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A terrific piece showing the insanity that even a democracy can fall
victim too, when the public's imagination and fear are stoked by
outright lies and liars.
'Tail Gunner Joe' covers the story of Joseph McCarthy (called by President Truman, "that most lamentable mistake of the Almighty") and his skyrocket to national prominence with claims that the State Dept harbored known Communists. This, of course, during a time when America lived in dread fear of Communism and the term 'Commsymp' had been created as a means of destroying a person who couldn't be accurately labelled a 'Communist' so they were 'communist sympathizers' or commsymp's.
The horror of McCarthy's lust for power was beautifully captured in an exchange between McCarthy (Peter Boyle) and Army lawyer Welch (Burgess Meridith, who was himself labelled an enemy of America by McCarthy's gang back in the day), where Welch had hit McCarthy right between the eyes legally, and instead of trying to counter Welch, McCarthy instead names a random member of Welch's team and smears him as a communist. Knowing that just a person's name coming from McCarthy's mouth was a career death sentence, Welch gave his famous remark, "At long last senator - have you no shame?" McCarthy had destroyed a career just because someone made him feel uncomfortable.
It's a matter of some significance that McCarthy went into a career spiral himself not long after being brought down by Welch. Had McCarthy's beliefs and accusations been real, they would have been picked up by another person and brought to fruition - the proof that McCarthy was a liar and a political gangster is in the fact that not one of his list of "207 known names of communists" was ever brought to light, McCarthy never proved the existence of a single communist in the State Department, and he himself died of alcoholism 3 years after his fall from fame.
This TV movie from the late Seventies is one of Peter Boyle's finest performances. He captures everything about Senator McCarthy perfectly, especially the strange cadence of his speech. I must strongly disagree with those who would say that McCarthy has been "vindicated" by history: on the contrary, the evidence is even stronger now than at the time that the witch hunt in which he was engaged was very, very wrong, and completely against what makes America strong. We are who we are because we can dissent and discuss opposing views without fear of assassination, character or otherwise. Joe McCarthy engaged in the politics of fear, and this film makes that point very well. Yes, the film is slanted against McCarthy, but that is because he himself was so one-sided. Again, TAIL GUNNER JOE is well worth seeing, but it doesn't show on air or cable very often. It has not been issued on DVD, but let's hope that it is soon, so that its message cam be heard by any thinking person, and that Peter Boyle's performance can be savored.
It is a source of continual amazement to me that, if a person lives long enough, the opposite of Shakespeare's saying proves true. The bard said something like "The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones." The opposite is all too often true. This appears to be the case with McCarthy. The longer he is dead, the more people forget about what a truly vile maggot he was. This movie does a reasonably good job of portraying McCarthy as he was and not as the new bunch of neo-conservatives want him to have been. His reckless disregard for the truth (often under the guise of looking for the truth) made him the functional equivalent of a twentieth century inquisitor. It also points out how Eisenhower stood by and did absolutely nothing to curb McCarthy. Of course, Eisenhower did virtually nothing for eight years, so this was nothing new...
Peter Boyle is a truly amazing character actor! He is perhaps best known for his role on the popular sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. He has an amazing body of work to his credit. He first became a star in 1970 when he played a hardhat bigot in the sleeper hit Joe and then in 1974 he gave a funny and yet at the same time rather touching performance in Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein. Three years after that, he starred in this television film as one of the most controversial political figures of the twentieth century, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. There are certain figures in our American culture, that defy definition or description. You could read every article and headline and book about them and they would remain a puzzling enigma and McCarthy was certainly one of these. Was he a true American patriot who just got carried away in his own crusade? or a selfish and brutal demagogue who only cared about the headlines that his wild charges made and got him re-elected to the Senate? McCarthyism became a byword of our culture, it began as a speech that this man made in my homestate of Wheeling, West Virginia when he waved that infamous piece of paper above his head and said that he had in his hand a list of 205 persons who were members of the Communist party who were members of the State Department and it snowballed into a tornado that shook the very fiber and walls of Representative American Government. This movie, or rather I should say that writer of this film has no love for this man. It presents him as an unalloyed sleaze and an almost Shakespeare like villian. You almost expect Boyle to say "Now is the winter of our discontent...." I recently read a more balanced biography of Joe that shed him in a different light. Its true that he did bad things, but his good was presented as well. Maybe McCarthy's greatest tragedy was his own recklessness. His motto in life seemed to be. He who does not live dangerously, does not live at all. Boyle still did an amazing job and Burgess Meredith is wonderful as the lawyer who opposed him at the Army McCarthy hearings.
This is a great made for TV film, sporting a deep bench of wonderful
actors. This is the kind of made for TV stuff above budget and vision
of the major networks now. However, is this movie accurate history?
Well, very few honest intellectuals could defend Joe McCarthy unless
maybe after several big gulps of Jack Daniels. That said, a few facts?
HUAAC was a House organ, not directly tied to the Senate in any way,
and McCarthy was a Senator. Point being, there were lots of witch
hunters back then. For purpose of drama, both this film and history
have settled on McCarthy as the sole and thorough bad guy.
McCarthy directly hurt very few lives. He did amplify a current of nervousness already running through America, and this spawned many imitators. These Monkey-seers Monkey-doers were even more hurtful than Joe, by sheer force of numbers alone.
To honest intellectuals, it seems obvious Joe McCarthy couldn't catch a cold at the North Pole. As "The Haunted Wood" (Allen Weinstein) reveals, from briefly opened Soviet archives, there were plenty faithful Communist spies operating in the US. McCarthy...Keystone Cop versus Houdini basically.
If one can understand there were dangerous Communist spies working hard in the US in the early 1950's, but they weren't in Hollywood, they were in Washington. If one can understand early 50's Red Scare was kind of hangover from VE & VJ day, following Soviet detonation of A-bomb. If one can understand Joe McCarthy was not evil genius of persecuting many good folk who just held harmless unpopular views (personally, I wouldn't trust Joe McCarthy to mow my lawn) but only somebody who blew on something already smoldering? Then by all means watch this movie and enjoy it. It is well made with some wonderful actors. But it ain't accurate history.
A hard to find film which coasts on the still pervasive mythology of
Senator Joe McCarthy as a political demon king. Boyle (as Joe) gives a
compelling but historically inaccurate portrayal of the Wisconsin
Senator, the caricature McCarthy many take as the real one. Meredith,
as wily Army lawyer Joseph Welch, who outsmarted McCarthy at the Army
hearings in 1954, is very good, as always.
In fact, McCarthy and Cohn were quite right in worrying about the appalling security situation in the Army, and the 1954 Army hearings became enmeshed in the smokescreen used by the Army to deflect the investigation away from their security failings, which the committee were investigating, by counter-charging that McCarthy and Cohn were trying to get favours for their staffer, David Schine, whilst in the service.
The film is self satisfied agenda driven polemic, based in the pervasive myths which have passed for the truth with many people for decades-that the "red scare" was essentially phony and McCarthy, HUAC etc were always blasting away at the wrong targets, being no more than lying, career ruining publicity hounds, who were trampling over the constitutional rights of startled innocent liberals, who were accused of being security risks/communists.
People who know little about the matter still feel confident in repeating misinformation on McCarthy and the "red scare" to this day-Clooney's Murrow hagiography is an example. The misinformation is pervasive, no wonder people have swallowed it. A recent obit of Budd Schulberg in the serious left wing UK newspaper "The Guardian" headlined that the Hollywood writer "named names" "to McCarthy"- perpetuating the lie that McCarthy "investigated" Hollywood as head of HUAC-the truth being that McCarthy was never even a member of HUAC and he had little interest in the politics of Hollywood types-his investigations were confined almost exclusively to arms of the US government.
The mythology about the "red scare" being baseless is now completely exploded by recently opened Soviet and US government documents, if anything McCarthy and co underestimated the sheer scale of Soviet and fellow traveller infiltration in the US, but decades of public misinformation about this period will be hard to correct.
One day maybe some really brave Hollywood soul will make a movie telling the truth about how many American men and women clandestinely aided the mass murderer Stalin, and worked to impose his vicious system of government on the western world, giving an accurate account maybe of Joe McCarthy's career-but I won't hold my breath. Till then, we have this mythical, drunken lying scoundrel of popular imagination so familiar in the media...."Tail gunner Joe".
The title says it all. "Tail Gunner Joe" was a tag given to the Senator
which relied upon the ignorance of the public about World War II aircraft.
The rear facing moving guns relied upon a latch that would prevent the rear
gunner from shooting off the tail of the airplane by preventing the gun
firing when it pointed at the tail. When the Senator was practicing on the
ground one day, he succeeded in shooting off the tail of the airplane. He
couldn't have done that if the gun had been properly aligned. The gunnery
officer responsible for that admitted, in public, before a camera, that he
was responsible -- he had made the error, not the Senator. The fact that
the film did not report that fact, shows how one-sided it is. This film
designed to do one thing, destroy the reputation of a complex person.
A much better program was the PBS special done on him. He was a hard working, intelligent, ambitious politician who overcame extraordinary disadvantages to rise to extraordinary heights. He made some mistakes, some serious mistakes, but shooting the tail off an airplane was not one of them.
The popularity of this film is due to the fact that the public likes simple stories, one=sided stories, so that they don't have to think.
This movie is a horrible distortion of lies and exaggerations that were
put together by the most shameless lunatics to ever work on a TV movie.
The story is wrong and a complete lie. There is nothing in this movie
that accurately portrays Senator McCarthy. It's just a horrible scam
and it amazes me that anyone associated with this production ever got
another job in the industry. The marxist-leninists who wrote this trash
did so in order to attack a man who has been vindicated by history and
their fear that anyone would dare to destroy communism. Unfortunately
for these communist nut jobs, Ronald Reagan took over where McCarthy
left off and they couldn't stop him, thus the end of the Soviet Union
and its' cohorts.
Never, ever watch this film if you're looking for truth regarding Sen. McCarthy. Read Ann Coulter's book, "Treason" for a better look at the truth about Sen. McCarthy.
It will also help if you read about what really happened to Senator McCarthy by reading http://www.thenewamerican.com/tna/1996/vo12no18/vo12no18_mccarthy.htm
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