Hollywood has always been a hotspot of venality, where the greatest creative fiction usually takes place in the bookkeeping department, and where producers buy red ink by the barrel for those creative endeavors. But in the old days it was also a place of a certain kind of courage, a courage—if you will—of conviction.
Sam Goldwyn used to put his own home up for collateral to finance many of his movies. Michael Todd sold his interest in his own company to finance Around the World in Eighty Days, and even so finished filming the movie in enormous debt; post-production was completed with bill-collectors literally beating on the doors.
And while it was the creative side of the industry (writers, directors, actors, and to a lesser extent producers) who reveled in political lampooning, no one can deny it took a certain amount of chutzpah in 1940 to release The Great Dictator, with Charlie Chaplin reducing audiences around the world to hysterical laughter with his contemptuous send-up of Adolph Hitler and (with his writing and Jack Oakie’s performance) of Benito Mussolini. Neither Mussolini nor Hitler—especially not Hitler—were known for their shrinking reticence for expressing dissatisfaction with bullets and murder.
Greta Garbo’s Ninotchka, released in 1939, wasn’t exactly a complimentary puff-piece about the Soviet Union or about Joseph Stalin, another man not noted for his mild restraint.
Ben Affleck’s Argo, while neither a satire nor comedic in any way (save for Alan Arkin’s great line: “If I’m gonna make a fake movie, its gonna be a fake hit.”) wasn’t exactly complimentary in its portrayal of Iran.
I’m sure there are many more satirical films that I haven’t seen, and still more that don’t qualify as risk-taking, having been made after dictators were dead, or because they poke fun at American presidents who rarely have movie makers executed. But I have never before heard of a film being canceled because of threats from a tin-pot, puff ball dictator in a minor league, fourth world regime on the other side of the globe. The first amendment has just officially been sacrificed to the loudest bully. And what a pathetic specimen at that.
Apparently the only person in Hollywood today with any balls at all is George Clooney.