The Fifth Column by R. J. Cardullo | Script Revolution

The Fifth Column

Set during the Spanish Civil War, "The Fifth Column" concerns Loyalist attempts (led by an Anglo-American) to stop Fascist double agents operating behind the lines in Madrid—and awaiting four columns of fellow Franco insurgents.



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A 1938 play of the same title by Ernest Hemingway.

Originally a play and therefore an anomaly in the Hemingway canon, "The Fifth Column" takes place during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Its main character, Philip Rawlings, is an Anglo-American secret agent for the Second Spanish Republic. The title of this work originates from a comment made in 1936 by the Spanish Nationalist commander Emilio Mola, who stated that there were four of his columns descending on Madrid, as well as a fifth column of Fascist spies working from within the Loyalist-defended city—a group that would ruthlessly aid in destroying the Republican government.

Nonetheless, "The Fifth Column" is not about members of the fifth column; instead, it revolves around Rawlings, a Communist operative posing as a war correspondent, who is determined to defend against the threat posed by this internal group. A typical Hemingway hero, he will not speak about the horrors that he has witnessed, yet he cannot sleep at night because he has been so wounded by his experiences. Aided by Max, another Communist-Party operative, and Antonio, the Spanish officer in charge of the Loyalists, Rawlings ultimately tracks down and captures a fifth-column member whose confession under torture leads to the discovery of 300 more fifth columnists.

Much of this script’s action depicts the tense, dangerous existence inside a Madrid hotel, which is simultaneously occupied by journalists, counter-espionage agents, and members of General Franco’s fifth column. Rawlings himself is torn between his duty to the anti-Fascist cause and his attraction to the easy-going life of boozing, brawling, and “broads.” He is also torn between his attraction to Dorothy Bridges, a rich, glamorous, and pampered young American woman who knows little about politics, and an aging Moorish tart named Anita Amor, who knows enough about politics to stay away from it.

Rawlings must decide, then, if he wants to devote himself to a tranquil, apolitical, self-gratifying life with a woman—any woman who’ll have him (and each of these two will)—or if he believes it is his moral responsibility to fight the Falangist forces to the end. He has to decide, moreover, if any measures, no matter how brutal and barbarous, are justifiable in order to protect the Republic from the insidious threat posed by the fifth column. As the violence takes its toll on Rawlings in the course of "The Fifth Column", he begins to question the value of his undercover work, ultimately deciding to break with one woman, to indulge himself with the other . . . and to continue his mission.

Submitted: September 14, 2020
Last Updated: December 19, 2020

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R. J. Cardullo's picture

The Writer: R. J. Cardullo

A former university film teacher, I turned to screenwriting several years ago. I have also written film criticism for many publications. A New Yorker by birth, I grew up in Miami and was educated at the University of Florida, Tulane, and Yale. My last U.S. address was in Milford, Connecticut; I am now an expatriate residing in Scandinavia. Many of my scripts (both long and short) are adaptations of lesser-known works by well-known authors. I am happy to re-write, collaborate, or write on demand. Thanks kindly for any attention you can give my work. Go to bio

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