Re: Hollywood Ten as Villains - contents of scripts (was: …reply)

From: David P. Hayes
Date: 1997/11/19
Newsgroup: rec.arts.movies.past-films

Jeffrey Davis <> wrote in article
> David P. Hayes wrote:
  > > …It doesn't matter that full-fledged
> > communism wasn't being preached in the scripts; if the studios were
> > foreseeing audiences becoming keenly aware (or scared) of little liberal
> > touches in films (exploitative or mean employers, greed, "have-nots"
> > suffering while haves" don't, corrupt government officials in a free
> > country, etc.), then the studios acted in self-preservation in firing the
> > writers.
> Nonsense. Most of the "little liberal touches" have been entirely
> in step w/ most American[s'] beliefs from the get go and were exactly
> what the public had in mind when they voted in 24 consecutive years
> of Roosevelt and Truman.

I only count twenty years (12.1 FDR, 7.7 Truman): March 1933 to January 1953 (a little under twenty, actually).

Addressing the serious areas: maybe the touches HAD BEEN in step with the public, but were no longer seen to be.  Notice my statement read: "if the studios were foreseeing audiences becoming keenly aware (or scared) of… ."

As for "liberal touches," it's worth recalling that Ginger Rogers was given a script in which she was to say "Share and share alike--that's democracy."  She regarded it as a distortion of the definition of Americanism, and fought to not say the line.  Another actress would not have challenged it--and similar things are in films.

In "The Best Years of Our Lives," Frederic March has a lengthy speech in which extols the giving of loans by banks to little-guy farmers whose only collateral is their love of working the soil, much to the chagrin of the bank boss (played by Ray Collins, ever a villain), who with a hiss in his voice had insisted that there be collateral and passes the blame to the depositors--thereby hinting to an audience already hearing Marxist slogans that an economic system with private savings is to blame for a passionate farmer not achieving his dream.

The play of "Born Yesterday" had contained a speech in which was made to look bad a "Free Enterprise Amendment" in which it was implied that "guarantees [of] no interference with free enterprise" was Fascism.  It was removed from the screenplay only because by 1950 a studio head was sensitive to such propaganda and because a single writer made a crusade of informing Columbia's heads of such.  George Cukor tried to smuggle back excised passages, and did manage to get in a few touches, yet the studio decision to halt the propaganda was unusual prior to that.

[The "Amendment" discussed above should be understood to be a plot element of the film, a proposal for the consideration of legislators.  This subtlety was lost on at least respondent to the original posting of these remarks.]

David Hayes

Hollywood Ten - instances of propaganda

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Tuesday, December 02, 1997 11:24 PM

Peter Reiher <> wrote 1997/11/19,
>As far as I can tell, no one ever made a single complaint about
>any particular thing any of these writers ever put into one of
>their screenplays.

There were complaints about propaganda in 1940s films at the time they were released. Louella Parsons or Hedda Hopper (I can't recall which) noted insidious elements in "Meet John Doe." The second-hand account I read did not specify which scene(s) she was referring to, but later in this post I will analyze a speech. (Michael Gebert) wrote 1997/11/19,
< >:
>And let's try… to draw a distinction between vaguely socialist
>ideals (such as, say, the Depression Era social criticism…)
>and full-fledged support of Stalinist terror, which last I
>checked had never been advocated in any Hollywood film, ever.
>(Okay, maybe Mission to Moscow almost gets there, but again--
>only in accordance with governmental policies at the time.)

Of course explicit speeches advocating the party line was not to be found in any Hollywood film. It would be recognized as an attempt at influence.  The effectiveness of propaganda rests on it not being detected (at the conscious level) as such, as being nearly the to-be-expected, as being a minor extension of everyday behaviors. Where audiences experience guilt or pity or resolve in place of intellectual assault, that's where a message gets delivered to a mass audience that takes in undetectable pieces of a belief system in what seems to be larger, innocuous, unified whole.

"Meet John Doe" does have speeches. Here's one delivered by "The Colonel" (Walter Brennan):

"Listen sucker, you ever been broke? [His audience nods.] All right.  Listen, you're walking along, not a nickel in your jeans, you're as free as the wind, nobody bothers you, hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business--shoes, hats, automobiles, furniture, everything. And they're all nice lovable people, and they let you alone. Isn't that right?

"And then you get ahold of some dough and what happens? All  those sweet lovable people become heelots--a bunch of heels.  They begin creeping up on you, trying to sell you something, they get long claws. And they get a stranglehold on you.

"First thing you know you OWN things--a car, for instance. Now  your life is mussed up with a lot more stuff. You've got license  fees and number plates and gas and oil and taxes and insurance  and identification cards and letters and bills and flat tires and  dents and traffic tickets and courtrooms and lawyers and fines.  And what happens? You're not the free and happy guy you used to  be. You gotta have money to pay for all those things. So you go after what the other guy has got. And there you are: you're a  heelot yourself."

Notice here the implication that not having more money than others is a virtue, that having more is a vice. Property, as depicted here, tears apart what sometimes is called "social fabric." Ownership is painted as bringing about an overwhelming burden of unforeseen consequences. But would they be unforeseen? He paints it as inevitable that "you [will] go after what the other guy has got," but that's not so. Anyone convinced that his  earlier life was better could return to it--but that goes unacknowledged.

The presumed "example" of "a car, for instance," amounts to stacking the deck. Autos have long been noted as the second most-expensive undertaking made by an average person.

Peter Reiher wanted to know about propaganda in films written by members of the Hollywood Ten. Ring Lardner Jr. received screen credit for "The Courageous Dr. Christian." In it, a foul tone is taken when it is said of squatters, "If they had any character they wouldn't be where they are;" it's said as if this view shouldn't be believed. Elsewhere in the film, Tom Neal scores big on the drugstore pinball machine, and asks for 90 cents cash for the 18 free games he won. When it is pointed out that a sign reads "For Amusement Only," he says, "I made an investment. It paid off.  Don't you believe in the system?" It's one thing for him to be disappointed in a private transaction, and would have been better still had he recognized his oversight, but he extrapolates his sense of being wronged to "the system," further muddying the waters by misapplication of the word "investment." Lardner, through Neal's character, has invented his own interpretation of the rules, an interpretation that flies in the face of the facts, and is now trying to impose his interpretation on the rest of the world.

John Howard Lawson received screen credit for "Algiers." In it, Hedy Lamarr's character is to marry an unattractive man for his money, a motivation that leads to her pointing out where the inequitable distribution of money supposedly leads: "look at yourself, then look at me. Why do you think I'm marrying you? You knew I was never in love with you." The sympathetically-presented thief played by Charles Boyer likewise sunders emotion by his efforts to get Lamarr's jewelry. She thinks he's interested in her. He's interested in her jewelry.

Please excuse the lateness of this response. In the ten days following the posts, I was home and near my computer for a single one-day/two-night stay.

--David Hayes


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