Robert Rossen

The Films and Politics of a Blacklisted Idealist


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About the Book

This book calls for a re-evaluation of the films of Robert Rossen. Over a 30-year period, he was the most accomplished writer and director who was also a longtime member of the Communist Party, but his achievement has not been recognized, his films have been belittled or ignored, his legacy denied. Rossen’s films reflected his times and the American scene with a dramatic intensity and personal expression unmatched by any other filmmaker of the period. The stages of his political journey, from idealism about Communism to his rebellion against the Party’s betrayal of those ideals, influenced the rendering of his concerns and themes—the flaws of human nature, the complexities of motives, the paradoxes of betrayal, personal and political. Yet Rossen testified against his fellow filmmakers, and so his morals and character have been denounced, his work diminished as fatally marred by his moral flaws. The opposite is true. Here is a thorough analysis of each of his 22 films and their place in the developing themes of his body of work. It integrates this study of the films with a documented narrative of his relationship to the Party, its history and conflicts, its duplicities—especially the relations of the Party and its followers to the oppressions of the Soviet Union. And so it challenges the validity of the conventional wisdom about the moral issues of the blacklist period.

About the Author(s)

Professor emeritus in cinema studies and English, Alan Casty divides his time between Pisa, Italy, Pacific Grove, California, and La Paz, Mexico.

Bibliographic Details

Alan Casty
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 284
Bibliographic Info: 20 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6981-9
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9317-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Preface 1

Introduction: The Films of Robert Rossen—A Legacy Lost 5

Part One: The Writer—Craft, Idealism and Ideology

 1. A Matter of Experience—From the Lower East Side to Hollywood and the Party 19

 2. Stretching the Boundaries of Genre—The First Two Screenplays 29

 3. Warner Bros. and the Party—Five Films, Three Years 42

 4. Ode to an Era—The Roaring Twenties 52

 5. The Party Line and the Writer—Two Warner Films in a Shifting

Poitical World 60

 6. The War and ­Post-War Worlds on Film—Three with Lewis Milestone 72

Part Two: The Director—Success, Doubt and Disillusion

 7. The Writer Becomes Director—Johnny O’Clock 93

 8. The Battle and the Myth, Personal and Political—Body and Soul 102

 9. Conflicts and Consequences—The First Hearings, 1947 118

10. Power and Betrayal, Personal and Public—All the King’s Men 126

11. A Time of Tests, Trials and Fear—The Brave Bulls 143

12. The Political and Moral Turmoil of the Blacklist Era—The Hearings, 1951 153

Part Three: The Director—Blacklisting, Rebellion and Isolation

13. What Is Behaving Decently?—Testifying and Silence 165

14. Starting Anew in Europe—Mambo 175

15. Seeking the Power and the Glory—Alexander the Great 182

16. The Road Back—Island in the Sun and They Came to Cordura 194

17. At the Top of His Game—The Hustler 211

18. The Forgotten Masterwork and Enigma—Lilith 228

19. An Unfortunate Epilogue—The Legacy Denied 244

Chapter Notes 255

Bibliography 263

Index 267