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Radical Hollywood: The Untold Story Behind America's Favorite Movies Paperback – August 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The (August 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565848195
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565848191
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,615,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hollywood and politics have always had a complicated relationship that changes decade by decade (seen as too liberal last year, Tinseltown is now being courted by Beltway bigwigs to produce patriotic entertainment), and this groundbreaking account of leftist influence in Hollywood from the 1920s to the '50s is an intelligent, well argued and absorbing examination of how politics and art can make startling and often strange bedfellows. Buhle and Wagner (A Very Dangerous Citizen: Abraham Lincoln Polonsky and the Hollywood Left) mix exhaustive research and political acumen to produce a detailed analysis of progressive politics in the work of writers, producers, directors and actors. While the book is generously studded with often startling examples (e.g., the 1940s Hopalong Cassidy films written by Michael Wilson were replete with leftist political messages), its real force derives from the authors' astute and judicious untangling of the complicated webs of relationships, politics and economics that produced some of the most important films and genres of the period. From the anticapitalist themes of gangster films such as 1931's Public Enemy and the explicit and, for its time, shocking antilynching message that screenwriter Hugo Butler inserted in Mickey Rooney's 1938 Huckleberry Finn to the underlying class-struggle implications of film noir and the proletarian subtext of The Wizard of Oz (1939), Buhle and Wagner examine not only the political beliefs of the artists but the ever-shifting political contexts in which they functioned. This is one of the few complete and cohesive histories of the history of progressives in Hollywood and is an important contribution to the literature of film and politics. B&w photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In the Thirties and Forties a generation of actors and screenwriters shaped by the Great Depression, the New Deal, the Soviet Union, the rise of fascism, and the new militancy of labor unions looked to Hollywood as the ideal way to reach the masses. An assortment of leftists, hard-line Communists, and fellow travelers worked on scripts in all genres. Though only bits and pieces of leftist ideology may be discerned in the completed films, much of it hardly radical by today's standards, Buhle (American civilization, Brown Univ.) and Wagner (former political editor of the Arizona Republic) contend that it was in the film noir genre that these radicals made their lasting impact on American films. They describe the hard-bitten, cynical, world-weary noir films and the contributions of future blacklisted like Abraham Polonsky, Albert Maltz, and Dalton Trumbo. Owing to the lack of first-person narratives, the authors struggle but are unable to bring this era to life. Also, the discussion of films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Casablanca is superficial, rarely revealing more than previous evaluations. To fully understand the radical era and how it led to the blacklist, this work should be supplemented by titles like Buhle and Patrick McGilligan's Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist, Walter Bernstein's Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist, and Robert Vaughn's Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting. This effort is an appropriate supplemental purchase for large public and academic film collections. (Index not seen.) Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Edison McIntyre VINE VOICE on September 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have a serious problem with some books about Hollywood politics and the "blacklist" era of c.1947-1965. That many talented (and even mediocre) motion picture actors, directors, screenwriters, and other filmmakers were unofficially banished from the American movie industry for several years because of their alleged Communist sympathies was a travesty of American justice and fair play. Yet some of those blacklisted, and some of their defenders in the popular and academic media, seem to imply that their persecution by the U.S. government and the motion picture industry somehow validated many or all of their political beliefs and activities - including support of an American Communist Party that was always under control of Stalinists and slavishly adhered to the Soviet line, and which was (unknown to most of its members and sympathizers) a center for Soviet espionage against the United States. For a rather extreme example of this attitude, see HOLLYWOOD RED: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LESTER COLE, one of the celebrated "Hollywood Ten" group of filmmakers who served federal prison time for their refusal in 1947 to answer questions in hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA). However wrong-headed these people may have been in their faith in Marxist philosophy and the Soviet workers' paradise, they didn't deserve to lose their livelihoods simply because they held those political views.

So I approach books like RADICAL HOLLYWOOD with some trepidation, and it was apparent from the first few pages that the authors were very sympathetic to the victims of the blacklist.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John Winterson Richards on September 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The treatment of Hollywood Communists, and those perceived, rightly or wrongly, as their fellow travellers, at the beginning of the Cold War remains deeply controversial. The truth is hard to find when everyone has an agenda. Those seeking a balanced view could do worse than read two different books that represent different perspectives: this one, which is very much of the Left, and "Red Star Over Hollywood" by Ronald Radosh, a former Leftist who has drifted to the Right, and his wife, Allis, reviewed separately. The irony is that either of these books will force a fair-minded reader to the same conclusion: while HUAC and the blacklist were heavy-handed, crass, undiscriminating, and ultimately counter-productive, there really was a large, well-connected Communist organisation in Hollywood, the members of which were not naive, other-worldly intellectuals but hard-headed activists who deliberately used their positions to advance the Party's interests in and through the film industry. The difference between the two books is that Buhle and Wagner appear to see nothing wrong in this. They seem to be of the Left at its most unreconstructed - but that is not, in itself, the weakness of this book: after all, everyone is entitled to their opinion and the book was read out of a desire to know the Left-wing standpoint. Their problem is less their political beliefs than the way they appear to hold those beliefs, with an astonishing narrow-mindedness. They use the word Manichean but are blind as to how appropriate it is to their apparent world view: everything is either Good or Evil, and in this book, everything of the Left is Good - and therefore everything not of the Left is Evil - but, more than that, everything that is Good is of the Left.Read more ›
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16 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Louis Proyect on October 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
"Radical Hollywood" is both fabulously entertaining and enlightening. For movie fans (who isn't) and students of American history, it provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the radical politics of the directors, screen writers, and actors who were part of the Hollywood mainstream until McCarthyism drove them out. When you reflect on the greatness of their work, you realize that the witch-hunt was our loss as well as theirs.
The cover photo of "Radical Hollywood" suggests that many of these figures were not ordinarily associated with the left. With James Cagney placing his hand somewhat menacingly on Jean Harlow in "The Public Enemy", you have to wonder what the connection is. As it turns out, the script was written by William Bright, who was one of the first left-wing innovators in Hollywood. Hailing from Chicago, he was part of a group of youngsters around Dr. Ben Reitman, Emma Goldman's longtime lover. During the Great Depression, he worked for a time as a smalltime bootlegger and was inspired by this experience to write about criminal life, emphasizing how social relations are distorted by capitalism.
Cagney threw his support to the burgeoning labor movement in the 1930s on Bright's prompting. He signed on to a support committee for strikers in the San Joaquin Valley in 1934. When the Hearst press began to redbait Cagney, he pulled back from future involvement with the left. If witch-hunting had not been a factor in Hollywood from the beginning, it is not too difficult to imagine much more willingness on the part of movie stars to speak out on social and political questions.
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