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An example of Communist influence in the movie industry in Hollywood was the contribution to the script for "Action in the North Atlantic," a film in which an airplane appeared that frightened the crew until they saw that it was a Soviet plane. Looking up, Humphrey Bogart exclaimed, "It's one of ours." Another example of communist input in the movies was the film Objective Burma, the original story written by one of the Hollywood Ten, Alvah Bessie. Bessie was not programmed to create Marxist tracts. Objective Burma was a patriotic work that won an Academy Award nomination.
(Alvah Bessie, by the way, compared himself to Ernest Hemmingway. Both were anti-fascist and in Spain during its civil war. But Bessie was more of a fighter. More than write, he was a machine-gunner on the side of the republic, against Franco. Following that war he wrote Men In Battle.)
Two writers called to testify before the House Committee on UnAmerican activities were Ring Lardner Jr., who had worked on Forever Amber and Laura, and Dalton Trumbo, who had worked on Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. They were blacklisted along with Bessie. The blacklisted director, Edward Dmytryk, had made Back to Bataan and Murder My Sweet. Another blacklisted writer, Albert Maltz, had worked on Pride of the Marines and Destination Tokyo.
Maltz had incurred the wrath of other Communists in Hollywood, including Alvah Bessie, for complaining that the Communist Party was too supportive of restricting intellectual freedom, a freedom he thought to be part of the Marxist ideal.
The issue faced by those ordered to appear before Congress was the right to be a communist and work as an artist – freedom of speech. Their exposure before Congress motivated blacklisting by studio executives, who put up the money for making films. It was not Congress that blacklisted; it was the studios, afraid of public opinion. If those who were communist had openly admitted that they were communist it would have pointed to the issue involved and not reinforced the stereotype of communists being sneaky, and they would not have suffered worse consequences. But they chose the alternative strategy of non-cooperation. They chose to be combative, which made them look more like troublemakers and also left those who were not communists more vulnerable to suspicions that they were.
Copyright © 2005-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved