Good Night, and Good Luck | North Country

Good Night, and Good Luck | North Country

Arrow shirts, furrowed brows, steely replies, and the Hemingway ethos of coolness-under-fire abound in Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney’s depiction of the televised joust between the newscaster Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Photographed by Robert Elswit in black-and-white so stark that realism crosses over into Andy Warholian pop realism, this movie presents the CBS news bureau of 1953 as the epitome of buttoned-down Eisenhower-era sobriety, though fired up by patriotism and liberal machismo.

The Murrow team is eager to take on the bully from Wisconsin but you can tell from the taut visages and nervous silences that the real menace to the newscasters doesn’t emanate from the Senate but from CBS President Bill Paley (entertainingly played by Frank Langella as a six-foot-three glower), who felt that courageous political editorializing was costing the corporation advertisers, and that “people want to enjoy themselves and don’t want a civics lesson.” The film’s conclusion feels Hemingwayesque indeed in the way moral victory is achieved hand in hand with material defeat: McCarthy falls, but Paley marginalizes CBS’s informational programming. (I thought of Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea catching his fish only to see it eaten by sharks.)

The vivid but limited triumph of Good Night is its stylized rendition of the CBS News workplace. Thanks to Elswit’s photography and the set...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.