With the writers’ strike hopefully at close-to-resolution point in the US, we’ll still be showing solidarity by focusing on screenwriters in the Unsung Auteurs column. As a group, The Hollywood Ten is infamous in the annals of the American film industry, but as individuals, these men are far less well recognised, outside of the major players like Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk and Ring Lardner Jr. When Hollywood was gripped by right-wing fervour in the late 1940s and1950s, and the “Red Scare” – the fear of Russian and Chinese infiltration, and the spread of US-instigated communism – was in full effect, The Hollywood Ten were like a lightning rod of controversy.
Made of left-leaning screenwriters and film industry players who refused to testify about their communist sympathies and name other sympathisers, they were collectively sent to prison and then “blacklisted” in the film industry, effectively shutting down a significant amount of talent. Some, however, continued to write and create under pseudonyms using “fronts” (see Martin Ritt’s 1976 comedy The Front for a great take on the concept), delivering fine work with no credit.
One of the members of The Hollywood Ten was screenwriter Albert Maltz, who made no bones about the fact that he was a communist. “I read the Marxist classics,” Maltz said. “I still think it to be the noblest set of ideals ever penned by man. Where else in political literature do you find thinkers saying that we were going to end all forms of human exploitation? Wage exploitation, exploitation of women by men, the exploitation of people of colour by white peoples, the exploitation of colonial countries by imperialist countries.” Bold leftist politics aside, Albert Maltz also penned a very impressive selection of screenplays.
Born in 1908 to an affluent family of Russian immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, Albert Maltz long leaned to the left. During the 1930s, he worked for The Theater Union, which promoted much pro-communist work. At the same time, Maltz also wrote novels (including 1944’s anti-Nazi success The Cross And The Arrow) and short stories, before eventually making the move into screenwriting in the 1940s. His first major credit was on the 1942 noir thriller This Gun For Hire, on which he worked with W.R Burnett to cleanly and effectively adapt Graham Greene’s keenly intelligent novel for the screen. He then worked on the script for the 1943 WW2 drama Destination Tokyo (which detailed the first US air strike on Japan after Pearl Harbor) before receiving an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for 1945’s Pride Of The Marines, which features a stellar turn from fellow leftie John Garfield as a blinded US Marine attempting to piece his life together after being discharged.
Maltz’s social conscience was there front and centre for 1945’s The House I Live In, an eleven-minute Oscar winning short in which Frank Sinatra teaches a group of young noys about religious tolerance. Maltz then worked on Fritz Lang’s tense 1946 WW2 Gary Cooper-starring thriller Cloak And Dagger (alongside fellow Hollywood Tenner, Ring Lardner Jr.), Delmer Daves’ 1947 thriller The Red House, and Jules Dassin’s highly evocative and authentic 1948 crime procedural The Naked City. Fronted by Michael Blankfort, Maltz ironically received an Oscar nomination for Delmer Daves’ superior James Stewart-starring western Broken Arrow, and also did uncredited work on the 1953 Biblical epic The Robe. As with other less savvy members of The Hollywood Ten, the 1950s was a bleak, quiet time for Albert Maltz, with little work on offer.
An attempt by powerhouse player Frank Sinatra to bring Albert Maltz on to script his intended military drama The Execution Of Private Slovik (which would eventually be made in for TV in 1974 by Lamont Johnson) resulted in a major controversy encompassing noted right-winger John Wayne, the election of John F. Kennedy as US President, and the upcoming appearance of Elvis Presley on a Frank Sinatra stage show. Shut down by powerful outside forces, the film never happened, and Albert Maltz was largely left to twist in the creative wind through the 1960s, doing uncredited work on a few international productions.
With The Blacklist and its hangover thankfully dissipated by the far more freewheeling 1970s, Albert Maltz was back in action, and again using his own name. He fleshed out western icon Budd Boetticher’s story ideas for the script to 1970’s Two Mules For Sister Sara, a fantastic but curiously under-celebrated collaboration between Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood. Boasting crackling dialogue, terrific characterisation, and winning performances from Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine, Two Mules For Sister Sara is a fine piece of screenwriting from Albert Maltz. Obviously impressed, Siegel and Eastwood tapped Maltz again for their impressively brooding 1971 Southern Gothic The Beguiled, employing the screenwriter to co-adapt Thomas Cullinan’s novel for the screen.
Though he worked on a few minor films (the 1973 Kirk Douglas pirate comedy Scalawag; the largely forgotten 1974 Blaxploitation thriller Hangup, which was directed by…Henry Hathaway!), Albert Maltz never really received the opportunities that his obvious talents so richly deserved. A cruelly unsung and unfairly victimized Hollywood screenwriter, Albert Maltz died on April 26, 1985, at the age of 76 from complications from a stroke he had had nine months before, a sad symbol of how poorly Hollywood has often treated its scribes.
If you liked this story, check out our features on other unsung auteurs Nancy Dowd, Barry Michael Cooper, Gladys Hill, Walon Green, Eleanor Bergstein, William W. Norton, Helen Childress, Bill Lancaster, Lucinda Coxon, Ernest Tidyman, Shauna Cross, Troy Kennedy Martin, Kelly Marcel, Alan Sharp, Leslie Dixon, Jeremy Podeswa, Ferd & Beverly Sebastian, Anthony Page, Julie Gavras, Ted Post, Sarah Jacobson, Anton Corbijn, Gillian Robespierre, Brandon Cronenberg, Laszlo Nemes, Ayelat Menahemi, Ivan Tors, Amanda King & Fabio Cavadini, Cathy Henkel, Colin Higgins, Paul McGuigan, Rose Bosch, Dan Gilroy, Tanya Wexler, Clio Barnard, Robert Aldrich, Maya Forbes, Steven Kastrissios, Talya Lavie, Michael Rowe, Rebecca Cremona, Stephen Hopkins, Tony Bill, Sarah Gavron, Martin Davidson, Fran Rubel Kuzui, Elliot Silverstein, Liz Garbus, Victor Fleming, Barbara Peeters, Robert Benton, Lynn Shelton, Tom Gries, Randa Haines, Leslie H. Martinson, Nancy Kelly, Paul Newman, Brett Haley, Lynne Ramsay, Vernon Zimmerman, Lisa Cholodenko, Robert Greenwald, Phyllida Lloyd, Milton Katselas, Karyn Kusama, Seijun Suzuki, Albert Pyun, Cherie Nowlan, Steve Binder, Jack Cardiff, Anne Fletcher ,Bobcat Goldthwait, Donna Deitch, Frank Pierson, Ann Turner, Jerry Schatzberg, Antonia Bird, Jack Smight, Marielle Heller, James Glickenhaus, Euzhan Palcy, Bill L. Norton, Larysa Kondracki, Mel Stuart, Nanette Burstein, George Armitage, Mary Lambert, James Foley, Lewis John Carlino, Debra Granik, Taylor Sheridan, Laurie Collyer, Jay Roach, Barbara Kopple, John D. Hancock, Sara Colangelo, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Joyce Chopra, Mike Newell, Gina Prince-Bythewood, John Lee Hancock, Allison Anders, Daniel Petrie Sr., Katt Shea, Frank Perry, Amy Holden Jones, Stuart Rosenberg, Penelope Spheeris, Charles B. Pierce, Tamra Davis, Norman Taurog, Jennifer Lee, Paul Wendkos, Marisa Silver, John Mackenzie, Ida Lupino, John V. Soto, Martha Coolidge, Peter Hyams, Tim Hunter, Stephanie Rothman, Betty Thomas, John Flynn, Lizzie Borden, Lionel Jeffries, Lexi Alexander, Alkinos Tsilimidos, Stewart Raffill, Lamont Johnson, Maggie Greenwald and Tamara Jenkins.