by Jack Nilan            EMail :

Guilty by Suspicion (1991)

Movie Grade C

McCarthyism Connection Grade B+

McCarthyism Connection
Fictional Hollywood director, David Merrill, refuses to appear as a friendly witness before the House Committee and sees his career destroyed.



Jack   C
Roger Ebert   *** ½
IMDB    6.3

In his review Roger Ebert said. "'Guilty by Suspicion' is not only a powerful statement against the blacklist, but also one of the best Hollywood movies I've seen." The movie also had Robert De Niro, Annette Bening and Martin Scorsese in a rare film appearance. I knew all this going in and was pretty excited to see this movie.

   What followed was pretty disappointing for me. De Niro played a fictional director, David Merrill, who may have some contacts with Communists in the past. When his loyalty is questioned by a Roy Cohn like figure he refuses to implicate himself or others. He explains that he may have went to a few meetings, but got thrown out because he argued too much.

   He then finds that he has trouble finding work in his profession. He finally gets a job, working for someone he would have never worked for before, directing "High Noon". After directing for a while he is "discovered" and thrown off the set, even though 'Jerry Cooper' does stand up for him.

   It was at this point the movie began to lose me. Carl Foreman, the real screenwriter of 'High Noon', did get thrown off the set, but he wasn't the director. His story was totally different than this fictional David Merrill character. Why was the movie trying to blend the two?

   Merrill is harassed by the FBI and unable to find work on Broadway, where old friends are afraid to even talk to him. After he loses a job in a small repair shop He is tempted with a new offer to direct a film from his old studio (if he testifies). He agrees to go before the Committee, initially planning to name his friends.

   Then the movie tries to blend fiction and reality again. Merrill gives an almost word for word rendition of the famous Joseph Welch speech before the Army hearings with McCarthy. But Welch was a lawyer, defending someone who worked for him. He was not a director who was being accused. At this point I got the feeling that Merrill was really a 'Zelig' or 'Forrest Gump' like character who was appearing in actual events to show them to us.

   Blacklisted writer/director Abraham Polonsky wrote the original screenplay for the film. When director Irwin Winkler decided to rewrite the script, Polonsky had his name removed from the film's credits. "I wanted it to be about Communists because that's the way it really happened. ... They didn't need another story about a man who was falsely accused," he said in an interview in the New York Times. I don't think the movie ever recovered from his removal. We could have had a story about a former Communist whose life was destroyed because of his past. It could have been a great American story. Instead we got Forrest Gump in McCarthyland.