If you are a post-WW2 baby boomer, you are probably familiar with the term ‘the Red Scare,’ which refers to a time in the late forties-early fifties when anti-communist sentiment in the U.S. was at its height (The “red” refers to the color of the Soviet flag). This Cold War era paranoia was not just reflected in American politics and daily news stories but he popular culture as well, especially movies. Some of the more famous examples are the Howard Hughes’ produced noir I Married a Communist (1949 aka The Woman on Pier 13), the 1951 tabloid-style expose I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. and John Wayne as an undercover commie hunter in Big Jim McLain (1952). Yet, of all the cinematic depictions of Communist infiltration in America, few are as blatant or as infamous as My Son John (1952), which was released when the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) was at the height of its power and Senator Joseph McCarthy was still fanning the flames of a political witch hunt that had already taken its toll on the entertainment industry.
For that small number of gifted actors who become screen legends, the path to stardom is rarely predictable. Sometimes it’s a case of pure luck. Other times it’s achieved after years of honing their craft and screen persona through hard earned experience. I can’t think of a better example of the latter than Humphrey Bogart who made twelve films (two of them short subjects, 1928’s The Dancing Town and 1930’s Broadway’s Like That) before his breakout supporting role as the vicious gangster Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936). The irony is that despite playing that same character on Broadway where he won unanimous critical acclaim, Warner Bros. wanted Edward G. Robinson for the role. If it hadn’t been for the film’s star, Leslie Howard, who played opposite Bogart on Broadway and demanded that he be cast in the film or he would quit, Bogart might not be as famous today. Continue reading