×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A War in Hollywood

Chronicles the film industry's portrayals of the Spanish Civil War and the experiences of Alvah Bessi.

With:
With: Walter Bernstein, Dan Bessie, Moe Fishman, Roman Gubern, Arthur Laurents, Patrick McGilligan, Susan Sarandon, Lluis Soler. (English, Spanish dialogue)

“A War in Hollywood” chronicles both the U.S. film industry’s shifting portrayals of the Spanish Civil War and the unique life experiences of Alvah Bessie — surely the only volunteer American combatant in that conflict who later suffered the brunt of the House on Un-American Activities’ witch hunt as one of the notoriously blacklisted Hollywood Ten. First feature directorial effort by Spain-based docu producer Oriol Porta is a solidly crafted mix of personal narrative, archival clips and latter-day interview commentary that’s well-suited for international broadcasters.

Pic paints the Great Depression as a period during which hardships and FDR’s leadership encouraged liberal activism, though the many drawn to Communist Party membership (then at its peak of popularity Stateside) later found their youthful ideals used to tar and feather them. Bessie (who died in 1985) was among numerous Abraham Lincoln Brigade members who eagerly journeyed to battle fascism in Spain, returning from that dangerous, enthralling if unsuccessful sojourn to write scripts for Warners (including Oscar-nominated “Objective, Burma!”) in the ’40s.

But that career died when he was called before HUAC in 1947. After a prison term, he turned to journalism and print fiction. In 1967, he visited Spain for the first time in three decades to work on Jaime Camino’s “Spain Again,” the fictionalized tale of a U.S. doctor likewise returning to the country long after fighting Franco’s forces there.

Interspersed with this life saga are excerpts from Hollywood’s various takes on the Spanish Civil War and analysis of the politics behind them. “Blockade” (1938) was the only such feature made during the conflict itself, one that met with considerable opposition from U.S. conservatives inside and outside the industry. During WWII, it became much less controversial as a narrative element, since fighting fascism was now a nationwide patriotic concern.

Leading international anti-Franco voice Ernest Hemingway didn’t like the film adaptations of his “For Whom the Bell Tolls” or “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” the latter notably suffering from new “friendly” U.S. attitudes toward Spain, which forced a watering-down of its political content. Arthur Laurents discusses “The Way We Were” (admitting Streisand’s character was “a semi-disguised version of me”) and Walter Bernstein talks about “The Front” — two movies that dealt with ’30s radicalism and McCarthyism.

“A War in Hollywood” also deploys considerable archival news footage to illustrate the times. Excerpts from Bessie’s letters, diaries and books on the matter are read by Lluis Soler. Assembly is pro.

A War in Hollywood

Spain - U.S.

Production: An Area de Television production in association with TVC, TVE, ICAA, ICIC. (International sales: Area de Television, Barcelona.) Produced by Lisa Berger, Cristina Mora. Executive producer, Oriol Porta. Directed by Oriol Porta. Written by Porta, Llorenc Soler, Isabel Andres.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, HD), David Garcia; editor, David Gutierrez; music, Carles Pedragosa; sound, Javier Garcia, Fernando Novillo, Pere Aguilar. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Documentaries of the World), Sept. 5, 2009. Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Walter Bernstein, Dan Bessie, Moe Fishman, Roman Gubern, Arthur Laurents, Patrick McGilligan, Susan Sarandon, Lluis Soler. (English, Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • My Dear Friend

    Shanghai Film Review: 'My Dear Friend'

    Like a slow-acting hallucinogen, Chinese director Yang Pingdao’s audaciously strange and sorrowful feature debut works its magic so gradually that it’s with a slight surprise that halfway through you glance down and realize you’re high off the social-realist ground, suspended surreally in the air. At first a gritty tale of feckless men abandoning their families [...]

  • Agent M (Tessa Thompson) and Agent

    Box Office: 'Men in Black: International' Ranks No. 1 Overseas With $74 Million

    Sony’s “Men in Black: International” is making good on its title, leading overseas box office charts with $74 million from 56 foreign territories. Combined with its disappointing $28 million start in North America, the latest chapter in the sci-fi action series debuted with $102.2 million globally. “Men in Black: International” sees “Thor: Ragnarok” co-stars Tessa [...]

  • Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) and Agent

    'Men in Black: International' Leads Box Office With Muted $28 Million

    Hollywood seems to be coming down with a contagious case of franchise fatigue this summer, as “Men in Black: International” and “Shaft” become the latest sequels largely dismissed by moviegoers in North America. Sony’s “Men in Black: International” led ticket sales at the box office this weekend with $28.5 million, but still fell short of [...]

  • International Film Festival and Awards Macao

    Macao Festival Signs Double Deals With Shanghai

    The International Film Festival & Awards Macao on Sunday signed twin agreements with institutions in Shanghai. The IFFAM, which is building towards its fourth edition in December, struck a collaboration agreement with the Shanghai International Film Festival. Separately, it is solidifying an existing informal arrangement with the Shanghai Film Art Academy concerning an exchange of [...]

  • wanda Movie Metropolis Qingdao

    Why Simon West Is Making Movies in China (EXCLUSIVE)

    British director Simon West (“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Con Air,” “The Expendables 2”) is set to dive further into the Middle Kingdom at the helm of his second Chinese action-adventure blockbuster. The Wanda-backed “The Legend Hunters,” hits theaters next summer. West was brought onto the project by veteran producer Eryong, who had approached him about [...]

  • The Eight Hundred

    Chinese Research Group May Have Caused Cancellation of 'The Eight Hundred' Premiere

    Chinese authorities may have abruptly yanked the $80 million patriotic war epic “The Eight Hundred” the day before its opening-night premiere at the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival because it didn’t portray rivals of the ruling Communist Party in a sufficiently negative light, local reports said. Huayi Bros., which produced the film, had on Friday attributed [...]

  • Simon West

    Simon West Directing Chinese Tomb-Raid Movie 'Legend Hunters' (EXCLUSIVE)

    British director Simon West, who made the Angelina Jolie-starring “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” is now co-directing a Chinese tomb-raiding film. “The Legend Hunters” is the next installment in the “Mojin” universe, based on the popular fantasy novel series “Ghost Blows Out the Light.” Backed by Wanda Pictures and Beijing-based Saints Entertainment, the film is set [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content