Ghosts of the Heartland Integrates Racial Tension into ’40s Noir


Good intentions and bad ideas go hand in hand in Allen Blumberg’s Ghosts of the Heartland, which broadcasts from the title down its intention of integrating ’40s racial tensions into the contemporaneous white-centric noirs they were excluded from. (It’s actually a crusading journalist movie with a visual identity crisis, but who’s counting?) Roland Yu (Phil Moon, all square jaw and monotone delivery) returns from the big city to his small Midwestern hometown at the tail end of Truman’s term. Roland is Asian, and, after taking down McCarthyite sheriff Frank Dugan (Michael Santoro), he is hectored for the entire balance of the running time as his neighbors question where his loyalties lie. The town is split between racist (overtly or covertly) white people and the Asian community, which berates Roland for trying to bridge the divide. (Actual dialogue: “Why don’t you go back to the big city and marry a white woman so your children can disappear into the white race?”) Blumberg’s point is that racism was/is bad—hard to argue with that. It’s equally hard to argue that the classic noirs would’ve been better off had they taken frequent time-outs for lectures on racial justice.