Good Night, and Good Luck

Review by
C. Brooks Kurtz

Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov

  • George Clooney — Fred W. Friendly, CBS producer
  • Jeff Daniels — Sig Mickelson, CBS news director
  • David Strathairn — Edward R. Murrow, CBS reporter
  • Joseph McCarthy — U.S.Senator: himself, in edited newsreels

Warner: 2005

black & white; 93 minutes March 2006

The timeless quality of black-and-white photography

Why aren't more movies shot in black and white? This confounds me. George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck is a lusciously photographed movie. It is well-acted, well-written, dramatic, and Clooney is an ace behind the camera working with his own material. Black and white photography is so much more timeless than color, yet it is so rarely used. Every photograph that is ever published of me by my own doing will be black and white; there is something about it that removes all of one's perceived flaws and lends to a person a classic quality. This point can't be emphasized enough, because Clooney's film is both timeless and set perfectly in 1953, the best film I've seen at evoking a time passed on since The Last Picture Show.

An added bonus is that the movie barely clocks 90 minutes, so it's over before becoming too preachy, too long.

I tell you all of this up-front because the film is a nice piece of revisionist history. Any number of contemporary issues could be read into it, and considering how political Clooney has become of late it might be wise to do just that. Its history is piecemeal, its characters narrowly defined as "good" and "bad", and it works, at least for a 90-minute movie. It is unfortunate that a whole new generation of Americans will see this film and view it as living history, when it's a completely one-sided affair.

Senator Joseph McCarthy & Communism in America

This is not so much me, the reader of Ann Coulter speaking, but Coulter's reading certainly altered my view of the "evil" Joe McCarthy, the witch-hunter, the Red-baiter, the Worst American Ever.

The problem I've always had with demonizing Senator McCarthy, with calling him a witch hunter, is this: did he not hunt witches? Communism, need anyone be reminded, killed about 100 million people in the 20th Century, and is responsible for the nightmarish prisons the people of Cuba and North Korea are housed in, here in the 21st Century. So, if Our Side were to say that McCarthy went too far, will Your Side say that McCarthy's few months of fame is not even a hair on the head of evil that Communism inflicted on the world? Of course, this will never be conceded, because that would be missing the point: Hollywood is a community that sympathizes with the Communist spirit, so why not just change the debate to how un-American McCarthy was, even though he was one of the few that had the balls to stand up and name names, to say that certain people were Communist agents, others were Communist sympathizers, and still others were members of the Communist Party; that some of these people had handlers in the Kremlin, and some of them freely exchanged information with those handlers.

For example, passing reference is made to Alger Hiss, the reference being contextually correct (he was convicted of perjury, not treason). Yet what the film fails to point out is that Alger Hiss was a full-blown Communist spy, and as time marched on, the impact of his work become more and more clear, as revealed by the Baltimore documents, the Pumpkin Papers, and the Woodstock typewriter. (I'm not making this up; even in the grossly slanted Wikipedia entry as cited below, all the details are there behind any number of scare-word qualifiers.) Hiss is celebrated by the modern Left because he is the prime example of the Red that got away with it. Decades later when all could have been forgiven, even the United States Supreme Court refused to exonerate Hiss from the charges that had been leveled against him.

To watch Good Night, and Good Luck, one's politics cannot be escaped. If you are, I guess, to the Left, you will see it as vindication of, of, of what, exactly? Before Clooney's film, McCarthy had already been demonized literally to the death. The press, which hated the man, was partially responsible for what led to him drinking himself to death. The movie points out that a CBS anchor killed himself, implying that it was in some way McCarthy's fault. It trots out the vintage footage of Annie Lee Moss, a full-blown, card-carrying Communist who infiltrated the code room of the CIA, yet when brought before McCarthy, shucked-and-jived her Aunt Jemima routine for all it was worth.

In the beginning, the film states that McCarthy accused more than 200 people of being Communists, yet ... most of the people McCarthy accused of being Communists actually were Communists: spies, agents, party members or sympathizers. McCarthy had a good track record of calling spades spades, and it is equivalent to there being evidence of members of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda sympathizers in the U.S. Government today. The film tries to frame this as a freedom-of-thought idea, when we plainly know that there are some expressions that are not only dangerous, they are stupid. Communism, in the American mind, posed just as much a threat then as terrorism does now.

Thanks to the American Left, the radical fringe of the anti-globalization movement, and a host of offbeat goofball splinter groups, Communism as a Utopian ideal will not die. Stalin is revised in today's college history books, Lenin is revered, Castro is a modern-day Robin Hood, and Kim Jong Il — possibly the greatest non-African psychopath walking the face of the Earth right now — is the only one that is not flat-out revered, possibly a case of, um, anti-Asiatic bias.

The Left lives in the past, and it confuses it. Clooney's film casually mixes discussions of the HUAC and McCarthy, occasionally clarifying itself but not enough to dispel the misconception that Senator McCarthy had anything to do with a House of Representatives committee whose major work was done several years before McCarthy became a household name.

Good Night, and Good Luck is effective at evoking a culture of fear that surrounded the CBS newsroom. Here's what I'm curious about: did people who had no ties to Communism fear anything? Today, do you, my non-Muslim readers, fear that you'll be tapped by Homeland Security as a terrorist threat? Of course not, because it's not in the cards. The film uses the dismissal of a soldier in the Air Force Reserve as its fulcrum, pointing out that though no proof has been brought implicating the soldier's enrollment in the Communist Party, his father and sister were suspect. We get plenty of footage showing the man disapproving of the point — that he should not be judged for his family's actions — yet there is strangely no footage of him denying having Communist sympathies.

Good filmmaking, ahistorical reporting

Clooney's work is commendable in the sense of filmmaking, for it is an engrossing film. The rare people like me — those who flatly agree with what McCarthy did and the methods he used — will enjoy the film just as much as the typical Leftist who feels vindicated by it, because for people interested in that moment in history, it is a wonderful view.

As a final note, I would add to this that anyone who confuses me with a crackpot to consider the following while watching Good Night, and Good Luck: No actor plays McCarthy, everything he says is from vintage newsreels. Notice how when McCarthy speaks — and consider that this was one of the most recorded American politicians of the 1950s — that the clips are chopped up and selective, whereas when the movie is "making its case", speeches of beauty and eloquence rule the day. McCarthy is not really given his fair say, nor does the film have an afterword pointing out how all the people McCarthy implicated were later vindicated. Know why? Because they weren't. There were proven Communists, that's why. Alger Hiss — who McCarthy had nothing to do with — was not only a Communist spy, recall, he also had the President's ear in advisement during Yalta, where "the Big Three" held their historic conference in 1945.

Oh well, enough of that. It's certainly a well-done movie, and Clooney is to be commended for his craftsmanship, if not his fairness with historical reporting.


© 2006 C. Brooks Kurtz

Alger Hiss at Wikipedia.
Note that the article's neutrality has been disputed.
Interested readers can check out the disputes. — CBK

R. W. Franson's review of
Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case
by Allen Weinstein

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