Thom Andersen and NoŽl Burch, Red Hollywood, 1996, color, sound, 120 minutes.

THE HOLLYWOOD TEN: The sobriquet given to a group of “unfriendly witnesses” (eight screenwriters, one director, and one producer) still stands as shorthand for an ignominious era of red-baiting, stirring outrage nearly seventy years after they were jailed for contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about alleged communist ties before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Less enshrined, however, are the films made by this notorious decad—not to mention those by the hundreds of other blacklistees who followed in their wake—prior to their banishment from the movie industry. An act of passionate, assiduous scholarship, Thom Andersen and NoŽl Burch’s video essay Red Hollywood (1996, though reedited and remastered last year) argues for the politically progressive salience of this often neglected corpus.

An expansion of Andersen’s 1985 essay of the same name, Red Hollywood braids excerpts from fifty-three films from multiple genres, spanning the 1930s through the early ’50s; interviews with blacklistees Paul Jarrico, Ring Lardner Jr., Alfred Levitt, and Abraham Polonsky; and a shrewd, occasionally wry text coolly read by Billy Woodberry. (One of the LA Rebellion filmmakers, Woodberry and his neo-Neorealist Bless Their Little Hearts from 1984 feature prominently in Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, an equally astute, fervent work of cine-archaeology from 2003.) At issue in Red Hollywood is the claim, made at the time by both the supporters and detractors of the HUAC-branded pariahs, that the blacklistees’ influence on popular cinema was “insignificant at best.” Through a series of chapters—“War,” “Class,” “Sexes,” “Hate,” to name a few—Andersen and Burch’s treatise cogently advances the idea that these films, in fact, evince unmistakably leftist ideas.

Some of the titles highlighted in Red Hollywood will be familiar to those with only a cursory knowledge of the HUAC era, namely Body and Soul (1947; scripted by Polonsky) and Force of Evil (1948; directed and cowritten by Polonsky), both of which star John Garfield. The proto-Method actor—hailed in Woodberry’s narration as “an axiom of left-wing film of the ’30s and ’40s”—and his Body and Soul costar Canada Lee, a civil rights activist, are the most tragic cases in Red Hollywood’s necrology. Both men, who refused to name names or denounce colleagues, died of heart attacks—Lee at age forty-five, Garfield at thirty-nine—within twelve days of each other in 1952; for them, as for many others, the blacklist and its unfathomable pressures became a “literal death sentence.”

Yet several titles in Andersen and Burch’s seamless compilation are much more obscure. Exhumed and recontextualized by the filmmakers, two vehicles starring Ginger Rogers particularly stand out. Tom Dick and Harry (1941), written by Jarrico, includes a lengthy dream sequence that sends up the horrors of middle-class aspirations; Tender Comrade (1943), directed by Edward Dmytryk and scripted by Dalton Trumbo, two of the Tenners, champions communal living for four female airplane-factory workers whose husbands are overseas fighting in World War II. Though not mentioned in Red Hollywood, the political leanings of the lead actress heighten the subversiveness of both movies: Rogers was a member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a rabidly right-wing organization cofounded by her mother, Lela, in 1944. “We could run the joint like a democracy,” Rogers says to her three roommates-to-be in Tender Comrade—a lofty goal horribly corrupted by elected officials and studio executives offscreen.

Melissa Anderson

Red Hollywood plays at the Film Society of Lincoln Center August 15–21 in conjunction with “Red Hollywood and the Blacklist,” a series, selected by Thom Andersen, of nine movies directed or written by blacklistees.