The Hiss Case in Hollywood

Whittaker Chambers at Foley Square courthouse 1948

Though to date there has been no feature film about the Hiss Case, 1 nor the lives of Whittaker Chambers or Alger Hiss, Hollywood has poked fun at the case’s most emblematic talisman, the Pumpkin Papers:

  • North By Northwest: Auction Scene (1959)
    Statue (starts at 1’58” marker) stands in for pumpkin in the auction scene from this Alfred Hitchcock movie, starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, and James Mason. 2
  • North By Northwest: Trailer featuring Alfred Hitchcock (1959)
    Statue on Mount Rushmore (starts 1’50’ marker), plus Cary Grant’s “red herring” quip (starts 2’11” marker).
  • The Three Stooges: “Dunked In The Deep” (1949)
    Watermelon stands in for pumpkin in the opening scene’s spoof of the microfilm Pumpkin Papers.


  1. Historical films that show footage of Chambers and Hiss include:

    • The 20th Century: A Moving Visual History (1998)
    • Cold War (1998)
    • Nixon (1995)
    • Project XX (1960)

    Another production, Concealed Enemies (1984), re-enacts the Hiss Case.

  2. Hitchcock or his scriptwriter (ironically–or not) had captured Chambers’ inspiration for hiding microfilm in a pumpkin. In his first memoir, Chambers wrote: “There had been a close-up of the Chinese god of Fate, a seated, pumpkin-shaped idol… Investigators might tear the house apart. They would never think to look for anything in a pumpkin lying in a pumpkin patch.” (Witness, pp. 751-755)

3 Responses to The Hiss Case in Hollywood

  1. Eric Fettmann says:

    Allen Drury‘s Advise and Consent, which was made into a film in 1962, was a roman a clef of sorts abut the Hiss case. The nominee, Robert Leffingwell, is hiding his past membership in the CP and is confronted at a congressional hearing by another cell member, Herbert Gelman, who is a stand-in for Chambers. Unfortunately, Hollywood reversed the conservative and anti-Hiss orientation of Drury’s book and turned Leffingwell/Hiss (played by Henry Fonda) into a victim of right-wing witch-hunters.

  2. Tom Garvey says:

    I saw Concealed Enemies on small screen. I’ve been unable to find it from usual sources (Netflix, etc.) If anyone knows of its availability anywhere, please share. Thanks

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