good night, and good luck.
by Tony Medley
President Truman said that
Senator Joseph McCarthy, the junior Senator from Wisconsin, was “the
greatest asset that the Kremlin has.” Agreeing with Truman were many
anti-communist Hollywood liberals like Ronald Reagan, Hollywood labor
leaders Roy Brewer and Howard Costigan, and Sidney Hook, a Marxist scholar
who turned against the Communist Party.
Although there was a lot of
fire in McCarthy’s smoke (one of his main claims, which is the prologue
for this movie, was that there were “200 card-carrying Communists” in the
State Department. Release of FBI files relating to the Verona Project
after the fall of the Soviet Union pretty conclusively confirmed that
Alger Hiss, a high-ranking State Department official, was a Communist
traitor in spite of 40 years of denials by the left, so the State
Department was Communist-infiltrated, as McCarthy alleged, although he
later reduced the number), his tactics were those of a police state. Even
so, using this quote of McCarthy’s as the prologue for the movie
discredits the movie because it leads the audience to believe that the
basis for McCarthy’s anti-communism was false, when it was clearly not
false. It wasn’t McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade that brought him down,
it was his tactics.
For the record, there were
communists in the United States, in Hollywood, and in the State
Department. They were actively supporting Joseph Stalin, who is still the
greatest mass-murderer in history. During the ‘30s he killed the Russian
kulaks, its entire middle class, 50 million people, by starving
them to death. There is nothing admirable or heroic about any of these
American Communists. They were despicable people supporting a despicable
As to the notorious Hollywood
Ten, sometimes referred to as the Unfriendly Ten (because they refused to
name the names of their fellow Communists before the House Un-American
Activities Committee, the alter ego for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee
on Investigations, of which McCarthy was Chairman), legendary director
Billy Wilder said, “Two were talented, the other eight were just
unfriendly.” Even so, the Hollywood Ten who took their marching orders
from Stalin have been elevated to secular sainthood by the Hollywood left,
who are the people making this movie.
In 1954 McCarthy’s reign was
attacked by a newsman, Edward R. Murrow, and it was the beginning of the
end for Joe. This is a well-crafted, if sometimes draggy,
documentary-style film about that attack. It is shot in black and white
for a couple of reasons. First is that it adds to the verisimilitude of
the story. The second is that the producers, rather than hiring someone to
portray McCarthy, wanted to use Tail Gunner Joe uttering his own words, so
they used old black and white news footage. Cutting back and forth between
color and black and white to show McCarthy speaking would have interfered
with the apparent currency of the film.
David Strathairm gives an
Oscar-worthy performance as Murrow. If you never saw Murrow, what you see
in Strathairm will give you a good feeling for what you missed.
Writer-Director George Clooney plays Fred Friendly who was the
co-producer, along with Murrow, of Murrow’s show, “See It Now” (1951-57).
Frank Langella gives a brilliant performance as William Paley, the
autocratic head of CBS, who backed Murrow’s attack, even though it
threatened the viability of his network.
At one point in the film it is
alleged that Paley said that McCarthy wanted William F. Buckley, Jr. to do
his rebuttal to Murrow’s attack. Buckley graduated from Yale in 1950. He
didn’t found “National Review” until 1955, one year after the McCarthy-Murrow
dispute. I remember attending some of Buckley’s debates when I was at the
University of Virginia Law School in the early ’60s. But I questioned
whether he had the cachet in 1954, at the age of 29, to be considered as
someone who could take on a national monument like Murrow on behalf of the
most powerful man in the United States Senate. This is a strange, one
line, insertion in the film that seems out of place with no apparent
raison d’être. So I checked with Bill Buckley himself and he confirmed
it, but he added something the filmmakers conveniently omitted. While
McCarthy did ask him to do the rebuttal, and he agreed, when the McCarthy
people submitted the request to Murrow, it was flatly rejected. Apparently
Murrow wanted McCarthy to hang himself and knew that Buckley would be too
formidable an adversary to achieve Murrow’s desired end. Clooney obviously
didn’t want to reveal Murrow’s fear of Buckley, since the point of the
film is to parade Murrow being steadfastedly brave. How would it look to
have Clooney's valiant 50-year-old hero appear as a quivering lump of
jelly, cowering in a corner hiding from an erudite 29-year-old?
Even so, this is an
entertaining, behind-the-scenes docudrama about how one man propelled
television into a powerful presence in its infancy. If you didn’t live
through these times, this movie does a good job of recreating them.
September 8, 2005