World Civilizations Film Series kicks off with murder mystery

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By April Wilson, Senior Staff Writer

The history department’s World Civilizations Film Series kicked off its second year on Friday, Feb. 24, with a screening of the 1947 film, “Crossfire.” The series is the brain child of a group of World Civilization instructors, said organizer Jo Behrens.

Professor emeritus Dr. Jerry Simmons, who specialized in Constitutional History and focused his research on censorship and film, provided background before the viewing and led a discussion afterwards.

“Crossfire is a very simple murder mystery that plays out quickly,” Simmons said in his introduction. “It is only 86 minutes.”

The movie is of the film noir genre, which is characterized by a dark style—almost always shot in urban settings and predominately at night—with a very pessimistic depiction of the world, said Simmons.

“Crossfire” is an adaptation of the 1945 novel, “The Brick Foxhole,” which depicts the murder of a homosexual. However, Simmons indicated during discussion that, due to an industry code against “sexual perversion,” the story had to be adapted. Screenwriter John Paxton choose to make it about racism by focusing on the senseless murder of Joseph Samuels by a group of demobilized World War II soldiers who were seen with the deceased at a bar on the night he was killed.

The film was made on a budget of only $500,000 in 20 days during the spring of 1947. Most large films at that time had a budget of one to three million dollars, Simmons said. Despite its small budget, “Crossfire” managed to garner five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Edward Dmytryk. However, none of the nominees won. Simmons said this was likely due to the communist affiliations of Paxton, Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott during a time when the House Committee on Un-American Activities was beginning to blacklist anyone with even the suspicion of communist affiliation.

The audience of 20 at the screening participated in a lively discussion after the completion of the film that included further discussion on the effect of blacklisting in the film making community and an elaboration on the characteristics of film noir.

The series will continue on March 30 with a screening of Israeli film “Sweet Mud,” moderated by Professor Moshe Gershovich. The series will conclude on April 20 with a screening of the 2010 German film, “Vision,” about the life of Hildegard of Bingen. That viewing will be led by Sarah Whitten. For more information on the series, visit the history department’s website at unomaha.edu/history/filmseries.php.

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