The Red Scare: A Filmography
The films produced in Hollywood before, during and after the Cold War Red Scare make for an interesting study in the response of a popular medium caught in a political firestorm. The following list is a selective filmography of motion pictures that played a role in fueling the Red Scare, in propagandizing the threat of Communism and in a few rare and rather veiled cases, in standing up to the charges of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As the frightening fifties receded in memory and the political temperment gradually changed with the passing decades, Hollywood found more courage in facing up to the culpability of the film industry itself and its role in supporting gross violations of civil liberties. Several feature films and a number of documentaries exploring this painful issue round out the list below.
HUAC interrogated many film industry people. In the end, countless careers were destroyed but only ten individuals actually went to jail. This group came to be known as "The Hollywood Ten." Alvah Bessie, Herbert J. Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo paid a huge price at the hands of HUAC. An exhaustive analysis of their films, published in 1972 by Dorothy B. Jones (who had served as chief of the film reviewing and analysis section of the U.S. Office of War Information during World War II), indicated that "none of the 159 films credited over a period of years (1929-1949) to The Hollywood Ten contained Communist propaganda." (Cogley, p.226)
Today, the Blacklist Credit Committee is working with the Writers Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to restore the credits and records of scores of film industry personnel who, along with The Hollywood Ten, were denied employment, forced to write behind the names of "fronts," or utilized pseudonyms because of suspected communist ties.
The anti-communist films
Films that can be interpreted as reaction against to HUAC activities
Science fiction films
Communists, the Cold War and the 1960's
HUAC and the Hollywood Ten Through the 1970's and into the 90's
Films that may have "implicated" Hollywood and/or the Hollywood Ten
Early anti-communist films
|Really the only wildly popular anti-communist film ever made. Re-released 1947 and remade in 1957 as a musical, Silk Stockings.
|Behind the Iron Curtain (aka The Iron Curtain)
|Leave it to the Canadians to produce a somewhat less paranoid, somewhat more balanced picture of spies and defection. Filmed in a semi-documentary style.
|Spiriting atomic scientists across the Iron Curtain depends on some silly espionage tricks and not very bright communist adversaries.
|Bells of Coronado
|Perhaps the first Western to be written with an eye toward a subtle anti-communist message, this story of espionage stars Roy Rogers. Trigger gets second billing, just above Dale.
|Boasting ELizabeth Taylor in her first grown-up role, this film is actually not bad. In a wonderful bit of irony, the traitorous communist spy is played by Robert Taylor, one of the most "friendly" HUAC witnesses in Hollywood.
|Guilty of Treason
|A full blown propaganda "docudrama," this film recounts the life and imprisonment of Joszef Cardinal Mindszenty and portrays communism at its most evil.
|I Married a Communist
|Howard Hughes' first of several anti-communist films made at RKO. Not a hot ticket for preview audiences with its original name, it was released with the more provocative title of The Woman on Pier 13.
|The Red Danube
|This film concerns a ballarina, truly evil Soviet functionaries, and the difficulties of repatriation. Its main interest here is that it shows the British military to be a bit weak in the global battle to resist Communism.
|The Red Menace
|This classic B-movie propaganda piece explores the communist threat from within America's own borders. Its semi-documentary style attempts to add verisimilitude to this story.
|Walk a Crooked Mile
|This film makes the FBI look so incompetent that J.Edgar Hoover protested it.
|This helpful "Armed Forces Information Film" shows how reds operate inside the U.S., and also gives an historical overview of communism.
|Communist Weapon of Allure
|Re-released several more times, most recently on video in 1983; U.S. government documentary.
|I Was a Communist for the FBI
|Based on the exploits of the real anti-communist and woman-beater Matt Cvetic, this movie even shows how the American civil rights movement and blue collar steelworkers alike were linked to communist activities.
|The Whip Hand
|Biological warfare and Raymond Burr are brought together in this story of a strange little town taken over by communists.
|An all-American bush pilot in Alaska becomes entangled with a communist spy posing as an innocent American.
|A thriller Iron Curtain tale of journalists working to get the facts on a communist conspiracy. Unusual for its use of scenes actually shot in Paris and Hungary.
|How the communists infiltrate and get average citizens to betray the U.S
|Big Jim McLain
|Features John Wayne as a HUAC agent and guest appearances by actual HUAC committee members.
|A good example of a Cold War spy film, this one sports an amazing cast: Charles Bronson, Karl Malden, E.G. Marshall, Lee Marvin, Patricia Neal, Hidegarde Neff (Knef), Tyrone Power and probably a few others.
|The only Hollywood film about communism that takes the form of a documentary; it is also critical of using slander, gossip, etc. to attack individuals, as HUAC was doing.
|This film incorporates a lot of actual documentary film footage of indigenous Alaskans while also telling a story of secret weapon intrigue on either side of the Bering Straits. Guy Madison stars.
|The Steel Fist
|Roddy McDowell stars as the archtypal idealistic young student who speaks his mind in an unnamed commuist country. A good example of how Hollywood retools a familiar plotline (in this case, the "French resistence film") and updates it to fit the current situation in Eastern Europe.
|The first film directed by Ray Milland, it is remarkable for its lack of any spoken dialog, relying instead on natural sounds. Perhaps this is a subtle warning about the dangers of SILENCE, when espionage and treason are all around us.
|Walk East on Beacon Street
|Excellent story of a Boston-based spy ring.
|My Son John
|Captures best the anti-communism zeal of the times, this is the film most frequently cited as an example of over the top anti-communist melodrama.
|Man on a Tightrope
|Elia Kazan directs this film and shows just how destructive communism is, even to circus people.
|Never Let Me Go
|Clark Gable again in a remake of Comrade X.
|Originally titled Red Salute and produced in 1935, this film was re-titled and re-released to take advantage of the anti-communist sentiment in the early 1950's.
|Starring Sabu, this film takes the war against communism to a small tropical island.
|Johnny Weismuller in one of his "Jungle Jim" roles is working for the U.S. government, trying to evacuate a small Afican island that is to be used as an atomic test site. Commies try to stir up resistence (imagine!) to the American plan, but Jungle Jim teaches them a lesson.
|Gregory Peck in CINEMASCOPE stars as a CIA agent working in West Berlin who must negotiate a very delicate deal with the communists. Filmed on location.
|Prisoner of War
|The Korean conflict provided a new setting for anti-communist films, and this one, starring Ronald Reagan as a intelligence officer who intentionally enters a North Korean POW camp, is allegedly based on true accounts from surviving American POWs.
|One of the very few anti-communist films to do well at the box office, and perhaps one of the most honest and accurate portrayals of communism in the U.S. up to this time.
|Communist Blueprint for Conquest
|This U.S. government documentary explains exactly how communists recruit for their cause.
|John Wayne's answer to High Noon.
|The Commies Are Coming, the Commies are Coming
|Now a cult film, this title is a good example of anti-communist films from the 1950's.
|Janet Leigh as a Soviet fighter pilot---what more can be said?
|A wonderful musical remake of Ninotchka with Cyd Charisse as the dedicated communist and music from the stage production by Cole Porter.
|Although this is a foreign film (produced in Italy and written by Federico Fellini), it found itself caught up in a communist smear campaign initiated by various Catholic organizations in the U.S. Ironically, just as Cold War rhetoric was chilling Hollywood, this film was used to go to the Supreme Court and win First Amendment rights for the first time for motion pictures---in 1952.
|One of the greatest westerns ever made, this film can be viewed as either for or against HUAC activities. Its director, Fred Zimmerman, claims it's just a great Western.
|See entry above.
|How to categorize this film? Directed by Elia Kazan, himself already traumatized by HUAC, with a screenplay partially completed by the now blacklisted and jailed Lester Cole, with a final script by John Steinbeck and with the constant meddling of Darryl F. Zanuck who is determined not to produce a politically sensitive film, Viva Zapata! manages to survive today as a moving, intellectually complex, vivid film showcasing a young Marlon Brando as the Mexican folk hero.
|On the Waterfront
|Kazan's justification for cooperating with HUAC, or an agonizing portrayal of trying to do the right thing in a corrupt world?
|Salt of the Earth
|The work of a group of blacklisted ex-Hollywood film industry workers, this film is a powerful, at times didactic, telling of a New Mexico mining strike. Produced by Paul Jarrico, directed by Herbert Biberman, written by Michael Wilson and starring Will Geer, the film had very limited distribution when first released.
|A King in New York
|Charlie Chaplin's bitter attack on cold war hysteria.
|North by Northwest
|Hitchcock's classic sendup of spies and counterspies, this film marks the beginning of the end of Red Scare melodrama.
This genre provided a convincing disguise for a variety of political viewpoints.
|We must beat the Russians to the moon, and thus begins the use of space as a political battlefield.
|The Flying Saucer
|The Reds capture a saucer invented by an American.
|The Day the Earth Stood Still
|An early warning--Hollywood style-- about the madness of cold war politics, this outstanding sci fi film set the standard for years to come. And besides, who can resist the siren call of the theremin?
|The Man from Planet X
|But wait, some space aliens are good. We bomb them anyway.
|When Worlds Collide
|A right-wing industrialist finances the escape to a safe planet after Earth is doomed to destruction.
|Red Planet Mars
|One of the classic sci fi films in which God speaks to the world.
|Invaders from Mars
|Now a B-movie cult classic, this film explores the quality of fear generated by aliens who take over the bodies and minds of good people, making it impossible to distinguish between us and them. A lackluster remake was released in 1986.
|Communists as giant mutant ants.
|This Island Earth
|A very good, thought provoking film that presages the Reagan-era obsession with a protective space-based shield.
|Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
|Not by accident do the aliens destroy every familiar landmark/symbol of democracy in Washington DC.
|Invasion of the Body Snatchers
|Perhaps the most famous science fiction picture of the 1950's, this film can be interpreted as a demonstration of the dangers of communist infiltration and brainwashing, or, more likely, an examination of HUAC hysteria and the pressures exerted to bring conformity to American society. The inevitable remake appeared in 1978.
|The Strange World of Planet X
|We give this planet another chance and its aliens help us repair a hole in the earth's ionosphere caused by a nuclear mishap.
|Not of this Earth
|A great (really!) Roger Corman film, this tale of a bloodless alien whose plan is to Take Over the World is sure to terrify.
By the 1960's, Hollywood grows bolder in its portrayal of Cold War espionage and bureaucratic hypocrisy. The federal government continues to release a few anti-communist "education" films, but the tide has inexorably turned.
|J. Edgar Hoover himself shows how communists influenced the anti-HUAC riots of the 1950's. (The governmentese title of this one-reeler is "Communist Infiltration and Agitation Tactics; a Report.") Re-released in 1969.
|Challenge of Ideas
|U.S. government documentary analyzes the basic ideological differences between "the American way" and the communist state, and points out the importance of maintaining America's spiritual and moral values.
|One, Two, Three
|Satire finally begins to make an appearance.
|Point of Order
|This documentary is made up of segments of the televised Army-McCarthy hearings. It contains no narrative voice-over, instead letting carefully edited film footage tell a damning story.
|Advise and Consent
|Otto Preminger pits communist smear attacks against homosexual smear attacks on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
|The Manchurian Candidate
|One of the best films of the decade, this story wraps communists, right-wing extremists and an exceedingly vile mother into one incestuous force of evil. When life imitated art and President Kennedy was assassinated, the film was quickly withdrawn from distribution.
|The Red Nightmare
|U.S. Government documentary, with the added feature of Jack Webb as the narrator, this film is a famous example of its type.
|The Best Man
|The Reds and the Mafia work together in this one, harking back to the 1930's formula in which Communists were often gangsters.
|Perhaps the best loved, critically acclaimed sendup of the cold war ever produced.
|This nuclear disaster movie is preceded by a government statement claiming that the events depicted in the film could never happen.
|Seven Days in May
|The real danger to America is from the right, according to this classic black and white thriller adapted by Rod Serling.
|The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
|Although centered on subtrafuge in British intelligence, this black and white film of double double crosses still makes for engrossing viewing and it accurately reflects the growing cynicism of its day.
|This documentary presents the civil rights movement as a part of the communist plan for world domination.
|The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming
|America continues to hone its sense of humor about the Cold War, and now hopes for a warm and happy ending to this senseless political bickering.
|U.S. government documentary.
|Ring Lardner Jr. enjoys great recognition with his academy award winning screenplay of this condemnation of the Korean War.
|Johnny Got His Gun
|This anti-war film directed by Dalton Trumbo (and based on his novel, originally published in 1939) must have allowed Trumbo a sense of satisfaction to see his World War I pacifist story finally brought to the screen and viewed by American audiences disillusioned by the Vietnam War.
|McCarthy; Death of a Witch Hunter
|45 minute documentary looks at the impact of Joe McCarthy's moment of fame.
|One of several JFK conspiracy films, this one has several blacklisted film workers in its credits, including Dalton Trumbo and Will Geer. The right wing comes in for a drubbing.
|The Way We Were
|A romantic look back at the damage done by the red scare to Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand playing a politically conflicted couple from the 1930's to the 1960's.
|Three Days of the Condor
|As the 1970's moves along, it doesn't take long before the CIA begins devouring itself, at least on film.
|Woody Allen's film not only tells a story of the red scare but uses many of the actual surviving victims whose careers were affected.
|Hollywood on Trial
|Considered one of the best early documentaries on the activities of HUAC and the film industry, this motion picture is especially interesting for its multi-dimensional view of events, and its concentration on the Hollywood Ten. It is narrated by John Huston, himself a target, briefly, of HUAC.
|Warren Beatty's tribute to the American communist John Reed, this lengthy, controversial and powerful film touches on red scare issues as well as depicting the Bolshevik Revolution.
|Nominated for an Oscar as Best Documentary.
|The House of Carroll Street
|Depicts what happens to a magazine journalist with leftist leanings working during the McCarthy era.
|A British made-for-cable-tv film, this rather good movie is set in 1950's Hollywood and shows the personal destruction wrought by the hearings.
|Communist Propaganda Machine and Its Victims
|A documentary claiming to show how the free press of America has been turned into the liberal establishment that we have today. Bring back HUAC!
|Guilty by Suspicion
|A look back at HUAC in Hollywood, starring Robert De Niro.
|Made-for-cable-tv film focuses on the life of Roy Cohn, perhaps the single most duplicitous figure involved in Joe McCarthy's anti-American investigations.
In this category can be found films that portrayed socialist ideas or the working classes in a positive light, that showed Moscow as a worthy ally in World War II (at the behest of the wartime U.S. government), that revealed antisemiticism, or that simply cast capitalists as villains.
|John Howard Lawson's earliest film portrayed great sympathy for the working class.
|Afraid to Talk
|Corruption everywhere, this film condemns local institutions along with gangsters in crime-ridden Chicago.
|Soak the Rich
|A prescient view of the campus witch hunts to come, this comedy/drama lets the anti-capitalist radicals teach the rich a lesson.
|An ambivalent treatment of the Spanish American War, the film is sympathetic to the leftists, but ended up being banned in fascist countries as well as nations that supported the Spanish loyalists.
|Sinners in Paradise
|Early variations of this screenplay went through several revisions to soften its attack on corrupt capitalism.
|We Who Are Young
|With a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, this film-- about a young couple struggling to make it in a capitalist world--came under suspicion of HUAC committee members.
|Miss V. from Moscow
|In this classic B movie, a beautiful and talented Russian spy infiltrates the Nazi SS and gains important information about a German attack against an American lend-lease convoy heading for the Soviet Union. She is assisted by an American (naturally). One of the very few wartime films in which the Russian and the American do NOT fall in love.
|Days of Glory
|Gregory Peck portrays a Russian resistance fighter.
|Mission to Moscow
|Perhaps the only wartime film that is pro-Soviet government as well as pro-Russian people, this film is based on the autobiography of Joseph Davies (FDR's ambassador to the Soviet Union in the late thirties). The film had the full support of the Whitehouse, but is today seen as a whitewash of Soviet atrocities.
|Screenplay by Lillian Hellman, who was vigorously pursued by the federal government to write a pro-Russian piece that would convince the American public that alliance with the USSR was a wise policy. Hellman later became a target of HUAC.
|Song of Russia
|Written by two members of the American Communist Party, Paul Jarrico and Richard Collins, this picture turns Russian peasants into lovable, singing, brave people, just like Americans.
|Directed by Edward Dmytryk and based on a Dalton Trumbo story, this film was bound to attract HUAC attention. It was a big hit with the public, and gave Ginger Rogers one of her best dramatic roles.
|A rare (for the 1940's) psychological drama pitting a brave Russian paratrooper (Paul Muni) against evil Nazi officers.
|Directed by Edward Dmytryk, this outstanding film which examines anti-semitism in the U.S. caused great controversy at its release and may have been the major reason for Dmytryk's summons from HUAC.
This category delineates the first Red Scare era in American filmmaking, which began in 1919.
|Bolshevism on Trial
|Based on a novel written by the Rev. Thomas Dixon (whose more famous novel The Clansman was the basis for the film Birth of a Nation), this film makes socialism look ridiculous in theory and practice, lampooning Upton Sinclair's socialist experimental colony Halicon Hall. Originally titled Shattered Dreams, its new title sought to capitalize on inflamatory headlines prevalent at that time.
|Bullin' the Bullsheviki
|One of the first anti-communist films, this 4-reel silent slapstick comedy sets the formula for the young idealist who must be disabused of his naive Bolshevik ideas.
|The New Moon
|This film gets its spice from the belief that the newly revolutionized Russia is banning marriage laws and declaring women "public property." Immediately imitated by such forgetable films as Common Property, also released in 1919.
|The Red Viper
|One of nearly a dozen Red Scare films made between 1919 and 1920.
|The Right to Happiness
|In a linkage that becomes all too familiar, anti-bolshevism blends with anti-semitism in this picture about an American girl, separated from her real family, and raised as a Red Revolutionary by a Jewish family.
|In what becomes a standard plotline, a naive college graduate is tricked into collaborating with Bolsheviks up to no good in the shipyards. Originally titled Americanism.
|Written and directed by Leonce Peret, the French director who worked at Pathé between 1916 and 1920.
|Red Russia Revealed
|Lenin and Trotsky and the Red Army have plenty to eat, but the simple Russian people have nothing.
|Beautiful Russian spy meets handsome Austrian patriot.
|British good guy meets and converts beautiful Russian spy during the Russian Revolution
|We Live Again
|Based on Tolstoy's novel "Resurrection," this film shows social injustice in Tsarist Russia.
|The college football team vs. communist radicals.
|I Stand Condemned
|A remake of the French film Nuits Moscovites, this film stars Laurence Olivier as a Russian soldier in World War I.
|The Red Salute
|With its clearly developed anti-communist message embedded in a screwball comedy story, this film actually incited a riot at its New York debut when leftist students protested its depiction of campus radicals. Never an industry to miss a financial opportunity, Hollywood re-released the picture as Runaway Daughter in 1953.
|Together We Live
|Politics drives a family apart, as a patriotic father confronts his two communist-influenced sons.
|Once in a Blue Moon
|Caught in the middle of the Russian Revolution, an itinerant clown falls victim to the vicious Bolsheviks.
|White Russian nobility living in exile are forced into a moral dilemma, but eventually do the right thing to help the starving Russians. And it stars Claudette Colbert.
|Spawn of the North
|This film shows a Russian villian at his worst. Remade in 1954 as Alaska Seas.
|This musical love story depicts both Bolsheviks and Cossacks in a positive light, with love winning again over political differences.
|The Bigger They Are
|Columbia Studios picture.
|Produced at Paramount.
|Confessions of a Nazi Spy
|Critical of the Soviet invasion of Finland, this film was quickly withdrawn when the Russians became U.S. allies. But it is also one of the few movies that really nailed the Nazis, before U.S. entry into World War II.
|Hero for a Day
|Harold Young directs this contest between communism and football.
|A Borris Morrow Productions film.
|Our Leading Citizen
|A strike, a strikebreaker, a mean capitalist, an agitator and a folksy town lawyer prove that patriotism is the only acceptable "-ism," and that the middle ground is the proper and fair American way. The group "Film Audiences for Democracy" threatened to boycott this film, due to its portrayal of organized labor.
|Just before the Soviet Union had to be presented as our trusted ally, this film portrays a rugged American reporter (Clark Gable) covering the Moscow purge trials of the late 1930's. See also the 1953 remake Never Let Me Go
|He Stayed for Breakfast
|Romance wins out when a young communist is talked out of his radical beliefs by a pretty capitalist.
|Public Deb Number One
|Sometimes rich, carefree socialites led astray by radical talk need to get their comeupance from the working class.
American History/American Film; Interpreting the Hollywood Image,John E. O'Connor and Martin A. Jackson, 1988.
American Political Movies; an Annotated Filmography of Feature Films, James E. Combs, 1990.
"'Commie Carnival' Revisted," Variety, September 9-15, 1996, p. 1, 122+. Articles by Leonard Klady, John Brodie, Rex Weiner, Ted Johnson and Dan Cox looks back at HUAC in Hollywood.
Documentary Film Classics, Produced by the United States Government, National Audiovisual Center, 1980.
Encyclopedia of the McCarthy Era, William K. Klingaman, 1996.
Film and the American Left: A Research Guide, M. Keith Booker, 1999.
Films of the 1920s, Richard Dyer MacCann, 1996
Friend or Foe? Russians in American Film and Foreign Policy, 1933-1991, Michael J. Strada and Harold R. Troper, 1997.
Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002, Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner, 2003.
Movie Censorship and American Culture, Francis G. Couvares, 1996.
The Political Companion to American Film, Gary Crowdus, 1994.
Red Star over Hollywood: The Film Colony's Long Romance with the Left, Ronald Radosh and Allis Radosh, 2005.
Report on Blacklisting, John Cogley, 1956. See especially "Communism and the Movies; a Study of Film Content," by Dorothy B. Jones, vol. I, pp. 196-304.
Salt of the Earth; the Story of a Film, Herbert Biberman, 1965.
Tender Comrades; a Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist, Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle, 1997.
"Un-American" Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era, Frank Krutnik, Steve Neale, Brian Neve, and Peter Stanfield, eds., 2007.
U.S. Government Films; a Catalog of Motion Pictures and Filmstrips for Sale by the National Audiovisual Center, U.S. National Archives and Records Center, 1969.
All Rovi Guide formerly AllMovie.com, provides comprehensive movie info including recommendations and reviews.
Blacklisted; A Dramatic Six-Part Personal History of the Hollywood Blacklist (written, narrated and produced by Tony Kahn, a victim of the HUAC hearings)
The Hollywood Ten. This site is a selection of scanned fulltext documents from the period of the HUAC hearings, including "Red Stars in Hollywood" and "Screen Guide for Americans."
The Internet Movie Database at http://us.imdb.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/
Compiled by Glenda Pearson. 5 March 1998
Updated 19 September 2011
Visit The All Powers Project for more information about the commemorative event held in 1998 at University of Washington and for additional Red Scare resources.