Thomas Doherty tells the story of the 1947 hearings into alleged Communist subversion in the movie industry. Show Trial is a character-driven inquiry into how the HUAC hearings ignited the Hollywood blacklist, providing a new history of one of the most influential events of the postwar era.
...deeply absorbing, expertly researched, and thoroughly entertaining ... [Doherty] takes the reader on an illuminating tour of the Hollywood Left and their antagonists during the 1930s ... What is perhaps most striking in Doherty’s instructive account is the Red Scare vitriol that emanated from observers, commentators, and the general public ... with great skill and the same even-handedness applied throughout the book ... Doherty’s refreshing approach adds quite a few new shades of gray to a story that has all too often been told in black-and-white.
There have been countless studies and articles on the Hollywood blacklist, but most undercut their research by standing against the Hollywood moguls and producers who were in the Waldorf meeting. Doherty is not so quick to throw Hollywood under the bus ... With accessible prose and astute academic insight, Doherty shows us that both the studios and the Hollywood Ten were victims of HUAC. His Show Trial is likely to become the standard authority on the genesis of the Hollywood blacklist.
He assumes his reader knows the story, and does not bother to define his terms or provide much beyond rudimentary context. Playing with the idea of the 'show' in show trial, he structures his book as though it were a big screen extravaganza, and performs it via several personas: the historian determined to showcase every relevant document; the slick movie reviewer who can’t resist a good line; the conscientious ethnographer lost in the weeds ... Doherty’s enthusiasm for his subject practically jumps off the page. He loves the many facts and anecdotes he has discovered ... Perhaps Doherty, discouraged by the number of authors in whose footsteps he was following, wanted to do something more creative rather than yet again tell the story sequentially. Unfortunately, he chose a digressive, character-driven strategy that keeps the reader flipping pages to understand what is being said, by whom, when, and why. His fragmented, stop-and-start-again style dilutes narrative authority and further complicates an already very complicated story.