Although much of Frankel’s material is familiar, the blacklist is a gift that keeps on giving. There always seems to be something new to chew on, in this case the transcripts of HUAC’s secret executive sessions. Besides, it’s a story that bears retelling because Hollywood, not to mention the rest of the country, is haunted by ghosts that won’t go away (witness Newt Gingrich’s recent call for a resurrection of HUAC, now to be wielded against ISIS, not Communists) ... Surprisingly, it is Gary Cooper, a card-carrying conservative, who emerges as one of the few heroes of this story. Called before HUAC in the middle of production, Foreman gave his star the opportunity to leave the picture — guilt by association was de rigueur in those days — but Cooper refused ... Frankel narrates this story well. He has a sure ear for the telling anecdote, and a good eye for detail. (Parnell Thomas chaired the HUAC hearings sitting on a phone book covered by a red cushion to compensate for his diminutive stature.) The era has been labeled 'the plague years,' but Frankel is forgiving of those caught up in its tangle of principle and expediency, courage and cowardice. He adopts the verdict of Dalton Trumbo, another of the Unfriendly Ten: 'There were only victims.' ”
Frankel’s fresh understanding, to be sure, owes a lot to plain old digging. A former Washington Post reporter, he unearthed Kramer’s confession of helplessness, for instance, in a taped conversation that had languished for decades. The provenance is clarified in one of the text’s many hundreds of endnotes — and his bibliography is equally exhaustive. The heaps of research, however, never snuff out what’s entertaining about scenes such as the culture clash around the émigré’s piano. Frankel’s grasp of cinema’s 'collaborative effort' leads to a juggling act, switching points of view among the film’s chief contributors ... Although the Red Scare’s trail of betrayal and ruin looks as heartbreaking as ever, the story can’t help but feel a tad rehashed. Frankel’s chapters on the hearings and their consequences rely on the same intense research as the rest (including material never published before), but they lack the warmth of the biographical passages ... Though Frankel began this sumptuous history long before the latest election, he ends up reminding us that 2016 was far from the first time politicians trafficked in lies and fear, and showing us how, nonetheless, people of integrity came together to do exemplary work.
...a detailed investigation of the way anti-communist persecution poisoned the atmosphere around one film, which succeeded nonetheless, and damaged the lives of the people who made it ... The connection between Cooper in the movie and in real life is apparent, so Frankel does not have to overplay it. It's obvious that Cooper and Foreman's personal lives somehow doubled the film's story after Cooper was cast in the lead ... A pox lies dormant in American politics, like shingles, and it has broken out again. The Trump administration, even before taking power, began to request lists of government employees who might disagree with its policies on climate change, gender equality, and anti-terrorism; a right-wing website is compiling a watch list of professors it accuses of liberal bias. Frankel's book makes clear how volatile and destructive such lists can become, and the kind of people they empower ... As our new era unfolds, with the explicit promise, or threat, to make America as great as these 1950s again, we will soon find out if the bizarre tales in Frankel's book will be repeated with a new cast of actors and writers.