My Son John (1952): Leo McCarey’s Anti-Communist Agit-Prop, Starring Helen Hayes and Robert Walker

Leo McCarey’s “My Son John” is agit-prop, an overtly political message film made at the height of the McCarthy witch-hunting.

In this story, the parents (played by Helen Hayes and Dean Jagger) of a presumably good American boy (Robert Walker) discover to their horror that he is a member of the Communist Party.

McCarey, known for his suave screwball comedies, must have been under pressure to prove his allegiance. End result is an embarrassing film that’s only worth seeing as a testament to the fear and paranoia that McCarthyism generated in Hollywood in the 1950s.

It was the last film role of Robert Walker, who died while the picture was under production.  It as a major loss, considering the bravura performance he had given as the sociopath in Hitchcock’s 1951 thriller, Strangers on a Train.


Helen Hayes as Lucille Jefferson

Van Heflin as Stedman

Dean Jagger as Dan Jefferson

Robert Walker as John Jefferson

Minor Watson as Dr. Carver

Frank McHugh as Father O’Dowd


Oscar Nomination: 1

Motion Picture Story: Leo Mccarey

Oscar Awards: None.

Oscar Context:

The winners of the Motion Picture Story were Frederick Frank, Theodore St. John, and Frank Cavett for DeMille’s circus adventure, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” which also won Best Picture.