November 4 - 10, 2005 • Vol. 26 - No. 44

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Good Night,
and Good Luck—And He Meant It

by The Blonde and The Maven
Film Columnists


George Clooney, the son of an anchorman himself, has brought to the screen a fascinating, narrow but focused look into a period of history that helped shape American television, journalism and its relationship to politics. Writing with Grant Heslov (who plays reporter Don Hewitt), Clooney shows us how difficult it is to do the right thing.

The key players in this drama are Edward R. Murrow, a reporter who came to popularity during WW2 with his front line reporting. David Strathairn (L.A. Confidential and Dolores Claiborne) gives a riveting performance as the taciturn, chain-smoking, dedicated news reporter whose conflict with the methods of the senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, is the main focus of this film. George Clooney (Ocean’s Eleven and Twelve AND VERY HANDSOME) plays Fred Friendly (real name) who is Ed’s producer on the show “See It Now,” based on news items of the day. Friendly remains Ed’s producer for the duration of “See It Now” (1951-1958) and went on to become the president of the CBS news division in 1954. He resigned two years later when the network decided to run an “I Love Lucy” re-run rather than show live coverage of the Senate hearings on Vietnam. William Paley, played by Frank Langella (Dracula and Dave), ran CBS radio and television networks for more then fifty years and served as president of the network until 1946 when he became chairman of the CBS board. He retained the chairmanship until his death in 1990. Sig Mickelson, portrayed by Jeff Daniels (Terms of Endearment and The Hours), was head of CBS Network, News and Public Affairs division. He was instrumental in building an in-house department of camera crews to document footage which had previously relied on newsreel companies. Joe Wershba, played by Robert Downey, Jr. (Wonderboys and Gothika) was an associate producer on “See It Now” and later went on to become one of the original producers of “60 Minutes.” Ed and Fred defy corporate and sponsorship pressures with their desire to report the facts and enlighten the public as to the lies and scaremongering tactics perpetrated by McCarthy during his communist “witch hunts.” When a story about U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Milo Radulovitch comes to their attention, Murrow makes the decision to go with the story on air. This reservist was kicked out of the U.S.A.F. for being a security risk. He was declared guilty with no trial. Murrow suspected that McCarthy may have had something to do with Radulovitch’s dismissal and worries that the closed hearings and the theatrical hostility of accusations hide the fact that the senator has no proof. Murrow believes the atmosphere of the hearings is eroding the people’s civil liberties. When Sig tries to warn them off the story, Ed and Fred wave his misgivings away and offer to pay for the lost revenue from the show’s sponsors that week. Sure enough, McCarthy sees the broadcast and responds with accusations that Murrow is a communist. Now, Murrow feels he has to expose McCarthy for his false statements. Everyone in the newsroom will now come under the Committees microscope. All feel the pressure, but are committed to supporting Murrow. The subsequent broadcast does not attack Senator McCarthy directly. Footage of his questioning at the hearings is shown as are newsreel footage of his statements against people. When McCarthy responds to the broadcast, he cannot attack it directly. They are, after all, his words. He can only attack Murrow. Thus begins McCarthy’s very public downfall. Edward R. Murrow pointed out to the public where McCarthy failed to draw the line between “investigation and persecution”; that “dissent is not disloyalty”; and that “accusation is not proof.”

This masterpiece of filmmaking is shown off with Robert Elswit’s lustrous black and white lensing, which mixed well with the vintage 16mm and kinescope material in which McCarthy is seen. Clooney’s target is never in doubt. The film’s focus is on the newsroom as it chronicles the angst, drive and fear that drove these reporters to take on a Senator and his unjust ethics.

The Blonde: MMMMMMMM! This poignant film was like All the Presidents Men meets Network meets Watergate meets Quiz Show who all meet Dan Rather. Talk about the story of a man way ahead of his time. Murrow’s courage, morals, ethics and daring perspective to challenge what he felt was wrong, single handedly changed the way reporters look at reporting. Talk about guts, in an era when no one dared to challenge the heads of the media or any body else, Murrow didn’t care! Or maybe he cared that much! He paved the way for future journalists who dared to travel into the face of controversial issues. Very serious man, he probably was absolutely NO FUN at a party!

The Maven: I can’t say it enough, this movie is a must see! The civics lesson alone is worth it! For those who were around at this time, you see what it took to stand up for something you believed in. All those men were loyal Americans who were disgusted by the behavior of a lone senator misusing his office to label dissenters as traitors. For those (like me) who came after, it’s a good glimpse into the workings of network news in the 1950s and the courage of a man to stand up for his civil rights. They were not trying to win higher ratings; they were fighting for integrity. If you think this lesson is old news, take a look around! McCarthyism is alive and flourishing in today’s politics. If you don’t support Bush’s decision to go and subsequently stay in Iraq, then you are labeled, Disloyal to the President and “Un-American”! How many constitutional rights are being threatened in the name of the Patriot Act? Where is the Edward R. Murrow of today? And when…

The Blonde: Hey, hey, let me get in here for a second! So political for our little Maven! I would have to respond to your dissertation by saying that this was a sad time in our society where, if you challenged anyone in our government, you were accused of being a communist. Now you would just be a comedian! I think the Murrows of today are John Stewart, Bill Mahr and Jay Leno. Moving right along, the black and white style in which they shot this film was most effective. It really brought you back to the day. Woody Allen would have loved this style. The cigarette and pipe smoke that filled the rooms also brought you back to this time and culture. No wonder Rob Petrie, Darren Stevens, and Ricky Ricardo smoked! It was THE thing to do!  

The Maven: More like the only thing to do, as married couples on television slept in two separate twin beds!

The Blonde: Then how were Ritchie, Tabatha and little Rickey born? Unfortunately, I did feel this movie was, at times, a bit dry and slow. It also never seemed to move me to the point of anger or being really upset. I think the whole purpose of telling this tale was to do just that, and it missed the mark! I would have liked to see more of the story about McCarthy and how he black-listed Hollywood stars. I wanted more information on Murrow’s personal life and what drove him! I was never REALLY moved and I wanted to be!

The Maven: George Clooney sticks close to the details here. There are no side plots in this film. Clooney’s focus was on the television event, not the characters’ personal lives. It was exhilarating watching the atmosphere in the newsroom, sometimes brave, other times cautious, yet always with a sense of justice pursued with love for the job at hand. I found myself wanting to be there working (only with better hair).

The Blonde: I agree with your hair comment. Mav, did you notice the way the secretaries looked back then? There were big women with their hair slicked back into a bun, black clunky nurse’s shoes and glasses. Boy, have times changed. Women then didn’t have to worry too much about their husbands having an affair with their secretaries, at least! By the way, I thought the casting was right on here, except for Joe’s wife (Downey’s character) Shirley, played by Patricia Clarkson. She looked more like his mother than his wife. It was wrong to the point of distraction. David, who portrays Murrow, was scary dead on from his voice to his looks and mannerisms!

The Maven: I remember seeing clips of Murrow from his person-to-person interview show, and David Strathairn did an amazing job. His look was perfect and, more than that, his expressions and inflections in speech were spooky! I read that in the initial script reading, Milo Radulovitch, Fred Friendly’s two sons and Joe and Shirley Wershba were present. How intimidating must that have been?

The Blonde: Are you asking me or telling me? Ahhhhhhh… very?!?! One thing I do know is this was the first time EVER that I wasn’t drooling staring at George the entire movie! I don’t know, Mav, I think you liked this film much more than I did. Maybe I was distracted by the people sitting in front of me who were talking non-stop or the guy to my left on his cell phone talking the whole time or the lady to my right crinkling her fruit candy. In addition, my popcorn was stale and you know how upset THAT makes me!

The Maven: I disagree, it could have been much worse. I had to see this movie with My MOTHER!


The Maven: I thought you would see it my way!   

The Blonde: By the way, Mav, Martha Stewart must be so proud of her son, comedian John Stewart!                            

The Maven: He is not her son!!! Ignore her, readers, she can’t help herself! This film was intelligent, insightful, and compelling. I felt 90 minutes was too short. I wanted so much more, but I understand Clooney’s need to only focus on the television event. I loved everything about this film. I rate it an A for astounding depth and amazing atmosphere as well as my unadulterated infatuation with Clooney as a filmmaker at the chance he took to make this movie the way he did.
The Blonde: I couldn’t disagree more this time with the Mav. I wanted so much more as well and that is why I felt that this film left me hanging. Because of that I rate it a B—! For your movie snacks go with some Sno-Caps candy as this film is BLACK AND WHITE! For that matter, bring along a black and white cookie! Now, go watch some John Stewart!

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