kind of distance. Kazan, on the other hand, is involved so much so that he thinks the film is about informing in the end, where it’s really about the inequities of the docks in some sense, or at least as Schulberg had derived the scripts.

But would you characterise Brando’s acting, or method acting in general, as a style that would best contribute to higher psychological realism of the film?

Yes, I think in Nicholas Ray’s films, for example, you do get the psychology of the loner in the late 1940s. But there’s the sense in which these ideas – psychoanalysis grew in the post-war years – were partly connected with a mass of the population who went to their psychoanalyst and the Party psychoanalyst and said, “What should I do and how do I save myself?” So the class views of what was important became more muddled. The further you go through this period, the less people see themselves naturally in a clear class position. The zeitgeist has moved on. Which is why, although I see the blacklist as changing this atmosphere in some ways, certain figures like Cy Endfield and Losey and Dassin have to take up work elsewhere, and they struggle to establish themselves. Though someone like Losey goes on to really develop a kind of notion of an art film, albeit an art film with social implications and analogies.

But a lot of the writers, the most radical writers, insofar as writers have an impact, could no longer ply their trade or had to ply their trade on B pictures. There is no doubt that what was being made was changing, and I’m not trying to disguise the fact that studios or production companies were also avoiding certain kinds of social pictures because these pictures, certainly during the height of the McCarthy period, were drawing the attention of the American Legion.

There was a particular period (roughly between) 1950 and 1952 when there was a real threat of picketing by the American Legion. The American Legion was a particularly forward group around that time. I remember when looking at the production discussions about Viva Zapata (Elia Kazan, 1952), which started out as a film about revolution, and it still is in some sense but ended up partly about the misuse of power – which is much more of a late-1940s, early-1950s theme – and the emphasis on and, indeed, an analogy with Stalinism. To the extent that that was true, and I think both parts are still in the film, was partly because of the circumstances in which that film as made, prepared for and cut in a way to suit the timing of its release. It is a damned remarkable film to be released in 1952 even as it is, but it would have been more radical if the film had developed without these hindrances. It would have been difficult to do because you’d have to rethink the whole period of the late 1940s and 1950s as if McCarthyism didn’t happen really.

But in a way communism was a problem and the conflicts between liberalism and communism had to be resolved somehow. They were “resolved” by the Committee and yet this “problem” probably would have died out of its own accord, or at least in the forms that it existed. In some sense, the HUAC just kept perpetuating the problem because people then didn’t want to leave and therefore sell out their friends. So people like Jarrico might have conceivably even stayed in the Party because of the sense of external threat.

Speaking of that, in the period after the first or second hearing of the HUAC, obviously you’re talking about the passing of the zeitgeist, the whole environment changed in the wake of the HUAC, but do you feel that even after there was still a place for films that critiqued capitalist relations, like Polonsky’s Force of Evil, for example, or even a period where films like Salt of the Earth would not be banned, and would be conceivable?

I think the problem, certainly with the American Legion, was that it was damned difficult to get a film released that had a star or a writer or a director who was actually on one of those wretched lists. There was nothing about the content of the film that was going to be particularly controversial because most of the committees and the FBI were not film critics, and if they went to the cinema they were certainly not interested in neo-realism.

But would there have been a demand for films like Salt?

The problem was that people like John Howard Lawson make the sort of westerns that connect a little bit with that reality. In Polonsky’s case, it was way into the 1960s that he starts to make films again. And what does he make? He makes Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (1969), which again is a genre film but it’s a film about social issues relating to ethnicity. But I think these films were slightly stuck in the social realist mode. Lawson of course wrote many great books on dramaturgy and the approach of social realism, but I don’t think you were ever going to push through a radical film, and instead you were getting references to social issues in films. So, you took a number of people out of the ranks, including Trumbo, and people like Trumbo used the blacklist and actually probably worked more on cheaper productions, and if they adapted they probably didn’t have much opportunity to produce a social aspect – although there was probably some continuation in social themes, as all the books by Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner document exhaustively. The filmmakers continued to work on things that they had some feeling of association with, and so it was one of the factors together with the general Cold War.

I talked to Cy Endfield and he said that when he made Try and Get Me (aka The Sound of Fury), which is 1951, it didn’t do very well because the Korean War had just broken out and he felt that people weren’t really looking for these films. They were looking for some relief and entertainment and it was a bit too tough. This is not to say these are not good films in some cinematic sense, but the market rules were still pretty strong in the American system. I’m less clear or less sort of sweeping in my view that the blacklist actually fundamentally changed the social content of Hollywood film. There was a shift towards psychology, there was a shift of the zeitgeist, there were all sorts of things happening, and the blacklist certainly contributed to that and took people out of the equation, and even may have been a factor in people like Welles and others leaving the country and working in Europe.

But did it fundamentally shift the context in which the political pressures and limitations affected filmmakers? One can refer to the 1930s when at the height of the Depression social problem films predominated with socially conscious filmmakers. We already discussed Rossen in his 1930s work, and a lot of other highly critical gangster films of the 1930s. The very same mass audience that had enthusiastically embraced plays like Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty (1935), could not have changed that much?

Yes, but very small theatre audiences saw that.

But in twenty or more years, especially following two years of almost continuous strikes between 1944 and 1946, do you think the character of the audience or the reception would have shifted that much?

I don’t think so, except for very difficult and intangible things about the war experience, and people returning from war, a certain greater realism, as for example in John Huston’s documentaries about the war. Somehow there was certainly a lot of discussion around 1946 and ’47 – and you find it in Hollywood Quarterly and other organisations that are kind of the last bastions of the Popular Front – about neo-realism and that somehow audiences can take more because they’ve been away. There are a lot of films about marital problems, so you get both the beginning of the family paradigm, which becomes a central motif of the 1950s, and you get a number of other, youth culture films, which you can see beginning in the late 1940s with Nicholas Ray and others.

Nicholas Ray is quite interesting because he was probably in the Communist Party but somehow never got eased off the list by Howard Hughes. And what does he make in the mid-1950s? He makes Bigger Than Life (1956) about a middle-class figure who’s in crisis, family life in crisis, and later Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which is dealing with a new kind of a youth figure, the forward figures for the counter-culture of the 1960s when the zeitgeist moves on to generation, rather than social class, as the key organising principle.

That’s interesting, generations rather than classes.

Yes, sometimes people think that society somehow does not move on. Had there not been the Cold War and, it’s almost inconceivable to think of this really, had there not been HUAC from 1947 to 1954, what then would Polonsky have been doing if he had continued working? Would he have jumped on the new kind of zeitgeist, or the new fads? If he wanted to keep working in Hollywood, he would have had to develop a new repertoire other than simply the scenes of working-class and Jewish communities and so on in New York. Of course he would have done that because he was a very talented person. But how would he have done that? I interviewed Polonsky once and I gathered that he would have found ways to look at the contradictions of modern-day life and modern-day capitalism in America. But how visible would those have been, how central were they, and would you have had to make a recent-day Oliver Stone? He would have had to make a popular film and then, at the beginning of the 1950s, adapt to the notion that films were individually marketed and financed, and therefore directors could make profit out of them so they could make more personal films and make a more Scorsese-like film or similar.

Polonsky and others like him would have had to adapt to many intangibles and counterfactuals involved here.

All I’m saying is that some commentators tend to imply a counterfactual. I’m not having it both ways here. I’m not implying a different counterfactual. But they tend to imply sometimes that along came the blacklist and everything changed. Well, that’s an overstatement probably of what some are saying but some people still think. I think there was a degree of pluralism in late 1940s film, there were strands of development that could have been interesting had they proceeded – drama documentary, and Dassin and Kazan and some others, and even Endfield in Try and Get Me, a lot of which was filmed on location and with a small budget. You know the scene in which the character tries to get a job but goes into crime because it’s the only job he can get to support his family, which we see struggling with a small boy. It’s the environment.

What is difficult to contemplate really is the degree to which by the 1950s with the family-centred cinema – not that everybody was in a family but the family was very central, which, as a baby boomer, was my memory of the 1950s to some extent – people were thinking in more aspirational terms. I know this is the American dream, the belief that everybody can somehow achieve that, but we were all talking about consumer goods, and economic growth was raising questions about this dream. To some extent, the Cold War just made it very difficult to speak about politics in any way that could be seen as critical of it. There probably were clever ways to create criticism, but they had to be really clever as long as the whole blacklist and the great dreadful memory of the blacklist were still there – and the American Legion and HUAC was still around. God knows, Cy Endfield went back to clear himself in 1963 because during that whole period it was difficult just as a technical thing for a leftist who’d been in the Party to [work] without using a front. That made it very difficult. It was the people who’d come from television, the Leonard Bernsteins, and who came at the end of the period, who were able to make films. So things would have gone on, regardless of whether some of the developments in the late 1940s would have blossomed and found a market, albeit a niche market. In the late 1950s you get the beginning of the art film market, so that in some ways you can actually see a film like Baby Doll as before its time in that it doesn’t fit into any kind of clear genre. But until that point it was rather difficult to make one-offs of that kind because there was no niche exhibition circuit, there was no sort of art film circuit for those kinds of films.

I guess that in the American context, the late 1940s noirs were good attempts at film art, reaching close to truth about this particular country, environment, culture. Just a couple of more things, is it fair to say that HUAC actually did remove one major ideological component from subsequent film practice and criticism by criminalising socialist ideas? It must have had a huge impact if an artist, after the second hearing of the HUAC, was forced, whether consciously or unconsciously, to proceed from a completely different standpoint because that kind of criticism was off limits. Do you have any general thoughts on whether HUAC had actually removed a major ideological component from film and from subsequent filmmakers who sought to make serious films?

I think it did but mainly through the blacklist as a mechanism for weeding out certain individuals. I don’t think on the whole producers were always that sensitive to the ideological content of their films. They would certainly react if the American Legion said a film was ideologically unsound or criticised business, or something like that, the Death of a Salesman syndrome. I’m certainly not saying that it didn’t have effect as part of the effect of the Gramscian sort of struggle of ideologies, and the way in which radical revolutionary notions or critical notions of capitalism become lost as a critical mass, as bodies of ideas. I think they lost their critical mass because of, apart from other reasons, the unfortunate alliance, or what turned out to be the unfortunate alliance in the end, between the Communist Party and the Soviet Union. Because, as we know, the Soviet Union was going into the buffers, and the Communist Party in any event went with it. In a way there was a sense in which Kazan was not completely wrong. I’m not implying that liberalism, rather like Schlesinger before, for example, embraced civil rights and all sorts of new issues in the 1950s in order to rise up, and had to somehow divest itself of the Popular Front associations just as a matter of self-protection. If you look at race, African-Americans were certainly very centrally a part of the Popular Front. But in order to create a greater impact in the 1950s with the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, they had to very clearly separate themselves from that wider social context, to present themselves as a racial group really, with liberal ideas and rhetoric in very much the central American sense.

I think the mechanism of the blacklist as an insidious thing did undoubtedly stop some films from being made. But I think it’s possible to think of America in the 1950s without the Cold War, and if it is possible to think that, it’s still possible that in those circumstances you would have all sorts of social and economic changes that would fundamentally force the Left to adapt. What you think the Left is depends on how much you think the Left is forever relevant. If it is still of major relevance – to put the relevance into critical perspective – you’re left with very intelligent, wonderful people like Polonsky. His views were entirely idiosyncratic and there were a lot of figures like him. But when you detach people like Polonsky, you detach people from the social movement they felt they belonged to.

Polonksy is unique.

He was made powerless in a way, I think.

Society changes to certain shocks, and the shock of the 1930s with the near collapse of capitalism and the Depression added to certain other factors including immigration, and then you get the circumstances of the war in which America has to some extent, as a matter of self-protection, define itself in more social terms and commit itself to a notion of equal citizenship, as in Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942). People expected that rather expansive view to continue. It was the Popular Front that got lost, it was the liberal agenda that suffered really, rather than the radical one, which was never going to be fully disseminated through film, except by some crisis of the capitalist system which didn’t take place and probably was never going to take place.

Which leads me to questions about the current crisis, or the lead up to a period comparable to what you’ve described in the 1930s, where the whole system is under threat, under enormous pressure, and again we see an emergence of certain filmmakers and films, for example Mike Moore’s documentary Capitalism: A Love Story (2009), and even Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air (2009), the George Clooney vehicle. Do these films point to a way forward in this new period of crisis?

Well, certainly people have talked about (Moore’s film) in that way. I wasn’t entirely happy with the parallels between McCarthyism and the immediate 9/11 period and the Patriot Act. There are certainly some parallels, never a blacklist. I think Disney’s discussion about whether to release Fahrenheit 911 (Michael Moore, 2004) makes no major parallel in terms of this particular film. Indeed, in some ways, the way films are financed now makes it easier for people like George Clooney, as long as they can make money in other ways working for the system, to make their own independent Goodnight, and Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005).

The general point you could raise is that Hollywood moguls are never that interested in ideology. They are interested in making money really, but they are not going to make money with a film that is going to be picketed by the American Legion and conceivably cannot be released, and which would be talked about in the press in terms of certain associations. But once you get past all of that and you get niche audiences, and a much more complex way in which films could be marketed to particular audiences – also you’ve got the circumstances during the Iraq War where there’s a wide cynicism and scepticism about government and such. I think Hollywood would go out of business if it didn’t cater for that audience. I think there are lots of opportunities. To what extent are those opportunities seized? How much is one simply making rather obviously politically-correct films in which the good guys win out in a socialist consciousness sort of way rather than a straightforwardly American way? There’s obviously a slight connection between the two.

If Polonsky were alive today and still making films, he’d try to create interesting ways in which film worked as a medium in some Brechtian sense to increase your awareness of your position, not sweeping you up, which most of the films, even Robert Rossen films, usually did by having some sort of benign judge at the end solving the problem without any kind of need for radical change or any sense of unease in the spectator.

The main reason for referring to some recent films as attempting to deal with the same issues that cinema dealt with fifty to sixty years ago, is whether HUAC left a legacy for today’s filmmakers, whether they’re prepared to deal with these issues, represented by, for example, Clooney whose job it is to eliminate jobs, or Mike Moore who explores issues in his own idiosyncratic way.

Syriana (Stephen Geghan, 2005) and all those sorts of films are some attempts to deal with contemporary issues. This type of film doesn’t have mass cultural appeal, but individual films can be enormously important and powerful. Michael Moore’s great attempt was Fahrenheit 911, but it didn’t really swing the election and no one really thought it would. I think it was largely preaching to the converted. It may have created a sense of unease among some known conservatives who strayed into watching it. But I don’t think it’s subtle. In comparison, Polonsky was a lot more of a subtle operator; Moore is perhaps becoming more subtle. I’ve heard reports of the film Capitalism, which I haven’t seen, that there’s a kind of left populism, which is manifested right at the beginning with Moore trying to find the boss of GM, But of course Moore is a multi-millionaire now, so I don’t quite know how his baseball cap-wearing image fits into his stories. I think capitalism will have crises, and God knows one of them might be fatal at some point, when the money or the oil or something or other runs out.

The great thing about the 1930s and ’40s was that there was a social movement. There was a set of people with a similar kind of view that the system wasn’t working in some sense. I think ultimately films that could be seen as good publicity for leftists and communists were not something that the US power elite was prepared to tolerate during the Cold War, particularly during the Korean War and for some time after. I think the logic of that was advocated by people like Jarrico. It’s not about praising it. It was just the nature of how radicalism developed and it developed in concert with the real politics of the Soviet Union.

But there were many radicals, and Polonsky probably included, who were not at all starry-eyed about what was happening in the Soviet Union, or were pretty soon un-starry eyed about it. Nevertheless I think that connection was a fatal one and, given the course of American history after the war, it meant that the replacement of red fascism for real fascism sounded a death knell for those kinds of progressive groups. Still, this was a completely hopeless and stupid breach of American constitutional values, because Polonsky wasn’t going to take up arms against the American state, revolution was not part of the objective, or even mass workers’ uprisings. For as long as the Cold War was a major factor, certainly in the 1950s, it made it more difficult to develop the kinds of critiques that evoke issues of class, capitalism, because these were for ever associated with the blacklist and because somebody could point them out or write on them, making their creators easy targets for the American Legion. When memories faded and we moved on, you then looked at Face in the Crowd. Well, of course that was alright because it was written by Kazan, who’d purged himself, but even a Tony Curtis film (Sweet Smell of Success, Alexander Mackendrick, 1957) could be a very black film about the entertainment industry. There were some very dark films made in the early 1960s – John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May (1964) and others were quite critical films about the military industrial complex.

And Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964).

Yes, though it was made in England, but still critical by laughing at the whole thing.

It was a completely different way of looking at the paradigm. Somehow the paradigm moved on and regarding the lefts that were blacklisted, only a few of them really attempted to think closely about the films they were working on and their own politics. Some of them may unconsciously have worked on things that were compatible with their own notions, but certain kinds of films that could be seen as unpatriotic or in some sense critical of the American way were certainly difficult to make.

But in the late 1950s when the blacklist is beginning to ease, different kinds of preoccupations are evident, and American working-class consciousness was never that strong anyway. It was never going to suddenly re-emerge.

Not in the post-war expansion?

People were taught generally by commercial culture to see themselves as individuals, and to see their needs and wants as related to individual consumption and good family life. With the rise of feminism all these competing ideologies began to impinge on the notion that everything could be simply reduced to social problems.

About the Author

Mile Klindo

About the Author

Mile Klindo

Born in Sydney, Australia, in 1970, by Yugoslavian parents, Mile Klindo completed his primary and secondary schooling in his parents' homeland before returning to his country of birth. Life on both sides of the 'Iron Curtain' lent Mile a unique perspective to his subsequent research culminating in the doctoral thesis entitled "The Hollywood Left and McCarthyism: the political and aesthetic legacy of the Red Scare," published in 2013. The three interviews on the legacy of McCarthyism provided critical insights that significantly strengthened this work, both in a political and aesthetic sense, in terms of clarifying the distinct strands of 'proletarianised' left culture manifested in classical Hollywood. Between 2005 and 2013, Mile also taught and lectured on both classical and contemporary Hollywood as well as contemporary world cinemas and aesthetics at Macquarie University, where he gained his PhD, as well as at the University of New South Wales in 2011 and 2012. Since 2014 Mile has been living in Brunei with his family.View all posts by Mile Klindo →