Commentary Magazine


Remembering Robert Warshow

In only a few years it will be a half-century since the death of Robert Warshow, a writer and critic of enormous grace and power who also served for some eight years as the managing editor of this magazine. Warshow died, shockingly, at the age of thirty-seven, leaving behind what has always seemed, to the small but passionate circle of his admirers, a too scanty volume of his collected essays and reviews.

That volume, for which Warshow had signed a contract before he died and to which he himself had given the title The Immediate Experience, was first published in 1962, some seven years after his death. As might have been expected of a first book by a writer so young and already so long gone, it received little of the attention it deserved. Instead, it remained a kind of private feast, greedily consumed by the members of what might be called the Robert Warshow cult. But now Harvard has at long last reissued the book, adding eight short pieces that for some mysterious reason had been omitted from the original.1 Like the original, the reissue also contains Warshow’s own “preface” (written as an application for a Guggenheim grant) and a posthumous tribute by Lionel Trilling; these two essays have been supplemented with a fine appreciation of Warshow by the New Yorker film critic David Denby and a moving though curious epilogue by the philosopher Stanley Cavell. (Not the least curious aspect of the latter piece is Cavell’s finding of a likeness between Warshow and the German-Jewish critic Walter Benjamin, whom, had he known his work, Warshow would surely have despised.)

As in the original, the writings are grouped under headings—“American Popular Culture,” “American Movies,” “Charles Chaplin,” and “The Art Film”—with the new, final category, “Previously Uncollected Essays,” at the end. This means that the book concludes, unfortunately, with some of Warshow’s shortest and least important reviews. Though it would have done violence to the original scheme, readers would have been better served by a chronological arrangement enabling them to follow his work through the passage of time and thus relate what he was thinking and writing to what was going on in the world around him. This would have been more revelatory of what Warshow was up to, how far he had gone, and how very much he achieved in such brief compass.

Be that as it may, to read these pieces in any order whatsoever is to come into contact with a unique mind. Warshow wrote about literature, politics, art films, comic strips, the Jews, the theater, and, of course, American movies—the subject for which he is probably best remembered by many of his readers. To all these subjects he brought a sensibility that was in its own way extremely tough, at the same time most forgiving, and unblinkingly open to a very broad variety of human possibilities.

In the course of his appreciation, David Denby remarks that Warshow could never have been a regular movie reviewer. He is right, though not for any of the reasons he cites: namely, that Warshow “lacked spontaneity or gaiety,” or “that praise did not come easily to him,” or “that he did not seek out new talent.” For those listening intently to the music of the prose, there is gaiety and praise aplenty to be discerned in these essays; and as for seeking out new talent, it is questionable how far a reviewer can go in that direction without making himself foolish2 The real reason Warshow could never have been a regular reviewer is that he did not want to appraise movies, he wanted to understand them, which in turn required understanding himself—and, through himself, the rest of us—in relation to them. This is hardly an undertaking that one concludes with a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. (Denby himself does much more than this as a regular reviewer, but inevitably it is part of his job.)

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Warshow was in any case less a reviewer than what must be called, for lack of a more graceful term, a cultural critic. Within the community of which he was a member—nowadays identified simply as “the New York intellectuals”—a cultural critic was someone who hoped to gain insight into an aspect of the world, past, present, or future, through whatever piece of work happened at the time to be the object of his scrutiny. The fact, however, that Warshow included movies among the works to be so treated was still very rare at the time he was writing.

Not that the movies were being scanted. Every newspaper boasted at least one reviewer who wrote daily or almost daily, serving essentially as a consumer guide. During the late 1940’s and 1950’s, moreover, particularly among sociologists, there had come into vogue a new field known as “mass culture,” in which movies inevitably occupied a major place (television was then still a medium in the process of becoming). Just as inevitably, discussion of the movies in these circles floated off into the jargon-filled air of social theory where “serious” people could contemplate their significance with all due solemnity. Of actual movie critics there were in those days perhaps three, and of these Warshow was by far the most graceful and the most penetrating.

One of the factors accounting for these qualities of grace and penetration was his refusal to hold himself above or distant from what he was watching. “A man goes to the movies,” he famously remarked in his Guggenheim application, “and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man.” This “acknowledgment” was to result in a handful of essays that are perhaps even more illuminating today than they were when first written. They illuminate the films in question, and they illuminate the unspoken responses to these films of their audiences—which is to say, us.

Warshow was especially attentive to certain archetypal figures and their inner meaning for moviegoers. Here he is, for example, on the Western gunslinger:

No matter what he has done, [the gunslinger] looks right, and he remains invulnerable because, without acknowledging anyone else’s right to judge him, he has judged his own failure and has already assimilated it, understanding—as no one else understands except the marshal and the barroom girl—that he can do nothing but play out the drama of the gun fight again and again until the time comes when it will be he who gets killed.

And here he dissects our absorption with the fate of celluloid gangsters:

The gangster is the man of the city, with the city’s language and knowledge, with its queer and dishonest skills and its terrible daring, carrying his life in his hands like a placard, like a club. . . . [F]or the gangster there is only the city; he must inhabit it in order to personify it: not the real city, but that dangerous and sad city of the imagination which is so much more important, which is the modern world. . . . The real city, one might say, produces only criminals; the imaginary city produces the gangster: he is what we want to be and what we are afraid we may become.

And here he is (taking off from Calvero in Chaplin’s Limelight) on why we respond (or, in my own case, fail to respond) to clowns:

With whatever deliberation he may contrive his effects, in the end the clown must submit personally to humiliation, receiving a custard pie in his own face, falling on his own behind. . . . Every clown no doubt dreams that because he has practiced the fall in advance it will not truly touch him, his essential being will remain upright: this is the source of that “tragedy” of a clown’s life that we have heard so much about. But if he is a true clown, then his essential being is precisely what consents to the fall, and we who refuse to separate him from his role are more right than he is.

Warshow had other subjects besides the movies; about them all he wrote in the same voice and with the same qualities of grace and penetration: about books and plays—he was a surprising but convincing admirer of Clifford Odets’s Awake and Sing—about the New Yorker magazine, even about a comic strip called Krazy Kat. Beyond their deep readings of individual works, some of these essays—particularly “The Legacy of the 30’s” (1946) and “The Movie Camera and the American” (1952)—tell us a great deal if not everything about the liberal culture of the early postwar period, the culture out of which would sprout so much of what later, in the 1960’s and 70’s, came to trouble our domestic tranquility (of this more below). Two of his most memorable essays are personal, and each of them is indicative of a certain uncharacteristic private disturbance, but neither betrays even the slightest change of voice: “An Old Man Gone” (1951), which is about the death, funeral, and cremation of his father, and “Paul, the Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham” (1954), which describes his twin struggle with his then-eleven-year-old son over the latter’s passion for grisly comic books and with himself over the “experts” who wished to censor such things.

In both of these pieces, Warshow presents himself as someone battling the characteristic inadequacies of an enlightened modern man. He sees his father in his coffin and cannot keep himself from indecorous thoughts—about the coffin, about his father’s body, about the scent of the flowers in the room and the process of embalming; about his father’s disappointments and guilt; about the “half brutality and half self-pity” of the old man’s declaration before he died that his ashes should be thrown into a garbage can. As for comic books, Warshow naturally dislikes them on grounds of taste and prefers that his son stop reading them—and yet, he reports, Paul wins the argument. He wins because the father cannot really see that they are having any noticeable ill effect, and besides, “Children do need some ‘sinful’ world of their own to which they can retreat from the demands of the adult world; as we sweep away one juvenile dung heap, they will move on to another.” What he would really like, Warshow admits, pinpointing the helplessness of every kindly and enlightened parent in the world, is for the authorities—be they psychiatrists like Dr. Frederic Wertham or politicians like Senator Estes Kefauver, who had convened a committee to investigate the links between reading comic books and juvenile delinquency—to “find some way to make it impossible for Paul to get any comic books. But I’d rather Paul didn’t get the idea that I had anything to do with it.”

In other words, a man analyzes the culture and society in which he lives, and the analyst, armed with the toughest and fairest of minds, along with the most elegantly supple of sensibilities, never fails to acknowledge that he is that man.

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Nor did all this remain merely on the page. I first met Robert Warshow—or, I should say, took notice of him, for I do not believe we were introduced—at a large and crowded party some time in early 1948.I was standing at the outer edge of a circle that had gathered around him, and he was holding forth rather sternly about the shortcomings of Open City, a film that had recently introduced Americans to the Italian director Roberto Rossellini and that would run in a theater near Times Square, to a great deal of pious acclaim, for what seemed like years.

I no longer remember the indictment Warshow was bringing against the movie and its director. But at some point, to my amazement, he used the word “garbage” to characterize not so much the movie itself as Rossellini’s meretricious and flashily dismal exploitation of the sights and streets of wartime Rome.

To understand my shock at what I was hearing, it is necessary to know something about the activity of moviegoing in New York City for a then-recent arrival like me—namely, someone in a headlong rush to overcome the effects of what I had come to think of as a culturally poverty-stricken youth. Having as a young Midwestern girl swooned at my first sight of Frank Sinatra on the silver screen, having thrilled to Henry Fonda on horseback, I was now required by my big-city acquaintances to put away childish things. In particular, I was told, I could never be properly conversant with the great world unless I learned a good deal about foreign films (which in those days meant films made in France or Italy or Germany). And this, in a spirit of deepest apology, I was then in the process of doing.

Today, international movies can be seen on any trip to the local cineplex, but at the time, even in New York, there was only a handful of tiny, flyblown theaters—if memory serves, two in Greenwich Village, one in Times Square, and one on the Upper West Side—and many was the evening I had been making a pilgrimage to one or the other of them. And yet here was Robert Warshow, about whom at that point I knew very little other than that he was a highbrow who wrote critical essays and served as the managing editor of a new intellectual Jewish magazine called COMMENTARY, and this Warshow was issuing an indictment against a movie that I had sat through no fewer than three times, hoping—in vain—to feel its power over me!

Later, when I knew Bob Warshow much better, I heard him complain once about the demands for high-flying sexual performance that had come to be so relentlessly imposed on American men. “You no sooner learn that you’re supposed to keep your pants up,” he said, “than they tell you that you have to take them down again.” The experience of listening to him on that evening in 1948 was a bit like that: no sooner had I learned to regard all things European as bearing the stamp of a higher degree of cultivation than someone was telling me, on the contrary, to trust my own responses. As advice, this was astonishing, humbling, and liberating all at once.

Within a year, as the result of a series of happy coincidences, I would find myself working for Bob Warshow as his secretary, and in time we were to become good friends. But I would never quite get over feeling some combination of astonished, humbled, and liberated in his company. Reading him, being in his company on the page, only intensified the feeling—and continues to do so to this day.

I was not what could be called a good secretary. My typing was at best rather slow and primitive, and, being untrained, I had had to devise my own system—a novel one, if I say so myself—of stenography. But no boss has ever been more admired by his minions. Fortunately for me, if perhaps not so fortunately for him, his own role as managing editor called less for speed and efficiency in others than for a couple of qualities of personality with which he himself was highly endowed (or had willed himself to be endowed). These were the capacity to remain calm, and the ability to overlook.

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COMMENTARY in those days, while a unique and distinguished enterprise, was seldom a cheerful one, either for its editors or for a goodly number of its contributors. The main drive and directing imagination came from the magazine’s founding editor Elliot Cohen, and Cohen was, to put it mildly, someone far from at ease in Zion. At COMMENTARY, which had been established right after the end of World War II, he sought to give expression to a new kind of unillusioned liberalism, one that would be properly appreciative of American life and friendly to American needs and purposes. At the same time, he intended the magazine to encourage or perhaps inspire some new post-Holocaust synthesis of Jewish thought. As responses to the magazine indicated, this dual ambition clearly reflected a real cultural current, both in the Jewish community and beyond.

The problem was that, being himself unable to write with anything like sustained coherence, but also unable to overcome resistance on the part of his writers to the precise letter of his will, Cohen labored permanently (and ultimately grew fatally ill) under the shadow of a quite unmanageable degree of frustration. The heavy air of irritable discontent this laid upon the process of getting out the magazine had sooner or later caused certain of the most gifted members of the staff to head for sunnier climes.

Warshow, however, stayed on, and succeeded now and then at giving the enterprise an appearance of being more or less on an even keel. Indeed, though the two men were not what you could call close, and though neither of them may have been aware of it, Warshow’s role in Elliot Cohen’s working life turned out to be essential: once Warshow was gone, Cohen found it increasingly impossible to function.

The office in those days consisted of half of a loft on the top floor of a small building in Manhattan’s Garment District, complete with hot- and cold-leaking skylight and no air conditioning. In tribute to his superior rank, Cohen occupied a corner office that boasted two windows, through which now and then a bit of air might circulate. The other editors worked two to a cubicle with a single, basically useless, window between them. We secretaries sat near, or directly under, the skylight. Sometimes in summer the editors found it necessary to decamp to a nearby air-conditioned bar in order to meet the magazine’s deadline.

In other words, COMMENTARY, itself then so young, had been established in conditions that were basically suitable only for the young. And Warshow’s desk, plus whatever other space he could squeeze out of the office he shared with Clement Greenberg (whose job at COMMENTARY was in essence a sinecure and did not seem to involve spending a great deal of time in the office), bore testimony to this fact, serving as a kind of magnet for the magazine’s younger contributors and would-be contributors. They could often be seen hanging around in order to be granted some instruction and/or encouragement—along with, should they be deemed worthy and should he have time, a certain amount of classy entertainment in the form of high literary conversation.

In this regard, Warshow was endlessly—sometimes, in his own view, uncontrollably—generous. If he could only learn to keep his mouth shut, he would sometimes jokingly complain, he might not then end up so frequently having to cite his own ideas from the work of others who had appropriated them. His even temper did sometimes fail him—as I, his so much less than perfect secretary, can testify. But like his generosity, his anger was generally of the kind that tended to boomerang, To their shock and grief, his friends would all too soon discover that it had taken its toll primarily on himself.

So, too, with his exacting spirit. If as an editor he tended to be gently instructive with others, as a writer he was almost helplessly demanding of himself. He wrote in pencil on a lined yellow pad attached to a clipboard that rested on his knee, a method that even back then had come to seem arcane. He composed, and edited, each sentence in his head before committing it to paper, and never to my knowledge did a finished Warshow manuscript give evidence of so much as a single word having been either inserted or crossed out.

This is also how his work struck, and still strikes, his readers. As Lionel Trilling put it:

[Warshow’s] is a method which is beyond my practical comprehension, but I can see that it might help to account for the way the prose moves, with a deliberate energy, a spirited gravity, refusing to be hurried as it makes its patient qualifications and witty distinctions, yet always pressing forward and taking us securely with it.

For one who spent so much of his working day cleaning up after the intellectual and verbal sloppiness of others, all this bespoke an almost cruelly demanding consciousness. Whether he experienced this consciousness as an injustice I cannot say, but there was an injustice of another kind, imposed from without, that to this day is as incomprehensible to me as it must, deep down, have been to him. This was the failure of many, if not most, of the editors who published him to value what he presented to them at its true worth.

Professional courtesy required that, as a member of the staff of COMMENTARY, he first submit anything he had written to Elliot Cohen—unless, of course, it had been specifically commissioned by others. But rather than greedily clutching at these offerings, Cohen allowed a number of Warshow’s classic pieces, ones for which in later years he would be best remembered, to slip away to Partisan Review. True, some of these essays did not fall within COMMENTARY’S main areas of concern; but it is difficult to understand how any editor of a magazine with literary standards would not have given his eye teeth to publish them. (I was witness to one of these COMMENTARY rejections, of “An Old Man Gone”—turned down, in a bewildering failure of taste and judgment, on the grounds that it was somehow “embarrassing.”) Nor was there much evidence that the editors of Partisan Review, the main beneficiaries of Elliot Cohen’s unfathomable editorial stiffness, felt any special enthusiasm about publishing him. If they did, they were certainly discreet about it, at least within his earshot.

He once made a very good joke about all this, as he was often wont to do about things that hurt or disturbed him. “Why don’t people understand,” he said, “that it is just as hard work to be a minor writer as a major one?”

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He died quite suddenly, of a troublesome and too long unrecognized heart condition. Aside from many inconsolable colleagues, friends, and admirers, he left behind a desperately sick wife, who died not long after him, and his young son Paul, the chief delight (and anxiety) of his life. He had been thinking of taking his first trip to Europe, and he was a good deal of the way through what he intended to be a long study of the film classics of the Russian Revolution, published after his death under the title “Re-Viewing the Russian Movies.”

This piece did appear in COMMENTARY, though not without some turmoil that by itself may account for the fact that it took his two literary executors, both of whom were editors at the magazine, more than five years to put together the material for the original publication of The Immediate Experience. The source of the turmoil was a passage near the beginning of this essay in which Warshow remarks that, fifteen years having elapsed since he had last seen these movies, he had gone to see them again, “this time looking very consciously for the pathos and irony of that enormous historical failure which now weighs so dangerously on us all.”

The enormous historical failure was of course the disaster that was Communism, and the irony was easy to find: “Only to see the word ‘comrades’ or the word ‘workers’ in a subtitle was enough.” And then came the sentence that sent at least one of his fellow editors into a fierce sweat:

I would have given up all ironies, and the sense of tragedy and the sense of history along with them, just to have stupid, handsome [Czar] Nicholas grinding his heel once more into the face of unhappy Russia.

Now, anyone in or near the precincts of COMMENTARY would have known in blazing detail the horrors wreaked upon the Russian people through the good offices of Lenin, Stalin, and the bureaucrats of the Soviet Union, from the highest to the lowest. By 1955, indeed, no one in the United States who was not a member of the Communist Party USA and who permitted himself to be honest could have been in any doubt on this score. But it was one thing, if consequential enough, to be both a certified New York intellectual and an anti-Communist; it was another and much nervier and more consequential thing to long in print for a restoration of the Romanovs.

Besides, if even the czar was better than the Communists, would it not be necessary to find even greater—if not, indeed, the greatest—virtue in the political reality of the United States, despite the fact that it had only lately been released from the heel of Joseph McCarthy? There were many people at that time—they would truly come into their own within a decade of Warshow’s death—for whom even a hint that their own country might be superior to any other, in any way, violated their deepest sense of political virtue. It was for fear of such people, perhaps, that discomfort about this particular Warshow essay had been expressed by one of the editors to whom it had been submitted.

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Which brings us at last to the subject of cultural politics, a subject that evidently still agitates at least some of Warshow’s readers. “Shoot before you see the whites of their eyes,” he once said in characterizing the polemical method of the socialist critic Irving Howe, who had just published a piece in Partisan Review accusing a number of his fellow intellectuals of having sold out to capitalist America. The same—shooting before you see the whites of their eyes—might be said not only of Warshow’s present-day critics but even of some who have undertaken to defend him.

The main issue appears to involve not what he wrote about Russian films but rather his 1953 review of a volume of letters by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, composed while the pair were in prison awaiting execution for treason. In a recent column on the back page of the New York Times Book Review, Judith Shulevitz has retrospectively charged Warshow with callous indifference to the Rosenbergs’ suffering—she calls the essay an “amazingly nasty critique.” His defenders, David Denby among them, have maintained that, on the contrary, he expresses true sympathy for the pair. But neither the criticism nor the defense is relevant to what the essay in question, “The ‘Idealism’ of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg,” is actually about—namely, the destruction of the capacity to think and speak simply from the heart that was the direct consequence of the Rosenbergs’ (and not just the Rosenbergs’) lifelong commitment to the Communist cause.

The reason that Warshow’s critics and even some of his defenders have failed to get the point of this essay may be that Communism, and hence the peculiar amalgam of false righteous sentiment and almost blind dishonesty that characterize the Communist sensibility, no longer seem either politically or culturally pertinent. But you cannot really grasp the history of the past half-century in this country if you fail, or refuse, to understand the role of Communism—actually the term ought to be Stalinism—or of anti-Communism (or anti-Stalinism) in the formation of attitudes toward American society among the educated classes.

This is not merely a matter of the debate over Soviet-style socialism versus American capitalism, or Soviet power versus American power, or even, as it is mostly remembered today, loyalty versus disloyalty to the United States government. Although each of these played a part, the most pernicious influence of Stalinism—evidenced in the willingness of so many intellectually significant people to march behind its shibboleths—lay in its effect on the country’s cultural life. That effect, briefly put, was to hang a kind of curtain between what people were actually experiencing and the terms in which they were permitted to describe, and hence honestly to confront, that experience. “The most important effect of the intellectual life of the 1930’s and the culture that grew out of it,” Warshow wrote in describing the influence of Stalinism in “The Legacy of the 30’s,” “has been to distort and eventually to destroy the emotional and moral content of experience, putting in its place a system of conventionalized ‘responses.’ ”

Crucial here was the role played by the pervasive atmosphere surrounding the Communist movement. This was not a matter of the “party line.” While the ever diminishing band of actual party members toed whatever that line was at the moment and thus viewed the world, as it were, from party congress to party congress, many, many others—those who merely wished to be bathed in the movement’s progressive light—found it sufficient to invoke words like “idealism,” or “peace,” or “humanitarianism” in order to identify themselves to themselves and to others as being on the right side, morally speaking, of history. Even though Communism has happily been dead for quite some time now, much of this particular inheritance remains ingrained.

It could be seen not so long ago in the denial practiced by parents of countercultural “kids” of the 1960’s and 1970’s who were pleased to take their children’s claim of superior virtue at face value. It can be seen today in the willed passion with which many people talk about men who have contracted AIDS as if they had been made ill by society’s unwarranted disapproval of their “lifestyle” rather than by what they had chosen as individuals to do. And it is there in the refusal or inability to understand what Robert Warshow was getting at when he wrote about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg that “something better” was required of them in writing to their sons than trying to “prepare” them for their deaths as one might prepare children “for having their tonsils taken out.”

That something, he suggested, would have been an attempt at “unique inspiration”—that is, an attempt to explain and justify and pass on their commitment to Communism. Better yet, it would have been an attempt to tell the truth about what they had done as spies for the Soviet Union, and why they believed they were right to do it. But all that would have required of them precisely the thing they could not do. As Warshow wrote in a crucial passage:

[W]e cannot blame the Rosenbergs for their failure to achieve an inspiration, and the commitment for which they died—and by which, we must assume, they somehow fulfilled themselves—was precisely that the truth was not to be spoken [emphasis added]. Not spoken, not whispered, not approached in the merest hint.

It may be that those who find this discussion heartless are actually bothered by Warshow’s assumption that the Rosenbergs were in fact guilty. But virtually everyone now concedes they were in fact guilty, and that those like Warshow who were convinced of their guilt had been right all along. So perhaps in the end the curtain between actual experience and the description of experience remains in place: it is simply not “nice” to discuss such matters at all, just as it is not “nice” to remind ourselves that, when all is said and done, it would have been better for the Russian people, far better, to go on suffering under stupid, handsome Nicholas than to undergo the great proletarian revolution and all its cancerous fruits. Infinitely better for the rest of the world as well.

These issues were urgent when Warshow wrote—to repeat, less for their political than for their cultural ramifications. To judge from the tone of the objections to what he had to say, they remain urgent today.

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Had he lived, he would have been eighty-five by now. What would he have made of the radicalism of the 1960’s and 1970’s with its barbarian yawp? For that matter, how would he have reacted to the turn toward some variety of conservatism that played so great a cultural role in the 1980’s and thereafter? Whatever his response, it would not have been a simple one. It is certain, moreover, that he would have been fully alive to the gorgeous technological advances in filmmaking; and to the relentless beat of television, whose insistently synthetic vision of American life would surely have driven him to distraction and for that very reason compelled his careful attention. And what great prose might have resulted from his response to today’s youth culture, with its adopted primitive décor, its relentlessly high volume, its air of half-educated knowingness?

Unlike many of his fellow literary and artistic highbrows of the 1950’s, Warshow never defined himself by a disdain for the “unworthy.” Unlike so many of today’s literary and artistic intellectuals, he also never sought to merge with it. There was and there remains no voice in the land quite like his for sounding the notes of a truly alive and truly humane civilization. “The message of Paisan,” he wrote in locating the essential falsity in Roberto Rossellini’s episodic account of World War II in Italy,

is that the whole meaning of war (indeed, the whole meaning of history) is suffering and death. Moral and political differences are obscured: the death of a fascist equals the death of a partisan. . . . This view of war is always valid: Falstaff is more nearly right than Prince Hal, and Thersites than Ulysses. But it is also a view that has a special attraction for a defeated fascist nation, and Rossellini cannot restrain himself from taking a special advantage of it; there must always be one more push—and it always destroys his position, for if death and suffering are not in themselves the greatest of misfortunes, then we are back in the field of politics and morals, and it is Prince Hal who is right.

It is hard to imagine a single other writer, either a half-century ago or now, who might have written those lines. Reading them, we are left once again to calculate what we have lost.

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Footnotes

1 Harvard University Press, 320 pp., $18.95 (paper).

2 Pauline Kael, who could write wonderfully about the movies and who clearly learned a good deal from Warshow, failed this test on more than one occasion.

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