Good Night, and Good Luck: The Movie as Compared to History
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Above is the trailer for Good Night, and Good Luck.
Movie as a Secondary Source:
1. Displaying the friendship between Murrow and Friendly
2. The Army-McCarthy dispute mentioned throughout the film. There was a huge case with the Army, McCarthy, and a member of McCarthy’s committee Cohn, before the Murrow incident and it continued afterward the event. The calling of the General as unfit to command and wear the uniform in the newsreel shown by the studio when making the story on McCarthy. Also there were cases both dealing with Milo Radulovich and Annie Lee Moss, both of which are covered in the film.
3. Joe Wershba was a real reporter for the See It Now program and Don Hollenbeck had his own shown at 11 p.m. On that show he did announced his association with the earlier comments by Murrow on March 9, 1954.
4. The attempt by McCarthy and his subcommittee to try to make Murrow out to be a Communist since the 1930s.
5. The mention of the spread of terror and fear of McCarthy even reaching into the news. The reporters mentioned that they need to do the story carefully because of the fear
6. Murrow offering the opportunity to McCarthy to appear on the program to reply to the See It Now show on March 9, 1954
7. Murrow’s speech at the end of the March 9, 1954 show is almost word from word from the transcripts I looked at, released by Murrow’s wife and edited in a book by Edward Bliss, Jr. Murrow really did quote Julius Caesar in his speech.
Above is a clip, from YouTube, of Murrow’s speech from the film, Good Night, and Good Luck, at the end of the March 9 show of See It Now.
8. The phones rang off the hook after the show on March 9, 1954
9. There were articles the day after both praising and criticizing the See It Now show on March 9, 1954
10. They mention that McCarthy wanted the April 6 timeslot for the show.
11.. There was a case with Mrs. Annie Lee Moss and she did lose her job over hearsay evidence.
12. McCarthy mentioned in his April 6, 1954 reply that Murrow had made ‘repeated attacks’ on people trying to find Communists. The speech by McCarthy on the show was the actual film footage sent to CBS to play on See It Now on April 6 and Murrow’s reply afterward also occurred on See It Now. Murrow did foster an exchange program in 1935 while he worked for the Institute of International Education.
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The above video is a clip from Good Night, and Good Luck from YouTube with Murrow’s speech after McCarthy’s Reply on April 6, 1954.
13. See It Now was sponsored by ALCOA, so the commercial shown for ALCOA was in fact a correct depiction of commercials shown during the show itself
14. McCarthy did get investigated, and he did delay the investigation from being ‘ill.’ The investigation was about McCarthy and Cohn and their pressuring of the Army for classified information.
1. The songs sung by Dianna Reeves, while adding a nice touch, did not in fact exist in the 50s.
Film’s Relationship to Current Scholarship or Primary Sources from the time?:
1. Real footage from cases from 1954, and all the recordings of Joseph McCarthy are real video footage from 1954 that was seamlessly spliced into the 2005 movie shooting.
2. The suicide of Don Hollenbeck in the film, apart from being true, is a reasonable depiction of how much fear and terror consumed people in America with going up against Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Movie as primary source about makers/time/setting/genre
1. Things were filmed and shown at this time in black and white
2. Smoking was widely spread during this time
3. Murrow did smoke regularly on and off his show
4. The actual footage from 1954 used in the film can be seen as primary source material in the film to back up the story it is trying to tell.
1. Mentions at the very beginning, in text, that the Murrow isn’t the first, but that he was the greatest impact. However, it doesn’t emphasize this throughout the movie
2. The subplot with the marriage between Joe and Shirley Wershba takes away from the film. However, it does allow the audience to see that it was not condoned for a married man and woman to work at the same plant.
3. The title of the movie is the catch phrase used by Murrow at the end of every show, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
In the end, I feel Good Night, and Good Luck served as an excellent secondary source about a small historic event in 1954, with some primary source material within the film. It seamlessly blends in footage from 1954 with the 2005 film. George Clooney, an actor and director of the film, had problems acquiring the sponsorship to make Good Night, and Good Luck, not because of the script but rather because Clooney wanted to film it in black and white to include the old footage. I felt that the film’s addition of actual primary source material from 1954 helped to make the film more successful as a secondary source. Of course, I did read that some people did not know who played McCarthy in the film, so unless you go into the film that the McCarthy footage is really of McCarthy, I think the point may be missed by viewers. I did like the inclusion of journalism versus corporate interests and how Murrow wanted to report the truth, regardless of corporate sponsorship problems. As seen with the loss of their sponsor ALCOA during the film. I thought this hit on a big point that some media news was censored not just from fear of McCarthy and what he would do, but also what corporations and sponsors would do.
I feel the few inaccuracies about the film do not outweigh the overall historical use of the film as a secondary source. Yes, some of the characters may not have been real people, but they are not the center stage of the film. Good Night, and Good Luck conveyed the story that Senator McCarthy accused people as non-loyal United States citizens and/or a Communist on hearsay evidence, that various people stood up to McCarthy, and even that Murrow had previously made little comments about him every now and then. However, it wasn’t until See It Now gained popularity among the public that the comments by Murrow mattered to McCarthy. Good Night, and Good Luck does an excellent job in the portrayal of those three episodes of See It Now where Murrow blatantly stood up against McCarthy and his tactics. .
Terry Teachout of Commentary in December 2005 writes that Good Night and Good Luck overlooks some of the inherent moral ambiguities of real life journalism. Teachout feels the movie “was beautifully shot in black and white” and “duplicates with uncanny exactitude the on- and off-air appearance of See It Now, the CBS news program that Murrow hosted an co-produced between 1951 and 1957 in collaboration with Fred Friendly.” The film deals with an episode in history in 1954 where Murrow and Friendly devote three episodes of See It Now to various aspects of the Communist hunt led by the Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy. What was remarkable of the show was not that Murrow spoke out against McCarthy, who had already been attacked by other journalist, but that he used See It Now to criticize him because CBS had a long-standing policy not to editorialize on the air. The film itself does no portray Murrow’s actions as inappropriate, but as an act of high political courage. Murrow’s doubt goes unremarked in the film, as well as the fact that the Communist hunt existed because there were Communists. The film leads audiences to believe that the Communist hunt was just a fantasy of McCarthy and his supporters. Teachout writes that Clooney does not acknowledge many discrepancies in the story he tries to tell
Ron Briley and Robert Toplin of Journal of American History writes that the movie, Good Night, and Good Luck, the film evokes the mood of the 1950s with the cigarette smoking, the small closed in newsrooms, filming the movie in black and white (which allows real footage of McCarthy to be used in the film), and the classic jazz soundtrack. Briley and Toplin remark that the movie begins with Edward Murrow’s speech in 1958 at a network tribute. Murrow then reminisces about his confrontation with McCarthy, which began with the Army case of Milo Radulovic, who was forced out of the Army because of his family’s politics. Proclaiming that this action was based on unsubstantial evidence, on March 9, 1954 Murrow denounced McCarthy on his show, See It Now. McCarthy then replies about a month later by television, which was how this confrontation was actually conducted in 1954. Briley and Toplin find that there are several subplots in the movie with mixed success, such as the file footage of Murrow on the Person to Person show where Murrow insisted he hosted only to pay bills and the suicide case which showed how McCarthyism destroyed people. Although, the story of Joe and Shirley Wershba, who are fired from the studio from disregarding the no-married couples allowed working here together possible, distracts from the film. In their closing statement about Good Night, and Good Luck Briley and Toplin comment that the movie “is open to charges of presentism, but in the final analysis Clooney is a serious filmmaker seeking to use the past to illuminate the present.”
Bernard Beck of Multicultural Perspectives writes in 2006 that Good Night, and Good Luck gives the story of real events. He comments that every detail of the movie evokes the time of the event: the black and white shooting of the film and Murrow’s chain smoking. Murrow can be liken to the Western movie heroes, but without the endearing touches expected of those characters. The movie sends the message about how precious our free institutions are and how we have to work hard in order to keep them. Bernard also mentioned that the story behind the film is a cultural relic, and when there is a rich cultural history people may use it for wisdom to use in the present.
YouTube, “Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) Trailer,” YouTube Web site, Embedded Media File, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNq8LoYjG2E (accessed November 5, 2008).
 Bob Edwards, Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2004), 115.
YouTube, “Murrow on Freedom of Speech,” YouTube Web site, Embedded Media File, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N3WJXK2PAM (accessed November 5, 2008).
Bernard Beck, “Inspired by a True Story: Good Night and Good Luck and Why we Need it,” Multicultural Perspectives 8, no. 3 (2006):26-29, http://search.ebsohost.com/ (accessed October 30, 2008).