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Review: One Of The Hollywood Ten
(Director: Karl Francis, Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Greta Scacchi, Angela Molina, certificate 15)

Jess Wynne is gripped by McCathyism

Funded almost entirely by the Welsh Arts Council and BBC Wales and not a sheep in sight. Instead the story concerns McCarthyism and the witch hunts of the cold war era. Jeff Goldblum plays Herbert Biberman, one of the Hollywood ten - a group of anti-nazis made up of writers and directors working within the movie industry. The liberal leanings of Biberman and co are misconstrued as communist sympathies resulting in incarceration and blacklisting for members of the league who will not co-operate with the government investigations. The unemployable Biberman becomes involved in directing a film - Salt of the Earth - secretly in New Mexico, which portrays the oppression and rebellion of the Mexican underclass. Chaos ensues.

It is difficult to criticise a film when it is introduced by its director/writer who obviously feels passionate about its content and the idealism it offers. It has taken Karl Francis seven years to make, but it has been a worthwhile struggle. In fact 'worthy' seems a fitting epitaph for the film as a whole. The central arguments of the film - the individual's right to freedom of speech, creativity and political persuasion - may seem overly familiar to the audience. The climate for this sort of film is perfect at the moment - the popularity of programmes such as The X-files reveals that distrust of the government and its supposed machiavellian designs is rife. However, this content obviously does not make mainstream cinema; as this film will undoubtedly attract a liberal minded minority, an element of 'preaching to the converted' is involved. Nevertheless any movie that reminds us of America's fascist tendencies and paranoid attitudes towards other nations (particularly with the instatement of Bush as president) has got to be applauded.

One of the Hollywood Ten is fairly typical of its genre; it makes use of actual footage, black and white filming and full screen shots of newspapers to add authenticity to the period it represents. Its message also appears black and white - the lead characters could have 'integrity' stamped on their heads and it would make no difference to the viewer's perception of them, and the real villain of the piece, Rifkin of the FBI (played by Christopher Fulford, reprising his role in The Matrix), is the epitome of evil. The working class Mexicans are all long suffering, noble and forgiving. This is all very charming and inspiring; you probably agreed with the film's arguments anyway but now you agree with conviction! What saves the film from its didacticism is the central relationship between Biberman and his wife Gale, acted by Greta Scacchi. The sense that theirs is a complex and passionate marriage which is damaged by Biberman's righteous crusades personalises the subject matter.

All the performances within the movie are assured. There are several good cameos by British actors and faces and characters are given to big Hollywood names such as Howard Hughes and Jack Warner which have the effect of enlivening the proceedings. Only the portrayals of a well known figures seem suspect - the presentation of Bogart distracted from the film's plausibility. Scacchi was particularly good as a glamorous actress holding on to her values, her home and family whilst her husband pursued his aims. Goldblum's performance was somewhat subdued and understated, as would be expected for a serious role. He can certainly play creative/intellectual types but his acting style, or overacting style, (depending on your opinion) tends to result in expectations concerning the arrival of spaceships or the hideous transformation into bug-eyed freaks. Oh well; the problems of baggage but at least he played the piano very nicely.

All in all a fairly decent treatment of some serious subject matter. Slow to get going, a then a little long - it has all the flaws often found in political, fact-based genre films. However the picture is redeemed by several funny lines and, in particular, a timely slur against Walt Disney. Not the sort of film you would want to watch twice but well worth a glance.

© Jess Wynne

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