By Miv Evans
This documentary isn’t the gripping spy thriller the filmmakers claim. Reenactments replace history and the narrator is the giggly 90-year-old widow of the film’s subject. It all seems pretty mundane until, unexpectedly, the little old lady’s facade is stripped away. Then it gets fascinating.
Ted Hall was an 18-year-old Harvard graduate when he was recruited to work on what was to become the world’s first atomic bomb. A year later, the fruits of US science were dropped onto Japan’s homeland and Hall did not approve. He claimed he secretly believed that a U.S. post-war monopoly of such a powerful weapon could lead to nuclear catastrophe. Two months later, he started passing key information about the bomb to the Soviet Union. In other words, a rich kid decided to save the world.
At the time, the president of the Soviet Union was Stalin. Hall had a world of rulers to choose from but decided to get into bed with a dictator who had famously executed a million of his own people. Why didn’t he head for a democratic country, such as the UK? They had just led the charge to eradicate that other well-known psychopath and their total execution of nationals was zero.
Not satisfied with having established himself as a traitor, Hall then went on to claim, in an old video recording, that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were innocent of the crime they were executed for. He and a friend acted alone. His excuse for not coming forward was that his wife talked him out of it. She told him that it wouldn’t help the Rosenbergs and would make their own lives ‘difficult.’ Perhaps that’s something she’d like to repeat to the Rosenberg’s sons who were orphaned when those switches got flicked. Having established herself and her husband as reprehensible, she then goes on to voice her disgust at the American people for celebrating the executions. She thought it was in very poor taste.
Joan Hall assassinates what’s left of her character by admitting she didn’t ever take her membership of the Communist Party seriously. The only thing she enjoyed was the social side. Apparently, the happy couple drove past the Rosenberg’s prison on their way to one of their parties on the night of the execution. That might seem bizarre but, as the self-proclaimed ‘compassionate spy’ said, it would have been tricky to explain their absence. Spoken like a true hero.
Directed by Steve James
Produced by Steve James, David Lindorff, Mark Mitten