Race relations in Hollywood movies have a difficult history. From the early days of silent film, African-Americans were cast as caricatures that smacked of discrimination and racism. Sadly, Hollywood was comfortable with that until 1949 when a group of rouge artists made a small film called Home of the Brave, the first Hollywood movie to depict an African-American as a protagonist. The film stars my father, Jeff Corey in the role of Doc, Lloyd Bridges as Finch, and James Edwards, a talented African-American actor in the lead role of Moss.
Filming Home of the Brave was not easy. Afraid the studios would shut down production, the cover of my father’s script for Home of the Brave says High Noon. Dad told me this was done so the cast could go to the commissary for lunch and work on their parts without drawing attention to the film. The director, Mark Robeson, shot Home of the Brave in a rapid-fire thirty days to make certain all the footage was “in the can” before the studio could stop production. And in a rather remarkable and almost hard to believe act of misdirection, Stanley Kramer, the film’s the producer, told the studio bosses James Edwards had been hired as a janitor to clean the set.
These rouge film makers prevailed and when Home of the Brave was released, it was hailed as a masterpiece. Time Magazine called the film “Exciting!” Cosmopolitan wrote it as “Brilliant!” And Parents Magazine announced Home of the Brave was, “A must for everyone.” Even Walter Winchell, the conservative newspaper columnist weighed in when he wrote, “Home of the Brave fingerprints your conscience.”
The progressive thinking that contributed to the great reviews also made Home of the Brave a lightening rod for conservatives in Congress. Within two years of its box office success my father and Carl Foreman, the screenwriter, were both blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
For me personally, Home of the Brave played an important role in my childhood. Because of the blacklist there were absolutely zero paparazzi following my father around (all we got was the FBI at our door–but that’s for another post). But what did happen, over and over again was African-American men of all ages stopping my father on the street and saying, “Doc, I just want to shake your hand.” That was my introduction to my father’s celebrity–as a revered icon of the African-American community. Years later dad told me he wished Home of the Brave had gone even further and was concerned that some of the language in the film meant to reveal racism, was a bit too clichéd.
Yes, there are stilted parts of the film. Yes, there is an uncomfortable syntax to some of the dialogue. But when you view the film through the lens of what was going on in America in 1949 and the deep rivers of prejudice and Jim Crow that defined the African-American experience, Home of the Brave stands out as just that: brave.
Kudos to my father and all the brave artists who made this film.