Cast & Crew
Veda Ann Borg
After two years as a prisoner-of-war in a Chinese internment camp, army Capt. Alan Eaton returns to California to recover. Advised by physicians to avoid stress, Alan decides to go to his hometown of Washington, D.C. to settle affairs in his public relations firm with partner Clark Baker before returning to California permanently. On the flight eastward, Alan sits next to Dr. Gregory Jessup, who divulges his association with an anti-nuclear group and states that they might be interested in hiring Alan's company. When Alan admits he no longer has a home in Washington, Jessup gives him the address of friends with whom Alan might stay. At Eaton and Baker Associates, Alan is confused to find Jim McGinnis, who had been hired just before Alan's departure, settled in Baker's office. Alan is further stunned to learn that Baker died in a hit-and-run car accident a year earlier just after selling the entire business to McGinnis. Skeptical that Alan knew nothing about Baker's death, McGinnis suggests that Alan has not fully recovered from his war trauma. McGinnis explains that he kept the company's name out of recognition of Eaton and Baker's reputation and offers to give Alan a retainer to stay on as a consultant. Promising to consider the offer, Alan then visits old friend Senator Walder. Walder encourages Alan to accept McGinnis' offer as he believes that the firm is manipulating polls with vague, open-ended questions designed to support certain special interest groups and wants an insider to prove his allegations. Walder introduces Alan to reporter Rodney Hillyer, who reveals that he interviewed Baker the day before his death and did not believe Baker planned to sell the firm. Hillyer also points out that for a brief time, Eaton and Baker were both believed dead as Alan was listed as missing-in-action until after Baker's death. Hillyer admits he has no proof, but believes Baker may have been murdered. Disturbed, Alan returns to McGinnis the next day and agrees to stay with the company. While settling into his new office, Alan attempts to learn what projects the firm is working on from mild-mannered assistant Barney Bond. Barney remains evasive, however, despite Alan's explanation that advertising agencies must distinguish between publicity and propaganda, and that the surveys they conduct must be very carefully handled to avoid contrived results. Suspicious of Alan's inquisitiveness, secretary Lorraine Dennis is also cool to his queries. That evening, an exhausted Alan has a sudden headache attack, which alarms Lorraine, who offers to drive him to his hotel but continues to refuse to provide him with company information. Alan decides to stay with Jessup's friends and goes to the home of Hal and Vivien Loder. Vivien is reluctant to allow Alan to stay, but Loder enthusiastically approves. The next morning while having breakfast, Alan grows uneasy when Vivien fails to appear and finds her going through his clothes. Loder then discovers the couple together and accuses Alan of flirting with Vivien and the men break into a fistfight. After moving to a hotel, Alan questions Barney at the office about the firm's dealing with Capitol Hill lobbyist Fred Fletcher, but when Alan asks to see the master card file to learn how polling is being conducted, McGinnis dissuades him. Frustrated, Alan confides in Lorraine about Walder's suspicions and his attempt to help. Lorraine agrees to assist Alan get the master file key from McGinnis. Lorraine successfully steals the key that afternoon and gives it to Alan, who has arranged to meet Hillyer that evening. Lorraine accompanies Alan, and Hillyer tells them that he has found no information on McGinnis or additional news about Baker's death. Alan is startled, however, when Hillyer reveals that the only two eyewitnesses to Baker's accident were Jessup and Loder. Unknown to the group, Barney has followed them and eavesdrops. Alan returns to the firm to investigate the master card file, but hides when McGinnis and Loder arrive carrying boxes containing letters, which forger Vivien has signed, agreeing to support the anti-nuclear cause for which Fletcher is lobbying. When McGinnis notices Alan's burning cigarette on the desk, Alan comes out of hiding and accuses McGinnis of forging Baker's signature and arranging his murder. After McGinnis says he will make Alan's accusation sound like the ravings of a psychotic war veteran, Loder beats him up until Barney arrives to report on Alan's meeting with Hillyer. Alan pretends to pass out and listens while McGinnis plans to kill Alan and make it look like a suicide at the river. When Barney mentions Lorraine's participation, McGinnis and Loder go after her, leaving Barney to guard Alan with a gun. Alan revives and, knowing that Barney admires Lorraine, tries to talk him into saving her from McGinnis. Barney falters and Alan overpowers him just as the others return with Lorraine. Alan has Lorraine call Walder, whose assistant promises to have the senator call back momentarily. Suddenly, Alan suffers another sharp headache attack and Loder takes the gun from him. When Barney interferes, Loder shoots him and flees, taking Alan and Lorraine. Still alive, Barney struggles to answer the phone when it rings and informs Walder where McGinnis has taken Alan. Walder contacts the police, who capture the entire group. After Walder arrives to congratulate Alan on exposing McGinnis's propaganda set-up, Alan agrees to stay on in Washington to help Walder and remain with Lorraine.
Veda Ann Borg
Eugene Anderson Jr.
Martin H. Lancer
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
According to the Hollywood Reporter review, which praised the film for taking on the daring topic of Communist political propaganda efforts in the United States, the character name "Jim McGinnis," which was changed from the original character name used in the novel, was similar to the name of a well-known staunch anti-Communist, producer and screenwriter James K. McGuinness, who testified during the House Committee on Un-American Activities Hollywood trials. The review also remarked upon actor Dick Foran's physical resemblance to a "former football player who was a high pressure Pennsylvania Avenue lobbyist" some years earlier. The review pointed out that The Fearmakers was the first film to explore the phenomenon of lobbyists using pollsters and doctored polls to sway public policy. A Hollywood Reporter news item adds that the film was shot on location in Washington, D.C. Although Mel Torme appeared in a number of musical films throughout the 1940s, The Fearmakers marked his dramatic debut.
Released in United States Fall October 1958
Released in United States Fall October 1958