Good Night, Good Luck

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To this day, some still consider Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965) to be the most distinguished figure in the history of American journalism. Hailing from Polecat Creek, North Carolina, the legendary broadcaster rose from humble origins to that heralded status by starting out as a radio reporter soon after joining the fledgling CBS Network in the mid-Thirties.

As head of its European bureau, he covered critical events unfolding overseas both prior to and after the outbreak of World War II. Exhibiting his trademark combination of calm and courage, he daily narrated riveting, eyewitness descriptions of the ominous arrival of the Nazis in Austria in 1938. Later, he risked life and limb to air blow-by-blow accounts from atop rooftops around London during The Battle of Britain.

In the Fifties, with the advent of television, Murrow made a smooth transition to the emerging medium, adapting “Hear It Now,� his news-oriented radio program into a similarly-themed TV-show entitled, “See It Now� (1951-1958). Fortunately, his characteristic directness, tempered with restraint, still resonated with screen audiences clear across the country.

Yet, he met with even more success with “Person to Person� (1953-1961), a series which featured a relatively-superficial, celebrity chat format. Nonetheless, Murrow remains best remembered for his harder-hitting, investigative work, most notably, the courage he displayed in standing up to the witch hunt being conducted by anti-Communist crusader Joe McCarthy between 1947 and 1954.

Since America is presently very closely allied with formerly feared enemies Russia and China, it might be hard for some to recall the practically-palpable tensions which once existed between East and West. Back then, the junior Senator from Wisconsin’s House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) staged infamous hearings which resulted in the censorship and blacklisting of anyone with the slightest ties to the so-called Red Menace.

The pivotal role played by Edward R. Murrow in the demise of McCarthyism is the subject of Good Night, and Good Luck, a period piece set in 1953-54 and shot in black-and-white by writer/director George Clooney who also appears as CBS’ exec Fred W. Friendly. David Strathairn stars as Murrow, while the late McCarthy (who died of alcoholism in 1957) plays himself, via the magic of seamless, computer-generated technology.

The top-flight cast includes Frank Langella as CBS founder William Paley and Grant Heslov as his colleague, Don Hewitt, while Oscar-nominees Robert Downey, Jr. (for Chaplin) and Patricia Clarkson (for Pieces of April) play Joe and Shirley Wershba, employees who had to hide their marital status due to a company policy against hiring married couples. Jeff Daniels appears as Sig Mickelson, and jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves does a phenomenal job of performing several of George’s Aunt Rosemary’s old tunes as originally arranged, and accompanied by Ms. Clooney’s actual band.

Good Night, and Good Luck effectively recreates afresh the air of paranoia which had permeated the U.S. during the Cold War, transporting its audience back a half-century, imperceptibly weaving old newsreels in with painstakingly-recreated tableaus. Though the chain-smoking Murrow emerges as the hero, here, he is, nonetheless, upstaged by the technical wizardry which has him sharing scenes with archival newsreels of cultural icons like Robert F. Kennedy and Roy Cohn, both of whom served on the HUAC as young attorneys. As much as one might admire the exploits of Murrow, all the distracting cameos generate as much reflection as the social issues raised by Clooney’s unusually thought-provoking flick.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rating: PG for mature themes and brief profanity.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Warner independent Pictures

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