Citizen Cohn

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Citizen Cohn
Citizen Cohn.jpg
Directed by Frank Pierson
Produced by Doro Bachrach
Written by David Franzoni
Based on Citizen Cohn
by Nicholas von Hoffman
Starring James Woods
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Paul Elliott
Edited by Peter Zinner
Breakheart Films
Spring Creek Productions
Distributed by HBO
Release dates
  • August 22, 1992 (1992-08-22)
Running time
111 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Citizen Cohn is a 1992 cable film covering the life of Joseph McCarthy's controversial chief counsel Roy Cohn. James Woods, who starred as Cohn, was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance. Citizen Cohn also stars Joe Don Baker (as McCarthy), Ed Flanders (as Cohn's courtroom nemesis Joseph Welch), Frederic Forrest (as writer Dashiell Hammett), and Pat Hingle (as Cohn's onetime mentor J. Edgar Hoover). It was directed by Frank Pierson. The movie was filmed on location in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


The film spans Cohn's life from childhood through his initial rise to power as McCarthy's right-hand man in the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearings and his eventual public discrediting a month before his death in 1986 from AIDS. It is told mostly in flashback as Cohn lies dying in a Virginia hospital, hallucinating that his many enemies (from Robert Kennedy to Ethel Rosenberg, a convicted Communist spy he sent to the electric chair) are haunting him. It concerns aspects of Cohn's life such as his closeted homosexuality and the measure of his culpability in the "Red Scare" of the 1950s. While the movie portrays Cohn in a decidedly unsympathetic light, it also depicts episodes in his life, such as the death of his beloved mother, in which he showed a more tender, compassionate side.


The real Roy Marcus Cohn (right) with Joseph McCarthy


Thomas Newman composed the largely minimalist film score.

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