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GUILTY BY SUSPICION

USA, 1991 (MIFF 1991)

Director: Irwin Winkler

Veteran producer Irwin Winkler makes an assured writing - directing debut with this involving drama about Hollywood professionals affected by the insidious blacklists of the early 1950's, the infamous era of McCarthyism.

One of Winkler's long-time associates, Robert DeNiro, is excellent in a notably unmannered, serenely impassioned performance as David Merrill, who's known as powerful studio head, Darryl F. Zanuck's "golden boy" and returns to the film capital after a break in Europe, only to find the atmosphere in Dream City, taking on the chilling aspects of a steadily spiralling nightmare. Requested by his boss Zanuck to co-operate with the witch-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee, Merrill refuses, even though an associate has already accused him of attending left-wing meetings years before. Almost immediately, Merrill is removed from all current projects, and finds himself in hock and looking for work, any work. Events climax with Merrill's appearance before a full committee in Washington, scenes which reveal HUACs mean-mindedness and evil with powerful accuracy.

Much of the movie's gradually gathering impact stems from placing at the centre of its moral arena a relatively mild-mannered hero, who through youthful "indiscretion", rather than any real conviction, manages to get trapped in McCarthyism's widening snares. The mounting majesty of De Niro's characterisation is ably matched by a solid supporting cast which includes Annette Bening as Merrill's ex-wife and another of Winkler's colleagues, Martin Scorsese, as a filmmaker uncannily reminiscent of real-life blacklist target, director Joseph Losey.

Director's Note: "I thought it was more interesting if the guy wasn't even a communist. That's something you can relate to. If he was a communist, it's too easy for the audience to understand why the HUAC called him up and attacked him. I never wanted it to be a defence of Communism. I wanted it to be a defence of liberty" -Irwin Winkler

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