Dmytryk became a film editor in 1929 and directed his first film, The Hawk, in 1935. Over the next eight years he directed 23 films. This included Mystery Sea Raider (1940), Her First Romance (1940), Golden Gloves (1940) Secrets of the Lone Wolf (1941), The Blonde from Singapore (1941), Sweetheart of the Campus (1941), Under Age (1941), The Devil Commands (1941), Counter-Espionage (1942), Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941) and Seven Miles from Alcatraz (1942).
Dmytryk joined the American Communist Party in 1944. He later claimed that the main reason he joined was that he wanted to end world poverty. During this period he was involved in making several politically oriented films such as the anti-fascist Hitler's Children (1943). Murder, My Sweet (1944) was a film where he helped to create the genre later known as "film noir". Crossfire (1947) was one of the first Hollywood movies to tackle anti-Semitism, won four Academy Awards.
After the Second World War the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. In 1947 19 members of the film industry were called to appear before the HUAC. This included Dmytryk, Herbert Biberman, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, 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.
Dmytryk appeared before the HUAC on 29th October, 1947, but like Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz and John Howard Lawson, refused to answer questions about his membership of the Screen Directors Guild or the American Communist Party. Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this.
The chairman of the HUAC, J. Parnell Thomas, refused permission for Dmytryk to make a statement about his political views. This was later published in Hollywood on Trail (1948): "It is my firm belief that democracy lives and thrives only on freedom. This country has always fulfilled its destiny most completely when its people, through their representatives, have allowed themselves the greatest exercise of freedom with the law. The dark period in our history have been those in which our freedoms have been suppressed, to however small a degree. Some of that darkness exists into the present day in the continued suppression of certain minorities."
Dmytryk then went on to argue that he believed that the main reason he was before the HUAC was because he made Crossfire (1947), an attack on anti-Semitism. "In my last few years in Hollywood, I have devoted myself, through pictures such as Crossfire, to a fight against these racial suppressions and prejudices. My work speaks for itself. I believe that it speaks clearly enough so that the people of the country and this Committee, which has no right to inquire into my politics or my thinking, can still judge my thoughts and my beliefs by my work, and by my work alone."
Dmytryk, Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz and John Howard Lawson, were all found guilty of contempt of Congress and given the maximum sentence of a year in prison. The case went before the Supreme Court in April 1950, but with only Justices Hugo Black and William Douglas dissenting, the sentence was confirmed and Dmytryk spent twelve months in Mill Point Federal Prison, West Virginia.
Blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, he moved to England where he directed two films, Obsession (1949) and Give Us This Day (1949). However, Dmytryk had financial problems as a result of divorcing his first wife. Faced with having to sell his plane and encouraged by his new wife, Dmytryk decided to try to get his name removed from the blacklist. Dmytryk's first move was to meet with a journalist, Richard English, who specialized in writing anti-communist articles for the American press. With English's help, Dmytryk wrote What Makes a Hollywood Communist? for the Saturday Evening Post (17th May, 1951). This explained how he now completely rejected his communist past.
On 17th April, 1951, Dmytryk appeared before the House of Un-American Activities Committee again. This time he answered all their questions including the naming of twenty-six former members of left-wing groups. This included Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Lester Cole, John Howard Lawson, Gordon Kahn, Richard Collins, Jules Dassin, Jack Berry, John Wexley, Michael Gordon, Michael Uris and Bernard Vorhaus. Dmytryk also revealed how Lawson, Scott and Maltz had put him under pressure to make sure his films expressed the views of the American Communist Party. This was particularly damaging as several members of the original Hollywood Ten were at that time involved in court cases with their previous employers.
Dmytryk later recalled: "Not a single person I named hadn't already been named at least a half-dozen times and wasn't already on the blacklist. Because I didn't know that many. I only knew a few people, literally a handful of people, all of whom had been in the Party long before I was, all of whom were known by the FBI and were known to the Committee. There was no question about that. With me it was that defending the Communist Party was something worse than naming the names. I did not want to remain a martyr to something that I absolutely believed was immoral and wrong. It's as simple as that."
Dmytryk then resumed his Hollywood career and after making The Sniper (1952) he directed The Caine Mutiny (1954). Lary May, the author of The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way (2000) has pointed out: "Edward Dmytryk directed, The Caine Mutiny (1954) to atone for his own communist activities. Significantly the story evoked memories of the Depression-era classic, Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). Where the earlier film justified the revolt of oppressed sailors against injustice, The Caine Mutiny portrayed rebels as an irrational mob of 'immature men'. No doubt this was the reason, explained the producers, that the Navy cooperated in producing a war film that would justify their system."
Other films made by Dmytryk included The Young Lions (1958), Walk on the Wild Side (1962), The Carpetbaggers (1963), Mirage (1965) and The Battle for Anzio (1968). His autobiography, It's a Hell of a Life, was published in 1978. He is also the author of Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten.