Monday, August 05, 2013

Guilty by Suspicion

I came across a DVD in the Library the other day called Guilty by Suspicion.  It stars Robert de Niro, so I thought it was worth a look, though I'd never heard of it before.  It turned out to be a powerful movie about the McCarthy era, when politicians began having hearings that brought many Hollywood actors, writers and directors into disrepute because it was claimed they had Communist sympathies.  The appalling period in America's history is well known, and was covered more recently in grim fashion in the George Clooney movie, Good Night, and Good Luck. 

Guilty by Suspicion is just as grim in its own way, and ends before McCarthy and his cronies are brought to heel.  It's the story of a fictional Hollywood director, David Merrill.  Merrill is highly successful, the golden boy of Darryl Zanuck (who, of course, wasn't fictitious), and in the middle of a big project when he's called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  Merrill, like many of his generation, has dabbled lightly in meetings related to Communism (especially as the Russians were allies until after the Second World War) but has had no real connections with Communists as such.  This isn't a problem for the House Committee: they will find dirt where there's no dirt, and will turn friends into enemies. 

The cast is uniformly good and the directing (by Irwin Winkler, who also wrote the script) is sharp, if occasionally melodramatic - though given that it relates to the fifties, it's perhaps intended to echo some of the film-making traits of that period.  The value of the film for today is that is shows how prone to paranoia the US seems to be: in that period it was the Communist takeover, which eventually became the long-lasting Cold War.  When the Cold War finally fizzled out of its own accord, the US turned its eyes to another enemy, and gradually this enemy appeared in a variety of guises, but most of them were Arabs.  And then, after 2001, the new catchword became the War on Terror.  In none of these 'wars' has the US come out in what you'd call in any way 'successful,' and perhaps this is because most of these so-called enemies are trumped up by the US's various spy agencies, or by politicians.  Now, it seems, the US is turning in on itself and spying on its own citizens, as well as millions of non-Americans in countries that are America's allies.  Will there ever be an end to this fear-mongering?  For a country with such strength, power, wealth and breadth, it seems surprisingly incapable of being at peace with itself, or with other nations.
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