AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Summary View of Movie
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Good Night, and Good Luck
Director: George Clooney (Dir)
Release Date:   7 Oct 2005
Duration (in mins):  90
Print this page
Display Movie Detail


Cast: David Strathairn  (Edward R. Murrow)
  George Clooney  (Fred Friendly)
  Robert Downey, Jr.  (Joe Wershba)
 

Summary: At a banquet on 25 October 1958, members of the Radio and Television News Directors Association honor reporter Edward R. Murrow. The emcee outlines Murrow’s many significant achievements, among them, his highly publicized fight with the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy. Murrow then takes the podium and, knowing that his words are controversial, warns his colleagues that television is becoming a means to distract, delude, amuse and insulate the public from important issues. Five years earlier, on 14 October 1953, Murrow is the host of a prime-time weekly CBS television news documentary series, See It Now . He is assisted by his partner, producer Fred Friendly, and a dedicated team of young reporters consisting of Joe Wershba, Don Hewitt, Palmer Williams, Jesse Zousmer, John Aaron, Charlie Mack and Eddie Scott. The newsroom is bustling with activity in preparation for upcoming broadcasts. Alone in the photocopy room is Joe and his colleague Shirley, whom he has married secretly against company rules regarding nepotism. They are discussing a loyalty oath the studio is pressuring employees to sign, when a co-worker, finding them alone together, cryptically tells the couple that some rules are meant to be broken. Soon after, Murrow, Friendly and the reporters meet to brainstorm potential topics for an upcoming show. After the meeting ends inconclusively, Murrow remains behind to show Friendly a news item from Detroit reporting how Milo Radulovich, a lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve, has been declared a poor security risk based on possibly false accusations that his father and sister are Communists. The lieutenant is being decommissioned without trial on charges contained in a sealed envelope that neither he nor his attorney is allowed to see. Believing that McCarthy, who is leading investigations to smoke out persons who might be involved in Communist activities, is behind Radulovich’s dismissal, Friendly sends Joe and Charlie to check out the story. A few days later, the news team views film footage shot by the reporters depicting Milo refusing to denounce his relatives in exchange for his Air Force commission. Despite opposition from two Army colonels and from Sig Mickelson, the head of the CBS news department who worries that the story is biased and will invite retribution from McCarthy, Murrow and Friendly decide to cover it and offer to pay for the episode themselves when Sig fears that the show’s sponsor, Alcoa, will back out. On 20 October, the Radulovich story is featured on See It Now . Before the show, Murrow waits at the desk on the crowded soundstage, while Friendly, holding a stopwatch, sits beside him on the floor out of the camera’s vision. In their usual manner, they banter in a dry-humored way, but both are anxiously aware of the risk they are taking by airing the story. During the show, Murrow explains Regulation 35-62, which names a person as a security risk, if he is in “close and continual contact” with Communist sympathizers. He explains that Radulovich’s loyalty has not been questioned and that “the son should not bear the sins of the father.” In conclusion, he reminds the audience that no one knows whether the accusations against Radulovich are based on hearsay or facts. Days later, the CBS late night news host, Don Hollenbeck, is distraught that he is being targeted by McCarthy’s cohorts. Soon after, Joe is presented with flimsy evidence that Murrow had previously been on the Soviet payroll. Although Murrow’s reputation remains unquestioned by everyone who knows him, William S. Paley, his longtime friend and chairman of CBS, worries that the studio will become McCarthy’s target. To protect Murrow, Friendly decides that McCarthy’s scare tactics should be featured in an upcoming show. When team members worry about the backlash, Murrow says they must do the show, because “terror is in this room.” On 9 March 1954, Paley calls Murrow prior to the show’s broadcast to give his blessing. Using film footage of McCarthy and the senator’s own quotes, Murrow highlights inadequacies in McCarthy’s investigations and eloquently points out that “dissent is not disloyalty,” nor is accusation proof, and that conviction must depend on solid evidence and due process. Gallantly, Murrow offers McCarthy the chance for rebuttal in a later show. After the show, reviews are mostly favorable, hailing the piece as a masterpiece of crusading journalism, and statistics disclose that the country is behind Murrow fifteen to one. However, one reviewer loyal to McCarthy accuses See It Now , CBS and Hollenbeck of Communist ties. A few weeks later, Murrow opens See It Now with a brief introduction and then, without comment, presents a film prepared by McCarthy. In his rebuttal, McCarthy does not address any of the issues Murrow had brought up, but spends his airtime making shallow accusations that Murrow is a Communist sympathizer. The following week, Murrow clearly denies the accusations made by McCarthy and concludes that McCarthy’s opinion is that anyone who opposes him is a Communist and, further, suggests that mature Americans can engage in conversation with Communists without conversion. In the ensuing weeks, the team is pleased to learn that Radulovich is being reinstated by the Air Force and that the Army is pressuring the Senate to investigate McCarthy. However, their joy is short-lived when Hollenbeck, unable to withstand numerous public accusations that he is disloyal to his country, commits suicide. Sig startles Joe and Shirley by telling them that everyone knows they are married and, after confiding that he must lay off personnel, asks one of them to quit voluntarily. Paley tells Friendly and Murrow that Alcoa has dropped their sponsorship. To make room for the entertainment and game shows that affiliates have been requesting, Paley moves See It Now to an irregular Sunday slot. In the hallway, Murrow and Friendly realize that, like McCarthy, they still have their jobs, but are in less prominent positions. They decide to make the best of it and produce a few episodes on hard-hitting, significant topics. Several years later, at the 1958 banquet, Murrow concludes his speech by pleading that television can occasionally provide educational programs. He says that, “This instrument can teach…illuminate…inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box.” 

Distribution Company: Warner Independent Films
Davis Films
Redbus Pictures
Tohokushinsha
Metropolitan Films
Production Company: Section Eight
2929 Entertainment
Participant Productions
Director: George Clooney (Dir)
  David Webb (1st asst dir)
  Melissa V. Barnes (2d asst dir)
  Richard Gonzales (2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Grant Heslov (Prod)
  Todd Wagner (Exec prod)
  Mark Cuban (Exec prod)
  Marc Butan (Exec prod)
  Jeff Skoll (Exec prod)
  Chris Salvaterra (Exec prod)
  Steven Soderbergh (Exec prod)
  Jennifer Fox (Exec prod)
  Ben Cosgrove (Exec prod)
  Samuel Hadida (Co-exec prod)
  Victor Hadida (Co-exec prod)
  Barbara A. Hall (Co-prod)
  Simon Franks (Co-prod)
  Zygi Kamasa (Co-prod)
  Kiyotaka Ninomiya (Co-prod)
Writer: George Clooney (Scr)
  Grant Heslov (Scr)

Subject Major: Communism
  Journalistic ethics
  Joseph McCarthy
  Edward R. Murrow
  Patriotism
  Senators
  Television news and information
  Television personalities
 
Subject Minor: Banquets
  CBS (Television network)
  Cigarettes
  Civil rights
  Dismissal (Employment)
  Evidence
  False accusations
  Family relationships
  Friendship
  Hearings
  Marriage--Secret
  William S. Paley
  Reporters
  Reputation
  Suicide
  Television commercials
  Television directors
  Television producers
  Television programs
  Television sponsors
  United States. Air Force
  United States. Congress Army--McCarthy Hearings

Display Movie Detail
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film

© 2014 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.