Cold War



THE RED MENACE

An endless parade of alien invaders and mutants, often radioactive, frequently from a "red" planet, embodies the stereotypes of the Communist enemy: emotionless, brutal, godless, logical collectives, hungry for our planet's resources (and women). The pettiness of this approach can be gauged from The Thing from Another World (1951), in which Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), the (American) scientist who argues for cultural and scientific exchange rather than prompt military action when faced with a vampiric humanoid vegetable from outer space, is given a beard and a fur hat to make him look Russian. Less obvious is a futile grumble about McCarthyism, equivalent to flashing the finger unnoticed in the class photograph, that underlies a boom in westerns in which mobs persecute innocent men. Silver Lode (Allan Dwan, 1954) gives the chief accuser (Dan Duryea) of the upright sheriff (John Payne) the character name "McCarty"' but includes several takes in which the actors say "McCarthy" by mistake. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) and A Man Alone (Ray Milland, 1955) simply cast Ward Bond (1903–1960), a vocal pillar of the pro-blacklist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, as a bullying lynch mob leader whose scripted "string 'em up" dialogue sounds much like Bond's offscreen anti-Communist remarks.

For America and the Soviet Union, Cold War was the natural condition of the twentieth century. Throughout the existence of the Soviet Union, both superpowers defined themselves, and incidentally justified their military budgets, by invoking the threat of the other, not merely as a geographic enemy or competitor but as an embodiment of an utterly antithetical way of life. American persecution of its homegrown (or immigrant) Communists got into high gear with the Palmer Raids of 1919 and became a long-lasting national pastime in the 1920s as J. Edgar Hoover (1895–1972) solidified his power base in what would become the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Throughout the New Deal and World War II, Hoover and others maintained a policy of demonizing American dissent by suggesting that all Communists were agents of an unfriendly foreign power. Until Hitler's invasion of Russia, America saw Nazi Germany as less of a threat than its fellow "dictator nation," the Soviet Union. World War II put the US-Soviet conflict on hold, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) and Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) led their countries in an alliance against fascism. An irony of the blacklist era is that screenwriters later upbraided as Soviet dupes or puppets were in fact guilty of working on embarrassingly fervent exercises in sadistic, propagandist Americanism. Raoul Walsh's Objective, Burma! (1945), cowritten by future blacklistees Alvah Bessie (1904–1985) and Lester Cole (1904–1985), indulges in racist depictions of the Japanese as subhuman creatures, and is far more extreme than even 1950s representations of evil Communists as sexually degenerate gangsters (the film incidentally rewrote the history of the Burma campaign to credit Americans with Allied victories primarily won by the British).

More frequently cited during the hearings into Communist influence in Hollywood were the comparatively few American films made to celebrate Russia's contribution to the war effort: Mission to Moscow (1943) by Michael Curtiz (1888–1962), The North Star (1943) by Lewis Milestone (1895–1980), Song of Russia (1943) by Gregory Ratoff (1893–1960), and Days of Glory (1944) by Jacques Tourneur (1904–1977). There were certainly many more Hollywood celebrations of the British cause ( Mrs. Miniver , 1942) or the French Resistance ( Casablanca , 1942), and Jack Warner (1916–1995) would make the futile excuse to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that Mission to Moscow had been made at the express request of President Roosevelt, a political figure scarcely less demonized by McCarthyites than Stalin. The wartime alliance between America and Russia, often characterized as a personal accord between Roosevelt and Stalin, was so brief that there was no time to commit fully to celebratory films. None of the pro-Soviet films of 1943 and 1944 achieved anything like the commercial or critical success of comparable pro-British or pro–Free French films ( Mrs. Miniver and Casablanca both won Best Picture Oscars ® ). The dominant Hollywood depiction of the Soviet Union was in the caricature killjoys seduced by silk stockings in Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, 1939), promoted as "the picture that kids the commissars." When the mood changed, it was a simple matter to backpedal by snipping out shots that included Russians in the international array of Allies depicted in a musical like Hollywood Canteen (1944). The North Star was reedited for postwar release as Armored Attack , with heroic Russians played down; there were even hints that the former Nazi villains were equally likely to be aligned with Stalinism. As late as The Whip Hand (William Cameron Menzies, 1951), Nazis were being turned into Communists: in this case, literally, since a film ( The Man I Found ) about a surviving Hitler playing with germ warfare was reworked to make an ex-Nazi mad scientist into a fervent tool of Communist forces.

The Cold War properly began in the late 1940s, with a freeze in relations between East and West fueled by paranoia, to an extent justified, on both sides. The lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not lost on Moscow, was that the United States not only had the atom bomb but was also prepared to drop it, while half of Europe turned out to have been saved not for democracy but as a buffer of "satellite states" almost as oppressed as they had been under Hitler. Though it lasted at least until the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the peak of the Cold War is usually reckoned from Winston Churchill's (1874–1965) "Iron Curtain" speech in 1948 to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. This was an eventful period: nuclear buildup in both camps, with a procession of A- and H-bomb tests by both superpowers; an actual skirmish between the sides in Korea, later replayed on a larger scale in Vietnam; Communist insurgencies against old colonial powers Britain and France in Malaya and Indonesia; the "loss" of China to Communism, which created an equally fractious relationship between Red China and the Soviet Union; the extensive persecution of comparatively few American Communists and far more merely left-leaning or liberal Americans, many of whom had been associated with the New Deal or had spoken for the Russian ally during the war; and the beginnings of the space race, sparked by Russia's initial triumphs in launching Sputnik and putting a cosmonaut in orbit—all this, and a wave of juvenile delinquency fanned by rock and roll, horror comics, and hot rods.



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