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.

Notes:

  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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