Citizen Cohn (1992) & Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn (2019)

This double-bill is the bizarre and disturbing story of Roy Cohn, a key figure in postwar American homosexual fascism. Cohn was one of those people who had his fingers in a lot of pies in the 20th Century. Anything to do with corruption and dirty tricks from the fifties to the eighties, Cohn was probably involved. He got his start being the hatchet man for Joe McCarthy during the 1950s anti-Communist ‘witch-hunts’ for which he beat out Bobby Kennedy as Chief Counsel.

During the later fifties and sixties he continued on as a Nixon advisor and became an arch enemy of the Kennedys, thereafter moving into private practice in New York as an underworld lawyer representing mobsters. The movie mainly deals with this early period in his life, persecuting the likes of literary legend Dashiell Hammett and contributing to the eventual downfall of McCarthy. It’s a lurid and raucous tale told with gusto. Cohn is played by James Woods, obviously.

The latter half of Cohn’s story towards the end of his life is related in one of two recent documentaries about him, probably made because of his role as Donald Trump’s lawyer and a not inconsiderable influence on the young real estate tycoon. It was Cohn who ‘fixed’ things with the mob for Trump to build Trump Tower. Honourable mention goes to Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary on the same subject (‘Where’s My Roy Cohn’), also excellent and maybe more in-depth. This one is the livelier of the two though.

By all accounts Cohn was a loathesome monster, a moral vacuum with a lust for power and a Hitlerian hatred of those he considered leftists or who might threaten to expose or embarrass his homosexual tastes and peculiar personal habits. His motivation appears to have been metaphorically to ‘avoid the gas chambers by aiding the Nazis’. The influence he wielded during his life was regrettably substantial and he managed to evade justice until close to the end of it.

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