Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With Steven Spielberg’s Bridge Of Spies coming to theaters soon, we recommend a few more Cold War spy movies.
It sounds like a paperback pulp-fiction novel, but I Was A Communist For The FBI (title of both a movie and a radio serial) was based on a true story. Pittsburgh native Matt Cvetic poses as a communist to infiltrate the “reds” that are living in America and actively plotting to take over the country. It’s like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers without the alien element. These obviously heinous nutjobs (called “dirty reds” or “comrades,” depending on whose side you’re on) drop the N-word as they discuss inciting race riots and pinning different American nationalities against each other as a way to tear the newly victorious country apart. The communists enjoy fancy drink and food, rhapsodizing over how much they’ll be living the good life when they rise to glory. (As they enjoy posh meals from luxurious silver serving platters, they resemble nothing so much as the pigs in Animal Farm.) Cvetic, who poses as such a loyal party member that even his comrades tell him to take it down a notch, is ousted from his family, who believe that he’s betraying his country. He can’t even tell his own son, who gets in fights at school defending himself from kids who call his dad a commie.
The radio drama starred film star Dana Andrews as Cvetic; the movie switched it up by casting radio star Frank Lovejoy, most recognizable to wireless fans as the lead in Night Beat. Lovejoy, whose voice is perfect for the film’s frequent narration, plays Cvetic as a classic, decent everyman. Once you get past the film’s schlocky name, there are some interesting insights into the Red Scare. (At the time of its 1919 founding, the Communist Party USA had about 50,000 members; by 1957, its numbers had dwindled to 10,000, of which 1,500 were FBI informants.) For example, the schoolteacher love interest is a party member because she’s interested in communism as an intellectual exercise, and quickly gets disillusioned.
Like the body snatchers, the Soviets all look like regular Americans (only the leader has any sort of accent). The point is that the enemy within could have been living right next door in middle-class America. U.S. patriotism reached an all-time high in the post-war decade; one of the movie’s Soviets points out that “Comrade Stalin” made a pact with Hitler—a line guaranteed to draw boos from audiences. “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” that closes the movie is the farthest thing from understated, but wholly appropriate for the paranoid time period.
Availability: I Was A Communist For The FBI is available on DVD from Amazon or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased digitally from VUDU, YouTube, or Google Play.