McCarthy footage absorbing

May 01, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

"Point of Order" is an absorbing, often funny series of highlights from the 1954 hearings that pitted Sen. Joseph McCarthy against the U.S. Army. The Army accused McCarthy and his lawyer, Roy Cohn, of trying to muscle top brass into giving preferential treatment to another McCarthy associate, David Schine; McCarthy counter-charged that the Army was just trying to pre-empt his investigation of the Defense Department for Communists.

Culled from 188 hours of their televised broadcast, "Point of Order" is an idiosyncratic, almost abstract portrait of a demagogue brought down by the very process he had been exploiting for years.

Among the film's more unforgettable moments are the volleys between McCarthy and Joseph N. Welch, special counsel for the Army, whose verbal dexterity renders McCarthy a mountain of quaking, mute terror, and the arrival of a letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower instructing the Army to withhold evidence or refuse to testify in the interest of national security (now, that's executive privilege!). Robert F. Kennedy, then a member of McCarthy's staff, hovers in the background as an unsettling, ghostly presence.

Director Emile De Antonio -- who also made the bizarre and wonderful "Millhouse" -- provides an engrossing and ruefully witty vision of political theater at its most Grand Guignol.

'Point of Order'

Documentary

Directed by Emile de Antonio

Released by New Yorker Films

Rating: Unrated

Sun Score: ***

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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