In March of 1954, broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow, took Senator Joseph McCarthy head on and investigative broadcast journalism in a new direction.Fifty years later, George Clooney in his second film for him to sit in the director’s chair, tells this story in his film Good Night, and Good Luck, which was nominated for six Oscars. Filmed in black and white through wisps of cigarette smoke, and using real footage of McCarthy, Good Night, and Good Luck is both stunning and evocative.
As far as period correctness goes, the film is virtually flawless. From clothing to typewriters to the hair dryer in the make-up room, Good Night and Good Luck is near perfect with the exception of one rather bad historical inaccuracy, and one understandable and common error. The first, and worst, error is in the very beginning. The film opens with Murrow’s famous “Wires and Lights In a Box” speech, which was given at a Radio and Television News Directors Association dinner. In the film, the date of the dinner is 25th of October, 1958. In reality, the date was really 15th of October, 1958. What I don’t understand is how such an error could be made, especially since the script, which is provided in the book Good Night, and Good Luck. The Screenplay and History Behind the Landmark Movie, gives the correct date of the 15th. An understandable error is seen in the Warshba bathroom while Shirley is getting ready. A three prong outlet is seen, however these were not yet used in households yet.
There are other historical inaccuracies, ones which I believe to be deliberate, and understandably so. During the course the film takes place, CBS newsman Don Hollenbeck committed suicide by turing on his gas stove and oven. In the film, Hollenbeck is seen in his chair, wearing a button down shirt, and presumably wearing the rest of his work attire as the the gas fills his apartment. However, in reality, Hollenbeck performed his suicide in his bathrobe and boxers. I think this change was to offer some dignity to Hollenbeck who was a continuous victim of columnist Jack O’Brian. Additionally, the death occurred two months after the date presented in the film. George Clooney admitted to “telescoping” (moving around dates for dramatic purposes) this moment in the film’s commentary. The other change is that of the “Wires and Lights in a Box” speech. Much of it was edited, and left portions out. The film version, I must admit, is much more dramatic. The full text of the speech can be found here.
I commend Clooney and Grant Heslov for doing their research and involving those who were there working with Murrow and asking them what happened during those times when there was no documentation of what occurred. Both Joe and Shirley Wershba are still alive, and Clooney and Heslov used them, as well as Milo Radulovich. Fred Friendly’s son was also talked to in the production of the film.Interviews with them can be seen in the special features of the DVD.
Overall, Good Night, and Good Luck is a film that is close to flawless, and does one of the most important journalistic heroes and his team justice.