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B Noir: I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. and The Mob

Is it some kind of joke that I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. was nominated for a documentary Oscar?

B Noir: I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. and The Mob
Photo: Warner Bros.

Is it some kind of joke that Gordon Douglas’s I Was a Communist for the F.B.I., from 1951, was nominated for a 1952 Academy Award for Best Documentary? (My copy of Inside Oscar reveals nothing.) I know the film is inspired by real events, but its hysterical obsession with communism makes it a not-so-distant cousin to the equally manufactured but infinitely funnier Reefer Madness. Frank Lovejoy stars as Matt Cvetic, an F.B.I. informant who’s rejected by his brother and son—take a look at the kid’s jiggling Adam’s apple in the final scene—because they think he’s really a communist. Unwatchable except for a strike sequence that (unintentionally) illustrates how fascists exploit the very people they try to uplift, the film—given its brick-to-the-head temperament—could have been ghostwritten by Joseph McCartney. Robert Parrish’s little-seen The Mob, from 1948, is nominally better. Broderick Crawford stars as a cop who goes undercover as an ex-con longshoreman to hunt an elusive mob boss. The finale is exciting but Parrish squanders the opportunity to bring the film’s pompous displays of authority to vibrant visual life.

“Tell the truth but tell it slant”
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