The Un-Americanness of Film Noir
Reporting to the fbi in late 1947 about subversive
activity in Hollywood, ‘‘Confidential Informant T-10’’
expressed the hope that Congress ‘‘by statute’’ would
declare American communists ‘‘a foreign-inspired
conspiracy’’ rather than ‘‘a legal party.’’ Collectively
criminalized, communist membership could then
become a definitive ‘‘indication of disloyalty,’’ T-10
reasoned, that would in turn sanction the ‘‘cleansing
of their own household.’’∞ As the recently elected
president of the Screen Actors Guild, T-10 (aka Ron-
ald Reagan) was in a good position to appreciate
how messy such a domestic purging would be with-
out the convenient force of law to detect and then rid
the ‘‘household’’ (both the film community and the
homeland at large) of undesirable elements.
Responding to a danger felt from within, Reagan,
along with many other Americans at midcentury,
sought to purify the republic by imagining a group of
fellow citizens as illegitimate outsiders who war-
ranted, awkwardly, some sort of expulsion or de-
tention. At once an epistemological crisis (how to
know the enemy?) and a moral one (what should be
done?), this perceived emergency in internal secu-
rity severely tested American citizenship during the
1940s and 1950s. These two decades also coincided
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