UC Berkeley Library

Documentaries on the 1950's

Ordinary Americans: The Red Scare

Examines the history of official and unofficial attempts to find and punish communists, both in and outside the U.S. government. Hear the personal accounts of key political figures leading the hunt for communists, as well as what it was like for ordinary citizens entangled in the early years of the Cold War. Includes newsreel footage of air raid drills in Times Square and of testimonies given before the House Un-American Activities Committee, the blacklisting of the "Hollywood Ten" and other authors and entertainers. 1999. 35 min.

Our Century. Westwards Eastwards: 1945-1958.

Sixth segment in a ten-part series that surveys historical events of the 20th century using Gaumont British newsreel footage. Covers major advances, trends, and tragedies, from political upheavals and passing social crazes to the role of technology, and examines their impacts on the future. This segment documents events from 1945-1958. The world is divided into two blocks: the West and the East, and Europe is in ruins. People have to get used to their regained freedom, rebuild, and learn again how to live.

Our Secret Century: Volumes 1 and 2: The Rainbow is Yours and Capital Realism.

Contents: 1. The rainbow is yours -- 2. Capitalist realism. In vol. 1, seven color films explore how 1950s glitz 'n' glamour seduced Americans into an obsession with the look of designed objects; includes "American Look," the definitive Populuxe film, and General Motors' 1956 motorama musical, "Design for dreaming." In vol. 2, two black-and-white 1930s industrial films attempt to humanize the face of mass production, very much like Soviet propaganda, and "Valley Town" tells the story of a depressed steel town. Presented by Richard Prelinger. (CD-ROM for Macintosh)

Our Secret Century: Volumes 3 and 4: The behavior offensive and Menace and jeopardy.

Contents: 1. The behavior offensive -- 2. Menace and jeopardy. In vol. 3, nine comic and creepy social-guidance classics document the postwar social crusade to instill family values, 1950s style. Highlights: Are you popular?, Shy guy, and Habit patterns. In vol. 4, seven safety films shot between 1936 and 1962, lecture about the perils of haste and carelessness. Classics of this genre include Time out for trouble, More dangerous than dynamite, and Safety belt for Susie. Presented by Richard Prelinger. (CD-ROM for Macintosh)

Our Secret Century: Volumes 5 and 6: Teenage transgression and The Uncharted landscape.

Contents: 1. Teenage transgression -- 2. The Uncharted landscape. In vol. 5, six movies explore the not-so-golden years of the late fifties and early sixties. White and Chicano gangs in working class L.A. call a truce in Gang Boy. Robert's downward spiral in The Dropout includes a stint in the malt shop waiting on his one-time peers and The Terrible truth is that nice girls get hooked on "horse". Vol. 6 is a rare visual record of the changing face of urban and rural America, the blank slate upon which fantasies of growth and prosperity were enacted.

Our Secret Century: Volumes 7 and 8: Gender Roll Call and Tireless Marketers.

Contents: 1. Gender Roll Call -- 2. Tireless Marketers. Vol. 7, considers how and when girls and boys learn to be true to their sex in the inflexible fifties. The Home Economics story points out that "cooking is practically applied chemistry," and dinette doubles as darkroom when Mike's photographer wife solves those pesky two-career problems by quitting her job. Vol. 8 documents the growth of mass advertising and its migration from movie theaters to television.

Post-war Hopes, Cold War Fears.(A Walk Through the 20th Century with Bill Moyers.)

Describes life in America after World War II, a time of rash optimism and neuroses. While the dollar was strong and everyday life improved, the 1950's also saw the lowering of the Iron Curtain, the loss of China to Communism, the Korean War and the Red Scare. 58 min.

Red Hollywood

Film fragments and interviews provide a survey of the filmwork created by the victims of the Hollywood Blacklist. Includes Alfred Levitt, Paul Jarrico, John Berry, Joseph Losey, Dalton Trumbo, Cy Endfield and Abraham Polonsky who were involved as directors and/or writers. An effort has been made to separate the authors' ideology from their contributions to Hollywood cinema. This is not a film about their politics or their martyrdom. In the film, excerpts that follow credits are limited to screenwriters and directors who were Communists, ex-Communists, and occasional sympathizers.

Scandalize My Name: Stories from the Blacklist

A compelling look at a terribly troubled period in American history, the 1950's -- a time of blacklists, loyalty oaths and slandered reputations, the "Red Scare". These are the stories of African-Americans, like Paul Robeson, Hazel Scott, Jackie Robinson, and Harry Belafonte, whose loyalties were questioned, whose careers were shattered, and whose struggles for social justice were subverted. 1999. 60 min.

Seeing Red: Stories of American Communists

A documentary about the history of the American Communist Party from the thirties onward. A film by James Klein, Julia Reichert. 100 min.
Reviews and articles:
Klehr, Harvey. "Seeing Red." Labor History; Winter85, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p138, 6p Full-text of this article / review is available:Berkeley users only