Monday, May 20, 2013

Wawryk: The Hollywood Ten

Lucie Wawryk

The 1950s were a very significant time period in the history of the United States working class. An anti-Communist crusade during this decade, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, led to the “red-baiting” or targeting of certain individuals, viewed as “un-American” Communist sympathizers. Among those targeted by McCarthy were the Hollywood Ten. This paper focuses on the individuals who made up the Hollywood Ten, and how the themes and creativity of their films help to illuminate history of the U.S. working class.

The Hollywood Ten were some of McCarthy’s most prominent targets, and were summoned to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), an investigative committee that targeted potential Communist party members and sympathizers in October of 1947. The HUAC hearings resulted in the deterioration of the careers of some of Hollywood’s most talented and creative forces. The “Hollywood Ten” were some of them. The group was made up of ten individuals including film producers, directors, and screenwriters. The ten individuals were Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maitz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo. When it came to these ten people, the HUAC believed that the liberal themes found in their Hollywood films were “un-American” and a national threat because of their “Communist” nature.1
Since these liberal themes were considered rebellious, the HUAC had reason to target the Hollywood Ten members. At their hearings, the individuals in the Hollywood Ten refused to answer questions administered by the HUAC about their possible Communist affiliations. As a result, these individuals were sentenced to jail and blacklisted by major Hollywood Studios including 20th century Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Columbia, and Universal.2 In essence, the HUAC hearings resulted in the deterioration of the careers of some of Hollywood’s most talented and creative forces.
Edward Dymtryk was one of the extremely talented members of the Hollywood Ten. In 1947, the same year of the Hollywood Ten hearings, his famous film Crossfire was released. This film was an attack on anti-Semitism. Dymtryk believed that his release of Crossfire was the reason he was questioned in the HUAC hearings. “In my last few years in Hollywood, I have devoted myself, through pictures such as Crossfire, to fight against these racial suppressions and prejudices. My work speaks for itself. I believe that it speaks clearly enough so that the people of the country and this Committee, which has no right to inquire into my politics or my thinking, can still judge my thoughts and my beliefs by my work, and my work alone,” Dymtrk stated about his work in the aftermath of the HUAC hearings. 3
The themes of Dymtryk’s film Crossfire were considered “radical” by the HUAC, and therefore, un-American. The anti-Semitism that was portrayed in the film was the reason Dymtryk was targeted and questioned for affiliation with the Communist party during the era of McCarthyism. The plot of the film involves a hate crime murder of a Jewish man named Samuel by an anti-Semitic war veteran.4 Crossfire is considered “film noir” style, a style of cinema known for its portrayal of darkness and pessimism. This style of film usually involves crime dramas with cynical characters and dark lighting. “Film noir” became popular during times of uncertainty and fear in American history, such as the Great Depression and McCarthy periods. The dissatisfaction with society and rebellion associated with “film noir” style in cinema was part of the reason Dymtryk was targeted by the HUAC as “radical.”5
Dymtryk creatively expressed the social problems of bigotry and racism in America through this film. In one moment his policeman character Finley says, “this business about hating Jews comes in a lot of different sizes. There’s the ‘you can’t join our country club’ kind. The ‘you can’t live around here’ kind. The ‘you can’t work here’ kind. Because we stand for all these, we get Monty’s kind. He grows out of all the rest…Hating is always insane, always senseless.” 6. The anti-Semitic themes of this dark film allowed Dymtryk to present his opinions about a greater need for tolerance. These themes were considered “radical” because they valued a collective society and mankind. These themes were also considered very liberal during the era of the Red Scare, and therefore, were thought to be associated with Communism.7
Dalton Trumbo was another extremely talented member of the Hollywood Ten. Trumbo was an Oscar-winning screenwriter whose career was essentially ruined from the Hollywood blacklist. Trumbo continued to write after the HUAC hearings, but was forced to do so by using a “front.” Under a “front,” Trumbo could still write the cinematic scripts, but another screenwriter took credit for all of his work and passed on a fee to Trumbo. One of Trumbo’s most famous films was Tender Comrade, which came out in 1943. The plot of the film involves women working in the defense industry.8
Trumbo was able to thematically express his desire for socialization and collectivization among workers through his work of Tender Comrade. The main character of the film is Ginger Rogers, who portrays a defense plant worker during World War II while her husband is serving in the military. Ginger Rogers lives communally in a house with three other women in the same situation. The collectivization thematically expressed through this living situation is one reason that Trumbo was targeted during the HUAC. The film depicted the importance of mutual respect, support, and understanding between these women who stepped up to fill in the shoes of the men fighting in World War II. The film depicts the unity of these women who banned together and lived communally to save expenses. The pro-democracy and feminist sentiment in Tender Comrade is partly why Trumbo was accused on sympathizing with the Communist party.9
The men that made up the Hollywood Ten refused to answer the questions from the HUAC about potential Communist activity because they believed it violated their First Amendment rights. Each member of the Hollywood Ten was sentenced to one year in jail after the HUAC hearings in October of 1947.10 After several months in jail, Edward Dmytryk turned in names in return for cash. He was released from prison and removed from the Hollywood blacklist. However, Dymtryk was ostracized by the other filmmakers and was never forgiven for talking. Dalton Trumbo was released from prison after ten months, and only continued to write scripts under a front. He was not given proper credit for his work until about twenty years after his death.11
The effects of the McCarthyism and the fear of Communism affected all of Hollywood, not just the Hollywood Ten. Careers and reputations were ruined. But most importantly, many people’s creativity and self-expression in film was stifled. Writers and directors steered clear of any type of content that could seem the least bit controversial, out of the fear of being accused of having Communist ties. Unfortunately, these talented writers and directors were unable to use film as a means to creatively express their ideas about the problems within American society when they should have had the freedom to do so.

1 "The Hollywood Blacklist – The Witch Hunt On Hollywood in the 1940′s and 1950′s." Hollywood Movie Memories RSS. N.p., 2 Aug. 2010. Web. Accessed 18 Apr. 2013. <

2 Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era. London: Faber and Faber, 1998. Print.; Hollywood Ten (American History)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2013. Web. Accessed 18 Apr. 2013. <>.

3 Simkin, John. "Edward Dmytryk." Spartacus Educational. N.p., n.d. Web. Accessed 25 Apr. 2013. <>.

4 Plot Summary for Crossfire." IMDb., 2010. Web. Accessed 25 Apr. 2013. <>.

5 "film noir". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. Accessed 25 Apr. 2013

Quotes." IMDb., 2010. Web. Accessed 25 Apr. 2013. <>.

Leab, Daniel. "Film Reference." Crossfire. Film Reference, n.d. Web. Accessed 25 Apr. 2013. <>.

Hopwood, Jon C. "Dalton Trumbo-Biography." IMDb., 2010. Web. Accessed 26 Apr. 2013. <>.

"Tender Comrade." IMDb., 2013. Web. Accessed 29 Apr. 2013. <>.

""Hollywood 10" Cited for Contempt of Congress." A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. Accessed 29 Apr. 2013. <>.

Sanchez, John. "The Fates of the Hollywood Ten: Jailed and Blacklisted for Not Naming Names." Yahoo! Contributor Network. N.p., 2013. Web. Accessed 29 Apr. 2013. <>.

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