I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE F.B.I. added its blunt-force salvo to the purge-society hysteria of the McCarthy Era (the first one, fingers crossed), with liberties and livelihoods rent asunder by blacklisting, the Korean War, A-bomb fears and too many sincere citizens sincerely willing to prove how patriotic they were by chucking the Bill of Rights out the window. Nearly all of the Red-baiting pictures of the time were laughable then (though you had to smirk in private, lest you be accused of serving Stalin or Mao), and are outrageously campy relics today.
This figurehead entry, from 1951, raves like the rest, but it’s easy to see why it had impact at the time, because, for what it is, it’s well done. Warner Brothers, eager to show that they weren’t afraid to kowtow to homegrown commissars, gave this phony docudrama good production values, a capable director in Gordon Douglas, who shot it like a tense film noir. Frank Lovejoy makes a solid hero, even if the real guy he played was a phony, self-promoting lout. Useless teachers, noisy minority groups and gullible union members–look out, those wily Reds can smell your weak knees! Let ’em eat borscht!
Lovejoy plays Matt Cvetic, who served as an F.B.I. undercover fink for nine years. In the movie Matt’s family turns against him, and we learn that pesky things like race riots (and the Scottsboro Case) are all Commie plots, and that Stalin’s snide, caviar-swilling vermin are everywhere. As Cvetic declares to the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Communist Party of the USA has “it’s only purpose is to deliver the people of the United States into the hands of Russia as a slave colony“.
Crane Wilbur’s risible screenplay was based off articles Cvetic and Pete Martin wrote for the “The Saturday Evening Post”. A book resulted, then a radio show spun off, finally this compact suspenser, studio-tooled for $684,000. It grossed $3,800,000. Though 90% fictionalized, it was nonetheless Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary Feature (losing, thankfully, to Kon-Tiki).
William Lava did the score, but Max Steiner had a baton in there, uncredited. Reading their lines like their loyalty clearance and careers depended on it: Dorothy Hart, James Millican, Philip Carey, Richard Webb, Ron Hagerthy, Constantin Shayne, Roy Roberts, Paul Picerni, Hugh Sanders, Russ Conway and John Crawford. 83 minutes that helped “save” America.
Cvetic was later revealed to be a chronic liar, a drunk, a wife abuser and an all-round red, white & blue dickshine.