Good Night, and Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck Summary and Analysis of Part 5: Good Night, and Good Luck


The jazz singer sings a more reflective, somber song. Meanwhile, Joe reads a newspaper article about Don Hollenbeck’s suicide. We see Don turning on his oven and letting his home fill with gas. Murrow looks sad and listens to the jazz singer recording “How High the Moon” in the studio.

The scene shifts and we see Joe and the others watching Murrow on television. He speaks about the honesty and integrity of Don Hollenbeck, saying that Don had been sick for some time, and announcing that the police are saying that Don committed suicide. Murrow says, “Not much of an obit, but at least we had our facts straight, and it was brief, and that’s all Don Hollenbeck would have asked.”

We see Joe and Shirley in bed, talking. “What if we’re wrong?” Joe says, referring to his worry that they are reporting on the wrong side of the issue. “We’re not wrong,” insists Shirley, who believes in Murrow’s project. “We're not going to look back and say we protected the wrong side?” Joe asks, to which Shirley responds, “Protected them from what? In the name of what? What would we be preserving?” Joe says, “Argument could be made, 'for the greater good.’” Shirley reassures him, “Not once you give it all away. It’s no good then.”

We see footage of the Army-McCarthy hearings. “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” Welch, a lawyer says to McCarthy, who appears emotionally defeated in court. Murrow watches the hearing on television in the studio, in between shooting an interview with a celebrity.

Later, Sig visits the studio and pulls Shirley and Joe aside for a talk. In the next room, he invites them to sit down and reminds them of the CBS policy that “no two employees can be married.” He then says, “I know you two are married. Everyone knows. That’s not my question. In the next few weeks I have to lay off some people. We’re making some significant cuts across the board. I wanted you to know that, because you could save someone else from getting fired. I want you to consider making this decision a little easier.” Joe and Shirley stare at him, silent. Sig tells them to think about it, then leaves. When Sig is gone, the couple laughs about the interaction. “I think it’s for the best,” says Shirley, as each of them joke that the other is the one who will resign.

Murrow finds Fred in Paley’s waiting room; they have both been called in for a meeting. Paley tells the men that they’ve lost Alcoa as a sponsor. While Fred tries to rationalize, Murrow insists that they can find another sponsor. Growing frustrated, Paley says, “Ed, I've got Tuesday night programming that's number one. People want to enjoy themselves, they don't want a civics lesson.” Murrow strikes back against his doubtful boss, saying, “I would argue that we have done very well by one another. I would argue that this network is defined by what the news department has accomplished, and I would also argue that never saying no is not the same as not censoring.” Paley then tells Murrow that he is changing his program from a half hour on Tuesdays to an hour-long program on Sundays, for 5 episodes. “Why don’t you just fire me, Bill?” asks Murrow, and Paley tells him that neither of them want that. “You owe me 5 shows,” says Paley, and Murrow leaves the office.

Paley asks Fred to stay behind. Meanwhile, Murrow waits outside. When Fred emerges, he tells Murrow that he has to fire some people, before saying, “Let’s do our first show about the downfall of television.” The two men walk away from Paley’s office. “How does a scotch sound?” Murrow asks. They walk past two televisions playing a speech by President Dwight Eisenhower.

The scene shifts back to the initial frame, a dinner being held in Murrow’s honor. He continues his speech at the podium, saying, “Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night, the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey on the state of American education. And a week or two later, the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thorough-going study of American policy in the Middle East. Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged? Would the shareholders rise up in their wrath and complain? Would anything happen other than a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country and therefore the future of the corporations?” Murrow finishes his speech with his iconic catchphrase, “Good night, and good luck.”


Don Hollenbeck’s suicide casts a shadow over the last section of the film. We learn that he committed suicide at home. The film has previously foreshadowed Don’s doubts about the criticism he faces from the rest of the press and the ways that his stigmatization has led him into depression and self-loathing. His final suicidal act makes this tension all the more tragic. In Don’s death, we see the needless guilt that McCarthyism and its attendant stigmas and paranoias cast into people’s hearts in the 1950s. Don did nothing wrong, yet he was made to feel like his life’s work was for nothing.

The film often uses music to take the viewer on its emotional journey. Indeed, the journalists in Good Night, and Good Luck are a stoic bunch, often fixated too firmly on unveiling the truth to leave much room for their emotions. While we see Fred and Murrow’s faces drop after receiving word of Don’s suicide, they cannot get sidelined by their grief for too long. As a result, music takes over to express the emotional journey of the characters. The jazz singer, Dianne Reeves, appears throughout the film, underscoring the difficult and cutthroat world of television journalism with the warmth of her vocals. We see Murrow smoking and contemplating the loss of his colleague, Don, as Dianne Reeves sings “How High the Moon.” The use of music helps to guide the viewer along the emotional narrative.

Don’s suicide is not only disheartening in a simply existential way, but also in that it causes the journalists to doubt that they are doing the right kind of work. Even Murrow, so confident in his judgment and ability to comb through the truth, seems gravely disheartened by Don’s death. The suicide causes everyone to consider whether what they do is worth it in the end, whether they will have put in the time for the right cause. As the Wershbas lie in bed alongside one another, Joe wonders if they are fighting for the right thing. Shirley is confident that they are, that it is always worth fighting for the “greater good.” The only catch is that fighting for “the greater good,” as it is depicted in the film, can be a lonely fight.

In spite of the relevance and success of his program, Murrow must still contend with the demands of television and the doubts of his boss at CBS, William Paley. Paley and Murrow’s relationship is greatly compromised by Murrow’s decision to go after McCarthy, even though it is the right thing to do. In a meeting in Paley’s office, Murrow tries to fight back against Paley’s doubts when Alcoa pulls sponsorship. Murrow believes that they can just find another sponsor, but Paley is too worried about how the corporation will survive to be able to see Murrow’s point of view.

Thus, Murrow’s fight is not an unequivocally successful one, and by the end of the film, when we are transported back to his speech at the dinner in his honor, we see that Murrow must continue the lonely fight for integrity in a culture that would prefer innocuous entertainment. In Murrow’s mind, television—in its widespread dissemination—is a powerful medium, with the potential to educate. However, he says, corporations are not willing to teach viewers how to educate themselves, and prefer to air entertainment to keep ratings high. Murrow may have won his fight against McCarthy, but his fight to legitimize television news is a more difficult one. He makes a good point when he justifies making the news more informational and educational by saying, “Would anything happen other than a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country and therefore the future of the corporations?” Murrow is a man ahead of his time, who sacrifices his own professional well-being for the sake of the truth and fighting for what is right.