Sunday, August 29, 2010


Frank Lovejoy works at a Pittsburgh steel factory and is a card-carrying Communist who uses his clout to get his comrades hired there. It seems to be common knowledge that he is a Party member--his brothers despise him for it--but his high school-age son (Ron Hagerthy, pictured with Lovejoy) only hears rumors from other schoolboys, whom he then beats up. When Lovejoy admits to his son that it's true, the boy is properly horrified. The truth about Lovejoy's situation, as the title of the film makes clear, is that Lovejoy has worked as a "mole" for the FBI for nine years. He has tried to be stoic about the whole thing, but after his mother dies and his brother (Paul Pircini) tries to beat him up at her funeral, Lovejoy asks the FBI to be released and cleared publicly. They convince him to stay on to wrap up one last case involving a strike at his factory, a Russian bigwig, and some goons who have been shipped in from New York to "break some skulls" to give the official union a bad name. On top of all this, his son's teacher (Dorothy Hart) "comes out" to Lovejoy as a fellow Communist; they start dating until she soon finds evidence that he's an FBI spy. Rather than turn him, however, she confides in him that she is upset at the direction in which the Party is going (using blacks and Jews as fall guys). She tries to "defect," so to speak, and Lovejoy protects her, leading to a couple of exciting chase scenes, some murders, and a climax at a HUAC hearing where Lovejoy hopes to clear his name.

This movie is considered a film noir by many critics, but a noir style is evident only in the last half hour, mostly in the nighttime chase scenes, one of which, along a railroad track, is quite well done. Based on a series of articles written by a real FBI agent, the movie is more indebted to the documentary-style crime thrillers of the era, with some off-screen narration and attempts at real-looking location shots (in this case, newsreel footage of riots). Lovejoy gives a subtle but single-note performance; his face when he's anguished over what his son thinks of him is no different than his face when he's casually talking over the facts of his case with his FBI handlers. The supporting cast provides a bit more color, including Richard Webb and Phillip Carey as Feds, and James Millicam and Edward Norris as Commies, though at times I must admit I got all the tall white men in suits and hats confused. The finale is perhaps the only movie scene ever in which House Un-American Activities Committee congressmen are seen as the good guys. [TCM]

No comments: