Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Even Now The Eyes Of Soviet Agents Are On Some Of You

My Son John, an hysterical 50s anti-Commie film about an effete intellectual boy whose upstanding parents suspect him of being a Communist spy, is on TCM tonight at 8. Apparently this is the first time it's been seen on TV since 1970, and no video or DVD of the movie exists. Obviously I've never seen it myself, but it sounds like a cockeyed masterpiece. Dave Kehr of the New York Times writes:

An appalling masterpiece. Resist the temptation to laugh at the film's violent anticommunism and try to see it as the audiences of 1952 did, and you'll experience the most wrenching right-wing film ever made. The film's propaganda is all the more powerful because director Leo McCarey refuses to acknowledge any intellectual, ideological intent: his argument is wholly emotional, and it is a powerful one. Robert Walker, fresh from Strangers on a Train, is a government worker who signs with the reds in oedipal revolt against his domineering, patriotic father (Dean Jagger); Helen Hayes is the mother who must choose between son and country.

Adding to the fun, the star died midway through shooting, forcing the director to make some interesting decisions, like playing his confession as a tape recording at his college graduation:

In an amazing scene, his speech is played from the tape recorder after his death at an empty podium that is lit with a shaft of light as if from God above, as the graduating college students listen...

John speaks of education as an evil worthy of equating with Satan. That this takes place during a commencement is beyond irony; it is an indictment and screed against the bright-eyed graduating class as much as it is an indictment of the viewer. Education is called a “stimulant”. But, John intones,stimulants lead to narcotics. As the seller of habit-forming dope gives the innocent their first inoculation, with a cunning worthy of a serpent, there are other snakes lying in wait to satisfy the desire of the young […] Even now the eyes of Soviet agents are on some of you.”

Oh boy. After I see this thing I'll have some comments.

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