I Was a Communist for the FBI

July 25, 2010 at 6:14 am (6 Heads, I Was a Communist for the FBI) (, , , )

I Was a Communist for the FBI – 1951 – United States

Also a magazine serial and radio show, I Was a Communist for the FBI details the (apparently) factual life of Matt Cvetic, who spent a decade infiltrating communist spy rings. I Was a Communist satisfies in two ways: as a taut paranoid thriller and a historic glimpse into the demonizing McCarthy Era.

Communist/FBI agent Matt’s double life is hidden from all. Acting as a communist, he’s a target of ridicule in his family and community, he’s beaten up by his brother, disowned by his son, and chastised for teaching the neighbor kid about baseball—“Baseball is an American game. I can show him that without your help.” Most interesting are scenes of Matt’s isolation, depression, and exploitation by the FBI. The FBI’s manipulations are glossed over so as not to subvert the patriotic message, but dark hints abound. As one agent says: “You can quit, but clearing your name is something else. Once you join the Bureau, you’re on your own.”

Only slightly less engaging is the Communist Party’s Orwellian paranoia. Members inform on each other and there’s no out once you’re in. The party big shots are two-faced fat cats, sowing doubt and provoking labor unions and alienated minorities to controlled violence. While discussing a rally: “Those niggers ate it up tonight.” “Don’t you mean Negroes?” “Only when I’m trying to sell them the party line.” In another nasty scene, a union strike becomes a massacre when planted upstarts, hiding clubs in rolled newspapers, beat “scabs” to death.

I Was a Communist can be chilling, but its impact is softened by ludicrous patriotism. In the final scene, Matt testifies against the communist leaders, revealing his FBI affiliation. Afterwards, his teary-eyed son and brother apologize with open arms. The Battle Hymn of the Republic plays while the camera zooms on a bust of Abe Lincoln. Might Matt’s family feel betrayed by his lies? Does he regret the decade he lost with his son? How does he begin to salvage his devastated personal life and reputation? The real Matt Cvetic died 10 years later, his relationships in shambles.

If I Was a Communist was made in the cynical 60s after McCarthyism, it would’ve been fascinating. Sadly, for propaganda’s sake, Matt Cvetic’s true sacrifice is tragically watered down. As a result, what I Was a Communist implies is much more intriguing than what it says.

Rating: 6/10 Shrunken Heads. A competent flick, but Matt Cvetic’s story would be riveting in any form.

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