One critical episode in the incredible legacy of iconic journalist Edward R. Murrow takes form in this stylish George Clooney film. Shot in rich black-and-white, the look points to the available television technology and resembles the classic film noir detective stories of the 1940s and 1950s. That’s appropriate to both its subject matter and the period of time it portrays.
For anyone too young to have seen Murrow on television in the 1950s and 1960s, the film provides an amazing historical account of a pivotal time in 20th century America. If you ever saw Murrow when he was alive or watched any episodes of his See It Now series (Harvest of Shame comes to mind), you recognize that David Strathairn portrays Murrow with uncanny accuracy: the mannerisms, the speech pattern, the overall demeanor ring true.
We also see the business of television and realize that, much like today, it’s a business of trade-offs. For every documentary, news piece, or issue-oriented program Murrow and producer/colleague Fred Friendly (Clooney’s supporting actor role) produced — or wanted to — they had to do the 1950s version of Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood, the ratings-winning celebrity interviews known then as Person to Person.
Perhaps as important as the actors’ portrayals is the use of archival footage and historically accurate settings. In interviews promoting Good Night, and Good Luck., director-writer-actor George Clooney joked that many people — especially the younger ones — watching the film think the person portraying Senator Joseph R. McCarthy should be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award. In truth, all the clips of the Senator, who died in 1957, are of the man himself speaking on the Senate floor, in hearing rooms, and in public presentations. It’s the real thing, captured on kinescope, the film-based recording medium used for television back then. Actual archival footage of Murrow’s Person to Person interviews is also used, as are commercials for the products and companies that actually sponsored his CBS programs, including various brands of cigarettes and Alcoa Aluminum, among others.
I can also vouch for nature of the television production equipment, having worked with the same kind of gear in my undergraduate radio-television-film production program during the late 1960s. And among the many citations for film footage and other credits is a note that the equipment came from a company with the great-sounding name of History for Hire.
But none of this anecdotal film-history trivia is more important than what we see of Murrow, his CBS-TV producer Fred Friendly, the other CBS-TV reporters (one portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr.), the crew, Black Rock management (in the guise of Jeff Daniels and Frank Langella), and the situation itself. Screenwriters Clooney and Grant Heslov wisely use Murrow’s own words to remind us of the nature of freedom and democracy, along with the power of television, what it has been, and what it could be, for good or ill.
Cast: David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels,
Robert Downey, Jr., Frank Langella
Director: George Clooney
Theatrical release: 2005; available on DVD
Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos