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DEC. 2, 2016


Guilty by Suspicion is a movie that tells the story of that time, a story that even today
divides those who named names, and those who did not. In 1947 the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities began an investigation into Communism in Hollywood. Ten men who refused
to cooperate with the committee were tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison terms after the
Supreme Court refused to hear their case. Thereafter, no one called to testify, either in public or in
secret, could work unless he satisfied the committee by naming names of others thought to be
The story focuses on the life of one man, the fictional David Merrill, whose stellar career as
a golden boy movie director crashes to a halt in 1951, when he refuses to testify against his
friends before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The HUAC wanted more
than personal confessions. They wanted their witnesses to name names, to list people they had
seen at party meetings, or had heard were party members. Since this was hearsay evidence and the
committee usually knew the names anyway, this process did not really further the campaign against
subversion. Zanuck calls David to read a superb script he has waiting for the director. All he has to
do is testify before the House committee. For David, though, its a no-win situation: Even if he
takes the 5th Amendment, he still ends up guilty by suspicion.
When Merrill attempts to work on new film projects, he is stopped and told to go see a
lawyer. Apparently, he too has been accused of communist behavior. He is asked by the House on
Un-American Activities to tell about his time in France and to please tell the names of anyone there
who has been communist-related. Merrill refuses to give names of anyone else and decides to fight
against the accusations. He reunites with his wife and they take their case to court.
Finally, David is subpoenaed. He angrily states he will testify only about himself. Thousands
of lives were shattered and hundreds of careers destroyed by what came to be known as the
Hollywood blacklist. People like David and Ruth Merrill faced terms in prison, suffered the loss of
friends and possessions, and were denied the right to earn a living. They were forced to live this
way for almost 20 years. It was not until 1970 that these men and women were vindicated for
standing up -- at the greatest personal cost -- for their beliefs.
During his testimony, David admits attending Communist meetings and makes it clear that
he will only talk about himself and not the others who were involved. Because of this, he is thrown
in prison, along with the many other people in the industry who were prosecuted for the same thing.
Lots of people lost their houses, jobs, families and money to the accusations. Lives were ruined for
up to twenty years because of this. The committee of congressmen interrogating the suspects is
portrayed behind a strong wooden wall, above those they are questioning. They are portrayed as
mean, yelling men, who do not care for the truth. HUAC was able to act the way it did when
searching into Communist activities with the backing of the American public due to the strong
sentiment against Communism.
This movie was a good example of how evidence of conspiracy and presumption of
innocence works. As well as how to establish the presumption of guilt.
What got me is that people should not be considered merely guilty by suspicion, but are
innocent until proven guilty. The facts in issue are either (1) proved by the presentation of

testimonial, documentary or object evidence or the are (2) presumed. An assumption or conclusion
as to the existence of a fact based on another fact or group of facts which were already established.
These are based on human experience or common sense, or laws of nature.
Most all of this is brought out dramatically by various remarks the persecuted people make,
by showing how the blacklisting operated on David Merrill in great detail, by showing how the FBI
operated, by showing how it made the movie executives buckle under pressure, by showing people
falling apart and being divided by the pressures, by showing the effects of guilt by association, and
by showing the questions and rhetoric of the Committee itself.