It seemed very promising — the prospect of watching a blacklisted 1950s screenwriter portrayed by the intense, witty Ron Silver, the only actor who can claim to have starred in both Enemies, A Love Story and Rhoda, A Sitcom.
Here, Silver plays Asa Kaufman, who flees the United States just before being subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Taking shelter in a decrepit English rooming house, he starts grinding out scripts under an assumed name for a British kiddie TV show about Robin Hood.
As directed by Philip Saville (The Life and Loves of a She-Devil), this is good stuff.
Silver’s gruff pride in the face of humbling employment is at once sad and funny, a welcome change from the melodramatic way movies usually portray the victims of McCarthyism: as tragic simps.
But all too quickly, Fellow Traveller loses its edge. Hart Bochner, who doesn’t have an edge in his entire being, plays an American actor-friend of Silver’s who commits suicide when confronted with his own HUAC testimony.
Pretty soon, Silver is seeking to avenge his chum’s death by taking on the committee, ferreting out squealers, and indulging in an utterly gratuitous affair with Bochner’s former girlfriend (Imogen Stubbs).
By succumbing to such banal dramatic strategies, Fellow Traveller denies its initial originality and wastes Silver’s idiosyncratic talents. C-