HUAC, the Blacklist, and the Decline of Social Cinema
3The Origins of the Blacklist
HUAC, the Blacklist, and the Decline of Social Cinema
HUAC, McCarthyism, and the Blacklist
Social Content in Film
The Case of Elia Kazan in the Early 1950s
A Fight Back: SALT OF THE EARTH
The Origins of the Blacklist
The Hollywood Blacklist had its origins in the 1947 decision of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to hold hearings on communism in Hollywood. The committee had been formed in 1938, but only became a standing committee of the House of Representatives in 1945, at the prompting of notorious anti-Semitic Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi. Thereafter, in the years of an emerging Cold War politics, HUAC became a vehicle for politicians who opposed the New Deal tradition of social democracy and reform. The committee followed the example of the Joint Fact-Finding Committee of the California legislature (the Tenney Committee), which had held hearings on Communist influence in Hollywood since 1943. The November 1946 elections had returned Republican majorities to both houses of Congress, while the ground for ideological conflict within the film capital had already been prepared by the founding in 1944 of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (Motion Picture Alliance).1
The Motion Picture Alliance, which included such figures as Sam Wood, Walt Disney, and Lela Rogers (mother of Ginger Rogers), drew attention to what its members saw as left-wing propaganda in wartime film and the left-leaning influence of, in particular, Hollywood screenwriters. Many key members had strong associations with William Randolph Hearst, who had used his media outlets since the mid-1930s to publicize his anti-Communist position, while the Alliance also included veterans of the conservative fight against studio recognition of the Screen Writers Guild (achieved in 1940). The emergence of the Cold War and President Truman's executive order of March 1947, establishing a loyalty program for the executive branch, established an image of domestic subversion within government, while bitter industrial conflicts of 1945-1946 further polarized Hollywood politics. There was union-related violence at Warner Bros. and other studios as the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) became involved in a prolonged dispute with both the studios and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). The CSU strike of 1946 was countered by a studio lockout, and by December 1946 IATSE had taken firm control of the Hollywood crafts unions. With the defeat of the CSU, Roy Brewer, the new West Coast head of IATSE, emerged as a powerful Motion Picture Alliance figure. He testified to HUAC in 1947 about what he saw as Communist responsibility for the labor disturbances.2
Not only Alliance members encouraged the House Committee to investigate Hollywood communism. During the first year of J. Parnell Thomas's chairmanship of HUAC, 1947, the Committee developed a close relationship with the FBI, which had collected extensive information on Hollywood communism with the aid of numerous informers. Amongst the studio moguls it was Jack Warner who stoked the fires of the anti-Communist crusade by providing the committee, meeting covertly in Los Angeles in May 1947, with horror stories of Communists working at his studio. Warner Bros. had been the most socially conscious of the Hollywood companies, but Jack Warner had been strongly influenced by the picket line violence at his studio in 1945.
It was in October 1947 that the formal hearings took place in Washington, D.C. In the first week there was testimony from "friendly" witnesses, mainly from the Motion Picture Alliance, as well as from defensive studio bosses, of whom the most cooperative was again Jack Warner. The second week was reserved for the testimony of nineteen more witnesses who were, for the most part, both screenwriters and Communists. (Edward Dmytryk and Adrian Scott seem to have been included at the last minute because of their responsibility, as director and producer, for the recently completed film attacking anti-Semitism, Crossfire, 1947).
With widespread liberal and industry fears of a blacklist, there was strong general support for the principle of the First Amendment on which these initial nineteen witnesses had agreed to stand. In particular, liberals Philip Dunne, William Wyler, and John Huston had organized the Committee for the First Amendment, and arranged for a planeload of stars to visit Washington prior to the second week of hearings. Yet the First Amendment strategy was implicit rather than explicit in the testimony of the ten "unfriendly" witnesses—Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo—who were called on to testify before the hearings were unexpectedly suspended. Several of them became involved in a shouting match with Chairman Thomas, and all followed the example of the initial witness, screenwriter John Howard Lawson, in refusing to answer questions as to their membership in the party. The Hollywood Ten were each cited for contempt of Congress. HUAC publicized apparent evidence of their Communist affiliations (for example, Lawson's leadership role in the party was widely known), and therefore liberal support for the unfriendly witnesses' First Amendment rights collapsed in a few weeks. Some liberals were shocked at the performance of the Ten, while others—for example, Humphrey Bogart, who had travelled to Washington with the Committee for the First Amendment—came under fierce studio pressure to publicly denounce communism.
Eric Johnston, president of the Motion Picture Producers Association (MPAA), and spokesman for the producers and their boards of directors, had originally resisted any blacklist, but with the committee producing evidence of Communist membership, he quickly came to terms with the strength of the opposition. On 24 November the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly for the citation of the Hollywood Ten for contempt of Congress. On the same day Johnston convened a meeting of studio producers and executives at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Their discussions led to the drafting, by a committee of five including Dore Schary, of the so-called Waldorf Statement, declaring that the studios would dismiss those of the Hollywood Ten under contract and would not re-employ any of them "until such time as he is acquitted or has purged himself of contempt and declared under oath that he is not a Communist." The statement continued: "We will not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional methods."3 This statement essentially instituted a blacklist, although the full implementation would have to wait three years for the appeals of the Ten to be exhausted. (It is interesting to note, that although much discussion of the blacklist centers on the "Hollywood Ten," an eleventh man, Bertolt Brecht, also testified, denied being a Communist, and immediately left the country for Europe. Additional "unfriendly" witnesses who agreed not to cooperate with the committee but who were not called to testify in 1947 were Richard Collins, Gordon Kahn, Howard Koch, Lewis Milestone, Larry Parks, Irving Pichel, Robert Rossen, and Waldo Salt.)
There were soon indications that in the wake of this decision the studios were becoming more wary of social topics. Eric Johnston argued in 1947 that "We'll have no more films that show the seamy side of American life," while the same year William Wyler suggested that in the "current climate" he would no longer be allowed to make The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).4 Yet the late 1940s saw various forms of social cinema, from the much celebrated social problem films Crossfire (1947) and Gentleman's Agreement (1948), to the cycles of films that would later be classified as semi-documentary and film noir. Location shooting allowed inexperienced but ambitious directors a degree of freedom from traditional studio supervision and also contributed to a greater sense of real life being recorded on film, while crime thrillers often allowed a political critique to be expressed in a disguised (and deniable) form. The unexpected re-election of Harry Truman in November 1948 was even taken as evidence that "liberal days were here again," encouraging studio heads to give the go-ahead to a group of films that raised and articulated (however belatedly) a set of liberal positions and ideas on race. What is more difficult to assess is the impact of the darkening national and international political situation, with the emergence of a Cold War agenda and an international specter of "Red Fascism" at the expense of the dominant concerns of the long Roosevelt era. With a series of economic and other shocks to the established studio system, including the decline in audiences from 1947 and the culmination of the administration's anti-trust action in 1948, it was increasingly clear that the established industry leaders and producers had to plan for change.5
Writers were notoriously low in the Hollywood pecking order, yet subsequent scholarship has done much to establish the impact of liberal and left-wing writers in important areas of film in the Depression years, during the war, and for a time after the war. The broad agreement of liberals and radicals on an anti-fascist and progressive agenda (especially during the late thirties and the war years, when the American Communist Party encouraged such an alliance) was seen as a "Popular Front." By the late forties this unity was in rapid decline (symbolized by the collapse of rank and file support for the Committee for the First Amendment), but the left-wing writer and director Abraham Polonsky referred to this time in the changing Hollywood system as providing "interesting" opportunities for a "thirties" generation of socially minded artists. This group of Depression era writers and especially directors were gaining a tentative foothold in the industry. Their distinctive social and aesthetic goals constituted a perceived threat to the producer-dominated studio system with its "pure entertainment" ethic. The search for postwar subjects, the wartime experiences of filmmakers, the trend toward independent production, and the opportunities for location shooting had all seemed to increase the range of issues and images in postwar cinema. Yet the deepening association in the public mind of the American Communist Party with a Soviet Union that was now a key international enemy of the United States meant that the days of the Popular Front alliance between radicals and liberals were numbered. Albert Maltz's appeal to John Huston in 1949, calling for an alliance against the forces of reaction on the basis of "common Jeffersonian principles," was in vain. Arthur Schlesinger, standard bearer for a new anti-Communist liberalism, a "vital center," was nearer the dominant current of intellectual thought, while those in Hollywood with radical associations were increasingly looking over their shoulders. When in 1950 the Supreme Court declined to review the cases of Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson, appealing on behalf of the Hollywood Ten, the blacklist already implicit in Eric Johnston's statement was ready to be implemented.6
While some key social problem films, from Crossfire to Gentleman's Agreement and Pinky (1949) were successful at the box office, not all of them were seen as suitable for the increasingly important foreign market, either in economic or public relations terms. The decline in domestic audiences placed greater emphasis on the maintenance and expansion of foreign markets for American films. As Richard Maltby points out, the industry's need for State Department help in exploiting these markets hindered Hollywood's "social conscience" by obligating an increasingly "optimistic portrayal of the American way of life." Frank Capra, who had used radical and liberal writers in constructing his ultimately affirmative vision of America, commented in 1947 that: "Our job will be to make all criticisms expressed add up to praise—and I say it's going to be tough."7 Only three weeks before the Waldorf Statement Dore Schary had called for renewed thought to be given to the "effect of our pictures abroad."8 By the early 1950s, with the involvement of the CIA in America's international image, this would become an even more important consideration.
HUAC, McCarthyism, and the Blacklist
The effect of the new Cold War agenda on Hollywood can be seen in terms of the decision by the Supreme Court in 1950 not to review the appeal by Hollywood Ten members Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson against the 1947 "contempt of Congress" conviction. In 1949 Justices Frank Murphy and Wiley B. Rutledge had died within two months of each other. With two other justices, they had been seen as a solid voting bloc on the Court in favor of civil liberties, giving First Amendment issues preferred status in their deliberations. Yet by 1949 the pressures on President Truman were such that he filled the two vacancies on the Court by appointing conservative justices who were prepared to give more weight to issues of national security. In May 1950 the refusal of the reconstituted Court to review the case brought on behalf of the Ten led to them all serving prison sentences of six months to a year during 1950—1951. In a speech in New York in June 1950, before serving his sentence, Ring Lardner Jr. had commented that a Court with "Murphy, Rutledge, Douglas and Black could be counted on to slap down the demagogues." The next year, in the Dennis case, the same Court upheld the conviction of the leaders of the American Communist Party under the Smith Act for advocating the overthrow of the United States government. This case virtually outlawed the Communist Party, as well as legitimating the "anti-communist crusade" that was to follow.9
By 1950 the country was in the grip of something like a national panic over what was seen, at all levels of society, as a plausible domestic and international threat of communism. By February, when Senator Joseph McCarthy began his period in the limelight with his notorious speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, he was in part reacting to the conviction of Alger Hiss, the former State Department official and Roosevelt aide who had been accused by HUAC in 1948 of passing secrets to a Communist spy ring. To cultural historian Richard Pells, the conviction of Hiss lent credence to "the theory that all communists should be regarded as potential foreign agents." Later in 1950 the war in Korea began and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were arrested on a charge of conspiracy to commit espionage, further fueling the obsession of the FBI and professional blacklisting organizations with Communists as actual or potential spies.10 Indeed by this time domestic communism was seen largely in terms of an actual or potential Soviet threat to the interests of the state, rather than as a movement of radicals with varying degrees of relationship with the national Communist leadership.
In May 1950 the Motion Picture Alliance called for a "complete delousing" of the film industry. Its new president, John Wayne, felt that producers had not delivered on the commitments of the Waldorf Statement, and Alliance members welcomed what seemed to be an impending second wave of Congressional intervention. In June a booklet on the left-wing affiliations of television and radio personnel, Red Channels, was published, while in September Harry Warner addressed 2,000 Warner Bros. employees and executives on a sound stage about the Communist threat, making it clear that he wanted no Communists at the studio. In the summer there was also a protracted battle between liberal and conservative factions of the Screen Directors Guild over a plan, urged on the Guild membership by arch anti-Communist Cecil B. DeMille during the absence from the country of Guild President Joseph L. Mankiewicz, to introduce a mandatory oath for existing and new members affirming non-adherence to the Communist party. To DeMille, who was finally forced to back down in an epic membership meeting, the "question we are asking is, are you on the American side or on the other side."11
As anticipated, in March 1951 the House Committee resumed its Washington hearings on communism in the film industry. In effect, in the period from 1951 to 1953, the blacklist that was announced in 1947 was enforced. The core group of those who then found themselves unemployable by the main studios were those known by the authorities to have been Communists, and who, on being subpoenaed, declined to cooperate with the committee. Given the fate of those who pleaded the First Amendment in 1947, those unwilling to cooperate with the committee by naming names, were advised to invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. While the committee and the FBI knew the names of present and past Communists, the naming of names by former members of the Communist party, together with a recantation of past beliefs, was a ritual required of those who wished to return to work. While witnesses may have left the party many years before, most still regarded their public identification of previous friends and colleagues as Communist party members as a process of informing that was morally repugnant. Many ultimately took part in what historian and journalist Victor Navasky later called "degradation ceremonies," or the naming of names, because this is what was required for them to be able to work again in the film industry, using their own names.
Those who declined to answer questions on the party membership of others invoked the Fifth Amendment. But in effect such a stance was taken as evidence that the individual had something to hide—in terms of present or past party membership—and they found themselves unemployable in the studios that were a party to the Waldorf Statement. Those who cooperated added names to the blacklist, unless the individuals concerned could clear themselves either before the committee, or through other clearance mechanisms soon to be established. In the hearings held in Washington from 1951 to 1953, over 200 Communists were named. In die first two years of the new bout of hearings Larry Parks, Richard Collins, Budd Schulberg, Edward Dmytryk (reversing his position as one of the original Hollywood Ten), Elia Kazan, Clifford Odets, and Sterling Hayden (who later declared himself ashamed of his testimony) were among those who became "friendly" witnesses, while Howard Da Silva, Abraham Polonsky, Paul Jarrico, Carl Foreman, and Lillian Hellman were among those who took the Fifth in the same period. Robert Rossen testified in 1951 about his own party membership but declined to name others, but in 1953 he returned to the committee as a friendly witness. The blacklisted actor Mickey Knox remembers Rossen telling him at the time that: "I did a terrible thing. I named my friends. But I have to work." Some blacklisted writers continued to work covertly, usually at a fraction of the salary, and often on unpromising assignments, while otliers moved abroad. Using fronts was not an option for directors (or actors), and an important group of directors interested in social or political themes, a number of whom had begun to develop reputations in the late forties, also looked for work abroad. The group included Joseph Losey, Jules Dassin, John Berry, Bernard Vorhaus, and Cy Endfield.12
While the studios' blacklist was generated essentially by the House Committee, with the complicity of those who gave it names, a number of private organizations exploited and expanded the process in the early 1950s for a mixture of commercial and ideological motives. American Business Consultants, formed in 1947 by ex-FBI men, marketed books and newsletters, in particular Red Channels (1950) and Counterattack, to employers and advertisers interested in the leftist associations of those in the entertainment industry. Other muckraking publications, including Alert ("A Weekly Confidential Report on Communism and How to Combat It"), available from 1951, and organizations including Aware ("An organization to combat the Communist conspiracy in the entertainment world"), set up in 1952, also touted sensational allegations. But by far the most influential organization in this period in expanding the blacklist and helping to create a wider "graylist" was the American Legion. The Legion with its 3,000 branches produced the most credible threat to picket theaters playing non-conforming movies, and its leadership and publications, including Firing Line, had a direct effect on the studios and their hiring policies.
In addition to the blacklist of over 200 Communists or ex-Communists, a graylist of a hundred or more artists with left or liberal associations operated in the early fifties. For example, Lewis Milestone, a "Popular Fronter" but not a party member, and a director who had bemoaned a state of "No pictures with messages" in 1949, spent the first half of the fifties in Europe in part because his presence on such a list made it difficult or impossible to get work. An issue of Alert in January 1951 referred to Milestone and Michael Blankfort, director and writer of Halls of Montezuma (1950) as "two notorious participants in Communist fronts and causes." The director Vincent Sherman was also on a graylist for eighteen months in the early fifties, in part because the magazine Counterattack was sending out confidential letters to his studio heads detailing his associations with alleged Communist fronts. The tenor of Counterattack's campaign can be judged from other statements in their typewritten reports. One refers to "Isadore Scharf (pardon me, I mean Dore Schary)," an anti-Semitic reference to the studio head's fullname, which was Isidore Schary. Another, in April 1951, suggests that the only way to "clear up the hundreds of Communists and pro-Communists" in the industry is to "get a boycott rolling against those producers and Moscow maggots in their casts."13
The American Legion never authorized a national boycott, although a number of right-wing groups further weakened industry resistance to the blacklist by picketing theaters that were showing suspect films. A group called Catholic War Veterans picketed Born Yesterday (1950) when it opened in New York. According to the film's star, Judy Holliday, whose political associations had been publicized by Red Channels, the placards read "While our boys are dying in Korea, Judy Holliday is instead defaming Congress." Death of a Salesman (1951) was picketed by a group called the Wage Earners Committee, calling attention not only to the supposedly subversive nature of Arthur Miller's original play, but to producer Stanley Kramer's "Record of coddling Reds and pinkos." Also picketed was Joseph Losey's last-but-one American film, M (1951), presumably because of the left-wing associations of Losey and Waldo Salt, who contributed additional dialogue. (Salt was one of the Hollywood Nineteen. He had been subpoenaed by HUAC in 1947 but was not called to testify.) In addition, Ayn Rand's "Screen Guide for Americans," a pamphlet which in particular encouraged favorable screen treatment of business, was published by the Motion Picture Alliance. Blacklisting organizations were particularly hostile to what was seen as social realism. Firing Line ("Facts for Fighting Communism"), for example, warned its readers against the film version of Death of a Salesman: this "realistic picture of American Life," it argued, "will naturally be welcomed by Stalinists all over the world," and will give an "unflattering portrait of American life" to millions of foreigners. Firing Line also warned its readers about other distinctive if disparate films, including Viva Zap ata! (1952), Saturday's Hero (1951), Chaplin's forthcoming Limelight (1952), and the liberal science fiction fable, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).14
The American Legion significantly increased the pressure by publishing an article by J. B. Matthews, "Did the Movies Really Clean House?," in December 1951. (Matthews, a fellow traveller turned anti-Communist, had been a star witness for HUAC in its first incarnation under the chairmanship of Martin Dies in 1938. A longtime Hearst associate, his voluminous study of the left-wing affiliations of Hollywood personnel had helped prompt Rankin's interest in a new investigation in 1945.) The studios and their financial backers were particularly frightened by the threat of American Legion picketing of theaters explicit in the Matthews article. There followed a reported "fruitful" meeting between the American Legion, Eric Johnston, and representatives of the key producing companies in March 1952. Out of this meeting, clearance procedures were established. These procedures involved the blacklisted artists writing explanatory letters to the American Legion, where "experts," including the veteran Hearst columnist George Sokolsky, actor Ward Bond, and union boss Roy Brewer, would separate the "liberal lambs from the Communist wolves." One studio that developed its own political screening program at this time was RKO Radio Pictures, with studio head Howard Hughes closing down production for three months in 1952 for this purpose.15
This pressure added to the woes of an industry already laying off workers in response to declining audiences and foreign markets. Yet in 1952 a group of anonymous screen-writers suggested that the continued investigations were seen by film executives as a mixed blessing, as not only were workers and unions "pacified, but the industry was enabled to 'slash employees pay-checks.' "16 This argument seems to support the later interpretation that the blacklist was, at least in part, "good business" for the studios, enabling them to regain control over the entertainment marketplace after the economic and other "shocks" after the war. Jon Lewis has discussed the blacklist as a postwar business strategy adopted by an industry threatened by political regulation, declining audiences, and anti-trust decisions, and he also sees anti-Semitism as a weapon used against both Hollywood Communists and the old-style studio moguls. The number of Hollywood liberals and radicals who were Jewish, and the fear of Jewish moguls that the investigations might encourage a wider anti-Semitism from WASP politicians in Washington, was a distinctive element of this era.17
Of those not called before the House Committee, many writers and directors were put under pressure to "clear" themselves by writing a formal letter to their studio employers. In July 1950 W. R. Wilkerson, in his "Trade Views" column in the Hollywood Reporter, wrote scathingly of "foreigners," including Billy Wilder and William Wyler, who had criticized the treatment of the Hollywood Ten. He argued that this "is no time for such claptrap and something should be done to muzzle them in the future." In his reply (published two days later) Wyler pointed out that open criticism of government was, "according to the principles on which our republic is founded," not only permitted but encouraged. Yet Wyler was finally pressed to write to the president of Paramount, Frank Freeman, in May 1954, making clear his "basic feelings and loyalties" and his "position in regard to the worldwide conflict between the Free World of the Democracies and the Slave States of the Soviet System." He drew attention to his sworn statement in the files of the Screen Directors Guild, showing that he had never been a member of the Communist party. He had supported an amici curae brief for Trumbo and Lawson in 1951, but by 1954, in a way that suggests the growing pressure on liberals to disassociate themselves from Communists, he was critical of the Hollywood Ten: "I was one of a group that urged them to deny or affirm membership in that party. I did that in the mistaken belief that members of the group were not members of that party."18
While Lillian Hellman (who herself took the Fifth Amendment) and Victor Navasky have written of the blacklist in terms of a simple moral distinction between those who named names and those who resisted, others have suggested a more complicated picture. Certainly many friendly witnesses mentioned disillusionment with the Communist party in their testimony—and party membership in the early fifties was in rapid decline. This may have weakened the resistance of some who went on to cooperate with HUAC. Most current and dedicated party members had little doubt as to what to do, but others, especially those who had been out of the party for some time, clearly balanced the unpleasantness of informing with a reluctance, to paraphrase Edward Dmytryk's words, to sacrifice career and family for a cause they had grown to dislike. Hellman's and Navasky's perspective has rather over-simplified the moral dynamics of the period, or at least under-examined the political dimension of the moral choices that artists faced at the time. The issues always appeared more morally clear-cut to those—the great majority of resisters—who were still committed to the party. Paul Jarrico, a screenwriter who was prominent in the Communist party and who was himself blacklisted, argued that, "for those who were generally pissed off at the party but reluctant to name names, the choice must have been difficult. For a person like me, a true blue red, the choice was easy."19
Social Content in Film
While inferences can be made from their previous credits about the effects of the times on some key blacklisted writers, directors, and actors, it is difficult to separate out the effects of the darkening Cold War atmosphere, the blacklist, and other changes in industry and society that were affecting the type of film being made. The concern with the image of America in foreign markets was certainly a factor that influenced the studios, as was the threat of picketing by the American Legion and other organizations. In a survey of the content of American films in the period 1947 to 1954, Dorothy Jones notes in particular a marked decline in social problem films from 1949 to 1952, with more emphasis on "pure entertainment," and in particular more anti-Communist films and war films of the "sure-fire patriotic variety." Jones also points to the Oscar winners of 1950-1952, All About Eve, An American in Paris, and The Greatest Show on Earth, as indicative of the type of product most favored by the Hollywood establishment.20
Other interpretations are generally consistent with this analysis, stressing a shift in the early fifties to Westerns, war films, and biblical epics, and to a perspective that was more often psychological than social. To blacklisted writer Walter Bernstein, psychology was in, social criticism was out, and Hollywood was becoming increasingly concerned to reflect the perspectives of a growing younger audience. At the time, the critic Manny Farber pointed to another development, a wave of "art or mood" films including A Streetcar Named Desire, A Place in the Sun, and Sunset Boulevard (all 1951); to Farber these "Freud-Marx epics" represented the social significance of the 1930s gone sour. Lary May, in his own study of what he sees as a cultural reconstruction of American national identity in the Cold War period, uses an analysis of thousands of film plots from the trade paper the Motion Picture Herald as a source of evidence on the key changes in theme from the 1930s to the 1950s. He charts a decline in unhappy (what he calls Noir) endings in the fifties, a rise in the focus on youth as an alternative to the adult world over the same period, and a fall in the incidence of depictions both of the rich as a moral threat and of big business as villainous.21
Certainly the early 1950s saw a tailing-off of the crime dramas now classified as part of the film noir cycle. Thorn Andersen has written of a sub-group of noir films—he labeled them "films gris"—which was characteristic of the period 1947-1951. These films shared some of the stylistic features associated with film noir but dealt in particular with social issues and exhibited an awareness of class as a critical factor in American life. Such films looked back to the 1930s in their politics, and were increasingly viewed with suspicion by those concerned that Hollywood films affirm America to a global market. The writers and particularly the directors who were most responsible for this cycle of films were those most affected by the second wave of Congressional investigations. Jules Dassin, for example, directed Thieves Highway (1949) and Night and the City (1950) before becoming a victim of the blacklist and moving permanently to Europe. Nicholas Ray avoided the blacklist, but his work in the late forties, including They Live by Night (1949) and Knock on Any Door (1949), dealt with the problems of youth in a way that clearly relates, in retrospect, to Andersen's notion of work and the "psychological injuries of class." Ray also worked in part in Europe in the fifties, and was reportedly on a graylist for a time, while arguably making metaphoric reference to the blacklist in In a Lonely Place (1950) and Johnny Guitar (1954). The youthful rebels of the fifties became cultural icons, but were rarely linked to broader social forces. The Wild One (1954) appeared shorn of most of its criticism of business following PCA pressure, while the James Dean persona in Kazan's East of Eden (1954) and Ray's own Rebel Without a Cause (1955) is primarily defined in terms of conflicts within the family.22
Two other directors associated with some form of social drama who left America for Europe for political reasons were Joseph Losey and Cy Endfield. The Prowler (1951), from a script mainly written by Dalton Trumbo, certainly fits the main contours of Andersen's model. To Losey the film was about "false values": '"100,000 bucks, a Cadillac, and a blonde' were the sine qua non of American life at the time and it didn't matter how you got them—whether you stole the girl from somebody else, stole the money, and got the Cadillac from corruption." In an early scene a policeman, Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) is called to a baroque Los Angeles house to investigate a suspected prowler. He there begins a relationship with a lonely woman, Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes), attracted to the lifestyle and social status that she represents. Class envy and sexual passion are blended, and writer and director, sharing a social perspective on the material, both contribute to what becomes, with a little help from the PCA, a social morality tale. Soon after the film's release Losey, anticipating the imminent delivery of a subpoena, left for London, while Trumbo began a period in exile in Mexico.23
Cy Endfield also moved to London, and one of his last American films is characteristic of the perspective and approach that was being marginalized by the politics of the time. Try and Get Me! (The Sound of Fury) (1951) was one of the last of the socially pointed noir films of the late forties and early fifties. Within a study of yellow journalism, crime, and mob violence, the film sets out a notion of false values, as family man Howard Tyler (Frank Lovejoy), desperate to find work, strays into petty crime and ultimate victimhood. The PCA suggested its usual "voice for morality," and warned against "any philosophizing that might seem to relieve your murderers of the blame for their crimes and put this blame on society generally." Yet the film still provides an unusual view of the pressures of unemployment on family and breadwinner, and it represents a dimension of film that Endfield and others might have explored further had circumstances been different.24
Perhaps the core figures of this small body of work, however, were the actor John Garfield and the radical writer-director Abraham Polonsky. Garfield received his training as an actor within the legendary Group Theatre in New York in the thirties, gaining prominence following his role in Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing in 1935. The actor had helped to set up Enterprise Pictures on leaving Warners in 1946, and had appeared in two key late-forties films with political significance, the upbeat Body and Soul (Robert Rossen, 1947) and the dark Force of Evil (Polonsky, 1948), both from Polonsky scripts. It was Garfield who had insisted on the reinstating of Hemingway's black character in The Breaking Point (Michael Curtiz, 1951), providing what Thomas Cripps calls a "bold stride towards a humane portrayal of interracial comradeship." Although the FBI knew Garfield was not a Communist, he was subpoenaed in March 1951 and then harassed further when he talked of his own political affiliations but refused to discuss others'; he was pushed into a magazine recantation of his political views before he died of a heart attack in May 1952. Polonsky, writing about Garfield, said that the "Group trained him, the movies made Blacklist killed him." The director of Force of Evil had written a typically witty and politically informed script for I Can Get It For You Wholesale (Michael Gordon, 1951)—informed in particular by his concern with sexual double standards and the pervasive effects of capitalist values—before returning from a trip to France to face HUAC. Tracked and wiretapped by the FBI, Polonsky took the Fifth Amendment in April 1951 at a hearing at which the chair, the conservative Republican Harold Velde of Illinois, described him as "a very dangerous citizen." In the mid-fifties Polonsky worked anonymously on a number of scripts, as well as writing a series of "You Are There" teleplays for CBS television, and a novel, A Season of Fear, dealing with the blacklist. His banishment from film following the hearing raises questions about how his highly integrated art and politics might have developed in 1960s absence of a blacklist. As it was, Polonsky remained on the blacklist until late in the sixties when he received screenplay credit (his first since 1951) for Madigan (Don Siegel, 1968) and returned to directing with Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969).25
A cycle of films released in 1949 and 1950 brought a new and liberal perspective to the question of race prejudice in America. The so-called "message cycle," including Pinky (Elia Kazan, 1949) and Intruder in the Dust (Clarence Brown, 1949), came to an end more because it had run its course than because of any pressure on producers in this area. Joseph Mankiewicz's No Way Out (1950), with Sidney Poitier in his first feature film role, was the most forthright of the cycle. Thomas Cripps has suggested that the "central metaphor of integrationism" in these films influenced the later themes of the civil rights movement.26
After 1950, according to film historian David Eldridge, the changed political atmosphere made it "difficult for politically and socially sensitive films to get made in this period." CIA monitoring of the social content of the movies, certainly in 1953, shows the U.S. government's strong concern with Americas movie image (and especially with foreign perceptions of America).27 From different positions, reactionaries, conservatives and "corporate liberals" influenced the blacklist and the movie agenda in the early fifties. As Jonathan Munby argues, Eric Johnston's desire for an end to Depression memories and for affirmative images of a new America of economic abundance and class consensus all too easily aligned with the distinct resentments and agendas of the Motion Picture Alliance and HUAC.28
Throughout the 1950s, studios and producers were wary of scripts that might attract the attention of the professional blacklisters. Bernard Vorhaus, soon to be blacklisted, remembers trying to interest two studios in a social problem story and finding that such topics, unpolitical but "critical of certain conditions," were seen at the time as "suspect." Cy Endfield felt that the box-office success of darker "social" films, including his own Try and Get Me! and Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (also called The Big Carnival, 1951) was damaged by a change of public mood at the onset of the Korean War. The studios were particularly sensitive about American social content in films pitched at foreign markets, while in any case, by the middle of the decade the relative prosperity was throwing up problems that seemed quite distinct from those of the 1930s and the war years.29
Another blacklisted writer, Michael Wilson, who wrote the script for Salt of the Earth (1953), contributed several articles to Hollywood Revieiv on the impact of the contemporary political mood on screen content. Into the vacuum created by the collapse of the humanist strand in filmmaking, Wilson argued, had come a series of films set in World War II that glorified the services. In 1954 he complained that not only had anything even remotely resembling the Mr. Deeds character (in Frank Capra's Mr Deeds Goes to Town, 1936) vanished from the screen, but also that the "fascist personality" was replacing the romantic hero. Capra's decline in the fifties may indicate the natural eclipse of a career, but it may also reflect the problem of marketing his populist fables in a Cold War era which was sensitive to anything that looked like social criticism. Only the Western retained some ability to criticize, with High Noon (1952) and Silver Lode (1954) making oblique reference to contemporary politics, and Anthony Mann's The Far Country (1954), presenting serious social reflection in a story from Americas mythic past.30
Those who cooperated with HUAC and returned to filmmaking after a time away frequently found it difficult to re-engage with familiar genres. The agenda had moved on, as can be seen in the different tones created by Fred Zinnemann, in his film based on James Jones's best selling novel From Here to Eternity (1953) and by Edward Dmytryk in The Caine Mutiny, a major box-office success of 1954. Dmytryk had served his six-month jail term as one of the Hollywood Ten, but had then "cleared" himself by reappearing as a cooperative witness before HUAC in April 1951, denouncing the Communist party. The Caine Mutiny establishes a situation in which the audience supports the naval rebellion, but then the conclusion reverses the whole tone of the story and affirms the principle of obeying authority as a primary obligation. National security undercuts the notion of justified opposition to a tyrant. Another writer-director returning to Hollywood, Robert Rossen, had been a key figure in socially relevant filmmaking since the late thirties, with key credits including his script for Warners' They Won't Forget (1937) and his direction of All the Kings Men (1949). He returned to filmmaking after his 1953 cooperative testimony with the melodrama Mambo (1955) and the epic Alexander the Great (1956), but only really returned to the social milieu of his pre-HUAC film career with The Hustler, in 1961. As Thomas Schatz argues, the shift in Hollywood themes can be judged by the return of Howard Hawks and John Huston to Warner Bros. as producer-directors in the mid-fifties, nearly a decade after The Big Sleep (1946) and Key Largo (1948). Hawks returned to make Land of the Pharaohs (1955) while Huston, a key figure in the early resistance to HUAC, made Moby Dick (1956). Huston's films following The Asphalt Jungle (1950), in which crime is examined in class terms, lack the social and political implications (and associations) of virtually all his early work.31
The Case of Elia Kazan in the Early 1950s
Elia Kazan was one of a number of artists who arrived in Hollywood from outside, very often from New York theatrical and/or political circles. An extraordinary template for such a career development had been set by Orson Welles at the beginning of the 1940s, with his unprecedented contract at RKO and renowned opening production (Citizen Kane, 1941). Later in the decade Abraham Polonsky, Jules Dassin, Joseph Losey, Nicholas Ray, and Elia Kazan also embraced a film industry in which the old studio controls were beginning to weaken. Kazan established a reputation at Twentieth Century-Fox in the late forties by successfully directing both prestigious social problem films and semi-documentary productions. As the 1950s dawned there were signs that Kazan had begun to downplay any overt political associations, but there was every indication that he wanted to work on more independent and ambitious film projects.
Kazan's goals for this new phase in his career were artistic more than explicitly political, but he was conscious that his political associations—his two-year Communist party membership in the mid-1930s—made him vulnerable to any renewed Congressional investigation. Like Welles and others of his generation, Kazan was conscious of the ways in which working in Hollywood involved a conflict between notions of film as art and film as entertainment. For example, the conservative editor of the Hollywood Reporter, W. R. Wilkerson, had welcomed the Waldorf Statement as a means of purging the industry of a "thirties" generation of well-educated and serious-minded filmmakers who favored "realism" and felt that entertainment was not enough. In a 1951 letter to Jack Warner, Kazan noted that "from the thinly veiled hints to us in some of Billy Wilkerson's editorial remarks, I gather that his opinion is that Streetcar is not the kind of picture he thinks the industry should be making."32 With Viva Zapata!, his "Mexican horse epic," Kazan was again subject to industry pressure via Darryl F. Zanuck's overall supervision, although the location shooting and his own relationship with John Steinbeck as writer were consistent with the director's striving for greater independence.
The intense sensitivity at this time of Zanuck and his studio to the political meanings that might be attached to films is well demonstrated by the debates on the script of Viva Zapata! in early 1951. At the time there were political threats to two of Kazan's projects. While Zanuck was asking whether this was "the moment to tell the story of a Mexican revolutionary hero?," another figure in Kazan's immediate social and political milieu, Arthur Miller, was withdrawing from a planned project based on events on the New York waterfront, following political interference and cold feet at Columbia Pictures. Kazan seemed to feel that with Viva Zapata! he could handle the studio and make an acceptable compromise, and that the finished film would be broadly consistent with Steinbeck's—and his own—notion of the Mexican revolution. The political pressures of the time clearly led to changes in the script, though the notion of a repudiation of power by the peasant leader can be found in early drafts, and "opposition to communism" remains only a secondary sub-theme in the final version of Viva Zapata!33 In December 1950 Zanuck was worried that audiences (and professional anti-Communists) would associate Zapata with communism: "I hope people don't get the impression that we are advocating revolt or civil war as the only means to peace." The most noticeable of the later script changes was the enlargement of the role of the professional revolutionary, Fernando, in order to balance the sympathy for a revolutionary leader with an explicitly anti-Stalinist motif. The composer Alex North, whom Kazan had brought to Hollywood to score A Streetcar Named Desire, wrote critically to his friend that Darryl Zanuck seemed to be the "'strong' man in this version," and that the latest script suggested to him a "post Korean War version with all the not too subtle innuendoes."34
Politically, as Richard Slotkin suggests, Steinbeck and Kazan defended a populist idea of the people of Morleos against both the "strong man" dictatorships of Diaz and others and the "left-wing" opportunism of Fernando. However one resolves the debate which any historical reconstruction invites, the film does make the Mexican peasantry a key part of the drama, at times invoking Eisenstein, in ways that are unusual in American cinema.35
Viva Zapata! was completed but unreleased by the time that Kazan first appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee, in January 1952. He answered questions on his own Communist party membership, but refused to give the names of others. The film was released in February, and in a letter in the Saturday Review of Literature in early April Kazan discussed how the "political tensions of the present time bore down on us—John Steinbeck, and Darryl Zanuck and me—as we thought about and shaped a historical picture." He pointed out the significance of the "Communist mentality" of the Fernando character, and referred to Zapata as "a man of individual conscience," who led his people "out of bondage and did not betray them." A week later Kazan returned to the House Committee, this time naming eight former members of the Group Theatre as Communists. In an unprecedented paid advertisement in the New York Times he argued that those in possession of facts concerning "a dangerous and alien conspiracy" had an obligation to let the facts be known "to the public or to the appropriate Government agency." He supplied the committee with a self-serving account of his career and productions, a list that ended with a reference to Viva Zapata! as an "anticommunist picture."36
There are those, including historians of the period, who see the film's portrayal of Zapata and his movement as "still subtle, powerful and true." Yet at the time, and in particular in the light of Kazan's testimony, some saw the film as conservative in its implications about the possibility of successful popular revolt. John Howard Lawson, for example, critiqued the film's conservative message as follows: "If power is an absolute source of corruption, if it must be renounced by every honest leader, the people are doomed to eternal submission."
Zanuck was disappointed with the box-office returns for Viva Zapata!, and the episode strengthened his resolve to move towards a policy of "strictly entertainment films." Concerned with foreign revenues, Zanuck stressed the importance of color productions and also the new medium of CinemaScope—both of which were arguably less suitable for social realist subjects. Kazan, in his first film after his testimony, and arguably as part of his "clearance," accepted a studio assignment from Zanuck, going to Germany to make Man on a Tightrope (1953), a drama about the efforts of a traveling circus to escape to the "West" from Communist Czechoslovakia. Unsatisfactory to mainstream audiences, to his peers, and to Zanuck, who cut the film, Man on a Tightrope represented Kazan's lowest point before the resurgence represented by On the Water-front (1954).37
The raw material for Kazan's next film was provided by events on the New York waterfront in the early 1950s. The inequities of the hiring and employment methods on the docks, including the notorious "shape up" (in which longshoremen were daily forced to assemble before a union hiring boss, who would only choose a portion of them to work the shift), had been widely documented by journalists and commissions, as had the corrupt practices of unions and employers. After Kazan's project with Arthur Miller fell through, Kazan's wife had urged him to contact screenwriter and novelist Budd Schulberg.
Molly Day Thatcher, daughter of a Wall Street lawyer and granddaughter of the president of Yale, had married Kazan in 1932, and their relationship centrally affected his work and career decisions. It was Molly Kazan who had, by the 1950s, developed a principled anti-Communist critique, and who wrote her husband's notorious New York Times advertisement. As Navasky shows, family circumstances impinged on how people reacted to the challenge of HUAC. The lasting relationship between Schulberg and Kazan was also an example of the way the politics of the time reshuffled artistic associations and alliances. Schulberg had himself been in the Communist party in the late thirties and chose to appear before HUAC as one of the first of the new round of friendly witnesses in 1951, having been named before the committee by screenwriter (and former member of the Nineteen) Richard Collins. Schulberg presented himself as a strong "premature anti-Stalinist" (to use a phrase he used later, in talking to Navasky), pointing to the silence of American Communist Party members in the face of the injustices in the Soviet Union and Communist Eastern Europe.
The script that Schulberg produced with Kazan, based on close relationships with the real rebels on the New York waterfront and the Catholic priests who supported them, was rejected by Twentieth Century-Fox and the other studios before Sam Spiegel agreed to an independent, New York-based production.38
Kazan had used the phrase "man of individual conscience" in relation to Viva Zapata!, but the term is also central to On the Waterfront. For all Schulbergs committed research (including his work with those who testified to the New York State Crime Commission) and the use of real New York locations (in the bitterly cold winter of 1953), the film drifts, under Kazan's direction and with Marlon Brando's central performance, from the sociological to the personal and even existential. In preparing for the film Kazan made it clear that he saw the film not as a documentary but as Terry Molloy's story, a subjective account of a personal journey toward redemption and dignity. The intensity of this perspective, Brando's ability to internalize and represent it, and the effectiveness of Schulberg's overall contextualization of this story, are what distinguish the final film.
While Schulberg has denied the intent to make the film a metaphor for the "naming names" ritual that both he and Kazan had taken part in, Kazan has at various times suggested that his own approach to the material was in part influenced by this traumatic experience. (Steinbeck had referred to "'the Congress thing' having torn him apart"). Kazan at the time refuted the idea that the film represented an apology or defense, suggesting that "if we'd been trying for that, we wouldn't have had Brando's brother killed. Brando gave his evidence because he was angry. How's that an apology for us?" On the other hand, he admitted that "any experience the artist goes through he uses in his work."39
Kazan's work with Brando—and for all the actor's "genius" one cannot but give credit to this focused direction, to what later in his career Kazan called his own "transference of emotion" to the character—helped give the film an impact that even those who bitterly opposed its politics were forced to recognize. Here was a film, and a hero, that drew on the thirties traditions of class and the common man while also constructing an interior sense that was suggestive of a new and more uncertain politics. The film was a commercial success and swept the Academy Awards, although there were those who were quick to denounce what they saw as the "informer as social hero" motif for the times. John Howard Lawson wrote of the film's "anti-democratic, anti-labor, anti-human propaganda," and saw it as emblematic of the "influence of McCarthyism on American film production." The British critic and director Lindsay Anderson devoted an article in a British film journal to what he called the unconsciously fascist implications of the film's ending, while Navasky's notion that the Waterfront Crime Commission was an "analog for HUAC" also pegs the film back to this issue.40
For all the self-serving behavior of this period—and Kazan has broadly admitted that he essentially named names because the cost of his continued silence, in terms of his career prospects in film, became too great for him—commentators sometimes under-play the gathering force of the liberal discontent with the Communist party and the autonomy of elements of anti-Communist feeling. Kazan's friend Joseph L. Mankiewicz spoke in 1950 of the liberal as an additional victim of McCarthyism, being "slandered, libeled, prosecuted and threatened with extinction."41 It is common to talk of the turning of film from social to psychological themes in the fifties, and to see Kazan's work as a key example of this trend, although the centrality of psychology in dominant notions of acting in the thirties progressive theaters is clearly as important an influence on Kazan's early career as radical politics. There is little doubt that his testimony and contribution to On the Waterfront, in some combination, dramatize his newfound Americanism, and his new distance from the immigrant outsider's perspective that had first led him to politics in the thirties.
In East of Eden (1955) Kazan retreated into history, although James Dean's role and performance had a contemporary social and cultural resonance, suggesting the way postwar economic and social change was producing new icons and identities. Baby Doll (1956), Kazan's second film collaboration with Tennessee Williams, is arguably more socially pointed than his first. Often seen as a trifling black comedy of sexual jealousy, the fierce reaction of the Catholic Legion of Decency and of Cardinal Spellman indicated that the washed clean, post-testimony Kazan was still provoking anger. Viewing the film now it is certainly possible to see background as foreground, and to make a case that the watching, amused black characters are indicative of the civil rights revolution that was still to come on the film's release. As for A Face in the Crowd (1957), with Kazan reunited with Schulberg, this satire starts with the 1930s common man but then shows his manipulation and destruction in an emerging marketing culture in which celebrity sells toothpaste and right-wing politics alike. There are echoes of 1930s and 1940s progressivism, but no credible vision of change; the people eventually see through the co-opted and corrupted Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), but there will be others to take his place.42
A Fight Back: Salt of the Earth
Salt of the Earth (1954) was a remarkable attempt by blacklisted artists to fight back through the medium of film. While in the short term the film reached only a small general audience, in the longer term it successfully reached specialized audiences—people who knew the film was ahead of its time. Paul Jarrico, Herbert Biberman, and Adrian Scott (the producer of Crossfire) were involved in the formation of the Independent Productions Corporation (IPC), in September 1951. (Jarrico, a leading figure in Hollywood Communist Party circles in the early 1950s, had pleaded the Fifth Amendment before HUAC earlier that year; Biberman and Scott were members of the Hollywood Ten.) Simon M. Lazarus, who had himself taken the Fifth Amendment before HUAC, became the corporation's president, seeing the possibility of good financial returns by tapping into the considerable talents of blacklisted artists.43
While the producers at IPC at first considered several projects, they soon focussed their attention on one particular set of events as a suitable subject for their opening production. In the fall of 1950, Local 890 of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (Mine-Mill), based in Bayard, New Mexico, went on strike against the Empire Zinc Corporation, a subsidiary of New Jersey Zinc, the largest zinc producer in the United States. A distinctive feature of the strike was the fact that Mexican Americans constituted an overwhelming majority of the strikers; the union was viewed as supportive of their civil rights. Affiliated with the Communist party, Mine-Mill had (in 1950) been one of a series of left-wing unions recently expelled by the CIO. James J. Lorence has documented the process that led IPC to base its film on the protracted strike in New Mexico, and also the unique way in which the members of the Local became part of this creative process. Another feature of the strike which impressed producer Paul Jarrico was the key role played by the women. He may also have seen parallels between the strikers and blacklisted film workers. Jarrico saw the project as a "crime to fit the punishment" (of being blacklisted) and defined the crime as an effort to depict the "dignity of women, labor and a racial minority." The filmmaking process was from the beginning closely monitored by the FBI, "for whom the progress of Salt of the Earth became an obsession."44
Writer Michael Wilson had been successful in the early fifties with his shared (Academy Award winning) screenplay for A Place in the Sun (1951) and his script for Five Fingers (1952), but by 1952 he had been blacklisted. Director Biberman and Jarrico considered but finally disregarded a critical assessment of Wilson's script by John Howard Lawson.45 The union, Mine-Mill, became the producer, with the members of the Local being widely consulted on the script and production process. Biberman rejected the notion of Anglos in key roles, in this sense making the film a challenge to dominant Hollywood conventions concerning the representation of ethnicity. Five professional actors were used, including Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas in the key role of Esperanza Quintero, and Will Geer, one of the first actors to take the Fifth and face the blacklist, as the Sheriff. For all the other roles, including Esperanza's husband Ramon, local non-professionals were used.
Shooting began in early 1953, and the production immediately led to political controversy. On 24 February 1953, on the floor of the House of Representatives, Congressman Donald Jackson suggested that the picture was "deliberately designed to inflame racial hatreds and to depict the United States of America as the enemy of all coloured people." The film, he continued, would "do incalculable harm" if shown abroad, and so should be suppressed.46 This declaration produced an enthusiastic response from Howard Hughes on how the industry could and should ensure that the film was never shown. Columnists were quick to point out that this Communist movie plot was taking shape not far from Los Alamos, where the atomic bomb had been tested, and the film's production and subsequent distribution were subject to sustained harassment. Near the end of shooting Revueltas was arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, with the result that the only shots of the film's main character in the climax of the film were close-ups shot in Mexico and smuggled across the border.47 Roy Brewer refused Lazarus's request for a studio crew, and IATSE pressure made it difficult for the company to obtain a good theater for the New York premiere. The film played in only thirteen movie theaters out of the nation's 13,000 before its last first-run theatrical showing in September 1954.
The script contains some rather undigested chunks of political rhetoric ("This instalment plan, it's the curse of the working man") and Juan Chacon, as Ramon, cannot quite convey the increasing importance of the domestic struggle in the Quintero household to the resolution of the general conflict over class and ethnicity. The script offers an unfolding dialectic during the extended strike, as the women, and particularly Esperanza, overcome setbacks and gain in confidence and social power. Revueltas underplays a key line to her screen husband: "I'm going to bed now. Sleep where you please, but not with me." Striking images are the exception, but include the first view of the women as a collective force, gathered on a hilltop like "Indians" in a John Ford Western, and the recurring and defiant circles of the picketing miners and their wives. There is also a pointed intercutting between Ramon and Esperanza, with the husband being beaten by the police and the wife in labor. The film provides a moving and stirring celebration of the ideals of its creators, and the issues (from sanitation and hot running water to Mexican identity, sexual politics, and class solidarity) are remarkable for their time.
The emphasis on class in Salt of the Earth is perhaps most forced, while the involvement of the Anglo organizer is underplayed, but it was certainly unfair to argue, as Pauline Kael did in her contemporary review, that the film was "as clear a piece of Communist propaganda as we have had in many years." The American Legion echoed this view, attacking the film in its newsletter as one of the most "vicious propaganda films ever distributed in the United States," seeing it as designed for a "hate America" campaign in Latin America.48 The film, with its rousing score by blacklisted composer Sol Kaplan, reads now as more of a timeless moral fable than a semi-documentary. The Esperanza role is perhaps over-reverent and stylized, but the film does record an otherwise unreported area of postwar life, untouched by the growth of a consumer society. Its energy, commitment, and sensitivity to ethnic, class, and feminist issues, which were either marginalized or below the level of consciousness in 1950s America, make it a crucial icon of the blacklist era.
By the mid 1950s the political climate was beginning to moderate, and the cycles of anti-Communist and Korean war films were in decline.49 The blacklist as an institution also began to crumble in the late 1950s, with Dalton Trumbo's efforts in particular contributing to its demise. Trumbo's Academy Award for The Brave One in 1957, under the assumed name Robert Rich, helped demonstrate the absurdity of the blacklist, given the vibrant black market in scripts, many of them made into films by King Bros. and released through United Artists, which was never a signatory to the blacklist. Yet lives were ruined and changed forever, and for some, such as Abraham Polonsky, the effects of the blacklist carried on into the late 1960s. Script credits were even more tardily adjusted; it took thirty years or more for Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman to receive proper public credit for their script for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
The blacklist was part of an intense period of history in which American national identity was adapted for a new era of American Cold War leadership, and in which, in Arthur Miller's phrase, the oxygen "went out of the air" for certain ideas. The languages of class, populism, and social criticism became suddenly suspect, and all sorts of artists decided, like the actress Judy Holliday before the McCarran (Internal Security) Sub-Committee in 1952, to no longer say "Yes" to anything "except cancer, polio, and cerebral palsy."50 For a particular 1930s generation of ambitious and talented artists, liberals or radicals, the dream had been one of greater artistic autonomy in terms of both the process and content of filmmaking. This collective dream was badly weakened by the events of the early 1950s.
Other factors changed the film agenda, including the decline of the "B" picture, the growing importance of the foreign market, and the industry's shift to forms and spectacles designed to repulse the threat of television. The language of cultural individualism was also becoming as relevant as any class agenda to many in the audience, especially as economic growth and suburban spread proceeded and the reconstituted film industry stumbled towards niche marketing. Yet the blacklist process ruined lives, silenced voices, and tarnished many survivors, and it contributed to the decline of a democratic and cosmopolitan strain in American popular culture. Depression memories dimmed, class consensus replaced class conflict, and authority and domesticity became new watchwords. Even Orson Welles, perhaps the most shining of Popular Front stars, and whose independent leftism left him unscathed by HUAC, if not by the FBI, failed to find an accommodation with the industry.51 His Touch of Evil (1958), with its dark, morally complex perspective on the ordinary corruptions of public life, now seems to echo some of the forms and concerns that the blacklist helped to marginalize from the new and affirmative consensus in American cinema and life.