» » Point of Order! (1964)

Short summary

Point of Order is compiled from TV footage of the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings, in which the Army accused Senator McCarthy of improperly pressuring the Army for special privileges for Private David Schine, formerly of McCarthy's investigative staff. McCarthy accused the Army of holding Schine hostage to keep him from searching for Communists in the Army. These hearings resulted in McCarthy's eventual censure for conduct unbecoming a senator.

User reviews

  • comment
    • Author: Budar
    Documentarian Emile De Antonio dug aging ABC TV film footage of the 1954 Army McCarthy Hearings from a warehouse. Kinescopes are created by recording live images from a TV monitor. Early TV heritage is preserved on this primitive film. De Antonio simply edited the film. The 93minute Point of Order was released in 1963. It is the watch phrase of an ambitious and drunken Joe McCarthy, bound for glory.

    Seeing these creaky black and white kinescopes from 1954, summons memories of American Politics back then. I was nine then, but the drama of the hearings would have been apparent to a six year old. Americans were innocents then about TV.

    It was the last year the GOP held control of both houses of Congress. The Army McCarthy hearings signaled the decline of the the Congressional GOP for the next four decades. Looking back the groundwork for undoing Joe McCarthy was laid before the hearings even began.

    Karl Mundt of S. Dakota (Rep) Chaired the Hearings in front of the Armed Services Committee. Joe and Chief Counsel Roy Cohn could abuse or amuse, at will, in Joe's subcommittee. But Eisenhower, the Press, Joe's own party, were colluding to stage the Hearings on a level playing field.

    ABC ran the McCarthy hearings live mornings and afternoons when the networks were dark and they had no programming to show. The TV network founded by Leonard Goldenson from the ashes of the NBC Blue Radio network, was the smallest of them.

    There were no commercials. The broadcast was run on a sustaining basis, without ads.

    CBS and NBC joined ABC the next day. The Hearings were gathering a substantial audience. The daily Army Hearings quickly became the first riveting live news event of the TV age.

    In 1954, there was almost no live TV news. Only two network newscasts, John Cameron Swayze's Camel Caravan on NBC and Douglas Edwards and the News on CBS ran for only 15 minutes.

    Joseph Welch, the Army Counsel, a Boston trial lawyer, cast himself as the fair-haired country boy of the Hearings. Welch wasn't going to play the rube though. Roy Cohn and Joe McCarthy would be the foils of this TV show.

    McCarthy would drone on in a deadening monolithic style, a manner whose subtext Welch quickly read. The Boston Barrister focused his disarming persona on the soft underbelly of the McCarthy style with devastating effect.

    Welch showed he could readily switch from hayseed to moralist on a dime. The lawyer had watched Henry Fonda's Abe Lincoln in John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln too many times. Welch's homespun, Abe-like discourse would dominate the Hearings.

    Despite Welch's seeming lack of charisma, he was as spellbinding a figure on 1954 television as any pro working in the medium of Milton Berle, Bishop Sheen and Buffalo Bob Smith.

    Used to conducting hearings in the drab public affairs nether world of the newspaper-driven fifties, McCarthy didn't catch on to the Welch Style, understand it or try to adapt to it.

    Joseph Welch was eating McCarthy and Cohn alive any time he felt like it. Senators Scoop Jackson, Karl Mundt and others were at a loss for words amidst the dramatics of those 36 days. Only Missouri democrat Stuart Symington was able to capture some of the method of the balding Boston lawyer in the last sessions.

    When events presented themselves, Welch would virtually take over the Hearings, outwitting committee members, witnesses, undoing or green-lighting exhibit presentations, thwarting and disturbing the tired theatrics of McCarthy and Cohn. Point of Order is a dazzling TV spectacular with a single spellbinder at its center, a master of a medium he had no experience of.

    As the Hearings ground to a close, Cohn and McCarthy were resigned to their tragedy. Each exchange with Welch found the two men's noses bloodied once again. Joe and Roy belatedly recognized themselves as bit players in Welch's Great Political Soap Opera. The Two knew toward the end they were powerless to prevent impending doom. You could see the despair etched in their faces.

    The old tapes are now History. Welch seems an unlikely choice as Counsel for a stodgy Army. McCarthy and Cohn, charged with explaining why Private David Schine should be permanently furloughed from the Army to work with the Communist-Hunting McCarthy, were drunk with power. But it seems like a nobrainer that the Army should win. Fear of the Communist Menace turned common sense on its head during the four years Joe McCarthy rose and spectacularly fell. Maybe it is more like now than many today are willing to admit.

    The next year, two playwrights captured the essence of Counselor Welch in a new play. A Welch-like Clarence Darrow character was pitted against an orator and moralist modeled on William Jennings Bryan in Inherit the Wind, based on the 1927 Scopes Trial. The Darrow Spencer Tracy portrayed in the 1960 movie would incorporate both aspects of the Welch persona

    In 1956 the first half hour nightly newscast with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley premiered on NBC and became a roaring success. In 1957 Joe McCarthy died of acute cirrhosis. Cohn would become a successful lawyer himself. He died of AIDs in the late eighties. McCarthy's other subcommittee counsel Bobby Kennedy and his brother Jack would learn from Welch. The brothers and their rogue father Joe Kennedy had been disciples of McCarthy the Witch Hunter. They were likely dismayed at the outcome of the Hearings but impressed by the Welch Performance. The Kennedys would find ways to bottle his magic and transform American Politics, Culture and Public Affairs after 1960. You could argue that the genie-in-a-bottle Welch uncorked in those grainy TV hearings long ago transformed American life.
  • comment
    • Author: Talrajas
    The best thing about this documentary is that there is no narration, there is no commentary; clips of the Army-McCarthy hearings that finally brought an end to Joseph McCarthy and his era of bully politics that destroyed so many American lives. There are arguments both pro and con re: McCarthy and his basic premise (that Communists had infiltrated Hollywood and the American government, indeed, all the way to the Executive Branch). He may have had a valid point at one time or another, but it quickly became overshadowed by his ego and insatiable appetite for power.

    Sound like anyone we've seen recently in Washington? I recommend viewing this riveting film as it is not partisan - it is McCarthy in all his egomaniacal ranting and raving against those who stood by their personal beliefs and held firm in their convictions that the Constitution of the United States of America would forever be their guide.
  • comment
    • Author: Made-with-Love
    I saw this in 1964 when it was originally released. I waited so long to see it again. Like most good documentaries it focuses on a small theme. The power of this movie comes mainly from its inherent defense against accusations of biased reporting of events, peoples' facial expressions and appearances, words taken out of context and revisionist history. This power was due entirely to the fact that there was no script, no actors, no makeup artists, no retakes and special effects. This movie was cinema veritae. Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Ray Welsch and all the others shown were themselves speaking their thoughts and feelings without varnish.

    For those who wondered how Hitler ascended to power, between McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover, it could have happened here, Those of us who understand this have a special obligation to protect this country for those who don't see, can't see or don't care. Freedom is very vulnerable. The movie demonstrated this.
  • comment
    • Author: Brialelis
    Roy Cohn keeps popping up in American culture, from his fictionalized roles in "ANGELS IN America"-- as interpreted by Al Pacino (actor), Tony Kushner (playwrite), and Mike Nichols (director) --and Kurt Vonnegut's "JAILBIRD," to his actual deeds as documented by the likes of Emile de Antonio here in "POINT OF ORDER." Although there have been some attempts to put Cohn in perspective-- Frank Pierson's awful HBO film, "CITIZEN COHN," comes to mind (with James Woods' cartoon performance), I believe we've yet to see anything approaching a definitive look at him and his legacy.

    As for McCarthy and McCarthyism, "POINT OF ORDER" stands as an excellent non-fiction introduction to the beginning of their ends. It's great drama, and it's full of truth. And that is all. "POINT OF ORDER" is where one can start, yet not where one may find real answers.
  • comment
    • Author: Ximathewi
    This is a phenomenal work! It cuts thru the chaff of the hearings and gives the "good stuff", almost like a Cliff's notes. It could stand an updating, the graphics are typical for the time period, and at times it is difficult to see how is talking, but it is truly awesome, it will suck you in immediately. It is amazing to see these guys go back and forth. Look for a young RFK in the background...
  • comment
    • Author: Shliffiana
    This is a fascinating behind the scenes look at a hearing that lead to the censure of Senator McCarthy. Taken from clips of TV footage in 1954, it shows what kind of an evil person the senator truly was. What he did to many people during the Communist hunt of the late 40's and early 50's was no different to what Adolf Hitler was planning to do in World War 2. Its interesting that Point of Order(1964) was re-released during the whole Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinski trials and there are some things that parallel each other. Unfortuantely for many people whose families and lives were destroyed by the Senator, his being Censured came too little too late. Its funny to see McCarthy try to accuse members of the army of being Communist backers. Point of Order(1964) as with Luis Bunuel's Land Without Bread(1930) were two of the most important documentaires to be produced in the 20th Century. Robert F. Kennedy can be seen in the background while the hearing was going on.
  • comment
    • Author: Endieyab
    This 1963 film is reminiscent of another hearing we all may be familiar with - can you say Monica?

    This documentary is a fascinating ride into the mind of American anti-hero Joseph McCarthy and his rivals in the Senate as he defends his (then closeted gay) staff member from accusations of improprieties in the televised Senate committee hearings.

    The amazing thing is McCarthy's stupidity and arrogance in his presentation and his use of red herrings to get back to his "agenda". There are open laughs and applause at moments that show McCarthy's loss of power, culminating in the famous "senator, have you no sense of decency" comment by Mr. Welch.

    The style is a bit dated - geez, it was just an assembly of clips - but it tells a story that this writer missed in his civics class. It's a must see for anyone interested in American politics, and it is especially interesting to students of political scandal.
  • comment
    • Author: romrom
    Without narration, this documentary presents audio-visual excerpts from the famous Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954. The televised hearings were significant in that they brought to light the mean-spirited, and unfounded, accusations of an American demagogue, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, a man who claimed that certain individuals, both in the U.S. Army and elsewhere in American government, were Communist spies.

    What is glaringly obvious, from this documentary, is that McCarthy had no evidence. He and his chief counsel, Roy Cohn, accused, implicated, vilified, and pointed fingers. And the political climate in the 1950s was such that even these accusations were enough to destroy the careers and lives of many individuals. McCarthy, an ambitious politician, used fear as a weapon, which contributed to unwarranted suspicion during the Cold War.

    The hearings are theatrical, Shakespearean drama, in part. Several times, impassioned speeches are made. At other times, the proceedings are laughably petty, like when the committee examines a photograph of Army Private David Schine (pronounced Shine). The subtext during this segment is that David Schine and Roy Cohn had some sort of homosexual relationship, an ironic development, given that Cohn and McCarthy, as political Conservatives, would be just as hostile to homosexuals as to Communists.

    One might think that "Point Of Order" would be dry and boring. But the political atmosphere was so charged, so on-edge, that the viewer can easily discern the tension, the fear, and the anxiety of people who had no idea how these events would play out.

    McCarthy probably thought these hearings would be a stepping stone en route to the White House. Instead, the camera, as hero, revealed to the American people that McCarthy was a fear monger. Television was his downfall. And the overall message of "Point Of Order" is that enhanced communications technology, in this case television, can be used to thwart the plans of would-be dictators and tyrants.

    Today, money has corrupted television. But communications technology continues to evolve, and the internet now functions as a medium that shines lights into dark corners, as television did fifty years ago.
  • comment
    • Author: Jugami
    "Point of Order" is an example of a modern-day Eisenstein. It took material from the recesses of American history, recombined and made a film with complete sense, albeit weighted against McCarthy. It is an excellent piece of work but then it shows quite well how evidence reassembled can make someone seem guilty. That is the virtuosity of the filmmaker.

    Unlike one of the reviewers, I think that McCarthy was a monster, a publicity-seeking man out of control who thought absolutely nothing about the lives he ruined or attempted to ruin, however, falsely but I'm begging the issue here. The film is marvelously well put together and de Antonio possesses remarkable technique to make things seem "alive". Again it's easy to see things in black and white ideologically but the film within itself is impeccable.
  • comment
    • Author: Dagdalas
    "Have you ever heard of the Venona Project?" Yes, i have. Have you ever actually compared those named by Venona with those accused by McCarthy, or did you accept what many authors write without double checking? I've been attempting to do just that.

    I know, I've read many articles saying "are showing that McCarthy was right in nearly all his accusations.", but I'm looking for specifics.

    I'm using a "List_of_Americans_in_the_Venona_papers" (from that on-line encyclopedia this thing doesn't like the name of) If someone wants to add or subtract from that list, i welcome it. I see Lattimore mentioned on some sites, but he wasn't identified by Venona.

    Looking at lists put together by McCarthy supporter websites there are two who were accused by McCarthy also identified by Venona, Mary Jane Keeney (accused of being a Communist by McCarthy in 1950; Venona and other evidence indicates Soviet espionage activity) and Lauchlin Currie (Briefly mentioned by McCarthy in 1951). A third, Annie Lee Moss, implicated by other evidence (Later evidence indicates her name was on CPUSA membership list.) Some of the names listed (such as the Rosenbergs) were identified by Venona, but weren't among those who McCarthy identified.

    Some names on the accused list people might recognize as left-wingers, but they were not identified by Venona, but sources i found said there is no evidence they were communists: Edward Murrow, John Garfield, Charlie Chaplin. Arthur Miller, i guess you could count him as one of McCarthy great finds, as he admitted in his autobiography of going to a few meetings. But he wasn't named as a spy by Venona.

    The book by Arthur Herman "Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator" is mentioned by McCarthy supporters. Reviews of that book indicate it is a balanced history, hardly exonerating McCarthy. One reviewer writes "Rather than trying to rehabilitate McCarthy, Herman is at pains to demonstrate McCarthy's mendacity, sloppiness in making allegations and his many other flaws on nearly every page."

    I'd like to provide links, but not allowed here i guess.
  • comment
    • Author: Dori
    Emile De Antonio assembled "Point of Order" from old TV kinescopes, taken during what have become known as the "Army-McCarthy" Hearings of 1954( the Hearings lasted 36 days and took up 187 hours of broadcast airtime).There is no narration and those with little knowledge of what these Hearings were about,may wonder what is going on.Here we have the Senate Permanent Sub Committee on Investigations(the PSI),chaired by Senator Karl Mundt,looking into the charge that Senator Joseph McCarthy and his staff-especially chief council Roy Cohn(Schine's close friend),had tried to use their influence to get the Army to grant "favours" to G.David Schine,a wealthy young man on the Committee staff, who had been drafted,and was a special friend of Cohn.The Army had brought these charges in response to Senator McCarthy's allegations of serious Army security risks-specifically at Fort Monmouth,New Jersey.McCarthy had been Chairman of this Committee, but stepped down,being replaced by Mundt for this investigation,as McCarthy was personally involved in the allegations.One important aspect of "Point of order"(the title taken from Mc Carthy's frequent interruptions-the phrase becoming a comedians joke-further undermining the Senator's reputation),is that the left wing De Antonio has edited it to show McCarthy in the worst light possible.There are a lot of omissions of material necessary to comprehend the charges and counter charges between the McCarthy camp and the Army(in the version I saw,David Schine's appearance at the Hearings was absent!)The Joe McCarthy we see here is a man who was beginning to disintegrate-years of controversy and pressure led to his increasing reliance on the alcohol which would eventually kill him.He was ill,suffering constant headaches and sinus problems,he looks bloated,and the serious gaffs he makes may be attributable to his heavy drinking and poor health.The most famous of these is his blurting out the name of attorney Fred Fisher as a member of the Lawyer's Guild(a communist front)-giving Fisher's boss,Army council Joseph Welch his chance to tear into McCarthy with his famous "Have you no sense of decency,sir?" speech.Many see this moment as the vital one-where McCarthy was shown up,exposed and humiliated on camera before the American people,leading on to the final blow which finished him soon after,his censure by the Senate.Whatever ones views on McCarthy,the exchange between wily old Joe Welch and Joe McCarthy-who rumbles on,seemingly oblivious to the damage he is doing to himself,is a riveting piece of real life drama.The final report of the Committee found that pressure had been put on the Army on Schine's behalf by Roy Cohn and others,with McCarthy's assistance(McCarthy,who couldn't have cared less about Schine,thought so highly of Cohn he allowed himself to be pulled down into disaster by him),but the Army chiefs had been guilty of pandering to it,and of obstructing the Fort Monmouth investigations.You will not find this out from "Point of Order",which ends with the scene of people filing out of the Committee room at the conclusion of the Hearings-McCarthy sitting at the table seemingly ignored and abandoned.

    The truth about McCarthy is that he was a complex,intelligent,personally kind and affable man,who loved the limelight and the bottle,had a volatile temper and did have frequent serious lapses of judgement-but he was not the one dimensional ogre who persecuted "innocent" people by calling them "communists" of historical myth.Time has largely vindicated McCarthy and the anti-communist investigators,with the opening of the U.S.and Soviet archives,which detail the enormous levels of infiltration by Moscow's agents into crucial positions in the U.S.That McCarthy and his allies were more correct than wrong has yet to change the "red-baiting" myth,and salvage the reputation of the most famous "Witch-hunter" of them all.Emile De Antonio's film remains the most accessible picture of McCarthy-and he's at his worst,serving to perpetuate the image of "Tail Gunner Joe" as an irresponsible overbearing villain.
  • comment
    • Author: Usaxma
    In 1954, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations under the temporary chairmanship of Senator Karl Mundt of South Dakota, held hearings to investigate conflicting accusations between the U.S. Army and Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. Televised live by ABC without analysis or narration, the hearings lasted 36 days and generated dramatic confrontations between Senator McCarthy and Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri, and especially the Army's counsel, Joseph N. Welch of Boston. The Army had charged that McCarthy and his staff, especially chief council Roy Cohn, had used undue influence to try and obtain special favors for Private G. David Schine, a member of his committee and friend of Cohn.

    McCarthy counter charged that the Army's charges were a smoke screen designed to thwart McCarthy's investigation of alleged subversives at the Army base at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. The dramatic highlights of the hearings, the first government hearings to be televised live, are captured in Emile de Antonio's documentary Point of Order. While a one and a half hour film cannot do justice to a hearing that lasted more than two hundred hours, what is captured is great political theater that should be required viewing for anyone who does not fully understand the danger of an unprincipled demagogue.

    The key moment of the hearing, of course, was the final confrontation between Welch and McCarthy over whether or not a young attorney on Welch's staff, Fred Fisher, was a member of The Lawyer's Guild, an organization that had been labeled as a Communist front.

    The moment came and went and the hearings continued, yet it was patently clear for anyone with their eyes open, that McCarthy had been severely wounded by the exchange with Welch. He was destroyed not by threats or bombast but by a gentle man with a rapier wit and an active conscience who was not afraid to stand up to a bully when other shrank away. It was a moment of truth that stands as one of the seminal moments in American politics of the 20th Century.
  • comment
    • Author: Zavevidi
    Apparently the DVD's as of 2012 are expensive to obtain. My used one ran 50 bucks. Anyway, this is a slice of history that riveted the nation in those early days of coast-to-coast TV. Reviewer Mike Rice does a good job of filling in the background, so there's no need to repeat it here.

    The documentary is an edited version of the 1954 senate hearings. On the whole, editing is to film footage what the eraser is to penciled composition. In short, astute editing can be used to create many, sometimes incompatible, effects. Now, I have no reason to believe editing was used here to skew any particular effect, but its potential for mischief is well to keep in mind.

    Maybe it's my seven decades of breathing, but I did have some trouble following the narrative, and could have used some helpful bridges (a voice-over or graphics) to flesh out better continuity, especially when the topic of the Hearings changes. But whatever the difficulty, the legal fencing between experts is fascinating to watch. Note, for example, how no one on either side responds with a simple yes or no.

    Naturally, most viewers approach the material with their own political pre-conceptions. I have mine, still I want to venture several observations not rooted, I believe, in my politics. Firstly, I don't recall seeing clips of McCarthy smiling before; here he at times appears almost affable, contrary to his usual sour image. Secondly, Welch is one eloquent attorney who really knows how to think on his feet. The usual brief clips of "Have you no sense of decency" only hint at those abilities. Then too, he's so unprepossessing looking you don't expect him to dominate the way he sometimes does. Lastly, I'd really like to know who concocted that phony letter from Hoover, along with the cropped photo. I may have missed something, but I don't believe those questions are resolved in the footage.

    Be that as it may, Point of Order is real life dramatics at its most fascinating and remains an important slice of post-war history, from which the junior senator from Wisconsin never really recovered.
  • comment
    • Author: Arar
    I agree with a previous commentor that this should be required viewing for all American students but for very different reasons. This person commented that "... Communists had infiltrated Hollywood and the American government, indeed, all the way to the Executive Branch." But this was never McCarthy's goal, that is, to rid America of Communist. Actually, the problem was not communism as much as it was Soviet spies. Now I know the liberal lie is different but ask yourself this question. Have you ever heard of the Venona Project? No, you haven't? That's sad! Why? Because the Venona Project was a military intelligent project that succeeded in decrypting Soviet spy messages to agents with the United States government and Hollywood.

    McCarthy was neither an "evil person", an "American anti-hero", nor were "families and lives ... destroyed." If you get a chance to read and follow the research of Ann Coulter's "Treason" you'll see what I'm talking about. But I doubt that most liberals will. That fact is that this film is very "riveting" is not in question. But it is very "partisan", especially after you read about Alger Hiss (confirmed Soviet Spy who's life was hardly ruined) have the ear of the President of the United States. Here's a tip, please review this film and then read about Whittaker Chambers (informant who was slandered as being a "faggot"), Alger Hiss (Soviet spy), Julius Rosenberg (Soviet spy), Laurence Duggan (Soviet spy), Harry Dexter White (Soviet spy), The Hollywood Ten (Soviet spies).
  • Credited cast:
    Roy M. Cohn Roy M. Cohn - Himself (archive footage)
    Joseph McCarthy Joseph McCarthy - Himself (archive footage)
    John L. McClellan John L. McClellan - Himself - U.S. Senator, Arkansas (archive footage)
    Karl E. Mundt Karl E. Mundt - Himself (archive footage) (as Sen. Karl E. Mundt)
    G. David Schine G. David Schine - Himself (archive footage) (as Pvt. G. David Schine)
    Stuart Symington Stuart Symington - Himself - U.S. Senator, Missouri (archive footage)
    Joseph N. Welch Joseph N. Welch - Himself (archive footage)
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