The Left Front in Film: Block Museum - Northwestern University
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The Left Front in Film

The Left Front in Film

Event Details

Date & Time:

Fri January 24, 2014 - Sat March 8, 2014


The Block Museum of Art
40 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL 60208


Open to the public


To coincide with the Museum’s exhibition, The Left Front: Radical Art in the “Red Decade,” 1929-1940, Block Cinema presents a companion film series featuring socially conscious films from the 1930s. Collectively, the issues covered in these films, including unemployment, labor struggles, xenophobia, poverty and homelessness, were a compelling call for reform.

Red Hollywood

Friday, January 24, 2014 7:00 PM
(Thom Andersen and Noël Burch, 1996/2013, USA, Digital, 114 min.)

Red Hollywood is a riveting exploration of the contributions of leftist screenwriters and directors to Hollywood filmmaking in the 1930s-50s. Acclaimed film essayist and professor Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself) and film theorist and historian Burch combine a wealth of clips (many from long-forgotten films) and interviews with victims of the blacklist (including Force of Evil’s Abraham Polonsky) to show how these politically-committed artists were able to include progressive ideas about class, race, gender, capitalism, and more into the products of an essentially conservative studio system. “illuminating, groundbreaking, and entertaining”—Jonathan Rosenbaum


Native Land

Saturday, February 1, 2014 2:00 PM
(Leo Hurwitz and Paul Strand, 1942, USA, 35mm, 80 min.)

Showing in a recent restoration, Native Land is a powerful example of early political filmmaking. Mixing dramatic recreations and documentary footage, directors Leo Hurwitz and Paul Strand champion workers’ rights to organize and angrily condemn anti-union corporate actions and the often-violent methods of their hired strikebreakers. Documentarian Hurwitz brought his radical leftist positions to the project (he would later be blacklisted) and famed photographer Strand brought an unerring eye for artistry. Together they created an uncompromising, progressive agit-prop document of a volatile period of capital and labor history. Narrated by actor and singer Paul Robeson. 

35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.


Force of Evil

Saturday, February 8, 2014 2:00 PM
(Abraham Polonsky, 1948, USA, 35mm, 78 min.)

Featuring a searing performance by John Garfield, as a crooked lawyer involved in the numbers racket in New York City, and stunning black and white cinematography by George Barnes, Force of Evil is a one of the greatest, and darkest, films noir of the 1940s. The first film directed by screenwriter and novelist Abraham Polonsky, a committed Marxist, who would not direct another Hollywood feature until 1969’s revisionist western Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, following his blacklisting in Hollywood. A film about moral choices, allegiances, and the consequence of one’s actions, it proved to be a prescient work. 

35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by The Film Foundation and the Archive Council.


Our Daily Bread

Saturday, February 15, 2014 2:00 PM
(King Vidor, 1934, USA, 35mm, 80 min.)

Amidst looming debts and bills, down-on-their-luck city dwellers, John and Mary Sims (played by Karen Morley, who was later blacklisted), flee the city and try their hand at homesteading. Though they lack farming experience they are soon joined by other desperate characters, many fleeing the dustbowl, who all pitch in to create a mini socialist utopia via their collective farm. Inspired by a newspaper article, King Vidor shopped the idea for the film and was rejected by every major Hollywood studio. Undeterred, Vidor famously produced this Depression-era classic with his own money. Our Daily Bread is a truly unique film promoting collectivism during America’s economic collapse.


Film & Photo League Shorts + Heart of Spain

Saturday, February 22, 2014 2:00 PM
(1931-1934, USA, 16mm, approx. 100 min.)

The Film & Photo League was begun in New York in 1930 by a dedicated group of leftist and left-liberal photographers, filmmakers, and critics. Branches opened in other cities as the Depression lengthened, with participants documenting the breadlines and Hoovervilles, hunger and unemployment marches, restless protests and disputes. Their films were shown directly to workers’ groups, in union halls or strike headquarters, and even outdoors at night. Workers often knew little of similar struggles occurring around the country or abroad, nor of the widespread results of economic crisis and class conflicts. The Film & Photo League films thus became solidifying agents in political education, aiming to inform, to build morale, to agitate.—Anthology Film Archives 

This program features a selection of these films, as well as the short feature Heart of Spain (1937), documenting the fight against fascism during the Spanish Civil War.  

Workers Newsreel Unemployment Special 1931 (1931,16mm, 7 min.)
Detroit Workers News Special 1932: Ford Massacre (1932, 16mm, 7 min.)
Hunger: The National Hunger March to Washington 1932 (1932, 16mm, 18 min.)
The National Hunger March 1931 (1931, 16mm, 11 min.)
America Today and the World in Review (1932-34, 16mm, 11 min.)
Bonus March 1932 (1932, 16mm, 12 min.)
Heart of Spain (1937, 35mm, 30 min.)

Live musical accompaniment by Dave Drazin.


Salt of the Earth

Saturday, March 1, 2014 2:00 PM
(Herbert J. Biberman, 1954, USA, 35mm, 94 min.)

Made by an alliance of blacklisted artists, Salt of the Earth is based on the true story of a 1950s New Mexico miners’ strike against the Empire Zinc Corporation. Years ahead of its time, the film is a compelling indictment of both racism (most of the miners were Mexican-American), and sexism. When the miners face an injunction, it’s their wives–despite opposition from the men–who take to the picket lines to protest poverty-level wages and inhumane living and working conditions. After the film ran short of funds, it was financed in part by the Mine-Mill union. The film was deemed Communist propaganda by the Hollywood Reporter and was investigated by the US House of Representatives and the FBI.


Body and Soul featuring J. Hoberman in person!

Saturday, March 8, 2014 2:00 PM
(Robert Rossen, 1947, USA, 35mm, 104 min.)

John Garfield gives a career-defining performance as an up-and-coming Jewish boxer who dreams of becoming a champ to raise him out of the crushing poverty of New York’s Lower East Side. His ambitions are tested when he is pressured to take a fall in a fixed fight. A searing anti-capitalist film, Body and Soul is a cautionary tale about greed and consumerism, seen through the lens of corruption in the boxing world. Masterfully directed by Robert Rossen, the film inspired countless boxing films, including Raging Bull. Writer Abraham Polonsky (see Force of Evil on February 8) and three cast members, including Garfield, were soon blacklisted. Film critic and author J. Hoberman says the film is “not only the reddest movie Hollywood every produced but the most Jewish one since the original Jazz Singer.”

35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. J. Hoberman will be in attendance and will give a post-screening talk entitled “Enterprise Studios: Communist Conspiracy or Jewish Plot?” about John Garfield's short-lived production company which produced Body and Souland Force of Evil.

Contact The Block Museum of Art for more information: (847) 491-4000 or email us at