I Was A Communist For The F.B.I. (1951)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1951Screenplay by , based on the article by , Cinematography by Produced by Music by Production Design by Costume Design by , Film Editing by .  

has the personality of a guard dog and a face like a can opener in the role of an FBI agent who has spent years infiltrating the communist party, getting information that his bosses can use to thwart their plans to overthrow the American government.  His work causes problems in his personal life as no one knows about his undercover gig except his priest; his mother is ashamed of him, his brothers treat him with open hostility and his son will have nothing to do with him, but he soldiers on all the same, knowing that his working for the good old USA is far more important than his own personal needs. When his son’s teacher () reveals herself to be a card-carrying red who wants to befriend him, he begins to suspect that he’s being overseen and tells his bosses so, but things get complicated when she has her morals challenged by the party’s participation in a strike demonstration that goes against her ideals. Shot with all the idiotic confidence that any B-level tough guy film of the era is made, this one basically replaces German spies with commies and treats them with as much nuance as earlier spy films did, so shameless in its Better Dead Than Red propaganda that the bad guys are like something out of Rosemary’s Baby. Today’s audience will laugh out loud at the idea that the pinkos are behind every bad thing that happens in America (such as race riots), working against the people it pretends to support, and will find the film’s ending, in which the HUAC hearings are presented as the solution to all the country’s problems, equally ridiculous (some audiences, of course, laughed at it back then too).  As a window into a mindset persuasive enough to fill movie theatres, it’s fascinating, but assigning the task of this kind of politically one-sided nonsense to great writers turns out to be a great idea too: preposterous as the film is, it spins a yarn that actually gets quite exciting by the end, and the climax involving a chase and a train ride is really thrilling.  The fact that it slyly insinuates the difference between power-hungry party leaders and the kind of ideological sincerity that Hart represents hints at subversion on the part of the screenwriters that is just one of the reasons why this one still feels human after so many decades since the shameful era of McCarthyist paranoia.  Ludicrously nominated for an Oscar in the documentary category, thanks to its being based on a true story.

Academy Award Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature

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