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Documentary Review: “Hollywood on Trial” (1976) ★★★★


“Hollywood on Trial” is a documentary that was made back in 1976 which is interestingly relevant to events occurring nowadays yet quite different from a political standpoint and the ways American Congress acts now compared to then. You can call it hypocrisy, corruption, or lack of morals. But whatever it is, it won’t change the scale of historical change which occurred in 1947 that led to the era of the Hollywood blacklist to begin. 

This documentary provides an in-depth analysis of an extremely dark period in our beloved world called Hollywood, when due to the Red Scare of the 1940’s and 1950’s, actors, writers and directors were subpoenaed by the House of Un-American Activities Committee because of their suspicion of the entertainment industry preaching and promoting communism in the films and television shows.

While it was all about freedom of speech, it was also considered as a dangerous tendency that could have led communism to take over the United States with the help of the establishment ordinary people rely on to frame their opinion. This is how the entire investigation against un-American activism began and subpoenas sent to the biggest names. Some did agree to cooperate, some held their ground, known as Hollywood 10 – Albert Maltz, Dalton Trumbo, John Howard Lawson, Samuel Ornitz, Ring Lardner, Jr., Lester Cole, Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Edward Dmytryk, and Robert Adrian Scott who were eventually charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to name the names.

Written by Arnie Reisman and directed by David Helpern, “Hollywood on Trial” is an excellent way to make a trip back to history, to hear perspectives of each individual, the series of interviews, archival footages of the Congress, and what happened to those who got blacklisted for their view. Some, after being released from prison, either were unable to renounce their American citizenship while some others flew to Europe and one of them, the famous Dalton Trumbo, continued writing under a different name.

In the end, one credit must go to the Congress of 1947 – for holding the country together, protecting from propaganda that could’ve really destroyed the country from within which the current Congress of the United States seems to not really appreciate the values being followed by its predecessors. In the end, one thing Dalton Trumbo says in the film, and that’s how everything worked back then and seems won`t change now, “I have the feeling that if you give most people in the world choice between enough food for their children and shelter, and clothing in return of their freedom of speech, they would go for the food, shelter and the necessities. Freedom of speech becomes a luxury for which a few fight at the most.”

That said, what’s being said by Trumbo can be called as a prophecy, but it seems one way or another, he was right, as Soviet ideology did perpetrate into the American society, which they are yet to realize. Otherwise, if the fine men still exist, we might soon see another documentary called “America or its values on Trial.”

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