Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Film #28: Point of Order!
Anybody who saw George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck and was interested in learning more about dirty ol' Joe McCarthy should rent Emile de Antonio's 1963 documentary Point of Order! Cut from hours of old kinescopes of the 1953 Army hearings that destroyed the red-baiting senator and his evil minion/lawyer Roy Cohn, Point of Order! is one of the greatest historical documents ever put to film. Devoid of talking head interviews or drony narration, the movie's as engrossing as the most suspenseful political dramas, with Army council Joseph Welch emerging as a camera-ready star. Going up against McCarthy's blustery hate-mongering, Welch's country-flavored wit steamrollered the cocky junior senator from Wisconsin, reducing him to stuttery back-tracking and airless defenses. (Subsequently, Hollywood showed its appreciation: his fame from this case led Welch to a showy role as the judge in Otto Preminger's classic 1959 courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder, which would make a good companion piece to Point of Order!).
Welch is great here, uttering the now-famous "Have you no decency?" line to the senator, who looks increasingly haggard and drunk as the testimony goes on. By the film's end, McCarthy's swabbing off his almost-bald head and slinking out of the courtroom, obviously crushed. Very satisfying, indeed--sad, but satisfying. De Antonio contributed more to the documentary genre later with In The Year of the Pig (which untangles the reasons behind the Vietnam War) and Underground (about the radical group the Weather Underground). Those are great films, too, but I'm telling you, even if you don't think you can get into seeing a buncha old guys sitting around yelling at each other for 80 minutes, trust me, you WILL be absorbed by Point of Order! Just take a look at the clips from the hearing below if you don't believe me...