Reviewed by

Bud Carlson

Based on a true story and set in 1953 at the height of anti-Communist furor and Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch-hunting for communist sympathizers, Good Night and Good Luck stars David Stratharn as the legendary CBS newsman Edward R Murrow. While the young broadcast medium of television is growing more and more watered-down and trite, it was Murrow and his team of young and aggressive reporters, let by Fred Friendly (George Clooney), create the hard-hitting news program “See It Now.” Think of it as the 1950’s version of “60 Minutes,” playing opposite ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and MTV’s “Jackass”. 


As a result of the hearings held by McCarthy, the political climate in America in 1953 was dominated by congressional committees driven by rumor and innuendo, and mass suspicion of anyone who might think differently. Murrow is not a fan of McCarthy’s showboating, his tactics, and the mood of the country that results. In fact, Murrow and all his staff and crew have been forced to sign “loyalty oaths”, which raises the ire of the high-minded newsmen. Here’s where the plot thickens: as part of their reporting, the “See It Now” team comes across the case of Milo Radulovich, a US Air Force Lieutenant removed from service by McCarthy and deemed a security threat based on secret documents and suspicions raised because his family members read newspapers that are deemed “subversive”. Murrow, already outraged by what he perceives to be McCarthy’s heavy-handed tactics and the chilling effects he is having on America, dives head first into the story of Radulovich, and then ultimately into the McCarthy controversy, and makes enemies of many people who think he has strayed from his balanced style of journalism. The end result is a dramatic showdown between Murrow

and McCarthy, which could result in the destruction of many people’s careers and personal lives, including Murrow himself.


I have to be honest, I never found this period to be a compelling time in American History. We learned about it in great detail (including having to write a long paper about it) back in high school, and I just never really got into it. Same in a college course I took called The History of American Business (which had a whole chapter in the text about it), I just couldn’t see why it was such a big deal. What was everyone so excited about?


But I was transfixed watching this movie. What had been sort of a dull and lifeless story to me, sprang to life in living black-and-white (it was 1953, after all). Stratharn is an amazing Murrow, calm and under control at all times no matter the shit-storm around him, just as Murrow was. He depicts Murrow as a man of intensity and intelligence, and his voice has just the right tone and timber to deliver Murrow’s words. I also loved how, for McCarthy, they used file footage of the man himself, and didn’t try to find an actor to play his character (would have been nearly impossible, I would think). Watching the movie, you could just feel the tension that the characters were feeling, all the way throughout it. The film was precisely made, with a sense of history and a sense of style, capturing a very important time in American history, and a turning point in journalism in this country. 


The primary action in the movie is decision-making. Basically, we are watching a bunch of guys in a room talking a lot, and then one of them, Murrow, writes it down and goes in front of the camera. But the movie isn’t boring at all. The movie finds ways to tell us about the varied personalities of these men, so they come off as real people instead of symbols. This is not a dead or dull history, but a drama about important men, men of substance and ideology, as it might have looked and felt. There was a lot on the line, and the movie was very subtle in pointing that out.


Tip of the cap to George Clooney for making this movie (he directed and co-wrote it, and is understood to have been the driving force behind getting it made). He clearly has strong feelings for this topic , partly because his father was a news anchor. The film’s ideology is very clear, and is consistent with Clooney’s liberal political views (which he isn’t shy about sharing). 


This is the most compelling movie I have seen in quite a while.


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