________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005


Ted Allan: Minstrel Boy of the Twentieth Century.

Merrily Weisbord & Tanya Tree (Directors). Arnie Gelbart & Adam Symansky (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2002.
49 min., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9102 079.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Frank Loreto.

*** /4

Ted Allan, Montreal-born playwright and writer, sums up his life:"First I was a Canadian, then a Jew, then I was blacklisted-a Commie, now I'm a senior citizen. I think I'd rather be blacklisted." The son of immigrant parents, Allan was present at a number of key events in this century. As a youngster during the Depression, he was fascinated by his Communist neighbours on St. Urbain Street. They made it clear that Capitalism was a flawed system and Communist/Socialist ideology was the only way out of the Depression. Allan embraced these ideas, and, as a young man, he wrote for Communist newspapers. He claims at this time in his life he felt more Communist than Jewish. However, as news of the atrocities committed against Jews became known, he laughs that Hitler and other anti-Semites made a Jew out of him. His early years as a Communist, Allan describes as ecstatic; the ideology gave great hope. At 17, he met and became very close to Dr. Norman Bethune, a surgeon in Montreal at the time. Allan saw Bethune as a father-figure, and so when Bethune went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War, Allan went too. Allan speaks fondly of being among like-minded idealists from all nations who came together to fight Fascism. However, the battles took their toll on Bethune, and the word came back that he had been drinking to excess. Allan was asked to bring him home-something that both Bethune and Allan saw as an act of betrayal.

     Allan left Spain to go to the United States where he found it difficult to obtain regular work. His Communist leanings were not appreciated, and he was warned by his agent's brother, an FBI immigration agent to, "Get out of this country. They've gone crazy here." Back in Canada, he was hired by the CBC in Toronto. Here, he wrote a number of radio plays which he successfully adapted for television. He enjoyed success until he wrote a screenplay which was an attack against mass production. This caught the attention of the programme's American advertiser. General Motors did not want the show aired. Although everyone was paid, the CBC agreed to block broadcast. Sickened by Canadian hypocrisy, Allan left immediately for England. Here, he once again established himself, and by 1954 he was a successful playwright. Nothing good seems to last forever for Allan. Up to this point, Allan still saw Stalin as a hero. When the stories of his atrocities began to emerge, Allan could not accept them as true. Sadly, they were true, and Allan subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown.

     He enjoyed great success and had plays performed in London and Paris. However, coming home to visit his mother, she stated, "Had you stayed in Montreal, you'd have your own hardware store by now." Allan laughs, but there is a hint of sadness there too.

     Allan's full life is worthy of celebration. He was able to incorporate much of his life into his works. In The Scalpel and the Sword, he celebrates Norman Bethune's life. He never overcame his feeling of betrayal. He brought his sister to a mental hospital which he also felt was a betrayal and worked their relationship into a successful play and film. Aspects of his own life can be seen in Lies My Father Told Me. A man of great vitality, he seemed to have carried great sadness as well.

     Ted Allan is a wonderful film and captures the spirit and determination of the man. It is also a commentary of key historical events. For this reason, it could be used in a twentieth century Canadian History class. However, students may not find the subject matter as riveting as one who already knows the history. Much of the film looks at Allan the man. While an excellent study in psychology, it may not be enough to capture the students' interest.

Recommended with Reservations.

Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.