Bernard Vorhaus, the son of a lawyer, was born in New York City on 25th December 1904. His father had come to America as a poor immigrant at the age of seven, from a village in Austria. According to his son "he had worked his way through college and law school and developed quite an impressive legal practice." He held left-wing views and had been a strong supporter of Woodrow Wilson and his ideas for a League of Nations.
His sister, Amy Vorhaus, who was twelve years older than him, wrote film scripts and so he became interested in movies early in life. He later recalled: "My grandmother, who lived in Westchester County, which is a little way from Manhattan, used to take me to the local nickelodeon, and since it had hard wooden seats she would bring with her an inflatable cushion, a thermos bottle of coffee, and cookies, and we would watch the serials. But I was rather frustrated, because I'd always be left with the heroine tied to the railroad tracks while the train was approaching, or hanging over a cliff with the rope frayed, and then seldom would I get back to Westchester in time to see the sequel."
After leaving Harvard University he attempted to become a writer. His first script, Steppin' Out, was produced in 1925. He also helped to write Money Talks (1926) and No Other Woman (1928). The first film he directed was Money for Speed (1933). This was followed by Crime on the Hill (1933). In his next movie, The Ghost Camera (1933), he employed David Lean as his editor. Vorhaus later claimed that he made several innovations with this film. "There were a few first in The Ghost Camera. It was the first time that anyone had run a section of film before the main titles. It was the first time that, when there was a flashback - that is, when one of the main characters was talking about something that had happened previously - and you flashed back to it, instead of seeing the person in the scene - since the person wouldn't have seen himself."
During the 1930s Vorhaus became involved in politics. While working in London he had joined the Left Book Club and had been especially impressed by the books of John Strachey (The Coming Struggle for Power) and R. Palme Dutt (Fascism and Social Revolution). He also became a supporter of the Popular Front Government during the Spanish Civil War and joined several pressure groups involved in the fight with the governments led by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. He also became close to several other left-wing figures in Hollywood including: Donald Ogden Stewart, Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz, Gordon Kahn, Ian McLellan Hunter and Guy Endore.
Vorhaus later admitted in Tender Comrades (1997): "For a while I was very active with the Communists in the anti-Fascist work they were doing... When the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, I think the Soviet Union was justified in doing so because it had tried for years to get a united front of the democratic countries against Hitler and hadn't succeeded, because they were hoping that Hitler and the Soviet Union would come to fight each other and either destroy each other or greatly weaken each other... I came very quickly to disagree with 'democratic centralism' which I think is a very undemocratic system. That is what governs the Communist Party and is what governed the Soviet Union. I think it's the sad cause of the terrible despotism and corruption of Stalinism, under which millions of their own people were murdered."
Other films during this period by Vorhaus included Night Club Queen (1933), Dark World (1935), The Last Journey (1935), Dusty Ermine (1936), Cotton Queen (1937), King of the Newsboys (1938), Tenth Avenue Kid (1938), Way Down South (1939), Fisherman Wharf (1939), Angels With Broken Wings (1941), Hurricane Smith (1941), The Affairs of Jimmy Valentine (1942), Bury Me Dead (1947) and Winter Wonderland (1947).
On 20th October, 1947, the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) opened its hearings concerning communist infiltration of the motion picture industry. The chief investigator for the committee was Robert E. Stripling. The first people it interviewed included Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, Ayn Rand, Jack L. Warner, Robert Taylor, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Montgomery, Walt Disney, Thomas Leo McCarey and George L. Murphy. These people named several possible members of the American Communist Party.
As a result their investigations, the HUAC announced it wished to interview nineteen members of the film industry that they believed might be members of the American Communist Party. This included Herbert Biberman, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz, John Howard Lawson, Larry Parks, Waldo Salt, Bertolt Brecht, Richard Collins, Gordon Kahn, Robert Rossen, Lewis Milestone and Irving Pichel.
The first ten witnesses called to appear before the HUAC, Biberman, Bessie, Cole, Maltz, Scott, Trumbo, Dmytryk, Lardner, Ornitz and Lawson, refused to cooperate at the September hearings and were charged with "contempt of Congress". Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The courts disagreed and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison. The case went before the Supreme Court in April 1950, but with only Justices Hugo Black and William Douglas dissenting, the sentences were confirmed.
On 8th March, 1951, the HUAC committee began an "Investigation of Communism in the Entertainment Field". Several of these witnesses named people as being members of the American Communist Party. This included: Larry Parks, Sterling Hayden, Richard Collins, Edward Dmytryk, Budd Schulberg, Frank Tuttle, Leo Townsend, Martin Berkeley, Elia Kazan, Isabel Lennart, Clifford Odets, Roy Huggins, Robert Rossen and Lee Cobb. Dmytryk, Tuttle, Berkeley and Rossen, named Vorhaus as being a communist.
Vorhaus refused to testify against former comrades and was blacklisted. He moved to London and according to his biographer "Rather than battle the ragtag European film industry, like fellow political exiles John Berry, Jules Dassin, Cy Endfield, Joseph Losey, and so many others, he built a new career converting London's Victorian mansions to apartments."
Bernard Vorhaus died on 23rd November 2000.
For a while I was very active with the Communists in the anti-Fascist work they were doing... When the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, I think the Soviet Union was justified in doing so because it had tried for years to get a united front of the democratic countries against Hitler and hadn't succeeded, because they were hoping that Hitler and the Soviet Union would come to fight each other and either destroy each other or greatly weaken each other... I came very quickly to disagree with 'democratic centralism' which I think is a very undemocratic system. That is what governs the Communist Party and is what governed the Soviet Union. I think it's the sad cause of the terrible despotism and corruption of Stalinism, under which millions of their own people were murdered.