#117) Point of Order (1964)
OR “The Schine-ing”
Directed by Emile de Antonio
Class of 1993
The Plot: Senator Joseph McCarthy, best known for his strong anti-Communist stance in the early 1950s, found himself in hot water in 1954 when the U.S. Army accused him of using his influence on the army in exchange for privileges for his former staff member, Pvt. G. David Schine. McCarthy claimed that the threat of Communism had subverted the U.S. Army, while Chief Counsel Joseph N. Welch questioned the Senator’s sense of decency. This film takes almost 200 hours of television footage of the landmark investigation hearings and condenses it to a lean representation of what went down.
Why It Matters: The NFR gives a brief overview of the film, and then throws out the word “obfuscation” like it’s the flippin’ SATs.
But Does It Really?: A major historical yes on this one, though I will admit the legacy is the original footage more than the film itself. This footage is important as a reminder that politics have always been infuriating and that just because someone’s loud doesn’t mean they are right. I am surprised (but also grateful) that the NFR didn’t include the entire televised hearings in their archives in lieu of this film. Not to give anyone any ideas. I still have to sit through “Greed” and “Empire”.
Everybody Gets One: Director Emile de Antonio was originally in the art world alongside the likes of Andy Warhol. It was during an attempt to distribute “Pull My Daisy” that he discovered filmmaking. Like “Point of Order” most of his films focus on American politics, except, of course, for “Painters Painting”.
Wow, That’s Dated: Phrases like “crackpot”, kinescope television, indoor pipe smoking, and flashbulbs. Perhaps most dated, the hearings were originally aired on the DuMont Network!
Take a Shot: This one actually makes a fun drinking game. This being a senate hearing and all, the phrase “point of order” comes up quite a bit.
Seriously, Oscars?: I’m not sure if this film ever got an L.A. release, but regardless, “Point of Order” didn’t get a Best Documentary nomination. Even if it had, that year’s winner “Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s World Without Sun” gives you a hint that the Academy wasn’t ready to revisit McCarthyism.
- The original poster calls this film “Point of Order!”, but the title in the film itself has no punctuation of any kind. What gives?
- The photo used for special counsel Ray Jenkins is that of a man who does not want his picture taken.
- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Joe McCarthy looks like Broderick Crawford and sounds like a Muppet.
- Look closely for Robert Kennedy in the background. Turns out Joseph Kennedy was a friend of McCarthy. This is where the bad blood between Robert and Roy Cohn started.
- Oh, what social media would have done to McCarthy and this entire hearing had it existed back then. But of course, that could have backfired and helped make McCarthy president for all I know.
- Wow, infiltration of homosexuals in our Air Force and Navy. Was not expecting that to come up back now. If only they had created “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
- Why does McCarthy keep saying he represents the Army? Am I missing something?
- Wow, McCarthy’s jokes just aren’t landing with this crowd. Read the room, Senator.
- Will someone please invent Photoshop so Welch doesn’t have to keep coming up with synonyms for “altered”?
- All I kept thinking throughout the film was “those poor stenographers”.
- The debate between McCarthy and Welch over the definition of the word “pixie” has more gay subtext than all of “Rope”.
- This is the second movie I’ve covered where Eisenhower is mentioned but never seen.
- Man, if you lived in Wisconsin in 1946 and you voted for this guy, you’ve got to be kicking yourself right about now.
- Did we ever figure out who gave McCarthy the fake J. Edgar Hoover letter? Or did McCarthy’s team just forge it themselves?
- Unsurprisingly, they changed the ending of the film. In real life, Senator Symington’s walkout on McCarthy happened about halfway through the hearings. The hearings concluded with McCarthy being cleared of any wrongdoing (not that it helped), but did declare some shenanigans from both McCarthy’s chief counsel Roy Cohn and the U.S. Army.
- Nine words; “At long last, have you no sense of decency?”
- McCarthy was eventually censured at the end of 1954. Not an impeachment, but not great either. McCarthy kept fighting Communism on the Senate floor, but his alcoholism cut his life short in 1957.
- Joseph Welch died not too long after the hearings, but did manage to play a judge in Otto Preminger’s “Anatomy of a Murder”.
- G. David Schine went on to be the executive producer on “The French Connection”. I’m not kidding, that actually happened.
- Roy Cohn’s legal career took off after this, but he is perhaps best remembered for his fictional portrayal in “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes”.
- As for the film itself, “Point of Order” was re-edited for television in the ‘70s. A new introduction by Paul Newman was filmed, and the movie was retitled “McCarthy: Death of a Witch Hunter”.
Further Viewing: The 1977 TV movie “Tail Gunner Joe” covers all of McCarthy’s highs and lows, and also recreates several key moments from the Army-McCarthy hearings. Peter Boyle plays McCarthy here, and Welch is played by Burgess Meredith who, coincidentally (or maybe not), was blacklisted during McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunt of the early ‘50s. Emilio de Antonio did not speak highly of this film.