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Frank Lovejoy starred in two classics: he had a minor part in "House of
and was one of the main characters in Ida Lupino's film noir "The
Hitch-Hiker". In "I Was A Communist For The FBI" he plays Matt Cvetic, a
Slovenian last name which makes it all the more likely that Cvetic would
turn into a communist. Well, that's at least what the film tries to tell
It is 1951 and McCarthy has started the war on the new enemy, the communists. It was a 'war' that would mark lots of 50s movies. Some movies had subtle criticism (e.g. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"), some were overtly against communism: in "Invaders from Mars" the communists were evil aliens, in "I Was A Communist For The FBI" they were just evil. The communists wanted to start riots which would lead to Americans fighting other Americans according to this movie by Gordon Douglas (who is also the director of the Frank Sinatra thriller "The Lady in Cement" and the giant ants movie "Them!"). Why? Well, if everyone would fight, one would applaud communism for being the new order that would have brought peace to the streets of America. Well, if they say so.
The movie is so anti-communism that at times you are feeling you are watching a parody. Well, it isn't, all is meant with a straight face. We follow the life of Matt Cvetic, an FBI agent who pretends to be a communist. We see how he is despised by his family (even his son) and how he can't tell anyone of the Great Mission he is on. He cannot tell them he is risking his neck to save the country.
As ridiculous as all this might seem, if you can ignore the propaganda of this movie, you are left with a fairly decent movie. It may be difficult to watch this film nowadays and think lots of people believed the message of this movie, but it's even more difficult that this movie was nominated for an Oscar in 1952. The category? Best Documentary. Really.
The fear of Communism runs high. Truth or propaganda? An FBI agent turns counterspy burrowing his way into the U.S. Communist Party. Documentary style Film-Noir. Watching this fifty some years after its release dilutes the original intentions. A case of do as I say; not as I do. Frank Lovejoy is sometimes stoic but effective. Also featured are Philip Carey, Dorothy Hart and Richard Webb. You may possibly get more into CONFESSIONS of a NAZI SPY(1939)starring Edward G. Robinson.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are so very few films where just the title tells you all you need
to know about the film. Such a film is I Was A Communist For The FBI.
Another example would be I Married A Monster From Outer Space.
The really interesting thing about this film is how in heaven's name did this get nominated for an Oscar in the documentary category? It is not a documentary in any sense of the word, it's not even in that hybrid category of docudrama. It's just a rather exploitive film about the work of an FBI undercover agent named Matt Cvetic who infiltrated the Communist Party in Pittsburgh and got active in trying to take over the Steelworker's Union for the Communists and reporting on said activities to his handlers in the FBI.
A documentary of that work might have been interesting, but what we got was a film to fit those paranoid times. I found it fascinating that when Cvetic finally broke his cover it was to the House Un-American Activities Committee rather than the trial in New York of the Communist Party leaders. There was a moment in the film where head Communist James Millican tells his followers to start spreading the word that the House Un American Activities Committee was composed of a bunch of right wing yahoos looking to get their names in front of the camera. Now what could have given him that idea? Anyway just connect the dots and no doubt the word their came from J. Edgar Hoover trying to give some credence to HUAC by having an effective undercover come out there rather than at an actual trial. Little thing there called cross examination.
Warner Brothers who produced I Was A Communist For The FBI later produced Big Jim McLain which starred John Wayne about a HUAC investigator in Hawaii. HUAC did grab on to credit for the work done by the Honolulu PD in breaking up a Communist spy ring there among the dockworkers. But at least in John Wayne's film nobody claimed it was a documentary.
Frank Lovejoy is in the title role as Cvetic and his FBI handlers are Richard Webb and Philip Carey. Dorothy Hart plays a Pittsburgh school teacher who says that there are 30 or so like here in that school system indoctrinating the young among whom is Ron Hagerthy, Lovejoy's son. She has a change of heart about the Communists and Lovejoy has to save her from a homicidal fate planned by his superiors. Ironically Hart left the movies and went to work for all places, the United Nations which as we know has been accused often of being a Communist nest in the USA.
Over half a century later and we really have very few objective works on film or in print about the Communist Party of the USA. They were in fact a very active bunch in the labor movement. The real heroes in stopping them were labor organizers like Walter Reuther in the UAW or David Dubinsky in the ILGWU. But since they were people of the left they just don't have the following on the right to be suitable propaganda material.
Anyway I Was A Communist For The FBI is an exploitive work based on a real life character and a testament to those paranoid times.
****SPOILERS**** Living in the shadows despised and hated by his family
and friends Matt Cvetic, Frank Lovejoy, made the ultimate sacrifice in
the war against the Communist menace that threatened America and the
free world back in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Matt became a
Communist but a Communist for the FBI.
Based on the true story of undercover agent Matt Cvetic the movie is about a Pittsburgh steel worker and union representative and member of the Communist party. Matt risked his life and safety as well as the lives and safety of his friends and family for nine years to get the goods on the Communist party and put them behind bars for a long long time. Yet for all that time Matt was not only a man without a country but a man without a soul as well.
Matt working undercover gets the evidence on his commie cohorts but not after he's involved in killing two commies who tried to kill him and his girlfriend Eva; as well as him being charged with the murder of an FBI agent. An FBI man That the commies, that Matt killed in self-defense, really murdered. Matt's also provided in the movie with a fellow traveler love-interest Eve Merrick, Dorothy Heart, who's a teacher, undermining the American youth, in Matt's son's Dick, Ron Hegerthy, high school.
You at first think that Eve is an undercover agent like Matt is when he accidentally drops his wallet, when Matt's brother Joe(Paul Picerni) slugs him for having the nerve to attend their mother's funeral. Matt's wallet has a letter to his son telling him the truth about himself that Eve picked up. You later realize that Eve really was a commie but saw the light and got religious after seeing just how low those rotten Reds can go to achieve their wretched aims.
Watching the Communists in action in the movie shows how their only really interested in creating chaos hatred and destruction among the working-class people. The Commies have not the least interest at all in getting the people to love and respect each other or to help them economically. This is the usual Commie trick that they always like to pull, in helping the working class, like they kept boasting over and over in the movie but to only use them to farther their goals.
The Commies are so cold and unfeeling, even to each other, and were more then willing to rat out and even have fellow members murdered for the slightest infraction against "The Movement". These back-stabbing actions on their part made you wonder why anyone normal would want to join such a sleazy organization in the first place? Even Matt as hard as he tried had trouble convincing people in the movie, as well as the movie audience,that he was really a Communist! Matt acted so forced and phony as a slimly and in your face fanatical Communist that he looked almost embarrassed in his efforts in trying to be one.
It was good to see in the end of the movie Matt get a couple of good licks in by belting his commie comrade boss Blandon, James Millican, who attacked him in the courthouse after exposing him and his Commie organization. It was also good to see Matt put the rest of Baldon's rotten Commie crew away with his undercover testimony as well. And most of all it was also very rewarding for Matt to have his friends and family finally realize just what a really great American he was. In Matt letting them on that he was a Commie only to get the Commies that he was involved with, who were trying to undermine and destroy America, their just reward.
Obviously " I was a Communist for the FBI" is an over-the-top movie about Communism in America back during the Cold War. Yet at the time of it's release, 1951, there was a Hot War going on in Korea not just against the Communist North Koreans but the Communist Chinese. It was the Red Chinese who provided the manpower for the North Korean Communists to the point were they were over 80% of the ground forces fighting the US troops there. There was also USSR, the Evil Cummmunist Empire, also providing the North Koreans with experienced jet-pilots, who shot down hundreds of USAF combat planes and helicopters. Knowing all this one can easily forgive the extreme dislike and antipathy shown against the Communist in the film back in those days.
Yes, it is over the top.
Yes, it is one-sided.
But for people to deny that Communists were infiltrating positions of influence is just wrong headed revisionism.
Cvetic was a real person. He did infiltrate the CPUSA. He did testify against the CP. It is hard to know just what is true and what isn't because BOTH sides, Hoover's FBI and the Liberal revisionists keep spinning their own version.
But after the fall of the USSR, the KGB files affirmed that there were many successful infiltrations and manipulations of the media and govt. It's just straight facts.
Klaus Fuchs, The Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss are just a few examples.
It is terrifying how the younger generations are ignorant or misinformed about the past. What will they say about 9-11 in 50 years?
Well, that's the message this film tries to deliver. It's not very subtle at all, but I don't think that's what they tried to accomplish with it at that time. I heard the film was also nominated for best documentary (but didn't win) at the Academy Awards, so that proves that this was taken very serious in the early 50's. Nowadays, it all seems very simplistic and one-sided and the ending is very moralizing. The story isn't very thrilling too, but the acting is quite good and it's been all put together in a rather decent way too. Just don't believe too much in what they are saying. 5/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Frank Lovejoy is an undercover FBI agent posing as a committed
communist. He's invited to a small party being given to honor a
visiting Grand Poobah from the Old Country. The table is set with
candles and there is caviar, blini, pelmeni, kapusta, champagne and
other delights on the buffet.
"Quite a spread you have here," remarks Lovejoy. "Better get used to it, Comrade. This is how we'll live when we take over the world." The smiling reply is entirely without sarcasm or irony.
The movie is ludicrous. The good guys are all good and the bad guys are just terrible. If you're a commie and you look cross-eyed, your comrades eliminate you, just as in the Nazi espionage movies of ten years earlier.
But some of the anti-Nazi movies weren't that bad. "The House on 92nd Street" has equally evil enemies but is full of suspense. And if you want an enjoyable movie about Commie rats, watch John Wayne tangle with them in "Big Jim McLain." This is a poorly done example of the propaganda genre. I've always liked Frank Lovejoy and Philip Carey. Dorothy Hart, a naive commie who wises up, is utterly beautiful in an entirely conventional way. But nobody brings anything to this particular party. I don't know what Frank Lovejoy's problem was but he seems made of wood, even when informed that his mother has just died.
The politics of the movie are hardly worth going on about. There were any number of Soviet spies working in Western countries -- the Rosenbergs, Klaus Fuchs, Kim Philby, and others. But if their intention was to disrupt the lives of all Americans, they couldn't have done a better job than the House Unamerican Activities Committee, idolized here.
Scenes of communist speakers stirring up a black audience and prompting the FBI to keep an eye on black responders bring to mind J. Edgar Hoover -- president-for-life of the FBI -- with his tape recordings from Martin Luther King's bedroom, later sent to King's wife, perhaps the nadir of federal law enforcement.
The word 'propaganda' has a bad connotation but it's not always a bad
thing. It consists of messages that are intended to sway opinions using
a variety of means towards a cause. Sometimes, but not always, lies or
distortions are used to change opinions. During WWII, there were a
bunch of films that helped sway opinions towards to the war effort--a
noble cause. And, though they were far fewer, in the early 1950s, there
were some films that were meant to sway opinions against
Communism--which, in hindsight was odd, since during WWII the American
film industry was actually encouraged to portray the Soviets positively
(since they were, at that time, our allies).
This film was one of the better anti-Communist propaganda films of the era as it's highly entertaining. While its being considered a documentary by the Academy (since they nominated it for the Best Documentary category) is silly since so much of the story was fictionalized, the basic story idea was taken from a man who actually worked undercover with Communists who had infiltrated some labor unions. And, given its excellent acting, gritty script and nice direction, the overall package is great--like a film noir film in many ways.
One of my biggest reasons for liking this film is that a veteran character actor, Frank Lovejoy, was used in the lead--not a person who was typically a leading man. Lovejoy was a great actor plus he seemed much more realistic--like a real life character, not some pretty-boy actor. The rest of the cast were also very good.
The writing was very good and unflinching. I doubt if the Communists had infiltrated that much of the labor movement and the film seemed to imply it was widespread AND race riots were the fault of Communist agitators--not social conditions--a shortcoming of the film. But, I loved the way the leaders were shown so unsympathetically. While they claimed to love minorities in public, they had contempt for them and used them as pawns--as they did with everyone they came into contact with in their roles. Some will be offended by the film's use of racial epithets, but I think it added great shock value. Plus, the construction of the film was tight and exciting throughout--with lots of twists and edge of your seat thrills.
Overall, a very exciting film that's held up very well over the years--and an interesting curio from the era of the so-called "Red Scare".
This film was released in the United States in May 1951, when I was a
teenager. This was just five short years after World War II ended, and
while nearly destroyed Europe and Asia were still being repaired and
rebuilt under America's massive Marshall Plan. As a boy I had watched
all the men in my extended family go off to war against nazism/fascism,
and then saw only some of them return home. Now I was watching more
young American men go off to war against communism.
The first of the many armed conflicts after World War II which became known as the 45-year-long East-West "Cold" War began already a year earlier in June 1950 when Communist North Korean forces, backed by Communist Russian forces occupying the north, drove south across the 38th parallel into US-military occupied South Korea. That aggression started the bloody Korean War, which still raged with high US military casualties when this film was being shown in American theaters. Both Communist China under Mao Zedong and Soviet Communist Russia under Stalin, along with the very ominously growing communist Warsaw Pact military alliance, represented very real threats to the United States and Western Europe - when this film was released. While it is true that the movie is a bit "over the top" by today's dramatic standards, it did have both a context and a purpose that definitely was not laughable.
Most responsible people in 1950 fully recognized that the Communist Party, along with its clandestine intelligence operators, was very active in the United States and benefited from considerable Chinese and Russian clandestine government support. That no one was certain of the degree of influence of the secretive Communist Party in the United States gave rise to much public, academic and media speculation, as well as the need for public education plus secret domestic intelligence and counter-intelligence operations to get a better fix on reality.
It is easy for Americans today who have lived their entire lives in historic safety and comfort to assume that it was all some sort of "unjustified scare" since the communists never succeeded in their objective of subjugating the United States. In 1950 I remember an America that was no more concerned with communist subversives than Americans today are concerned with extremist Muslim militants who might be engineering another 9/11. Threats can be real, but still not engender panic - if the people have faith in their government. But I also remember that in 1950 the United States was the only country of any significance that had been left still largely intact and undamaged after the Second World War. This made the US the last best hope against any further deterioration of freedom in the world, and thus the Number One Target of Communist expansionism.
Due in no small part to very active domestic vigilance, communism never had much success inside the United States. But communism was very successful in employing a wide range of deceptive and duplicitous tactics, including exploiting social discontent and infiltrating key political and social movements, to undermine many other countries.
Communism did succeed in thoroughly disrupting life for much of the planet and killing tens of millions of people over a very long period. Most of the atrocities which we today associate with right-wing extremism under Hitler's Nazism were in fact preceded by equal or greater left-wing extremist atrocities under Stalin's Communism. Those were indeed very dangerous times, and Americans in the 1950s who had spent their entire lives under extremely depressing and deadly times, from 1915-45, were naturally suspicious of and opposed to any extremist ideology that might send them, and their children, back into the abyss.
One of the best things about this reds-under-the-bed drama is Frank Lovejoy, an inscrutable actor who neatly inhabits the role of Matt Cvetic, an FBI mole planted in the Pittsburgh branch of the Communist Party during World War 2 and its Cold War aftermath. For the first two thirds of the film he stalks the screen imperturbably, the victim of suspicion from his fellow Party members and often open hostility from his very own family - churchgoing, patriotic Slovenian immigrants who are appalled by his connections to the Communist Party. His own son (Ron Hagerthy) can barely stand the sight of him. When his masquerade begins to unravel he gets emotional, but within limits. He never loses self-control entirely like Paul Lukas in the similarly themed Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), and he is handy with his fists and agile enough to jump out of perilous situations. He is consistently believable, though just at the borderline of wooden. Lacking in charm and magnetism, he nevertheless can carry a film. It's a tough order to play a father who must convince the world, his son included, that he is indeed a member of the widely despised Communist Party, when in fact he is fighting to undermine its influence from within for what he believes is the good of his family and humanity. Quite a conflict, and potentially the stuff of great drama. Although the strongest moments in this film are between Lovejoy and his teen-aged son, we never quite believe that a family man could live such an intensely duplicitous life for as long as Cvetic did without an explosion occurring much sooner. It is somehow too pat. In depicting Cvetic as a spotless hero, the filmmakers have surgically removed too many rough edges, contradictions and loose ends and we are left with a propagandistic symbol instead of a man.
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