Thom Andersen and Noël Burch’s Red Hollywood
Thom Andersen and Noël Burch’s documentary Red Hollywood will screen exclusively for one week at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in August. The 1996 feature will be accompanied by a selection of films by blacklisted writers and directors chosen by Anderson for the series “Red Hollywood and the Blacklist” (August 15-21).
Red Hollywood, which screened recently at the Film Society's new Art of the Real series, takes a look at the period known as the Hollywood Blacklist by focusing on the ideology of the filmmakers involved and how it was reflected in what wound up on the big screen both prior to and after they were affected. Based on Andersen’s 1985 essay Red Hollywood features interviews with several of the people including Paul Jarrico, Ring Lardner, Jr., Alfred Levitt, and Abraham Polonsky who were blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Screening in conjunction with Red Hollywood are a selection of features from the era including two from Joseph Losey (The Prowler and Big Night), as well as a pair from Cy Endfield (Hell Drivers and Zulu). Losey’s The Prowler (1951), written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, features Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes in a film noir driven by Heflin’s ex-jock cop character’s class resentment, and Losey’s final American film, The Big Night (1951), co-written by fellow blacklistees Ring Lardner, Jr. and Hugo Butler, tells the story of a teenager trying to become a man in one night.
Endfield’s Hell Drivers (1957) features Patrick McGoohan and Stanley Baker in an intense competition between rival truck drivers, and his film, Zulu (1964), was a reenactment of the British victory in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. The film became one of the most influential films of the 1960s, inspiring the likes of Ridley Scott and Peter Jackson.
Other selections include Louis King’s Road Gang (1936), Frank Tuttle’s I Stole a Million (1939), Abraham Polonsky’s Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), and Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).
“There are many remarkable films by Hollywood blacklist victims that could not be excerpted in Red Hollywood,” said Anderson in remarks about the program. “This series provides a rare opportunity to discover—or revisit—some of these gems projected on the big screen.”
Thom Andersen and Noël Burch’s Red Hollywood
[Tickets for the theatrical run of Red Hollywood as well as for the films screening in the Blacklist series will go on sale Thursday, July 24. Single screening tickets are $13; $9 for students and seniors (62+); and $8 for Film Society members. There will also be a discount package option for the films screening in the series. Package prices start at $30; $24 for students and seniors (62+); and $21 for Film Society members. Visit Filmlinc.com]
“Red Hollywood and the Blacklist films, descriptions and other information follow:
Thom Andersen & Noël Burch, USA, 1996, digital projection, 120m
Working from extensive original research, this revelatory documentary—an elaboration of Andersen’s 1985 essay of the same name—offers a unique perspective on Hollywood filmmaking from the 1930s to the 1950s, when “Red” screenwriters and directors worked within the studio system to make films that challenged issues of class, war, race, and gender. Andersen and Burch use clips from 53 different films spanning numerous genres in order to demonstrate how this network of filmmakers’ ideology affected the meaning and reception of their work, as well as interviews with many of the artists (such as Paul Jarrico, Ring Lardner, Jr., Alfred Levitt, and Abraham Polonsky) who were blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
The Big Night
Joseph Losey, USA, 1951, 35mm, 75m
Joseph Losey’s last American film tells the story of a teenager trying to become a man in one night, foreshadowing Rebel Without a Cause—although the hero here must confront an adult world. Okay, so John Drew Barrymore is no James Dean. But even so, this film does feature the final screen role of Dorothy Comingore, who was redbaited, made a scapegoat by the Hearst press after playing Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane, and, as a result, lost everything. Fellow blacklistees Ring Lardner, Jr. and Hugo Butler also worked on the script, adapted by Stanley Ellin from his own novel, Dreadful Summit.
Cy Endfield, UK, 1957, 35mm, 91m
Like Joseph Losey, Cy Endfield thrived in his British exile. And together they established the star of Stanley Baker, who here plays Tom Yately, a tough ex-con truck driver who must risk life and limb for his unscrupulous boss at Hawlett’s Trucking Company. Tensions arise due to the unreasonably high expectations the company holds for its drivers and a rivalry soon emerges between Tom and another trucker, Red (Patrick McGoohan). Tom and Red’s antagonism not only pushes both men to their limits but also winds up unveiling the crooked practices being carried out behind closed doors at Hawlett’s. This film notably features an early performance by Sean Connery.
I Stole a Million
Frank Tuttle, USA, 1939, 35mm, 80m
Nathanael West: Communist or fellow traveler? Both, but he died too young to be disillusioned or exiled. A B-movie writer? Yes, but his scripts are closer to his novels than the films adapted from them. I Stole a Million is an absurdist version of film noir in which the American Dream goes obscenely wrong for decent but impetuous taxi driver Joe Lourik (George Raft), who tries to buy his own cab but soon finds himself turning to crime amid money disputes with the company he enlists to help him do so. West’s pessimistic script serves as the foundation for a gripping parable about the perils of trying to control one’s own economic fate under capitalism.
Thom Andersen and Noël Burch’s Red Hollywood
Odds Against Tomorrow
Robert Wise, USA, 1959, 35mm, 96m
“Money brought them together. Racism tore them apart” reads the tagline of this film about the perfect heist gone wrong, written by Abraham Polonsky and Nelson Gidding and scored by John Lewis. Dave Burke (Ed Begley) recruits two men (Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte), one white and one black, to help carry out a bank robbery. Both are desperate for money, but tensions rise as racism rears it ugly head. Polonsky and Gidding’s script is granted a strong sense of place by director Wise’s location shooting on the streets of New York City and Hudson, NY, yielding a heist thriller that richly evokes the social climate at the time of the film’s release.
Joseph Losey, USA, 1951, 35mm, 92m
A rare critique of the sexual stereotyping in film noir and a treatise on the hidden injuries of class, The Prowler is the greatest work of Losey’s pre-blacklist period and one of Dalton Trumbo’s best scripts. A former high-school basketball star turned cop (Van Heflin) seething with resentment for the more privileged seduces a lonely rich housewife (Evelyn Keyes) and commits the perfect crime in order to obtain his dream: owning a motel in Las Vegas (“It’s making money while you’re asleep”). There’s just one little problem, which leads him to take desperate measures… Trumbo used fellow blacklist victim Hugo Butler’s name as a front for his suspenseful and bleak screenplay.
Louis King, USA, 1936, 16mm, 61m
Dalton Trumbo adds some new twists to the chain-gang film with his first script, in which many of his signature themes and motifs are already present: mutilation, torture, desperation, etc. A reporter (Donald Woods) exposing local corruption in an unnamed southern state is framed after writing one exposé too many on a slimy politician (Joseph King) and finds himself “disappeared” into a prison farm, finally ending up in the dreaded prison mines. Road Gang is a film about a journalist/advocate but that is also itself a work of journalistic advocacy, unflinchingly engaging with the dire state of the American penal system.
Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here
Abraham Polonsky, USA, 1969, 35mm, 98m
Polonsky’s Marxist Western, starring Robert Redford and Robert Blake, wasn’t bloody enough for 1969, but it was—and remains—the most perspicacious neo-Western. Polonsky was no doubt thinking of himself when he wrote Willie Boy’s line: “At least they’ll know I was here.” Native American Willie Boy (Blake) goes on the lam with his girlfriend Lola (Katharine Ross) after shooting her father in self-defense, and Deputy Sheriff Cooper (Redford) is tasked with leading a posse on the subsequent, harrowing manhunt. Ripped from the headlines and under-screened since its initial release, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here is a moving illustration of how society endeavors to eliminate rebellion by any means necessary.
Cy Endfield, UK, 1964, DCP, 139m
Endfield’s reenactment of a great British victory in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 has become one of the most influential films of the 1960s (Peter Jackson and Ridley Scott’s overt imitations are just the beginning!). Endfield presents the contradictions of imperialism as a company of Welsh soldiers give their all for someone else’s Queen and Country, fighting against a people defending their homeland. But he never tips his hand, improbably but persuasively crafting an ambiguous parable. Zulu might be the most conventionally epic of Endfield’s films, but it is no less complex and political than the movies upon which his reputation as a member of Red Hollywood was founded.
[Anthology Film Archives and Cineaste Magazine Presents: Screenwriters and the Blacklist: Before, During, and After. The first part of this three-part series will run August 22-September 2 at Anthology Film Archives and will focus on films made before the imposition of the blacklist in 1947 or before the screenwriters in question were prevented from working under their actual names. The series includes rarely-screened films, many of them discussed RED HOLLYWOOD.. For more info on both Film Society programs, which will take place from August 15-21, visit www.filmlinc.com.]