An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War
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By “tell[ing] the story not just of what’s on the screen but what played out behind it” (The American Scholar), Hoberman orchestrates a colorful, sometimes surreal pageant wherein Cecil B. DeMille rubs shoulders with Douglas MacArthur, atomic tests are shown on live TV, God talks on the radio, and Joe McCarthy is bracketed with Marilyn Monroe. From cavalry Westerns, apocalyptic sci-fi flicks, and biblical spectaculars, movies to media events, congressional hearings and political campaigns, An Army of Phantoms “remind[s] you what criticism is supposed to be: revelatory, reflective and as rapturous as the artwork itself” (Time Out New York).
was elected president. In his introduction to the pop-sociological study Teen-Age Gangs, published shortly before The Wild One roared into theaters in late 1953, Kefauver warned that, at the rate juvenile delinquency was increasing, “a million and a half children will be picked up by police in 1960.” The teenage crime wave was rehearsed in books, magazines, and congressional hearings throughout 1954. America had detonated the hydrogen bomb, and President Eisenhower contemplated its use to stave
Black Rock, that—taking High Noon as its model—acknowledged Hollywood’s recent cowardice, could no longer be intimidated. He suggested that, not unlike the more than sixty anti-Communist pictures produced by Hollywood since 1948, Blackboard Jungle had a specific social function: the industry made a movie that identified a particular menace, articulated public revulsion, and proposed a specific solution. Rather than prompting criminal behavior, Blackboard Jungle would educate the young people in
en route to finishing as the year’s third-highest-grossing picture and establishing John Wayne as America’s reigning male star. Meanwhile, Harry Truman was putting on a remarkable performance. As H.L. Mencken wrote, “the Missouri Wonder was roving and ravaging the land, pouring out hope and promise in a wholesale manner. . . . What had Dewey to offer against all this pie in the sky?” Dewey, per Mencken, was “a good trial lawyer, but an incompetent rabble-rouser” who addressed the “great
throwback in the mood of the spectator to [ancient] beliefs in ghosts, secret forces, telepathy, etc.” Populated by capricious producers, hungry writers, and indifferent agents, Sunset Boulevard trades on an insider’s view of Hollywood. But even as it works to dispel the notion that motion pictures are made in heaven (“audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes the picture, they think the actors make it up as the picture goes along”), Sunset Boulevard evokes their uncanny aura—satirizing
now a member of the Communist Party, Rossen declined to say “never” and, when asked about his associates, took the Fifth. One comrade, Brave Bulls screenwriter John Bright, had also been named in the March hearings and remained south of the border. Bright, who had been married to a Mexican activist, was part of a burgeoning expatriate screenwriters’ colony. Albert Maltz and Gordon Kahn were already living in Mexico. Other writers—including newly released Dalton Trumbo and Ring Lardner, as well