One of the Hollywood Ten (2000)
Director: Karl Francis.
Starring: Jeff Goldblum (Herbert Biberman), Greta Scacchi (Gale Sondergaard), Ángela Molina (Rosaura Revueltas), Christopher Fulford (Riffkind), Antonio Valero (Juan Chacón), John Sessions (Paul Jarrico), Geraint Wyn Davies (Michael Wilson), Sean Chapman (Edward Dmytryk), Peter Bowles (Jack Warner), Jorge de Juan (Floyd), Teresa José Berganza (Henrietta Williams), Jorge Bosch (Joe Morales), Daisy White (Sonya), Luke Harrison Mendez (Dan), Trinidad Serrano (Joan).
blacklisted director Herbert Biberman
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. The F word spelled out.
1937, New York City. Hitler's favorite film "Triumph of the Will" is going to open in New York City. This is Leni Riefenstahl's masterpiece of propaganda.
1937, Hollywood, California. Time for the annual academy awards. Gale Sondergaard arrives to applause. She is a nominee for the best supporting actress in the film Anthony Adverse. With her is her husband the writer-director Herbert Biberman. Gale wins the academy award. At the end of her acceptance speech she says that she and some friends have formed the Hollywood Anti-Fascist League. She says that fascism is evil and it threatens to destroy democracy in Europe.
1945. A newsreel proclaims that World War II is over and the atomic age begins. Ronald Regan makes a pitch for the Crusade for Freedom to fight the spread of communism. An agent comes in to tell FBI agent Mr. Riffkind that he has the list of names he asked for. They include Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Danny Kaye and the others: Dalton Trumbo, Gale Sondergaard, Herbert Biberman.
Riffkind goes in to speak to his superior. He tells him: "If we don't pick them off now, it will be too late." Mr. Thomas says that Hollywood is too popular. But Riffkind reminds him that in all the nation and in the smallest of towns they usually have a movie theater and the public can be reached there by the Hollywood lefties. What they will do is issue subpoenas to the people on the list. Riffkind then mentions the Warner Brothers, Louis B. Mayer of MGM and David O'Selznick (famous for Gone with the Wind). He points out: "Don't you get it? They're all Russian, all Jews. They own this country and they know it."
A group of Hollywood anti-fascists gather together to discuss recent disturbing news. One man says that many of them joined the anti-fascist league to fight Hitler. But now that Hitler's gone, the U. S. government is calling them leftists and communists. Biberman is not happy about the growing conservatism and anti-communism in the United States. After all, Hollywood wants to produce quality films. But they can't do this in a highly constrictive government and society. They need to have their freedom of expression. That gets a round of applause.
In the New York Globe the big headline is "Commies in Hollywood". "FBI Agents investigate."
Riffkind goes to Warner Brothers studio. He speaks with Jack Warner of the WB. Warner makes light of the claim that communism is coming to dominate Hollywood. Obviously, Riffkind is putting pressure on the Hollywood actors and writers to become conservative in all things, when it's true that Hollywood has always been a bit left-leaning because that's the nature of producing good films. Leftists like to help the little man and the downtrodden minorities. They like to have their films make a social and political statement and help change things for the better. Conservatives, of course, always try to stifle Hollywood because they don't want to help the little man and the minorities. They want wrongs not to be righted. And Riffkind is an example of this urge by conservatives to silence free speech for liberals and other lefties.
Riffkind says that it's not in Jack Warner's interest to fight the government. Jack says he has no wish to oppose the government. Riffind opens his folder and says that the FBI has a list of commies working for Warner Brothers. People like Ring Lardner, Herbert Biberman and Gale Sondergaard. Jack gets offended when he hears Gale's name because she is one of his big stars.
Warner takes Riffkind over to meet Biberman. Riffkind wants Biberman to give him the names of the communists with whom he works. Biberman says: "Can't help you there." He turns to go back to work. The weasel Riffkind gets all righteously indignant toward Biberman and tells him: "Don't you turn your back on me." He says this with a kind of snarl. You see, the FBI has already decided who is guilty of being a communist and Biberman is just another red commie trying to turn the United States over to the Russians. Biberman tells Riffkind that he is not a Stalinist. He's a democrat. Riffkind doesn't care what Biberman says. He knows he's a commie and that's that.
Riffkind arrives at the Biberman-Sondergaard house. He starts asking his questions of the Biberman's adopted children. He wants the children to tell him names of people that come to the house. Gale yells to her children to come to the house. She scolds them for talking to a stranger. Then she realizes that the stranger must have been FBI. She asks: "It's started hasn't it? I can't believe this is happening." She adds that she's an American ". . . and nobody's going to chase me out of town."
Sondergaard speaks to a Louie B. Mayer of MGM who tells her that the government has got the owners simpering like babies. This include Jack Warner and Howard Hughes. And Gary Cooper and Walt Disney are already talking. Gale says that Disney always talks with the FBI: "Who's he ratted out this time? Mickey Mouse?" Two writers, Michael and Eddie, come into see Louie. He tells Eddie that it's a good script, but right now he doesn't want Eddie's name to appear on the script. They have to wait for this current political wind to be over before he can put Eddie's name on a script.
Eddie walks down the steps with Gale. He tells her: "My career is going to be over before it begins." He then asks how is her husband taking all this? She says he's scared.
Biberman starts to report for work when he sees Marty Ryland replace his director's chair with one with name Marty Ryland on it. The people are absolutely silent. They don't want to even look at his face. Some spokesman has to speak to him: "I'm sorry, Herbert. I did my best. Collect your belongings and leave the studios." Martin Ryland just keeps looking at the papers in his hand. Biberman says: "At least, I hope, you're ashamed of yourself." He walks out.
Biberman comes home and Riffkind is just thrilled to hand him a summons. And, of course, he has to rub it in with other nasty comments. He also lets him know that his house is bugged, because he virtually quotes Gale Sondergaard: "But you see I'm an American and nobody's going to chase me out of this town."
Biberman goes in to tell his wife that the FBI have their house bugged. He looks around and finds one of the bugs and disables it. He adds that there may be more bugs placed in the house. With a big shout he refers to the FBI as "Fuckers!"
Howard Hughes is afraid to give a part in a movie to Gale because her husband has gotten so much publicity since he was fired. He tells her she should start thinking more about herself and less about her husband. She asks him: "Do I have to leave my husband in order to get another job?" The director tell her to make Herbert see the truth and get him to sign the loyalty oath. She tells him: "So it's official. I'm on the blacklist." He says Hollywood would never use a blacklist. He repeats what he's said and then adds that if Gale gets her husband to see reason, then he would give Gale the part. Gale replies: "No, you wouldn't, Mr. Hughes. They wouldn't let you."
The strong liberals get together at their favorite restaurant and talk about the Hollywood 10. Out of the 8 people there, only 3 of them have not received a subpoena. Riffkind's second in command comes walking slowly past the table. When Biberman arrives home, Riffkind is waiting for him. Gale tells her husband that she didn't get the part. She goes outside and harasses the FBI guys. Gale is really upset and is drinking a lot now.
The headline in The Washington Post says: "Stars attend commie hearings in Washington DC; Huge crowds gathered outside the HUAC building as stars attended hearings".
Among some of the stars at the hearings there were people like: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and Danny Kaye and Jane Wyman. Biberman says fascism is certainly not dead in the USA.
When Biberman is questioned before the House on Un-American Activities he is asked are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? He ignores the question and tries to de-legitimize the committee which never should have been formed in the first place. After some more sparring the congressman says Biberman is guilty of contempt of congress. Biberman says that he is indeed contemptuous of this congress. Two other men waiting to go before the congress both say: "Me too!"
Bogart gets scared by the fight in congress and now he tells the press that his stand was ill-advised. Jack Warner says that the Hollywood Ten will never work again in Hollywood.
The Hollywood Ten go to jail. The papers says that Joe Public says that prison is too good for the 10.
While in prison, Biberman learns that his wife has to go before HUAC. But this time there is no press and no audience. It's just the essential people. Riffkind gets to question her. Gale's attitude to HUAC was pretty much like her husband's attitude. She's very feisty.
Director Edward Dmytryk is taking his prison sentence very badly. He seems to be clinically depressed about his situation.
At home Gale gets a phone call. She is ecstatic as she says Herbert is coming back home.
A guard calls for Jew boy meaning Biberman. Then he says his wife is here.
The men are released. Gale is there to pick up her husband.
Gale tells her agent that she wants to work on an independent film with Michael and Eddie, who are writing it. The agent doesn't think this is the best route Gale should take.
Silver City Mine Workings. Delaware Zinc Mining Company. New Mexico. Michael and Eddie are introduced to the striking zinc workers. The man they meet is skeptical of the Hollywood guys.
Gale and others interested in the independent film talk with a wealthy man named Maury. They tell him that they desperately need his money.
Gale worries about her husband. She tells him that he has to keep himself busy with something, just like he did when he was in prison.
Gale gets a copy of the script and asks her husband if he would please read it. She really wants to know what he thinks.
Herbert gets a telephone call of a possibility of working in Paris, France. He asks Gale where is his passport? She says she told him when he was in prison that the government confiscated his passport and refuse to give it back to him. Herbert says she never told him about the passport. She really gets frustrated and angry saying that Herbert never listens to her any more. She leaves the room.
Their lawyer Ben Margolis goes to see Riffkind. He asks Riffkind to give Herbert's passport back to him. Riffkind says no because Biberman will just spread his lies against the US government in Europe. Ben tells Riffkind this is fascism.
Riffkind tells Ben that Edward Dmytryk has come to his senses. He has given them names of communists. In order for Dmytryk to get his passport back and also get off the black listhe had to give Riffkind the names. Unfortunately, one of those names was Herbert Biberman. Gale is furious at Dmytryk for saving himself and throwing Herbert to the wolves. And she is also mad because her husband doesn't really get angry with Dmytryk. Ben says and now Dmytryk is doing another film for Warner Brothers, this one with Bogart.
Herbert goes over to Dmytryk's house and balls him out for naming him in order for Dmytryk to get himself off the black list.
Gale and her sister try to get Biberman accepted as the director since no one else will do the film. Michael the writer says he's certainly willing to work with Biberman.
A fellow named Floyd meets Biberman at the Silver City stop on the railway. Herbert Biberman, Maury Jarrico and Michael Wilson attend the union meeting. Biberman speaks to the audience about them playing themselves in the film. A worker brings up the question of Biberman being in prison. Biberman explains that they were thrown in jail due to pressure from the government and the employers in Hollywood. This actually makes him more human to the audience and they quickly decide to support the making of the film.
An Hispanic woman thinks she will play the role of Esmeralda in the firm. Biberman has to inform her that the part was written specifically with Gale Sondergaard in mind. Good news for the film makers. Will Geer will play the part of the sheriff. [Later on Geer was one of the stars of the TV-series The Waltons.]
Rehearsing the various scenes begins with Gale and the locals. Watching his wife play the part of Esmeralda Biberman starts thinking about using an Hispanic actress to play the part. His compatriots Mike and Paul say they can't disappoint Gale. They made promises to her. They take a vote and it's two to one in favor of an Hispanic actress. But Biberman has to be the one to tell her.
At home Biberman just drops the bomb shell on his wife without giving any preliminary warning. She is shocked. Biberman tells her: "It's wrong not to cast an Hispanic actress." She tells him that she wants this job. "It was my job before it was yours." Not winning with any of her arguments, Gale finally resorts to saying: "But I'm your wife." She can't win and finally says to her husband: "I can't stand to look at you."
So Gale has to say goodbye to her husband. He tells her that she still will be a part of the film. She will be the film's producer and she will be seeing all the dailies.
The film crew roll in on their trucks. There to meet Biberman is Will Geer himself.
Back home going to eat lunch, Gale talks to George, the distributor of the film. He has some big reservations because, says he, the film is too controversial. Gale asks, well, what about The Grapes of Wrath? That was controversial too.
USA/Mexico Border Control. The film crew has to move to Mexico to get the film made. An American rancher gives them permission to film on his 10,000 acre ranch. The rancher sees Rosaura Revueltas, an Hispanic actress, arrive. He asks who is she and then says he hasn't seen anything like that for 10 years now. She will play the part of Esmeralda.
Rosaura delivers a great soliloquy as part of the film. Later she says she wants the leader of the strike, Juan Chacon, to play the part of Raul. Biberman works with him to see if the man can do this. The director is pleasantly surprised at how good Juan Chacon is in the part.
Gale sees and hears the soliloquy by Rosaura and finds it very moving. "The men who poisoned our land are desperate men. They line their pockets with our lives. War and sickness are their friends. They even take away our work to suit themselves."
Biberman is getting a little out of hand. The workers have to work and they can't stand around all day waiting to be in a scene. But this just upsets Biberman and he demands that someone go get Floyd right away. This temper tantrum brings the director a lot of criticism. An important female leader of the workers named Cristina says the director will have to work around the workers' schedules. Paul criticizes this attitude and then Michael backs that up with his own arguments about the director having a bad attitude. And, finally, Juan Chacon speaks with him saying he seems to have forgotten that the film is about the workers. He gives Biberman a lot of really good suggestions. Biberman needs to slow down and listen to the people. He needs to let people help him.
Biberman apologizes to Cristina. She says: "Okay. I forgive you." She gives him a kiss on the cheek.
One particular local white women has been giving the film crew a lot of trouble. She says she has written to the Hollywood guilds and has had "a most favorable response".
Jack Warner goes on radio to denounce the subversives making a film. Gale gets thrown out of a private studio where she worked on the film reels. Riffkind shows up to taunt Gale and to ask her to name names of the people working on the film. Howard Hughes pleases the public by saying that he will do whatever he can to stop the film and its communistic aims.
And now Riffkind shows up on the film set and says that Rosaura has to go with them to El Paso because she is an illegal immigrant.
And now local whites are hired to break up the set. The leader says they better go or there will be trouble. They go.
Lawyer Ben Margolis tells the judge in El Paso that there is a conspiracy between the film industry guild, the Hollywood studios and the FBI to make sure Biberman's film is not finished. The judge says that illegal immigration into the United States will not be tolerated and Rosaura will be deported back to Mexico.
Riffkind and his henchmen are harassing the workers for information on where the film is being recorded. He also oversees his henchmen make Molotov cocktails to throw at the workers. Biberman and some others are brought to the scene of what is now a battle. The henchmen are firing at the workers and at Biberman and his staff. The henchmen switch targets and start burning down the shacks of the workers.
The El Paso Gazette has the headline: "FBI bribe vigilantes." The Silver City Star has the headline: "Miner's homes torched; Gunshots heard on 'red' sets." The Silver City priest threatens New Mexico Governor Mikum that if doesn't send in some state forces, he will make sure that no Catholic ever votes for the governor again.
Riffkind is planning another hit on the workers on the film. In the morning, however, a whole truck full of New Mexico police arrives. The police disarm the henchmen and pull down the barricade.
Under police protection Biberman gets to actually film the last scenes that he needs.
While the last scenes are being shot, Gale arrives.
"Salt of the Earth was completed with close-ups of Rosaura shot secretly in Mexico. Paul Jarrico then smuggled the negative into the U.S. where it was processed in a porno film lab. The film opened to critical success in only thirteen US cinemas. Projectionists had been instructed by their union not to show the film. A year later in 1955 Salt of the Earth won the prize for best film at the French Critics Awards. Rosaura Revueltas won the prize for best foreign actress. Herbert Biberman remained on the blacklist until his death in 1971. Only after Herbert's death was Gale Sondergaard able to find work. She had been unemployed for 22 years Paul Jarrico and Michael Wilson found work in Europe. There, Michael Wilson wrote Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai. In 1992 the Library of Congress included Salt of the Earth on the National Register of U.S. films of cultural and historic significance."
Alvah Bessie (c. 1904-85)
Herbert Biberman (1900-71)
Lester Cole (c. 1904-85)
Edward Dmytryk (1908-99)
Ring Lardner Jr. (1915-2000)
John Howard Lawson (1894-1977)
Albert Maltz (1908-1985)
Samuel Ornitz (1890-1957)
Robert Adrian Scott (1912-73)
Dalton Trumbo (1905-76).
The film covers an important event called the McCarthy era. It was a much broader phenomenon than just Senator McCarthy. It was an era of infamy when the conservatives used fear to silence the lefties in the USA. The fear was that their names would be put on various black lists in the country where people could not get a job in their profession where they worked or wanted to work. But there are still many conservatives who excuse this terrible injustice of the 1950's onward. And today people like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann are still trying to create another age of McCarthyism. She, like McCarthy, makes outlandish claims that various people are working with the terrorists without any proof. Conservative eras backed by general fear brings back demands for a search for communists or Islamic terrorists.
Through watching the story of film director Biberman and his actress wife, one gets a better look at the hell the McCarthyites put the lefties through. You have to admire their persistance in order to complete the film they wanted to make.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
Return To Main Page
Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)