THE INQUISITION IN HOLLYWOOD: Politics in the Film Community 1930-1960 by Larry & Steven Englund Ceplair

THE INQUISITION IN HOLLYWOOD: Politics in the Film Community 1930-1960

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Still another book pegged--precariously, this time--on the movie-industry purge. Ceplair and Englund, however, are not only out to rake over Hollywood's abject capitulation when, in 1947, ten of its prominent Communists (or, in some cases, ex-Communists) defied the House Un-American Affairs Committee; they want to claim for Hollywood's Communist-spearheaded Left an honored--even, it first appears, honorable--place in the history of American radicalism. ""The Hollywood branch of the Party,"" they write, ""bred social consciousness and channeled political activity as no other organization of the period [1936-46] did or could."" No reputable history of the Left supports such a claim, however, and neither do books highly critical of the blacklist itself (e.g., Stefan Kanfer's Journal of the Plague Years, 1973) or even those individuals--like Lillian Hellman--most sympathetic toward the victims. But, more important, Ceplair and Englund are unable to prove their point here. In hundreds of pages of tediously detailed description of left-wing groups and activities, internal disputes, schisms, and studio repression, what emerges as the most tangible accomplishment of the Hollywood Left is, as always, its success in promoting--and raising money for--the anti-fascist cause in the first (1936-39) Popular Front period. Otherwise, the verdict is either no lasting effect (on local elections), no significant effect (on the making of films), or insufficient evidence (as to how many of those who attended Popular Front rallies were actually politicized). Not till past the midpoint, moreover, do we get a little balance--with acknowledgment of CP ruthlessness and repression; and it is not until after the chronology of events, 1933-47, that Ceplair and Englund stop speaking of Communism as maligned: ""In summary, it would seem that the liberal changes against the Hollywood Communists""--that they glorified Stalinism, that they blindly followed the Moscow line--""were largely substantiated by history, while the right wing's view--that Red film artists were subversives aiming to undermine first movies, then the state and society--was profoundly erroneous. . . ."" One doesn't need a complete, undiscriminating dossier to know that.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1980
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday