I Was A Communist For The FBI (1951)

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Directed by Gordon Douglas

Written by Crane Wilbur (based on an article by Matt Cvetic and Pete Martin)

Starring Frank Lovejoy, Dorothy Hart, Phillip Carey

Tagline: I know a hundred secrets . . .  each one is worth my life

Trivia: The film is based loosely on the real life story of Matt Cvetic, a Pittsburgh native who worked undercover for the FBI in the American Communist Party.  The story was also dramatized on a 78 episode radio series.

A McCarthy era thriller on the American Communist Party’s attempt to subvert and corrupt the American political system, I Was A Communist For The FBI is a mildly entertaining thriller that feels oddly familiar, an indicator of how Hollywood often attempts to play on the fears of a jittery populace.The climate of paranoia in 1950s America really comes across in this one. To boil it down, the film is a propaganda piece for the House of Un-American Activities Committe (HUAC), that wonderful institution that did so much for the First Amendment.

Frank Lovejoy stars as FBI agent Matt Cvetic who is under deep cover in the CPA (Communist Party of America).  Even his family believes him to be a communist, which in 1950s America amounted to being a complete social outcast. Even his grown son looks at him with contempt.

The film goes to great lengths in explaining the CPA’s strategy to drive minorities against each other: fomenting anger between African-Americans, Jews, and the “ethnic” working classes. They are under orders from Moscow to create chaos in the USA.  Matt befriends a friendly English teacher Eve (Dorothy Hart) who believes Marxism is the only way to empower the working class, but she soon learns the CPA has no respect for women: they prefer them be on the picket lines to attract men and engender sympathy when the cops attack. The film also portrays the “commies” as bigots who use racial slurs and view minorities as useful idiots.

I Was A Communist for the FBI is a well made film, with excellent direction and realistic acting.  Unfortunately the message is deeply problematic.  The politics of the film implies that any dissent instantly marks someone as disloyal and dangerous. Meanwhile, the questionable methods of the FBI are never challenged.

The film reminded me of pop culture after 9/11, so many films and TV shows, CSI and 24 as examples, put law enforcement officials on a pedestal and a license to do whatever necessary to win the war on terror.

It’s easy to dismiss I Was A Communist For The FBI as a dated time capsule, and on many levels that’s true, but the film is also indicative of how movies (more often television) continues to simplify the “enemy” to advance the current agenda.

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