Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Labor Action, 13 June 1949


Abe Victor

Movie Review

Hollywood Eyes Jim Crow in
Home of the Brave


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 24, 13 June 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Home of the Brave
screenplay from a story by Arthur Laurentz
produced by Stanley Kramer for Screen Play Corp.
released by United Artists.

After carefully skirting the subject of Negro discrimination in pictures like Crossfire, Hollywood has finally approached it with something resembling bravado. The result is a screen event, although it falls quite short of being an aesthetic one.

Not that the picture lacks tension, or vivid pictorial display, or even simple emotional involvement. Whatever the motion picture can bring to play in the form of action, this picture does. Action cannot, however, be used as a substitute for the art of bringing personalities and their relations to each other into full development. Where substitutes fail, this picture does also.

The fact that Hollywood has finally produced an anti-Jim Crow movie is by itself a fact to be celebrated, whatever the other factors involved. The same holds for the making of a movie which has a Negro as its hero.

To give the picture its due, it approaches the subject with admirable directness, such as did Crossfire and Gentleman’s Agreement on the subject of anti- Semitism. The reactionary engages not only in snide remarks against the Negro, but refers to him directly in all the vicious terminology of the American antiNegro vernacular and is persuaded only at the risk of being himself called a coward, to go upon a dangerous military mission for which he at first refuses to volunteer because he will have to work with a Negro soldier.

The tension which results is easily imagined; but it should be made clear that while simple and clear psychological reasons are given for this Jim Crow attitude, the social and economic causes for Jim Crow are omitted except for some mumbled like about the tradition of slavery in American history – a tradition which evidently still weighs like an alp upon the mind of Hollywood.

Told in Flashbacks

The story is the simple one of a patrol sent out on a special and dangerous assignment, consisting of three white soldiers, and a Negro under the command of a white officer. The Negro is the only engineer available and willing to volunteer for this risky duty from a specialist battalion stationed at some distance from the combat organization which takes this assignment.

One of the white soldiers turns out to be an old friend of Peter Moss, the Negro, and befriends him on the patrol, defending him from the scurrilous attacks of Corporal “T.J.,” the Negro-baiter. Moss suffers combat shock while on the mission and the entire story Is fold in flashbacks from the usual psychiatrist’s couch, this time draped in the appropriate khaki.

The crux of the plot lies in the friendship of Moss and Finch, the white boy who befriended him and with whom he once played basketball on the high school team. At a crucial turn in the combat, Finch makes a vicious anti-Negro remark which he immediately corrects. From one who was his closest friend and who made all the overtures in the friendship, Moss finds such a remark impossible to take. But why this remark should have been made is not accounted for by the characterization in this movie. In terms of the personality of Finch it could only have been the purest accident, to this reviewer unbelievable and inconsistent. Since all the motivation hangs upon this relationship, when the motivation is thus called into question, the action fails.

Crude Psychiatry

It is likewise with the development of “Mossy.” Only his simple, direct and elemental reactions to Jim Crow wisecracks are clearly motivated. His feelings for Finch during the patrol assignment are clear enough because they are based on the fact that Finch is the only one who befriends him. This proves merely that where one simple emotion is the motive, Hollywood knows how to portray it clearly, which is perhaps why its greatest talents lie in the portrayal of the act of violence.

It is for this very reason that “T.J.”, played by Steve Brodie, emerges as the best portrayal. Playing the villain with a realistic and simple consistency, Brodie takes the acting laurels away from every member of the cast, giving the serious as well as the comic intervals their measured and charged quality.

One scene between Finch and Moss comes through, however, with a graceful and highly charged qualify. This is the scene of Finch’s graduation party to which Moss, invited and later begged to come, refuses to attend with simple clear-headed dignity about the possibility of racial tension.

The motion picture is laden with too many recent screen conventions: the psychiatrist who has a crude time of it combining Freudian with social analysis, the narco-hypnosis, and the flashbacks from the psychoanalytic sessions, most of the sessions being vulgar, unnecessary or misused vehicle for the “message.”

When it emerges, however, from the doctor’s office to the open sea, the jungle-green island, the simple tale of the four men tensed for some unexpected rifle shot, the curt remark, the friendly cigarette in the dark, the camera becomes lyrical and artistic and entrancing in its movement from leaf to leaf and face to face.

What Next?

This is merely the first of four pictures which are being exported from Hollywood dealing with this subject. The major studios are yet to present their more highly budgeted masterpieces on the same theme. But the irony of the situation arises in this question:

After four Negro actors are given the “glorious opportunity” to use their talents as the heroes of major film productions, what will the studios do with them? Are they to be reconverted in true Hollywood style back to playing comics, servants, janitors, cooks and other Hollywood inventions in the Jim Crow tradition?

The ending of the picture would seem to indicate nothing of the kind. With true film-making positivism, the studio patches everything up in the end with a false- sounding symbolism, as obvious as it is hypocritical in its unity of the Negro soldier with his white buddy. What is in life a continuing social and personal tragedy becomes for Hollywood merely the beginning of a new and happy business partnership.

In decades, perhaps, the Negro question will become a subject for historical or “period” movies and the simple, elementary fact of Jim Crow will no longer arouse such dramatic tension as it does today. When the fact of being a Negro is no longer tragic in itself, the Negro individual may become a tragic hero in his own right as an individual.

Those who saw the French movie Jennie Lamour may recall the affectionate scenes between Louis Jouvet and his adopted Negro son. Used casually, and naturally this relationship illustrates the gap in race relations and motion picture values that exists between France and the United States, precisely because no attention is called to the color of the little boy’s skin.

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 9 June 2021