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Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Blacklist: None Without Sin

     Here are the undeniable facts:in 1952, film and stage director Elia Kazan, summoned to Washington, spilled the beans before the noxious House Committee on Un-American Activites (HUAC), "naming names" of supposed Communists whom he knew from working with them in the theatre. In 1956, playwright Arthur Miller, likewise subpoenaed by HUAC, refused to give the Committee any names of left-wing associates. At one time, Kazan and Miller had been the most symbiotic of pals; but then one sang, the other didn't. Legions of Kazan's associates refused to speak with him once he testified, including a horrified, repulsed Miller.

     The obvious gripe about PBS's Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Blacklist: None Without Sin is that neither of the legendary principals, and Kazan was still alive for the shooting, appear on camera to tell their extraordinary tales. Presumably, the collaborators-turned-political enemies (Kazan directed the original Broadway productions of Miller's All My Sons and Death of a Salesman) declined to be interviewed for this American Masters presentation directed by Michael Epstein.

     And where's Budd Schulberg, screenwriter of On the Waterfront? Or Karl Malden, who acted for Kazan in both On the Waterfront and Streetcar Named Desire? And for a wish list: why not Marlon Brando himself, who starred for Kazan in both films above, and also Viva Zapata? And aren't there people still around who witnessed Kazan and Miller nervously working together again after not speaking for many years, when, in the 60s, Kazan directed for the Lincoln Center stage Miller's After the Fall?

     Epstein does include some interviews with show-business people who worked with Kazan such as Streetcar's Kim Hunter, but hardly anyone is represented who has personal involvements with Miller. Is he that much of a reclusive? Better are conversations with movie people who suffered the blacklist, such as screenwriter Walter Bernstein and the shrewd, highly intelligent actress, Lee Grant. Best are chats about the anti-Communist 1950s with a couple of agile, original-thinking film historians, The Biographical Dictionary of Film's David Thomson and, a local voice, Brandeis cinema professor, Thomas Doherty.

     And the leads? What we see of Kazan in old clips is self-promoting and slippery. Miller comes across stiff, self-righteous,icy. The most winning person in this documentary is its female co-star, Marilyn Monroe, whom, we learn, had a long-time affair with Kazan (including when she became engaged to Joe DiMaggio) before she became involved with, and then married to, Miller. There is incredible footage of a worshipful Monroe at Miller's side, just at the moment when HUAC comes calling. If anyone here is politically courageous it's Marilyn, risking her film career standing by her ostracized spouse.

     My real gripe with the documentary is about its unfortunate subtitle: "None Without Sin." It's taken from a quote of Dalton Trumbo, a once-blacklisted screenwriter who said (I don't know why): " the final tally we were all victims...(N)one of us-right, left, or center-emerged from that long nightmare without sin." That's nonsense. Some of those blacklisted did nothing more than have left-of-center political beliefs. What's sinful about that? It's heresy for the American Masters filmmakers to equate such victimized people with the true sinners, unrepentant finks like the late Elia Kazan.

(Boston Phoenix, September. 2003)


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