The Fearmakers (1958) stands out as one of the more obvious "Red Scare" movies. Dana Andrews stars as a Korean War vet, who suffered through brainwashing as a P.O.W. to return home and find things aren't quite as he left them. His partner in a Washington, D.C., public relations firm has been killed mysteriously in an accident. And the PR company has been taken over by communists bent on fixing public opinion polls and promoting communist organizations.
Clearly, the film expresses the greatest fears of its day. First, there's the frightening notion that communists could infiltrate an American company. And that this PR firm just happens to be in Washington, D.C., obviously symbolizes an even deeper fear - communists worming their way into positions within the U.S. government. Beyond that, The Fearmakers plays up the scary notion of a media outlet whose sole purpose is to distribute communist propaganda. In the course of the film, Andrews' character is gradually transformed into an anticommunist white knight who not only rids his company of enemy agents but also testifies against them before Congress.
The Fearmakers was based on a novel, by Darwin L. Teilhet, published in 1945. Unlike the returning WWII veteran in the book, the script was updated to have a more contemporary impact by having Andrew's character return from a Chinese P.O.W. camp after the Korean War. But despite its more contemporary slant, The Fearmakers would have remained an undistinguished B-movie if not for its director, Jacques Tourneur, a master of the form. His reputation had been made on such films as Cat People (1942), where he managed to frighten audiences without showing the monster on screen, the atmospheric I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and the Robert Mitchum thriller Out of the Past (1947). Dana Andrews first worked with Tourneur in the 1946 Western Canyon Passage. The actor and director were teamed again on Night of the Demon (1957), the film in which Tourneur's identification with the horror genre was sealed.
The Fearmakers was the third collaboration between Tourneur and Andrews and it was the latter who handpicked the director for the project. Apparently the actor told producer Martin Lancer he would appear in The Fearmakers only if Tourneur directed. For his part, The Fearmakers was one of the last feature films Tourneur made. And sadly, it seems he was unhappy with the finished product. Tourneur thought The Fearmakers had been made too quickly, just to take advantage of the timely subject matter, or as Tourneur called it, "such an admirable subject: the power of people who control ideas."
But no matter what Tourneur thought, The Fearmakers stands as a fascinating record of its era. The film allows us to remember a time, not so long ago, when the threat was real and fear and paranoia were in the air.
Producer: Leon Chooluck, Martin H. Lancer
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: Chris Appley, Darwin L. Teilhet (novel), Elliot West
Art Direction: Serge Krizman
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Film Editing: Paul Laune, J.R. Whittredge
Original Music: Irving Gertz
Principal Cast: Dana Andrews (Alan Eaton), Dick Foran (Jim McGinnis), Mel Torme (Barney Bond), Marilee Earle (Lorraine Dennis), Veda Ann Borg (Vivian Loder).
by Stephanie Thames