TFS: a near miss for the witch hunters

(Canscene) –It was 60 years ago this 25th of October that the Toronto Film Society, reformed after its wartime hiatus, began the first of its monthly showings . I was delighted and honoured to have been invited to join the Board, chaired  by the CBC’s Gerald Pratley the first serious Canadian critic to air his views on network radio.

Gerald, I’m happy to say is still with us and we often  chin wag over the phone; he now lives in Barrie.  The TFS held its screenings at the Royal Ontario Museum Theatre and we opened with Von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel and the British documentary Song of Ceylon.

When in the spring of 1949 we applied to begin  a new season in September, we  found the museum authorities evasive.  It didn’t take us long to discover that we had become a suspect group  under investigation by the RCMP.

In those days American paranoia equated even small “l” liberals with communists — days that would culminate with the disgraceful era of McCarthyism. Apparently, because we had been showing some of the classic Russian silent movies absolutely essential to the study of the art of cinema we were thought of as communists.

Fortunately one of our group was the late Roy Clifton, a former lawyer turned teacher at a prestigious private school. He took on Museum’s board and the case was soon dropped.  The Toronto Film Society  remained at the Museum theater for many years and this year has much to celebrate as one of the arts pioneers of the 40s and 50s.

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