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My Son John (1952)

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Here’s an excellent article on the classic Red Scare film My Son John (1952), directed by Leo McCarey, which still hasn’t come out on DVD, and probably never will; it’s simply too much of a hot potato. Robert Walker, just before his death, stars in this truly jaw-dropping study of American family life in the paranoid 1950s.

As Gwendolyn Audrey Foster writes,

“Leo McCarey’s infamous film My Son John (1952) is a key example of the virulent anti-Communist propaganda films made during the Cold War in the 1950s. During this period, a number of films displayed and embraced an atmosphere of political hysteria perhaps unparalleled. Films such as R. G. Springsteen’s The Red Menace (1949), Robert Stevenson’s I Married a Communist (aka The Woman on Pier 13, 1949), William Cameron Menzies’ The Whip Hand (1951), Alfred L. Werker’s Walk East on Beacon (1952), Edward Ludwig’s Big Jim McLain (1952) and Gordon Douglas’s I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951) exemplify a subgenre of films that were made during the height of the McCarthy era.

Robert Walker and his sons on the set of My Son John

These films uniformly display a crazed world in which “Reds” lurk everywhere, from outer space to the security of the home. Guilt is established by mere association and anything that is associated with questioning authority is assumed to be part of a massive conspiracy against the United States, Christianity and good decent patriotic citizens. Everything is suspect, especially science (because it seemed at odds with religion), higher education (because it encouraged “liberal thinking”) and liberal politics (because it led to subversion). In the mind frame of this genre of propaganda, the world was at war with itself, and the great evil of Communism was busy reaching into the hearts and minds of the good and unsuspecting.”

You can read the entire article here.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at for more details.

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