Cold War


Ian Fleming's (1908–1964) early James Bond novels, published in the 1950s, often pit the British superspy against SMERSH, a division ("Death to Spies") of Soviet intelligence. When Bond (Sean Connery) emerged in film, from Dr. No (1962) on, SMERSH was downplayed in favor of SPECTRE, a fantastical, apolitical criminal organization along the lines of those once run by Dr. Mabuse or Fu Manchu. In the novel From Russia with Love , plans are laid against Bond by SMERSH, but in the 1964 film, the Soviets subcontract the job to SPECTRE. Though theoretically a Cold Warrior, Bond has in later films as often allied with Russians as clashed with them. Even the title From Russia with Love suggests a thaw in relations.

In the Kennedy-Krushchev period, when the Cold War chess game (a recurrent image) seemed to become more deadly over missiles in Cuba (and Turkey), popular culture was inclined to take a more cynical, callous attitude to the superpower face-off. The key film is The Manchurian Candidate (1962) by John Frankenheimer (1930–2002), scripted by George Axelrod (1922–2003) from Richard Condon's (1915–1996) novel, which caricatures McCarthy as the know-nothing Senator John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory), who picks the easy-to-remember

The war room in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964).
number (57) of Communists he claims to have identified in the State Department off a ketchup bottle, and partners him with a monstrous wife (Angela Lansbury) who wants him swept into the White House with "powers which will make martial law look like anarchy." This indictment of the blacklist mind-set coexists with plot developments that suggest McCarthy was not paranoid enough . The Iselins are actually Communist tools out to undermine America (the inspiration is the suggestion that McCarthy could not have hurt the United States more if he were a paid Soviet agent); Mrs. Iselin has collaborated with the transformation of her own son, Raymond (Laurence Harvey), through brainwashing by Sino-Soviet villains into a zombie assassin.

The Manchurian Candidate is as much sick comedy as thriller, signified by the splattering of blood and brains over a poster of Stalin during a demonstration of Raymond's killing abilities. It has a certain "plague on both your houses" tone, far more vicious in its attack than Peter Ustinov's (1921–2004) across-the-curtain romantic comedy Romanoff and Juliet (1961), and it is as much remembered for its prescience in the matter of presidential assassination and conspiracy theory as its acute dissection of the paranoia of both West and East. A stark, black-and-white nightmare, with stylish bursts of martial arts action and walking political cartoons, its zero-degree cool bled into the highly colored cynicism of the Bond films. These wallow in luxury and voluptuousness, brush off murders with flip remarks ("shocking!"), and routinely climax with an intricate world-threatening scheme, foiled by individual heroism and the prompt arrival of an Anglo-American assault team to overwhelm the diabolical mastermind's secret base. These tactics failed in the real world at the Bay of Pigs, an operation badly fumbled by Bond fan Kennedy, just as the Cuban missile crisis led to closer scrutiny of the mechanics of the balance of terror.

Dr. Strangelove , like Sidney Lumet's (b. 1924) more serious Fail-Safe (1964), is a brink-of-doom thriller, a possible prequel to all those "life-in-the-radioactive-ruins" quickies of the 1950s ( Five , 1951; The Day the World Ended , 1956; The World, the Flesh and the Devil , 1959). Here, the world is not imperiled by aggressive ideologies but by neuroses—a US Air Force general (Sterling Hayden), driven by impotence to rail against the Communist threat to his "precious bodily fluids," and a Soviet regime that invests in a cheap Doomsday Machine because the people are clamoring for washing machines. In a way, Kubrick's film—a satire adapted from a dead-straight novel, Red Alert (1958) by Peter George (1924–1966)—is a sigh of relief that the world has come through Korea and Cuba without self-annihilation, but it is also an awful warning and a declaration that a third world war cannot be won. Invasion USA (1952) is the only American atomic war film to suggest that after nuclear attack, the Communist enemy would attempt to occupy the United States like stereotypical conquerors. Later films (including the Yugoslav Rat , 1960) blame both sides equally, with war as likely to result from accident or a failure of diplomacy. The ultimate message of The War Game (1967) by Peter Watkins (b. 1935) is that governments should not be trusted with nuclear weapons, while Ladybug Ladybug (Frank Perry, 1963)—echoing an outstanding Twilight Zone episode, "The Shelter"—goes so far as to suggest that civil preparedness contributes to a breakdown of society, as shelter-owners arm themselves not against the military enemy but their own neighbors.

The 1960s saw many fantastical Bondian superspies (the Flint and Matt Helm adventures), Strangelovian satires ( The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! , Norman Jewison, 1966; The President's Analyst , Theodore J. Flicker, 1967), and "realistic" espionage dramas ( The Spy Who Came In from the Cold , Martin Ritt, 1965; The Ipcress File , Sidney J. Furie, 1965) riffing on the Cold War. Taking their cue from The Manchurian Candidate , all these films tend to suggest that "our side" is as bad (or, less often, good) as "their side"—the mission of the Spy Who Came In from the Cold is to discredit a clever and idealistic Jewish East German counterintelligence agent to save a former Nazi working as a double agent for the West—and, eventually, that the power elites of both sides are so dependent on the Cold War to retain their positions that they have become interchangeable.

As in so much later twentieth-century history, events suggest George Orwell's (1903–1950) novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), in which a permanent state of hostilities is an excuse for the real war, waged by rulers against the populace. From the mid-1960s, popular culture shifted from worrying about the Communists to that other deadly prong of the 1950s, rock and roll (representing youth, rebellion, and even unrestrained capitalist consumerism)—but was unsure whether to worry or celebrate. With Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969), and Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968) offering counterarguments to increasingly uncomfortable Americanist crusades like John Wayne's The Green Berets (1968), battle lines were drawn for new wars, between young and old, powerful and powerless, black and white, hip and square. Old-style patriotism would resurge in the Reagan years (1980–1988), but even the red-bashing Rambo is by no means simplistic, as he grapples with masculinity, the legacy of Vietnam, and America's self-image. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, few victory parades were held in America. The movies were not there—round-the-clock news footage had told the story so quickly that it was stale by the time a film (e.g., Frankenheimer's The Fourth War , 1990) could be made.

SEE ALSO Censorship ; Ideology ; War Films ; World War II

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Kim Newman

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