Written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov
Directed by George Clooney
Running Time: 1:33
for mild thematic elements and brief language.
Good Night, and Good Luck was a well made, well acted look into the life of Edward R. Murrow and the role he played in ending the witch hunt of Joe McCarthy in the early 1950s.
Senator Joseph McCarthy was the junior senator from Wisconsin. Afraid of losing his senate seat, McCarthy started a Communist with hunt against mostly Democrats. Anyone he attacked eventually lost their election and soon everyone was afraid of crossing McCarthy. His power and influence became overwhelming and the inevitable backlash followed. On March 9, 1954, the respected TV journalist Edward R. Murrow attacked McCarthy on his popular news show, See It Now. That was the day many considered to be a turning point in the battle against McCarthy. Murrow was one of the most trusted men in America, and with his bold stand, others soon took up the charge, and within only a few short months of the broadcast, Senator McCarthy was censured by his colleagues in the Senate and his power base was gone.
Good Night, and Good Luck was shot in black and white to mimic the look and feel of the time. I of course wasn't around during the McCarthy hearings but knew the basic highlights. The movie however takes you only within the lives of the CBS television people who helped start the downward spiral of McCarthy. While Murrow, and his producer Fred Friendly, get a lot of the credit, they had a lot of help along the way. Murrow, played wonderfully by David Strathairn, was a serious man who had a dry sense of humor and was sometimes so focused on the news that he didn't see anything around him. His show, See It Now, was largely an entertainment show, where he would interview celebrities and the like, even though it wasn't something he was interested in. He said he did those shows so that he could also do the hard hitting news shows. His popularity was such that even at the height of McCarthyism, the greater public would side with Murrow because they respected and trusted him so much. And the big shots at CBS knew that too. Even though his now famous March 9th broadcast could have taken down the network if the audience sided with McCarthy, the CBS brass also knew that if anyone could pull it off, it was Murrow. No one was safe from Joe McCarthy and eventually someone had to bring him down, or soon we'd all be labeled a Communist. Or you'd have to align yourself with McCarthy and become a Republican. The film, while dealing with a serious story, one that resonates to this day, also had some lighthearted moments, including a priceless interview Murrow had with Liberace that has to be seen to be believed.
George Clooney, who wrote and directed the movie, as well as co-starred as Fred Friendly, kept the movie simple. There were long takes where there was no action, just dialogue, and all of the 'scenes' with McCarthy were actual archival footage from the era. The music in the film were songs sung originally by his aunt Rosemary Clooney. I was lucky enough to see this film as part of Richard Brown's Movies 101 class through New York University, and the highlight of the evening was after the movie was over. Brown brought out Patricia Clarkson, who played Shirley Wershba, one of the uncredited writers at CBS. But the real treat was Brown then brought out the real Shirley Wershba and her husband Joe (who was played by Robert Downey Jr. in the film) and we were able to hear first hand about what went on at CBS at that time. Shirley and Joe's secret relationship was a small subplot in the film, one which I admit, I couldn't see any reason in having. It was fascinating watching a movie and then seeing the actual people live on stage. In the movie (and in real life) after the Murrow broadcast, CBS was going to have to let some people go, and Shirley and Joe were brought in to the office by Sig Mickelson, the news director at CBS. He told them that everyone knew they were married (it was against office rules for two employees to be married at the time) and that it would make life easier if one of them left. The movie leaves you hanging, not knowing what happened next, but Shirley said that she left CBS to raise her family, and Joe left shortly thereafter. Joe then went on to launch a little show called 60 Minutes.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, whether you remember or know a lot about the era, Good Night, and Good Luck is a very entertaining movie. Yes, I know movies that are also history lessons can be boring, but this one does a good job of informing as well as entertaining and is well worth watching.
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