Macquarie University
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The Hollywood Left and McCarthyism: the political and aesthetic legacy of the Red Scare

posted on 2022-03-28, 14:23 authored by Mile Klindo
This thesis assesses the long-term legacy of the anticommunist witch-hunts of the 1940s and 1950s on the political aesthetics of postwar Hollywood, focusing on selected blacklistees who, both individually and as a distinct group of class conscious filmmakers, embodied the new wave of social criticism of American capitalism on film before the HUAC offensive. -- The main subjects of this research - Polonsky, Rossen, Losey, Kazan, and Biberman - are reexamined as representatives of distinct ideological strands of the 'proletarianized' left culture of the first half of 20th century America. These key figures of the Hollywood Left are useful case studies on the impact of McCarthyism on American film art not only because their politics pushed them into the firing line of the anticommunist establishment, but also because, having matured artistically during this period of political reaction, their stories suggest some unexplored potential aesthetic directions for postwar American cinema, possible pathways prematurely blocked by the blacklisting of these filmmakers. -- Polonsky's sophisticated grasp of Marxism will be counter-posed to Rossen's Popular Front liberalism in their cinematic challenges to the American Way. Losey, who, along with Polonsky, carried the Marxist torch in Hollywood, went further than any US radical filmmaker in merging American vernacular modernism with Marxism. His assimilation of Meyerhold's political aesthetics, more than any other theoretical conquest in the Hollywood Left, held the promise of the kind of film art he eventually would accomplish, at least partially, in exile, in his collaboration with Harold Pinter in England. -- Kazan's and Brando's collaboration in On the Waterfront, heralded not only the triumph of naturalism in acting, but a fundamental shift in the approach to depicting social problems on film, centered now on individualism. Stanislavsky's triumph over Meyerhold (and Brecht) marked an irrevocable break from the 1930s paradigm in Hollywood, and the extinction of the proletarian ethos of the Popular Front era. The creators of Salt of the Earth, on the other hand, doggedly stuck to the proletarian, and by now criminalized, principles of their youth, earning the unique distinction of producing the only officially banned film in America. Reading this labour classic against its pro-Stalinist antithesis, On the Waterfront, therefore affords a rare opportunity to shed light on the (so far) under-researched, symbiotic, if hostile, relationship between McCarthyism and American Stalinism. -- It is within this political and aesthetic context that the thesis will seek to quantify the losses to American film art caused by McCarthyism.


Table of Contents

Introduction: Contextualising the tension between the 'American dream' and Marxism in pre-blacklist Hollywood -- Conscious and 'unconscious' Marxism in Hollywood: Abraham Polonsky, John Garfield and their cinematic challenge to 'The American way' -- Robert Rossen and the transitional period in Hollywood -- From Meyerhold to Pinter: Joseph Losey's political and artistic journey -- Two diametrically opposed responses to the blacklist in films about 'Big labour': on the Waterfront and Salt of the earth --The 'Un-American' take on 'Big labour': Salt of the earth and democratic unionism -- Conclusion: notes on perspectives and contexts: many are McCarthyist.


Bibliography: p. 345-361

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Dept. of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Noel King


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Mile Klindo 2011.




United States


xviii, 362 p

Former Identifiers

mq:22540 1736541