On the sidewalk outside Strand Books in Manhattan, store personnel daily wheel out shelf units holding hundreds of used books priced at $1.00 apiece. Gazing idly along the spine-rows last week, I found “Movies Are Better Than Ever” – Wide-Screen Memories of The Fifties by Andrew Dowdy (Wm. Morrow & Co., 1973). This unread copy contained the publisher’s original press release and reviewer’s card (“Please do not publish your review before October 19, 1973”).

Dowdy was born in 1936 and on the first page he notes that during the 1940s, “in the neighborhood theaters where programs frequently changed three times a week, you could see as many as six different films every seven days.” He must have seen a lot of them, because Dowdy mentions a number of films I’d never heard of before–and I’m only up to page 55 of this engaging book. In the chapter entitled “I Married A Communist & Other Disasters of the Blacklist,” Dowdy notes the following pictures:

conspiratorConspirator (1949) – “Junior Miss vs. Marx…Robert Taylor, as the Communist disguised as a British officer of unusually cool reserve, swept young Elizabeth [Taylor] off her feet. The reserve, we come to suspect, is induced by a party discipline which teaches that notions of a right to private life are ridiculous.”

The Red Danube (1949) – “As an escaped Russian ballet dancer, Janet Leigh…preferred a suicidal leap from a window to forced repatriation to Russia.”

The Steel Fist (1952) – “Former child actor Roddy McDowell portrayed an American student trapped in an Iron Curtain country.”

The Whip Hand (1951) – “Soviet agents successfully construct a laboratory for developing germ warfare in a New England village.”

walkeast3Walk East On Beacon (1952) – “…based loosely on the actual case of British spy Klaus Fuchs…the film was almost alone in suggesting historically credible reasons for the international appeal of Communism…Active Communists were shown to be complexly different: a reluctantly fanatical spy whose failure results in his ambiguous punishment, a repressed couple with the look of an ascetic idealism in their pinched faces, a cynical bureaucratic leader, etc.”

Red Planet Mars (1952) – “A scientist contacts Mars and transmits to Earth the accumulated wisdom of a society so advanced in technology that inhabitants live to a graceful three hundred years of age. Earth undergoes a miraculous religious revival in which a secret sect overthrows the Communist regime of Russia.”

Assignment–Paris (1952) – “Dana Andrews, as a newsman, had returned from Budapest a completely zonked potato. The Communists had done something to him with drugs and strobe lights.”

missvfrommoscowDowdy also mentions two obscure pro-Soviet films released at the height of WWII: The Boy From Stalingrad (1943 and never on video, it seems) and Miss V From Moscow (1942).