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Film / Reds (1981)

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It won 3 Oscars in the end.

Reds is a 1981 American epic film that was co-written, produced, directed by and starred Warren Beatty. It centers on the life and career of John "Jack" Reed, the revolutionary communist, journalist, and writer who chronicled the Russian Revolution in his book Ten Days that Shook the World. Beatty stars in the lead role alongside Diane Keaton, who plays Reed's wife Louise Bryant, Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neill, and Maureen Stapleton as Emma Goldman. Stephen Sondheim composed music for the film.

The first half of the film chronicles the early life of Reed and Bryant, their often troubling relationship, and their experiences reporting on the Communist revolution in Russia. The second part of the film takes place shortly after the publication of Ten Days. Inspired by the idealism of the Revolution, Reed attempts to bring the spirit of Communism to the United States, because he is disillusioned with the policies imposed upon Communist Russia by Grigory Zinoviev and the Bolsheviks.

The most significant aspect of the film is a documentary enhancement — interviews with a number of venerable "witnesses", who may have known Reed, whose recollections of the period help to set the scene, bridge transitions and preserve a touching human perspective of these times. To gain perspective on the lives of Reed and Bryant, Beatty began filming the "witnesses" as early as 1971. Some of them are very well known, others less so. It is also noted, on a side note that this movie was released as a sympathetic portrait of a well-known American communist (though it does point out Reed's flaws instead of bordering on Historical Hero Upgrade) in the very same year that Republican Ronald Reagan became president.note 

The cast has a host of well-known actors in small parts. Paul Sorvino plays Louis Fraina, another American Communist. Gene Hackman pops up in two scenes as Reed's editor. M. Emmet Walsh plays the bellicose speaker at the Liberal Club meeting. Edward Herrmann plays Max Eastman. William Daniels plays Julius Gerber, the guy with the megaphone who tries to kick Reed and the commies out of the Socialist Party.

The film was released on December 4, 1981 to critical acclaim. Despite its political subject matter and limited promotion (mostly by Beatty himself), the film became the tenth highest grossing picture of 1981, taking in $50,000,000 in the United States.

Beatty won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film. Reds was also nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Chariots of Fire. Beatty and Diane Keaton were nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress, but lost to Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond.

In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten Top Ten" — the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres — after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Reds was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the epic genre.


  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: The real reason for Louise taking up with Eugene, her Ethical Slut free love talk notwithstanding. She has her affair with O'Neill while Reed is away covering the 1916 Democratic convention. She approaches O'Neill again after Reed goes to Russia only for him to reject her.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": An example of this with Louise's terrible acting in one of Eugene O'Neill's plays. In general, Diane Keaton, who plays Louise, is the master of this trope.
  • Brick Joke: On the train to Russia, one of the first Russian phrases Reed learns from a revolutionary is "After the revolution, I will buy you a new hat." Later, as they witness the Bolsheviks take power, Reed takes the revolutionary's hat, flings it to a chandelier, and immediately replaces it with a new one.
  • Call-Back: Early in his career, Reed does a Rage Quit, crying out "You don't rewrite what I wrote!" when his editor revises an article Reed wrote about the IWW. Near the end of the movie, Reed says the exact same thing when Zinoviev revises a speech Reed gave in Baku.
  • Call-Forward: Louise tells John that the feds are organizing a "bureau of investigation" to hunt out leftists. This, of course, would become the FBI.
  • The Cameo: George Plimpton is in a couple of scenes as a publisher who wants sex with Louise. Gene Hackman has two scenes as Pete Van Wherry, one of Reed's magazine editors.
  • Conversation Cut: John and Louise are exchanging presents at Christmas. He opens a box to reveal a dog. She laughs and says "Oh God, I swear—", cut to Emma Goldman at a socialist rally saying "—that we love America."
  • Da Editor: Pete Van Wherry clashes with Reed. Pete doesn't like his sympathy with the overtly communist IWW.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Reed and Bryant do in fact have a dog named "Dog", and Louise says they have to come up with a real name. A later scene reveals that they eventually named the dog Jessie.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Reed is a guest at a rah-rah patriotic American club in 1914. After a bellicose speech encouraging American involvement in the Great War, the speaker turns to Reed and asks him what he thinks the war is about. Reed answers "Profits," and with one word is marked as an iconoclast and a leftist.
  • Ethical Slut: Louise Bryant becomes one after Reed turns her on to his free love philosophy. For a time, she becomes kind of fundamentalist about it, and Eugene O'Neill makes fun of her about it during their affair. Both she and Jack have trouble remaining true to their slut-ethics over the course of the film, with their jealousy periodically causing one or the other to break off their relationship.
  • Foreign Correspondent: John Reed, radical left-wing journalist, who goes to Russia to cover Red October and the Russian Civil War.
  • A Friend in Need: Even though O'Neill has no use for Reed's politics (and is in love with Bryant besides), he offers to go to Finland to try and arrange for Reed's release from a Soviet prison because, as he says, "Jack Reed's a friend of mine. I'm not going to let him rot in jail."
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Hinted at towards the end. "If Bolshevism means the peasants taking the land, the workers taking the factories, then Russia's one place where there is no Bolshevism," says anarchist Emma Goldman. Reed, however, maintains faith in the Bolshevik cause to the end, pointing out that the absence of stable institutions in Russia and the poor quality of education of the peasants would mean that there would need to be centralization by the Revolutionary elite in order to bring any sort of modernisation.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Reed starts looking tired and sweaty towards the end, but when he starts coughing, you know he's a goner.
  • Intermission: Once considered necessary for films that topped three hours. In fact, this was one of the last Hollywood films to have an intermission.
  • Love Triangle: A messy one between Reed, Bryant, and O'Neill.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Reed first asks Louise to join him in New York so they can write together, she wants him to define their relationship by asking him "What as?" Right before Reed dies with Louise by his side, he asks her the same question, and answers for the both of them: "Comrades?"
  • Mood Whiplash: On a train headed to Russia, Reed and Bryant are entertained by an old revolutionary who's endlessly cracking jokes. Then they stop at a border crossing, and they see horribly maimed Russian soldiers.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Louise calls Eugene out for being a cynical man overseeing everything from above who hasn't done anything.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: In the argument between Jack Reed and Emma Goldman, this is a Discussed Trope. Goldman feels the Bolsheviks have become so murderous that they are no longer worth supporting. Reed responds by accusing Goldman of having an unrealistically idealized view of revolution.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The movie does explain very well why many radicals, initially, looked at the Russian Revolution positively. Louise Bryant pointed out that in the Soviet Union, women would be given voting rights which would not yet be a reality in America until 1920. Likewise, Lenin kept his promise to bring Russia out of World War I when she noted that President Wilson promised that America would not enter that war.
  • Rule-Abiding Rebel: The communist protagonists regard the AFL (that is, the American Federation of Labor) as such, preferring the radical IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, commonly nicknamed "Wobblies," although this term is never used in the film). Later on, the Socialist Party leadership fulfills this trope when they expel Reed and his allies for being too radical.
    Reed: Those people upstairs [the Socialist Party] think that Karl Marx was somebody who wrote a good anti-trust law.
  • State Sec: The government spooks that follow Louise Bryant around. Eventually they descend upon the house with a warrant for Reed's arrest for subversion, only to find that he has already left for Russia.
  • Talking Heads: The most unique thing about the film is the use of the "Witnesses", people who knew the real Bryant and Reed, sharing their memories in Talking Heads documentary style.
  • There Is Only One Bed: Jack and Louise face this dilemma in their Petrograd apartment. Although they're married at this point, their relationship is on the outs. Jack immediately decides to take the couch.
  • Title Drop: Pete says that the members of the IWW are a bunch of "reds". Later when Reed and some of his fellow commies are sitting in a jail cell, a rather crusty fellow prisoner says "You're a bunch of reds, aren't you?"
  • Tough Room: While the jokes the old revolutionary tells to Jack and Louise on the train make Louise laugh every time, when Jack tells a joke of his own - about a midget who applies to be a logger who says he worked in the Sahara Forest, and when the man hiring corrects him that it's the Sahara Desert, the midget replies, "Not after I got through with it" - neither Louise nor the old revolutionary laugh.
  • Translation with an Agenda: In order to better motivate a crowd of Muslims, Zinoviev uses this trope to replace Reed's call to class war with a call to jihad.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The eternal problem of the left. In one scene Reed and his allies are kicked out of a Socialist Party convention. They assemble in the basement of the convention hall to proclaim a Communist Party for America, only to be confronted by Louis Fraina (Paul Sorvino) who has proclaimed an entirely different splinter Communist Party and demands Reed's allegiance. Reed goes to Russia to get his Communist Party declared the official one for the USA, only for the Genre Savvy Bolsheviks to tell him that his party and Fraina's party have to merge.

Alternative Title(s): Reds


Dual Communist Parties

Jack Reed and Louis Fraina form rival communist parties

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / WeAREStrugglingTogether

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