Philip Taffs‘s review
John Ford once famously introduced himself: “I’m John Ford. I make Westerns.”
To which Australian author, Kevin Brianton, might now rightfully respond: “I’m Kevin Brianton. I write Hollywood histories.”
“Hollywood Divided”, Brianton’s wide-ranging and yet incisive and engaging investigation of the infamous SDG (Screen Directors Guild) meeting in 1950 – revolving around the proposed adoption of a thinly veiled anti-Communist “loyalty oath” – reads (forgive the Oriental detour) like a Rashomon thriller.
The key players in this mythic Guildfight at the Beverly Hills Hotel – DeMille, Ford, Stephens, Mankiewicz – are each presented not as cardboard cut-outs but as rounded, fully developed characters; replete with their individual idiosyncrasies, loyalties, politics and agendas. As the drama unfurls, we learn a lot about these men and the way they are influenced by their backgrounds, their industry, and their times.
At the SDG meeting on October 22, 1950, Hollywood – and indeed the world at large – heard the loud, reverberating clash of fates meeting furies.
Brianton carefully and systematically unpacks the accepted – and until now largely unchallenged – version of events in which good trumps scaremongering evil in the last reel…and the blacklisting
baddies are sent limping off into the sunset with their prejudices between their legs. It’s a whole lot more complex than that. Fortunately Brianton shines his spotlight in the dark corners with diligence, intelligence and acuity, so that facts are now also printed, not just the legend.
Although it is meticulously researched, “Hollywood Divided” is propelled by narrative verve and precise, considered prose. This is a fascinating well told story – not a dull, dusty thesis.
Somebody should make a movie of it.