The "Animal Farm" Mystery
To the Editor:
Spencer Brown (“Strange Doings at ‘Animal Farm,’” February 1955) has written an excellent account of the reluctance of New York’s film critics to associate Animal Farm with the Russian Revolution. His is the kind of article that has for so long made COMMENTARY the “must” magazine for anyone who still attaches importance to that terribly old-fashioned concept of intellectual honesty.
It may be taken for granted, I think, that the Crowthers, the Guernseys, the Winstens, and the other critics are good people who would not lightly distort Orwell’s or anyone else’s fable. They have on various occasions, in fact, and with varying degrees of eloquence expressed themselves on the subject of falsification when films have been made of literary works. . . . One need only reread their reviews of such films as Romeo and Juliet, From Here to Eternity, The Caine Mutiny, or Alice in Wonderland to see in what high esteem “sticking-to-the-original” is held. In this connection, one might also note the recent distress of Mr. Crowther in the Times and Mr. Winsten in the Post over excisions made in Wages of Fear, an indecent new film of anti-American and anti-human sadism directed by a former collaborationist of the Nazis, H. G. Clouzot. Both critics felt the picture would have benefited had more of its original anti-American sequences been allowed to remain.
Why, then, have these people, each of them a serious student of the cinema, seen fit, all on their own, to distort George Orwell during the brief journey from the screen to their typewriters? Why have they so unconscionably undertaken to mislead their readers into believing that Orwell wrote about some anonymous “Power State” and not about Russia; about a dictator and not about Stalin; about a secret police and not about the NKVD; about totalitarianism and not Communism? Why did they ignore the anti-Soviet point in the Orwell film and then virtually beg for a restoration of the anti-American point in Clouzot’s film?
One hears much these days about the fears of the intelligentsia, the mantle of silence that it is said has enveloped, for example, the teachers and the writers of the nation. I am not a teacher or a writer, but I have read speeches and writings by such reliable observers as Dr. Commager and Dr. Urey, and I have listened to Dr. Oppenheimer. I have read them and listened to them through the best and most effective means of communication anyone in history has ever had—not off some hidden hand press, or at a secret cellar meeting, or over some Radio Free America, but in the mass-circulation magazines, the metropolitan newspapers, over the national television and radio networks. A mantle of silence? An atmosphere of fear? Permit me to make an unhappy joke: I can’t hear the silence for the noise; I can’t see the fear for the breast-beating.
Yet there is a fear, though not the fear that Commager and Urey are talking about, among the intelligentsia today, and the reviews of Animal Farm (along with the cleverly edited quotes on the jacket of the new edition of the book) are both the result and the proof. It is, simply put, a fear to be anti-Communist.
This fear to be anti-Communist is the offspring of interesting parents—the Communists and their supporters on the one hand, and Joe McCarthy on the other. The Communists, of course, have a self-evident stake in the begetting of this unnatural child. By equating anti-Communism with McCarthyism, they have been able to put a halter on anyone of the nice intelligentsia who might boggle at their shenanigans on behalf of their Mother Country across the sea. McCarthy’s stake in this union has been the strengthening of his brag that only McCarthy is truly anti-Communist.
And so the Crowthers and the Guernseys and the Winstens and the others in the intelligentsia, who would rather be dead than “non-progressive,” are caught in an unlovely squeeze. . . . They have tossed away the historic privilege of liberals to fight tyranny and oppression, resigned from it in favor of, heaven help us, Joe McCarthy.
To have called Animal Farm an anti-Communist, anti-Soviet film would have been to tell the truth about it. But the Crowthers, the Guernseys, the Winstens and the others apparently believe that it is better to be “progressive” than accurate. Let’s not red-bait, I can imagine them telling themselves, for red-baiting is “McCarthyism.” And they sat down and wrote what they did without stopping to consider how they might be helping to shield the Soviet Union.
Both the Communists and McCarthy have reason to be satisfied. As they regard the timidity and the fears of the intelligentsia, they know that they are the happy parents of a big bouncing baby monster.
New York City