RUNNING TIME: Films of the Cold War by Nora Sayre

RUNNING TIME: Films of the Cold War

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Sayre, who was sympathetic-yet-shrewd about the Sixties (Sixties Going on Seventies), is tediously scornful about the Fifties--and most of these brief commentaries on some movies of the period merely juice up familiar ideas with polemical fervor. (When Sayre interviewed blacklisted 1950s writers, she ""felt it was time to re-examine the movies that had been used as weapons against them, and also to see how the social climate had affected the ensuing chapters of American film making."") Here, then, Sayre makes cheap fun of the overtly anti-Communist pictures (Walk East on Beacon, My Son John) and--no surprise--waxes sarcastic about The Fountainhead. (To her credit, she also mocks such equally easy targets as Song of Russia and the sexist Tender Comrade.) She notes that social concerns ebbed in the Fifties, that ""the psychic wound had replaced economic anxiety on the screen,"" that A Place in the Sun leaves out Dreiser's social analysis. She runs through--yet again, film-book readers--the sex-role stereotypes of the period (""young women ought to be well-heeled, submissive, and sexually spotless""), the attitudes towards sex, ambition, and individualism. She finds, as have so many others, ""metaphors for the larger malignancies of the Cold War"" in 1950s science fiction movies--and strains to find them throughout De Mille's Ten Commandments. (""When a slave in the film asks, 'Is life in bondage better than death?' we catch reverberations of 'Better dead than Red.' "") And she salutes, with reservations, a handful of socially committed exceptions--from the little-known Salt of the Earth to Bridge on the River Kwai. However, the centerpiece of this small book--and perhaps its raison d'etre--is Sayre's discussion of On the Waterfront: she acknowledges its enduring power but is far more interested in seeing it as an exercise in guilt (or attempted self justification) by Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg, who ""have refused to be remorseful about their hours"" on the HUAC witness stand. Here, as throughout the book, Sayre tries to be both film critic and polemicist at once, thus succeeding in neither role. And the result is a thin, disjointed, noisy study--chiefly populated by ideas that have been treated more fully (and with more balance) elsewhere.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1982
Publisher: Dial