Gordon Kahn is a screenwriter who has come to the defense of his colleagues who were cited for contempt of Congress last fall after they had refused to answer specific questions put to them by the Thomas Committee. In his book, The Case Against Hollywood, Kahn lets his resentment get the better of him. His argument suffers the consequences.
Without doubt the most damaging evidence against Mr. Thomas and the miscellany that make up his coterie is a simple recital of the Congressional Record. There those people who testified against the writers are shown up for the political sycophants that they are. The good Mr. Thomas comes out as just plain rude. In fact the unadorned record is devastating, conclusive, and gallingly humorous.
One representative Joe Miller routine went on between Mrs. Lela Rogers and Representative Vail of Illinois without the benefit of either straw hats, soft shoes, or Swedish dialects:
He: I question the effectiveness of the Hollywood Communists.
She: You are thinking like an American, sir.
If this doesn't please you there is always the testimony of Rupert Hughes who pointed the red, red finger at the producers. He contends that "They are the people who hire and fire. I think they have been unjustifiably lax. They have paid from two to five thousand dollars a week to men whom they know to be brilliant. Many Communists are very, very brilliant."
Unfortunately, instead of letting the sharp-edged facts make his case for him, Kahn has chosen to try to bludgeon the iron-domed Thomas with the most blatant devices available. Consequently Kahn's introduction reads like the first chapter of a fair whodunit and his commentary on the testimony smacks of Norman Corwin at his over-dramatized worst.
Despite the tactical blunders of the author, though, the book merits reading. The story of the hearings is frightening in its connotations and its consequences are begin felt adversely in every movie coming out of Hollywood today. It is obvious from its own records that the committee went into the hearings with the verdict already a certainty. Thomas let the "friendly" witnesses have free rein, permitting them to make all kinds of accusations and vilifications under the cloak of immunity. No one that fell under these torrents of abuse was allowed to defend himself in any way or to cross-examine his accuser. Neither were the "defendants" permitted to read their prepared statements or to reply to questions with anything other than "yes" or "no" answers.
Ten "defendants" refused to answer the question: "Are you a member of the Communist party?" They refused on the grounds that the question and the hearings were unconstitutionally trying to invade the rights, privileges, and immunity of the American citizen. When it was all over these ten were cited for contempt, fired from their jobs, and blacklisted in Hollywood; all this on the basis of unproved accusations and hearsay evidence.
Perhaps more significant than the fate of these ten is the fate of American movies. The motion pictures under fire were some of the better productions of the poor Hollywood crop. After this demonstration of muscle by the Thomas committee, the normally conservative movie makers, fearful of their delicate public relations, will become increasingly hesitant to make intelligent movies about any controversial problems. Stripped of all its garnishing this becomes though control, and thought control in the hands of men such as Mr. Thomas is more than dangerous, it is suicidal.
The most significant part of Mr. Kahn's book comes in the foreword by Thomas Mann. The venerable German writer testifies "that I am painfully familiar with certain political trends. Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions, and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged 'state of emergency'. . .. that is how it started in Germany. What followed was fascism and what follows fascism was war."
Gordon Kahn doesn't make out too good a case against the Thomas Committee. Fortunately both Thomas Mann and J. Parnell Thomas do.