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Reds is a 1981 epic film that was co-written, produced, directed by, and starring Warren Beatty. It centers on the life of John Reed, the revolutionary communist, journalist, and writer who chronicled the Russian Revolution in his book Ten Days that Shook the World and who, in 1920, less than two years after writing his classic of romantic reporting, and a few days before his thirty-third birthday, died in Moscowmarker of typhus and a stroke. Beatty stars in the lead role alongside Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

The supporting cast of the film includes Edward Herrmann, Jerzy Kosinski, Paul Sorvino, Maureen Stapleton, Gene Hackman, Ramon Bieri, Nicolas Coster and M. Emmet Walsh. The film also features, as "witnesses", interviews with the celebrated radical educator and peace activist 98-year old Scott Nearing (1883-1983), author Dorothy Frooks (1896-1997), reporter and author George Seldes (1890-1995), and the American writer Henry Miller (1891-1980), among others. Beatty was awarded the Oscar for Best Director for the film. Reds was also nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Chariots of Fire.

In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten Top Ten" -- the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres-after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Reds was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the epic genre.


Warren Beatty came across the story of John Reed in the mid-1960s and executive producer and film editor Dede Allen remembers Beatty mentioning making a film about Reed's life as long ago as 1966. Later, in the 1970s Beatty would begin to write the early drafts of what would become Reds, but the process stalled. In 1976, Beatty would find a suitable collaborator in Trevor Griffiths who began work but was delayed when his wife died in a plane crash. The preliminary draft of the script was finished in 1978, but Beatty still had problems with it. Beatty and Griffiths spent four and a half months on fixing it, though Beatty's friend Elaine May would also collaborate on the script.

Beatty originally had no intention of acting in the film or even directing it because he had learned on various projects that producing a film alone is a difficult task. He considered John Lithgow for the part of John Reed because the two looked similar but eventually Beatty decided to act in the film and direct it himself. Jack Nicholson was cast as Eugene O'Neill over James Taylor and Sam Shepard.

When principal photography began in August 1979 the original intention was for a 15 to 16 week shoot but it would take one whole year to just shoot the film. The process was slow because it was shot in five different countries and at various points the crew had to wait for snow to fall in Helsinkimarker (and other parts of Finlandmarker), which stood in for the Soviet Unionmarker, and for rain to stop in Spainmarker. Beatty would also not stop the camera between takes and would have it continuously roll. He also insisted on a large number of takes. Paul Sorvino said he did as many as 70 takes for one scene and actress Maureen Stapleton had to do 80 takes of one particular scene which caused her to quip to Beatty, "Are you out of your fucking mind?".

Diane Keaton and Beatty's romantic relationship also began to deteriorate during the filming as Peter Biskind writing about the making of Reds said, "Beatty's relationship with Keaton barely survived the shoot. It is always a dicey proposition when an actress works with a star or director – both, in this case – with whom she has an offscreen relationship. ... Keaton appeared in more scenes than any other actor, save Beatty, and many of them were difficult ones, where she had to assay a wide range of feelings, from romantic passion to anger, and deliver several lengthy, complex, emotional speeches. George Plimpton once observed, "Diane almost got broken. I thought [Beatty] was trying to break her into what Louise Bryant had been like with John Reed." Executive producer Simon Relph adds, "It must have been a strain on their relationship, because he was completely obsessive, relentless."

The editing process began in spring of 1980 with as many as 65 people working on editing down and going over approximately two and a half million feet of film. Post-production ended in November 1981 more than two years after the start of filming. Paramount stated that the final cost of the film was $33.5 million dollars, which would be the rough equivalent of around $80 million today. To date, Reds is the most recent film to receive Academy Award nominations in all four acting categories.


The film introduced the song "Goodbye For Now", written by Stephen Sondheim.The song was later recorded by Barbra Streisand for "The Movie Album" (2003).

Critical response

The film was reviewed by the eminent critic Pauline Kael in The New Yorker. "Reds represents an enormous amount of dedication and intelligence. But it's rather a sad movie, because it isn't really very good. There's clear evidence of what's missing. In order to brief the audience on what the Greenwich Villagemarker bohemians of the 1915-20 period were all about - how the stimulus came from a combination of new ideas about art and sex and politics- Beatty includes documentary footage of survivors from that era. Some thirty-two contemporaries, associates of, or acquaintances of John Reed and his wife, Louise Bryant, speak to an offscreen interviewer and give us quick impressions of Reed and Bryant and those times. What works against the movie is that they are all much peppier and more vital than the actors. These witnesses had an exhilerating youth, and even now, crumbling before our eyes, they're still enjoying themselves. Most of them are spirited talkers, for whom words and ideas have the excitement of wonderful, sensuous toys. When Beatty as Reed and Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant drop a bit of political information, their voices go dead, as if they didn't expect anyone to be listening. Beatty could be reciting from a manual, and Keaton might be dubbed - the words don't seem related to anything going on in her head. Louise Bryant is presented as a tiresome, pettishly hostile woman - dissatisfied because she isn't taken seriously but not giving anyone reason to take her seriously. In technique, Reds is the least radical, the least innovative epic you can imagine. Its saving grace is the beauty (and surprise) of Warren Beatty's solemn high intentions. In an almost childlike way, he vindicates the old Communist Left: the picture says that promises that couldn't be kept are not the same as promises broken."


Actor Historical character
Warren Beatty John Silas "Jack" Reed
Diane Keaton Louise Bryant
Edward Herrmann Max Eastman
Jerzy Kosinski Grigory Zinoviev
Jack Nicholson Eugene O'Neill
Paul Sorvino Louis C. Fraina
Maureen Stapleton Emma Goldman
Nicolas Coster Paul Trullinger
William Daniels Julius Gerber
M. Emmet Walsh Speaker - Liberal Club
Ian Wolfe Mr. Partlow
Bessie Love Mrs. Partlow
MacIntyre Dixon Carl Walters
Pat Starr Helen Walters
Eleanor D. Wilson Margaret Green Reed (mother)
Max Wright Floyd Dell
George Plimpton Horace Whigham
Harry Ditson Maurice Becker
Leigh Curran Ida Rauh
Kathryn Grody Crystal Eastman
Dolph Sweet Big Bill Haywood
Gene Hackman Pete Van Wherry
Nancy Duiguid Jane Heap
Dave King Allan L. Benson
Roger Sloman Vladimir Lenin
Stuart Richman Leon Trotsky
Oleg Kerensky Alexander Kerensky
John J. Hooker Senator Overman
Jan Triska Karl Radek

The Witnesses

Some are very well known, others less so.

Awards and honors

The movie won Academy Awards for: and was nominated for:


  1. Pauline Kael, Taking It All In p. 278 pp ISBN 0-7145-2841-2
  2. "Awards for Reds" at IMDb

External links

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