When the CIA Adapted Orwell

J. Hoberman on the CIA’s film version of Animal Farm, also in the LRB:

The trade press reported that de Rochemont financed Animal Farm with the frozen British box-office receipts from his racial ‘passing’ drama Lost Boundaries; in fact, Animal Farm was almost entirely underwritten by the CIA. De Rochemont hired Halas and Batchelor (they were less expensive and, given their experience making wartime propaganda cartoons, politically more reliable than American animators) in late 1951; well before that, his ‘investors’ had furnished him with detailed dissections of his team’s proposed treatment. Animal Farm was scheduled for completion in spring 1953, but the ambitious production, which made use of full cell animation, was delayed for more than a year, in part because of extensive discussion and continual revisions. Among other things, the investors pushed for a more aggressively ‘political’ voice-over narration and were concerned that Snowball (the pig who figures as Trotsky) would be perceived by audiences as too sympathetic.

Most problematic, however, was Orwell’s pessimistic ending, in which the pigs become indistinguishable from their human former masters. No matter how often the movie’s screenplay was altered, it always concluded with a successful farmyard uprising in which the oppressed animals overthrew the dictatorial pigs. The Animal Farm project had been initiated when Harry Truman was president; Dwight Eisenhower took office in January 1953, with John Foster Dulles as his secretary of state and Allen Dulles heading the CIA. Leab notes that Animal Farm’s mandated ending complemented the new Dulles policy, which – abandoning Truman’s aim of containing Communism – planned a ‘roll back’, at least in Eastern Europe. As one of the script’s many advisors put it, Animal Farm’s ending should be one where the animals ‘get mad, ask for help from the outside, which they get, and which results in their (the Russian people) with the help of the free nations overthrowing their oppressors’.