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In 1947 Bessie, along with nine others (""The Unfriendly Ten""), refused before HUAC to answer questions concerning alleged membership in the Screen Writers Guild and the Communist Party. The refusal was meant to challenge the committee's constitutional basis and to safeguard a citizen's political preferences. Cited for contempt, Bessie subsequently served a year in a Federal pen, suffered the blacklist, and lost whatever professional prestige he had. A sad tale. Unfortunately, it is a tiresome and inconclusive one as well. Done like a screen play with long prose stretches, the style is alternately slick, rough and sentimental, the irony heavy-handed. As for Hollywood, the anecdotes are funny but essentially familiar: the same duncey producers (e.g. Jerry Wald), egomaniacal stars (e.g. Bette Davis); the same old story conferences with the same old thwarted ideals (Bessie scripted junk but he really hungered for Truth- a picture about a strike, say). The prison sequences are sincere, and the jeremiad against HUAC, against its chicanery and stupidity, is well-taken, fairly well-documented, as are the revelations re friends turned informers. But throughout Bessie clings to the Popular Front naivete of the '30's, the era Auden called a ""low, dishonest decade."" (He makes, incidentally, much of having fought on the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War, but so too did Auden.) He compares HUAC with Fascist procedures, yet never mentions the long history of Soviet purges, surely their equal. Something self-serving, something intellectually fraudulent is here. Bessie seems a victim of more than one zeitgeist.

Publisher: Macmillan