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“The World Was at Stake”: Three “Friendly” HUAC Hollywood Witnesses Assess Pro-Soviet Wartime Films

The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) held hearings in 1947 on Communist activity in Hollywood. Under J. Parnell Thomas, who became chairman after the Republican Party gained control of Congress in 1947, HUAC not only sought to identify so-called “subversives” in the industry, but also to investigate whether the Roosevelt administration had encouraged the production of pro-Soviet films during World War II. In the following testimony, three “friendly” witnesses—studio heads Jack L. Warner of Warner Bros. and Louis B. Mayer of M-G-M, and Russian-born novelist, screenwriter, and ideologue Ayn Rand—commented on specific wartime films. Mission to Moscow (1943), based on a memoir by Joseph E. Davies, U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1936–1938, had been widely criticized for glorifying Stalin and for offering rationalizations for the Moscow purge trials and the non-aggression pact with Hitler. Song of Russia (1944), with a screenplay by “unfriendly” witnesses Paul Jarrico and Richard Collins, had undergone significant revisions due to complaints that it was too pro-Stalinist. Following the 1947 hearings, ten screenwriters and directors, who refused to cooperate with the Committee, were cited for contempt of Congress. After studio heads blacklisted the ten—who later served prison terms following the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear their appeal—HUAC agreed to stop investigating studios and the content of films, and limited their inquiries to personnel. The subject matter of films, however, continued to be affected by the chilled Cold War climate to which HUAC contributed.


Ideological termites have burrowed into many American industries, organizations, and societies. Wherever they may be, I say let us dig them out and get rid of them. My brothers and I will be happy to subscribe generously to a pest-removal fund. We are willing to establish such a fund to ship to Russia the people who don’t like our American system of government and prefer the communistic system to ours.

That’s how strongly we feel about the subversives who want to overthrow our free American system.

If there are Communists in our industry, or any other industry, organization, or society who seek to undermine our free institutions, let’s find out about it and know who they are. Let the record be spread clear, for all to read and judge. The public is entitled to know the facts. And the motion-picture industry is entitled to have the public know the facts.

Our company is keenly aware of its responsibilities to keep its product free from subversive poisons. With all the vision at my command, I scrutinize the planning and production of our motion pictures. It is my firm belief that there is not a Warner Bros. picture that can fairly be judged to be hostile to our country, or communistic in tone or purpose.

Many charges, including the fantasy of “White House pressure” have been leveled at our wartime production Mission to Moscow. In my previous appearance before members of this committee, I explained the origin and purposes of Mission to Moscow.

That picture was made when our country was fighting for its existence, with Russia as one of our allies. It was made to fulfill the same wartime purpose for which we made such other pictures as Air Force, This Is the Army, Objective Burma, Destination Tokyo, Action in the North Atlantic, and a great many more.

If making Mission to Moscow in 1942 was a subversive activity, then the American Liberty ships which carried food and guns to Russian allies and the American naval vessels which convoyed them were likewise engaged in subversive activities. The picture was made only to help a desperate war effort and not for posterity. . . .

Mr. STRIPLING. Well, is it your opinion now, Mr. Warner, that Mission to Moscow was a factually correct picture, and you made it as such?

Mr. WARNER. I can’t remember.

Mr. STRIPLING. Would you consider it a propaganda picture?

Mr. WARNER. A propaganda picture—


Mr. WARNER. In what sense?

Mr. STRIPLING. In the sense that it portrayed Russia and communism in an entirely different light from what it actually was?

Mr. WARNER. I am on record about 40 times or more that I have never been in Russia. I don’t know what Russia was like in 1937 or 1944 or 1947, so how can I tell you if it was right or wrong?

Mr. STRIPLING. Don’t you think you were on dangerous ground to produce as a factually correct picture one which portrayed Russia—

Mr. WARNER. No; we were not on dangerous ground in 1942, when we produced it. There was a war on. The world was at stake.

Mr. STRIPLING. In other words—

Mr. WARNER. We made the film to aid in the war effort, which I believe I have already stated.

Mr. STRIPLING. Whether it was true or not?

Mr. WARNER. As far as I was concerned, I considered it true to the extent as written in Mr. Davies' book.

Mr. STRIPLING. Well, do you suppose that your picture influenced the people who saw it in this country, the millions of people who saw it in this country?

Mr. WARNER. In my opinion, I can’t see how it would influence anyone. We were in war and when you are in a fight you don’t ask who the fellow is who is helping you.

Mr. STRIPLING. Well, due to the present conditions in the international situation, don’t you think it was rather dangerous to write about such a disillusionment as was sought in that picture?

Mr. WARNER. I can’t understand why you ask me that question, as to the present conditions. How did I, you, or anyone else know in 1942 what the conditions were going to be in 1947. I stated in my testimony our reason for making the picture, which was to aid the war effort—anticipating what would happen.

Mr. STRIPLING. I don’t see that this is aiding the war effort, Mr. Warner—with the cooperation of Mr. Davies or with the approval of the Government—to make a picture which is a fraud in fact.

Mr. WARNER. I want to correct you, very vehemently. There was no cooperation of the Government.

Mr. STRIPLING. You stated there was.

Mr. WARNER. I never stated the Government cooperated in the making of it. If I did, I stand corrected. And I know I didn’t.

Mr. STRIPLING. Do you want me to read that part, Mr. Chairman?

The CHAIRMAN. No; I think we have gone into this Mission to Moscow at some length. . . .


During my 25 years in the motion-picture industry I have always sought to maintain the screen as a force for public good.

The motion-picture industry employs many thousands of people. As is the case with the newspaper, radio, publishing, and theater businesses, we cannot be responsible for the political views of each individual employee. It is, however, our complete responsibility to determine what appears on the motion-picture screen.

It is my earnest hope that this committee will perform a public service by recommending to the Congress legislation establishing a national policy regulating employment of Communists in private industry. It is my belief they should be denied the sanctuary of the freedom they seek to destroy. . . .

The primary function of motion pictures is to bring entertainment to the screen. But, like all other industries, we were lending every support to our Government in the war effort, and whenever a subject could be presented as entertaining, we tried, insofar as possible, to cooperate in building morale. . . .

There were a number of representatives of the Government who made periodical visits to the studios during the war. They discussed with us from time to time the types of pictures which they felt might assist the war effort. They were coordinators and at no time did they attempt to tell us what we should or should not do. We made our own decisions on production. We are proud of our war efforts and the results speak for themselves.

Mention has been made of the picture Song of Russia, as being friendly to Russia at the time it was made. Of course it was. It was made to be friendly. In 1938 we made Ninotchka, and shortly thereafter Comrade X, with Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr—both of these films kidded Russia.

It was in April of 1942 that the story for Song of Russia came to our attention. It seemed a good medium of entertainment and at the same time offered an opportunity for a pat on the back for our then ally, Russia. It also offered an opportunity to use the music of Tschaikovsky. We mentioned this to the Government coordinators and they agreed with us that it would be a good idea to make the picture.

According to research I have made, our newspapers were headlining the desperate situation of the Russians at Stalingrad at that time. Admiral Standley, American Ambassador to the Soviet Union, made a vigorous plea for all-out aid. He pleaded for assistance second only to the supplies being provided the United States Fleet, and emphasized that the best way to win the war was to keep the Russians killing the Germans, and that the most effective way was to give them all the help they needed.

The United States Army Signal Corps made The Battle of Stalingrad, released in 1943, with a prolog expressing high tribute from President Roosevelt, our Secretaries of State, War, and Navy, and from Generals Marshall and MacArthur.

The final script of Song of Russia was little more than a pleasant musical romance—the story of a boy and girl that, except for the music of Tschaikovsky, might just as well have taken place in Switzerland or England or any other country on the earth. . . .

Since 1942 when the picture was planned, our relationship with Russia has changed. But viewed in the light of the war emergency at the time, it is my opinion that it could not be construed as anything other than for the entertainment purpose intended and a pat on the back for our then ally, Russia. . . .


Mr. STRIPLING: Now, Miss Rand, you have heard the testimony of Mr. Mayer?

Miss RAND: Yes.

Mr. STRIPLING: You have read the letter I read from Lowell Mellett?

Miss RAND: Yes.

Mr. STRIPLING: Which says that the picture “Song of Russia” has no political implications?

Miss RAND: Yes.

Mr. STRIPLING: Did you at the request of Mr. Smith, the investigator for this committee, view the picture “Song of Russia”?

Miss RAND: Yes.

Mr. STRIPLING: Within the past 2 weeks?

Miss RAND: Yes; on October 13, to be exact.

Mr. STRIPLING: In Hollywood?

Miss RAND: Yes.

Mr. STRIPLING: Would you give the committee a break-down of your summary of the picture relating to either propaganda or an untruthful account or distorted account of conditions in Russia?

Miss RAND: Yes.

First of all I would like to define what we mean by propaganda. We have all been talking about it, but nobody—

Mr. STRIPLING: Could you talk into the microphone?

Miss RAND: Can you hear me now?

Nobody has stated just what they mean by propaganda. Now, I use the term to mean that Communist propaganda is anything which gives a good impression of communism as a way of life. Anything that sells people the idea that life in Russia is good and that people are free and happy would be Communist propaganda. Am I not correct? I mean, would that be a fair statement to make—that that would be Communist propaganda?

Now, here is what the picture “Song of Russia” contains. It starts with an American conductor, played by Robert Taylor, giving a concert in America for Russian war relief. He starts playing the American national anthem and the national anthem dissolves into a Russian mob, with the sickle and hammer on a red flag very prominent above their heads. I am sorry, but that made me sick. That is something which I do not see how native Americans permit, and I am only a naturalized American. That was a terrible touch of propaganda. As a writer, I can tell you just exactly what it suggests to the people. It suggests literally and technically that it is quite all right for the American national anthem to dissolve into the Soviet. The term here is more than just technical. It really was symbolically intended, and it worked out that way. The anthem continues, played by a Soviet band. That is the beginning of the picture.

Now we go to the pleasant love story. Mr. Taylor is an American who came there apparently voluntarily to conduct concerts for the Soviets. He meets a little Russian girl from a village who comes to him and begs him to go to her village to direct concerts there. There are no GPU agents [State Political Administration, forerunner of the KGB]and nobody stops her. She just comes to Moscow and meets him. He falls for her and decides he will go, because he is falling in love. He asks her to show him Moscow. She says she has never seen it. He says, “I will show it to you.”

They see it together. The picture then goes into a scene of Moscow, supposedly. I don’t know where the studio got its shots, but I have never seen anything like it in Russia. First you see Moscow buildings—big, prosperous-looking, clean buildings, with something like swans or sailboats in the foreground. Then you see a Moscow restaurant that just never existed there. In my time, when I was in Russia, there was only one such restaurant, which was nowhere as luxurious as that and no one could enter it except commissars and profiteers. Certainly a girl from a village, who in the first place would never have been allowed to come voluntarily, without permission, to Moscow, could not afford to enter it, even if she worked 10 years. However, there is a Russian restaurant with a menu such as never existed in Russia at all and which I doubt even existed before the revolution. From this restaurant they go on to this tour of Moscow. The streets are clean and prosperous-looking. There are no food lines anywhere. You see shots of the marble subway—the famous Russian subway out of which they make such propaganda capital. There is a marble statue of Stalin thrown in. . . .

Incidentally, I must say at this point that I understand from correspondents who have left Russia and been there later than I was and from people who escaped from there later than I did that the time I saw it, which was in 1926, was the best time since the Russian revolution. At that time conditions were a little better than they have become since. In my time we were a bunch of ragged, starved, dirty, miserable people who had only two thoughts in our mind. That was our complete terror—afraid to look at one another, afraid to say anything for fear of who is listening and would report us—and where to get the next meal. You have no idea what it means to live in a country where nobody has any concern except food, where all the conversation is about food because everybody is so hungry that that is all they can think about and that is all they can afford to do. They have no idea of politics. They have no idea of any pleasant romances or love—nothing but food and fear.

That is what I saw up to 1926. That is not what the picture shows.

Now, after this tour of Moscow, the hero—the American conductor—goes to the Soviet village. The Russian villages are something—so miserable and so filthy. They were even before the revolution. They weren’t much even then. What they have become now I am afraid to think. You have all read about the program for the collectivization of the farms in 1933, at which time the Soviet government admits that 3,000,000 peasants died of starvation. Other people claim there were seven and a half million, but 3,000,000 is the figure admitted by the Soviet government as the figure of people who died of starvation, planned by the government in order to drive people into collective farms. That is a recorded historical fact.

Now, here is the life in the Soviet village as presented in “Song of Russia.” You see the happy peasants. You see they are meeting the hero at the station with bands, with beautiful blouses and shoes, such as they never wore anywhere. You see children with operetta costumes on them and with a brass band which they could never afford. You see the manicured starlets driving tractors and the happy women who come from work singing. You see a peasant at home with a close-up of food for which anyone there would have been murdered. If anybody had such food in Russia in that time he couldn’t remain alive, because he would have been torn apart by neighbors trying to get food. But here is a close-up of it and a line where Robert Taylor comments on the food and the peasant answers, “This is just a simple country table and the food we eat ourselves.” . . .

Now, here comes the crucial point of the picture. In the midst of this concert, when the heroine is playing, you see a scene on the border of the U.S.S.R. You have a very lovely modernistic sign saying “U.S.S.R.” I would just like to remind you that that is the border where probably thousands of people have died trying to escape out of this lovely paradise. It shows the U.S.S.R. sign, and there is a border guard standing. He is listening to the concert. Then there is a scene inside kind of a guardhouse where the guards are listening to the same concert, the beautiful Tschaikowsky music, and they are playing chess. Suddenly there is a Nazi attack on them. The poor, sweet Russians were unprepared. Now, realize—and that was a great shock to me—that the border that was being shown was the border of Poland. That was the border of an occupied, destroyed, enslaved country which Hitler and Stalin destroyed together. That was the border that was being shown to us—just a happy place with people listening to music.

Also realize that when all this sweetness and light was going on in the first part of the picture, with all these happy, free people, there was not a GPU agent among them, with no food lines, no persecution—complete freedom and happiness, with everybody smiling. . . .

Now, here is what I cannot understand at all: If the excuse that has been given here is that we had to produce the picture in wartime, just how can it help the war effort? If it is to deceive the American people, if it were to present to the American people a better picture of Russia than it really is, then that sort of an attitude is nothing but the theory of the Nazi elite, that a choice group of intellectual or other leaders will tell the people lies for their own good. That I don’t think is the American way of giving people information. We do not have to deceive the people at any time, in war or peace.

If it was to please the Russians, I don’t see how you can please the Russians by telling them that we are fools. To what extent we have done it, you can see right now. You can see the results right now. If we present a picture like that as our version of what goes on in Russia, what will they think of it? We don’t win anybody’s friendship. We will only win their contempt, and as you know the Russians have been behaving like this.

My whole point about the picture is this: I fully believe Mr. Mayer when he says that he did not make a Communist picture. To do him justice, I can tell you I noticed, by watching the picture, where there was an effort to cut propaganda out. I believe he tried to cut propaganda out of the picture, but the terrible thing is the carelessness with ideas, not realizing that the mere presentation of that kind of happy existence in a country of slavery and horror is terrible because it is propaganda. You are telling people that it is all right to live in a totalitarian state. . . .

Mr. WOOD: Let me see if I understand your position. I understand, from what you say, that because they were a dictatorship we shouldn’t have accepted their help in undertaking to win a war against another dictatorship.

Miss RAND: That is not what I said. I was not in a position to make that decision. If I were, I would tell you what I would do. That is not what we are discussing. We are discussing the fact that our country was an ally of Russia, and the question is, What should we tell the American people about it—the truth or a lie? If we had good reason, if that is what you believe, all right, then why not tell the truth? Say it is a dictatorship, but we want to be associated with it. Say it is worth while being associated with the devil, as Churchill said, in order to defeat another evil which is Hitler. There might be some good argument made for that. But why pretend that Russia was not what it was?

Mr. WOOD: Well—

Miss RAND: What do you achieve by that?

Mr. WOOD: Do you think it would have had as good an effect upon the morale of the American people to preach a doctrine to them that Russia was on the verge of collapse?

Miss RAND: I don’t believe that the morale of anybody can be built up by a lie. If there was nothing good that we could truthfully say about Russia, then it would have been better not to say anything at all.

Mr. WOOD: Well—

Miss RAND: You don’t have to come out and denounce Russia during the war; no. You can keep quiet. There is no moral guilt in not saying something if you can’t say it, but there is in saying the opposite of what is true. . .

Source: Congress, House, Committee on Un-American Activities, Hearings Regarding the Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry, 80th Congress, 1st Session, October 20, 1947 in William Bruce Wheeler and Susan D. Becker, Discovering the American Past: A Look at the Evidence, Volume II: Since 1865, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), 249–52, 254–56.

See Also:"You Are the Un-Americans, and You Ought to be Ashamed of Yourselves": Paul Robeson Appears Before HUAC
"They Want to Muzzle Public Opinion": John Howard Lawson's Warning to the American Public
"Have You No Sense of Decency": The Army-McCarthy Hearings
"Communists are second to none in our devotion to our people and to our country": Prosecution and Defense Statements, 1949 Trial of American Communist Party Leaders
"Damage": Collier's Assesses the Army-McCarthy Hearings
"Not Only Ridiculous, but Dangerous": Collier's Objects to Joseph McCarthy's Attacks on the Press
"I Cannot and Will Not Cut My Conscience to Fit This Year's Fashions": Lillian Hellman Refuses to Name Names
"Enemies from Within": Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's Accusations of Disloyalty
"I Have Sung in Hobo Jungles, and I Have Sung for the Rockefellers": Pete Seeger Refuses to "Sing" for HUAC
"We Must Keep the Labor Unions Clean": "Friendly" HUAC Witnesses Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney Blame Hollywood Labor Conflicts on Communist Infiltration
"National Suicide": Margaret Chase Smith and Six Republican Senators Speak Out Against Joseph McCarthy's Attack on "Individual Freedom"