Abraham Polonsky: Interviews

The latest addition to the Conversations with Filmmakers Series is Abraham Polonsky (1910–1999), the brilliant screenwriter and filmmaker of the mid-twentieth-century Left. Polonsky recognized his writerly mission to reveal the aspirations of his characters in a material society structured to undermine their hopes and, in the process, ennoble their struggle. His auspicious beginning in Hollywood reached its peak with his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Robert Rossen’s boxing noir, Body and Soul (1947), and his inaugural film as writer and director, Force of Evil (1948), before he was blacklisted during the McCarthy witch hunt of Hollywood radicals.

Abraham Polonsky: Interviews gathers interviews he gave throughout a screenwriting and directing career that spanned almost forty years. The book also includes all the film criticism published by Abraham Polonsky.                                                                                             

Polonsky envisioned cinema as a modern artist, one whose aesthetic appreciation for each technical component of the screen aroused him to create voiceovers of urban cadences—poetic monologues spoken by the city’s everyman—embodied by the actor who played his heroes best, John Garfield. His use of David Raksin’s score in Force of Evil, heard against the backdrop of the grandeur of New York City’s landscape, and the conflict between the brothers Joe and Leo Morse elevated film noir into classical family tragedy. 

Like Garfield, Polonsky faced persecution and an aborted career during the blacklist. But unlike Garfield, Polonsky survived to resume his career in Hollywood during the ferment of the late 60s. Then his vision of a changing society found allegorical expression in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, his impressive anti-Western showing the destruction of the Paiute rebel outsider, Willie Boy, a half century before the blacklist era that derailed, but did not destroy, Polonsky as a moral voice in American cinema.                      

Abraham Polonsky: Interviews also serves as an oral history of the Hollywood blacklist, how it worked, who was affected by it, and how its victims reintegrated into the industry after the blacklist was lifted. This book is now available from UPM.