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October 18: The Master Race

Lawrence Bush
October 17, 2016
Director and screenwriter Herbert Biberman released his film, The Master Race, through RKO on this date in 1944. The movie portrayed Nazi leaders on the verge of military defeat who infiltrate a Belgian village to cultivate a future for “Aryans” and then sow seeds of discontent as Allied troops arrive. TimeOut magazine calls the film a “wordy curiosity, made after D-Day in anticipation of a swift end to the war,” that “serves mostly as a propaganda vehicle for the Allied civilian rehabilitation programme. However, beneath the surface appeal to fundamentally decent values (and for a forgiveness amounting to an almost total eradication of memory), fear, hatred, suspicion and disruption are all conveyed with more conviction than the fragile brave new world for which the Americans (with help from the British and Russians) hope.” Biberman (1900-1971) was summoned before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in 1947 and refused to answer any questions, based on the right to free speech. As a result, he became one of the blacklisted and imprisoned Hollywood Ten and served six months in prison (the shortest sentence of the ten). In 1954, Biberman financed the creation of Salt of the Earth, a film about striking Mexican miners that would be banned in the U.S. for eleven years. “It required a great deal of optimism to make a left-leaning movie like Salt of the Earth in the early 1950s, but director Herbert Biberman was, by many accounts, a great optimist. The director of now-forgotten films such as Meet Nero Wolfe and The Master Race, Biberman had helped found the Screen Directors Guild, which later became the Directors Guild of America. He was also a Communist and one of many movie professionals who found inspiration in the Soviet Union — or at least what dictator Joseph Stalin allowed the world to see of the Soviet Union. Throughout the 1930s, the Communist Party USA remained active in Hollywood, establishing guilds to give writers and actors bargaining clout against the studios, and fighting against Fascism abroad by championing the Spanish Republic and rallying against the Third Reich. Stalin’s pact with Adolf Hitler in 1939 disillusioned many a Beverly Hills Bolshevik, though some, like Biberman, remained unswayed.”--Steve Boisson, American History

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.