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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?
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.
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.
As just a movie, "I Was a Communist for the FBI" is quite good in that
it moves quickly and has an element of real suspense, particularly the
train track sequence, which is excellent.
As a propaganda film, it works even better, giving one the impression that the Communists had infiltrated many aspects of society and were more powerful than they actually were in reality.
The film purports to be the true story of Matt Cvetic, who infiltrated the Communist organization in Pittsburgh on the part of the FBI and testified before the House on Un-American Activities, naming something like 100 people in the party.
In the film, no one except a priest knows that Cvetic is undercover, so his sons loathe him, and he's broken his mother's heart. During his work as a Communist, he meets a beautiful teacher, Eve Merrick (Dorothy Hart) who ultimately becomes disillusioned with the party.
In reality, Cvetic thought he was hot stuff and told a lot of people he worked for the FBI. He was also an alcoholic and eventually no longer used as a witness in trials against Communists.
As played by Frank Lovejoy, he is a very committed hero, and Lovejoy does an excellent job in portraying this Everyman. He had an interesting career, mostly in television, and rarely as a leading man.
This is the kind of movie that has to be taken in the context of the times. Everyone was told of the dangers of Communism, and that it was going to take over the world. Communism is a philosophy just like anything else, and in the '30s, many people were interested in it. They didn't all become Communists. On paper it's fine, but there aren't any people messing it up on paper. The reality is a very repressed, racist society where the top guys share in the wealth brought to them by the laborers.
Here they're depicted as people imagined them, powerful rabblerousers infiltrating every level of society. I doubt it got that far. And we see today that it's lost its grip most places.
As a baby boomer going to Catholic school, I was told that a Communist would point a gun to my head and ask if I was Catholic. When I said yes, I would be killed. Like that's what I planned to say.
"I Was a Communist for the FBI" is worth seeing as a '50s artifact with some suspenseful scenes.
According to the Wikipedia, "I Was a Communist for the FBI" was the
name of a series of articles written by Matt Cvetic that appeared in
the Saturday Evening Post. The stories were later turned into a
best-selling book, an American espionage thriller radio series, and
also this motion picture. Mr. Cvetic's articles were the true story of
his undercover life, but the radio show and this film were largely
fictionalized for dramatic effect. Matt Cvetic was actually an
undercover agent for the FBI posing as a Communist for nine years. It
is true that he alienated his family and friends as a result of them
believing that he was actually a Communist, and even wound up divorced
as a result of his assignment, although the divorce is not mentioned in
the film. It is not true that the Communists posed as big a threat to
the U.S. from within as is shown in the motion picture. The film itself
is quite interesting and a pretty good thriller in its own right. It
will keep you guessing as to whether or not Cvetic's true identity will
be revealed before he is finished collecting information.
You just have to forget about the stretching of the truth that goes on here and enjoy this film for what it is - a window into a particularly paranoid time in America with a good pace to it. A film that is equivalent to it and made about the same time is the better known "Big Jim McLain" starring John Wayne. It too has many wild stereotypes, but the action is good and you just have to remember when and why it was made. If you do that, you should thoroughly enjoy both films.
I'm tired of people coming up with the idea of communism being a
harmless little flirtation.
It was a serious threat to America and our way of life for many years. I spent many years of my life to defeat it. To minimilize the threat of communism is nothing but sophistry and needs to be called such.
The movie needs to be seen as such, as did the TV series which I remember from my younger years.
Is communism good? Look at what it has done ... it builds walls to keep people in. There are only two countries that still practice it ... China and Cuba. Does that say anything?
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