The science fiction film Strange Invaders (Michael Laughlin, 1983), which trades in acid-tinged nostalgia, opens with a caption that describes the 1950s as an era in which "the only things we had to worry about were the Communists and rock 'n' roll." The joke, of course, is that these multipronged threats still managed to turn a decade otherwise characterized by increasing affluence, technological and social progress, and an absence of world war into a time of deep-seated fear, doubt, and paranoia.
The word "worry" recurs often in the context of this period in cinema—a less extreme emotion than the commingled joy and terror of World War II, when Hollywood wore the fixed grin of James Cagney's (1899–1986) Yankee Doodle Dandy or Errol Flynn's (1909–1959) battlefield heroes, but the anxieties of the 1950s were longer lasting, with broader and stranger effects. The jolly nuclear awareness training films ( Duck and Cover ) and ghastly novelty songs ("If Jin'ral McArthur Drops a Atomic Bomb") exhumed in the documentary The Atomic Cafe (Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Pierce Rafferty, 1982) are freakish in their obviousness. The pervasiveness of the Cold War, with its "atomic cocktail" of political and apocalyptic anxieties, is evident from almost every film made in Hollywood between 1948 and 1962.