One American film which stood out clearly against McCarthyism was Storm Center (1956) which focused on a small town in America where a librarian Alicia Hull, played by Bette Davis, was dismissed for having a book called ‘The Communist Dream’ on the library’s shelves. The local council wanted the book removed and for future decisions about questionable material to be brought before them. She told the council:
There was a book in our library for many years. It is still there. It made me sick to my stomach every time I checked it out, Mein Kampf. Maybe we ran the risk of spreading Hitlerism but it didn’t work that way. People read it. It made them indignant. Maybe it helped defeat Hitler? Don’t you see by keeping it in the library we attack the communist dream? We say to the communists, ‘We do not fear you.’ We are not afraid of what you have to say. Tell me, would they keep a book in a Russian library praising democracy?
The council demanded that the book be removed and she refused to withdraw a book because ‘it has ideas we don’t like’. A politically ambitious councilor then told her that Hull had been linked to several communist front organisations such as the ‘American Peace Mobilization’ and the ‘Voice of Freedom Committee’ during the war. Hull denied that she was a communist and she had resigned form the organisations when she found out they were fronts.
The council sacked her as well as telling the press that she had former communist affiliations. The community began to shrink from her, just as the Hollywood community pulled away from those who spoke up for the Hollywood 10 and its supporters. The councilor who leaked the information prepared to use it as a platform for further political battles ahead. The councilor was a depiction of those politicians who used their investigations to further their political careers. Hull was one of the victims whose liberal sympathies were now out of step with the political conventional wisdom.
The film also depicted the traditional American family in a less than appealing light. One man was hideous anti-intellectual, he resented even his wife’s fondness for music and his son’s taste for reading. In its defence of the little boy who liked reading books, the film may have been reacting to the depiction of the American family in My Son John. Provoked by his father’s hatred of ‘pinkos’, the son in Storm Centre burned down the library. The message of the film was that stamping out even one set of ideas – even repellent ideas – was a short step to book-burning fascism. The film was an extraordinarily bold statement for its time.