The Real American - Joe McCarthy


Docudrama, 95 min.

Production: HMR Produktion in co-operation with ZDF and Arte, supported by Filmstiftung NRW and Deutscher Filmförderfonds



Lutz Hachmeister, Simone Höller


Lutz Hachmeister

Assistant Director: 

Nicole Erksmeier

Director of Photography:

Hajo Schomerus


Mechthild Barth


Rolf Hapke


Sarah Lee


John Sessions (Joe McCarthy), Justine Waddell (Jean Kerr), Trystan Gravelle (Roy Cohn) et al.

Contemporary witnesses:

Henry Kissinger, Ben Bradlee, Haynes Johnson et al.



US-Premiere: June 14, 2011 (Goethe Institute Los Angeles)

German premiere: June 30, 2011 (Filmfest München)

Theatrical release: January 12, 2012


First Broadcast: August 27, 2013 (arte)

Reruns: September 10, 2013 (arte)


Filmfest München (2011)

Denver Filmfestival (2011)

Filmfestival Montreal (2011)

Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival (2011)

Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (April 12 -  May 3, 2012)

Santa Cruz Film Festival (May 10 - 19,  2012)







The word McCarthyism has become synonymous with moral panic and any kind of resulting political witch hunt. The docudrama The Real American – Joe McCarthy attempts to separate the man from the myth and presents the first real comprehensive picture of one of the early “bad guys” of televised politics, his background and the political and cultural landscape that enabled his rise to power.


The film depicts the farmer’s son‘s meteoric rise from freshman senator to televised “commie” hunting demagogue and finally, the lack of foresight that led him into the media circus of the “Army-McCarthy Hearings”. Blinded by his desire to be “the number one guy in Washington”, McCarthy took up misguided battles with the Army, the State Department, the CIA and even the President himself – until these forces, most notably the CIA, took active measures against him.


Following five years of extensive research through international archives, newly released material, including interviews with the last members of Joseph Raymond McCarthy‘s family in his hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, and a number of elite eyewitnesses and media historians, the film is a mixture of original footage, previously unseen archive photos / film, and dramatic original script brought to life. Among others, names such as Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Pulitzer Prize winner Haynes Johnson, Conservative Best Seller Ann Coulter, Watergate Legend Ben Bradlee, and Ex-KGB general Oleg Kalugin lend their voices and unique insights to the rise and fall of a man who literally drank himself to death, only 2 years shy of his 50th birthday. For the first time McCarthy’s former staff member James Juliana talks about his time with the Senator in an exclusive interview; former Harvard professor Leon Kamin reports on his experiences standing accused before the McCarthy committee as does writer and publisher Sol Stein, also a target of McCarthy’s accusations regarding his work for the Voice of America.


Scottish actor John Sessions (Gangs of New York, The Good Shepherd) and South African-born actress Justine Waddell (The Fall, The Mystery of Natalie Wood) star as Joe McCarthy and his wife Jean in Lutz Hachmeister’s first feature film The Real American – Joe McCarthy. Other notable appearances include Trystan Gravelle as McCarthy’s chief collaborator Roy Cohn and James Garnon as the young Senator and later Vice President Richard Nixon (both actors feature in Roland Emmerich’s Shakespearean thriller Anonymous).

Principal photography took place in September 2010 in Cologne, Germany. The docudrama aims towards a theatrical and festival release in 2011, followed by international television emission and DVD distribution.





Press responses


Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal were reviewing the TV-Version "Enemies within: Joe McCarthy" and appreciate that "Lutz Hachmeister and Simone Holler have shaped it all into a work of impeccable clarity. (…)"
No McCarthy documentary in memory has so captured the role of his press acolytes. Reporters admired him, were charmed by him, and they were above all grateful for the inside information he gave them. The film offers testaments from witnesses both living and dead to the ways McCarthy courted reporters."

The New York Times states that "the story of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy may seem increasingly like ancient history, but the telling in the Smithsonian Channel’s docudrama “JOE McCARTHY: ENEMIES WITHIN” resonates in the present day in a couple of ways.
McCarthy’s bluster and penchant for embellishing the truth or just plain making things up as he hunted for Communists certainly suggest any number of 21st-century television news commentators, and the public seems as willing today as it was in the 1950s to accept at face value what these buffoons say. Also interesting at the moment, though, is what happened when McCarthy sought to investigate the Army, a step that proved to be his downfall. Watching the program, which is to be broadcast at 9 p.m. Sunday, it’s hard not to note that another agency, the F.B.I., stirred up a hornet’s nest in the last few weeks by investigating military personnel.
The program mixes re-enactments with comments by figures who played roles in McCarthy’s big moment or studied it. It’s an unusual collection. Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, is heard from, but so is Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator."

Germany’s weekly, FAS, hailed The Real American – Joe McCarthy as a "brilliant docudrama” saying “it explores the interaction between individual ambition, the laws of the media and the public’s psychological dynamics with a subtle sense for the individual’s disposition.”


Peter Krausz, Chair of the Australian Film Critics Association said: "McCarthy, excellent, well researched documentary on the infamous US senator who in the 1950s railed against communism"