The American society has for a long time been enchanted by reconstructing history on film. Filmmakers in the country have always tried to convey their translations of history through films. In this report, the main center point is the effect of the descent of the Iron Curtain and the anti-communist pursuit in the 1950s on the American cinematic history.
After Winston Churchill announced that an Iron Curtain had been formed separating the communist states (Mainly the Soviet Union), and the non-communist Western World, the cold war was initiated affecting every facet of the American cultural and political life.
The impact of the cold war on film industry was profound and endearing. Film directors and producers during this period produced countless films engaging various moral, social and political debates about the fifties. The films produced during the 1950s are outstanding in that they were highly shaped by the environment that existed after the fall of the iron curtain and the anti-communist campaigns initiated during this same period.
The cultural transformation that occurred during the fifties can be shown to be as a result of a conscious effort that was meant to ensure that American policy makers retained support from American citizens in their efforts to win the war. As Elmer Davis, director of the Office of War Information quoted:
“The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people’s minds is to let it go through a medium of entertainment where they do not realize that they are being propagandized “1
The Impact of House of Un-American Committee on the American Cinematic History in the 50s
This committee was an investigative unit of the House of Representatives. It was instituted in May 26, 1938, reconstructed from previous investigative units that comprised the Mc-Cormack-Dickstein and the Fish Committee2. Its main focus was to investigate subversive activities perpetrated by organizations, public employees and citizens believed to have had communist ties.
The HUAC was chaired by the Democrat Representative from Texas, Martin Dies. During its initial stages of inception, HUAC mainly focused on the alleged communist threat of the CPUSA and its relationship with Moscow. The committee initiated investigations into potential infiltration of communist spies in the government, higher education, top secret military facilities and the media3.
In the early fifties, several committees sanctioned by the senate also launched their own investigations which included the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee chaired by McCarran, a Nevada Democrat. The most influential and outspoken committee chairman during this time was Republican Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy became widely known due to his unscrupulous investigatory techniques as well as reckless and unconfirmed allegations.
From 1950, McCarthy became the most visible crusader for the cold war era. He was able to stir tensions when people were frightened and unsure due to the widespread rumors of communist subversion. McCarthy was notoriously known of making claims about the infiltration of soviet spies and sympathizers into the Federal Government.
Bayley4 Notes that McCarthy main achievement was to confuse many Americans as to the external and internal threats of communism. He forwarded many unsubstantiated claims of communist infiltration however he did not provide any proof. Bayley5 concludes that while McCarthy was not responsible for the tension that existed in the country, he exploited this situation and successfully fueled its spread and growth all over the country.
Since the early 1930s, the American media and the film industry were an important point of action for the communist party6. By 1944, several groups, such as the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals had already requested the government to help them in rooting out communist influence from the film industry.
In 1947, the HUAC began investigating various organizations and individuals in Hollywood to root out suspected communist sympathizers and those spreading communist propaganda7. The investigation carried out resulted into a court hearings held in Los Angeles, subpoenas of witnesses and a public hearing chaired by Thomas Parnell in October 1947. In November 1947, the Wardolf statement established the blacklist policy.
Ten filmmakers were indicted and convicted in court. The “Hollywood Ten”, as they were later dubbed, however refused to answer questions and evoked the Fifth Amendment8. Due to this, they were blacklisted by the film industry and ousted from Hollywood. Over the next few months, over 300 artists were fired and turned out by various studios due to public outcry and suspicion of being communist sympathizers. Most artists were unable to regain their status while some fled the country to seek employment elsewhere.
During the hearings, several filmmakers informed the committees that some war time films had pro-soviet propaganda and aimed to spread communistic ideologies to the country. Some of these films include Song of Russia and Mission to Moscow9. Due to actions of the committee, most studios were scared about approaching some political issues and therefore turned to the production of anti-communistic films.
After the blacklist event, many critics started questioning the conduct of the HUAC and whether the there was enough evidence to warrant this investigatory process. Most members of the film industry consider this period as an unfortunate period for democracy when the government inhibited radical ideas and when diehards tried to reverse the New Deal and in the process violated the civil rights of those individuals seeking to move forward10.
Some people however held the view that the blacklisted writers were fatalities of their own misgivings as their persistence on secrecy led to the suspicions that the communist party (CPUSA) partook in subversive activities11. Considering this, it is therefore easy to conclude that the HUAC was within its right to initiate the investigative procedures so as to bring scrutiny to the communist party.
However, the main misgiving about the investigative process was that most records and documents collected and used for the trials of the blacklisted writers were sealed. This therefore caused people to be suspicious about the apparent guilt of the blacklist members and whether the HUAC was within its right to persecute this people. The investigation led to the “Hollywood Ten” and the Waldolf statement in which Hollywood studios declared that they would not work with anyone who failed to comply with the HUAC investigation.
Several films were produced touching on issues connected with the HUAC and the blacklisted filmmakers. Some films were produced to promote the HUAC propaganda while some sought to question whether the techniques used were moral, ethical and correct. One of the films developed to promote the HUAC cause was Big Jim McClain, produced by Edward Ludwig. The title character for this film was John Wayne who is sent to track communist in Hawaii.
The main character is forced to interview ex-communists in his quest to discover soviet spies in the country. The agents who were arrested by Wayne’s character however escape punishment by refusing to testify and exploiting their constitutional rights. This film acted to support the move by the HUAC to find communist sympathizers within the country as well as declare to the American population that the threat of communist subversion was real and was in the country12.
When HUAC resumed its investigation in 1951, the film industry responded with an increase in the production of anti-communistic films. The following year saw the production of 13 anti-communistic films, all produced within the year. Several filmmakers decide to deal with the ideological issues concerning the HUAC witch hunt and the anti-communistic campaigns that were being propagated during this time.
In 1952, Fred Zinnerman produced the film High Noon that indirectly reflected the ideological conflicts that existed at the time13. The film written by Carl Foreman appears in form of a western in which a local town sheriff faces a group of savage murderous tries to kill him in order to gain revenge. Kane tries to enlist the help of his fellow townspeople however he is unsuccessful as most of them are cowards and too selfish to risk their own lives. He is forced to face the four gunmen alone.
The film is a depressing account of one man’s struggle amidst a spineless society. This film was Carl Foreman’s last piece prior to being blacklisted by the HUAC due to his failure to testify before the committee. Foreman’s intention was to present the film as a political metaphor in which the town describes Hollywood and the townspeople represented the studio executives who declined to assist him when he was cited by the HUAC14.
Unlike Foreman who had been blacklisted, some individuals who had cooperated with the HUAC in their investigations also released films defending themselves. Elia Kazan, who had cooperated and provided names of suspected communist sympathizers to the HUAC, released On the Waterfront (1954) in association with a team of people who had all cooperated with the HUAC. Kazan had already produced two anti-communistic films but in his movie on the waterfront, his purpose is the justification of informers15.
Turning an informer into a hero in a society where tattletales were largely scorned was not a small feat. The film focuses on Terry Malloy who is pressured by his lover and a priest to come clean about the illegal activities carried out by his union boss. Terry is caught between his need to carry out the higher good as represented by the priest and his lover, and his loyalty to his coworkers and friends. He finally chooses to do the right thing when the union workers group into a mob and kills his brother.
In this film, the producer tries to elicit sympathy for Terry in that he has no choice for how he must choose16. He is forced not only to fight the corrupt union but also to avenge the death of his sibling, act religiously and win the girl. In this film, the corrupt union represents the Soviet Union, the investigator represents HUAC and Malloy represents Kazan17.
Another movie released by blacklisted producers is the 1954 film Salt of the Earth directed by Herbert Biberman18. The film was made up of a cast that comprised mainly of miners and their families. The film deals with a strike initiated by Mexican-American miners who feel wronged since other workers working the other mines of the same company have higher wages and better working condition.
The mining company cites that it is unable to meet the expense of equality but however uses these Mexican workers for cheap labor in order to keep the American workers on line. The women also decide to go on strike mainly because of the poor sanitation and housing in the mining town. The men however put down this demand citing that they are inconsequential compared to wages and working conditions.
An order from the court however forbids the male miners from picketing but does not stop the women. The men therefore are forced to carry out housework while the women take their position. The men finally accept the women to join in on the strike and due to this they are able to come together as a community.
An international union also tries to help the miners but ultimately, the miners are all on their own. The town sheriff and the company directors are presented in a bad light in the film and are finally overwhelmed by the miners. This film was made when McCarthyism was at its prime and was the first feminist film to recognize women’s issues.
The film elicited a negative reaction from critics, the society and the government. The film was attacked by citizens on the filming site, distributors refused to handle it and many theatres refused to even show it on their screens19. The film was however recognized for its feminism and most Americans could relate to it and shared its political perspectives.
Some films produced during this time directly attacked the HUAC anti-communist campaign. The most notable film was the 1956 Storm Center directed by Taradash. The movie depicts the life of a librarian, Bette Davis, who declines to take out a book, The Communist Dream, from her library20.
She is then fired from her job when her superiors accuse her of being part of a communist group, but a young man is repulsed by this action and burns down the library. The film attacked the unconventional investigative means of the HUAC during a time whereby people were deemed guilty by association
Effect of the Iron Curtain and the anti-communist pursuit on United States cinematic history during 1950s
After World War II many Americans who worked in most of the war economy related industry lost their jobs. By the end of 1946, over 24% of workers in the war industry were retrenched and many strikes also took place during this time21. Several critics and prolific spokesmen arose and began spreading the notion that the unrest that was spreading in the country was as a result of spies who were trying to spread communism from the Soviet Union to the States.
Although this situation was highly unlikely, the approach worked and the unrest that was happening was weakened. By 1947, over 60% of Americans were in favor of abolishing the communist party as indicated by the Gallop poll. By the end of 1948, over 30% of Americans believed that the communist had already infiltrated the country and were holding important positions within the government while 12% of the public believed that the communist had gained enough power to dominate the country22.
According to Christensen and Haas23 several independent film makers took sought to explore the existing situation through films. The 1952 film, Walk East on Beacon, is a movie that is derived from an article by Edgar Hover. The movie narrates the efforts of communist spies to gain access to a top military scientific site within the country. The communist attempts are however thwarted by the F.B.I team under Captain Belden (George Murphy).
Although the precise item that the communist are targeting is never directly mentioned, it is hinted in the movie that it is related to atomic secrets being kept in the facility. This theme is congruent with the issues at the time as two people, Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg, had just been arrested in America for selling atomic secrets to Russia24. The film main intention was to show the capability of American law system in dealing with both communist and the nuclear war threats.
Another film that dealt with the communist threat was I was a communist for the F.B.I. (1951) by George Douglas. The film casted was Frank Lovely depicts an F.B.I agent who is forced to separate from his friends and family in order to infiltrate a communist cell as part of a grand scheme that aims to expose subversives and disloyal citizens.
The film’s tone is ultra-patriotic, depicting the communist as spiteful, racist and agents of the Soviet Union25. The film was based on a story series by Matt Cveltic and is an account of his nine years investigation of a local communist cell for the F.B.I. This film was also intertwined with the situation of the time when conformity was required from every citizens and sacrifice for the greater good was being the word being spread.
The cold war had a very big impact on the American Society. Citizens of the country and other organizations had to contend with the idea that the United States had become one of only two superpowers and the only country that could fight the spread of communism across the free world26.
The introduction of nuclear warfare signaled a drastic change in the sense of individual security for the individual citizen. The nuclear threat meant that citizens had to realize that the massive civilian casualties could occur within the country just as it had occurred in far away countries.
In order to enhance nationalistic sentiments and deal with the issue of a nuclear war threat, several films were developed during this period. However, two films produced this era became successful and turned into film noir classics. Pickup on Southwest (1953) produced by Sam Fuller presents a pickpocket, Skip McCoy, who inadvertently steals a folder containing secret scientific documents. Due to this theft, he is hunted by both communist spies and government agents.
McCoy, not understanding the full situation he has unleashed, finally surrenders to the government agents after his friend is murdered by the spies and his girlfriend savagely beaten27. This film, like others in its genre, portrays communists as individual full of undesirable social characters such as sexism and savagely. The second film, Kiss me Deadly (1955), is closely related to the first and describes the case of Mike Hammer, who accidentally comes upon a case of atomic weapons espionage.
He cooperates with a team of federal agents in order to track down a group of soviet spies searching for a container carrying radioactive material. The leader of the government agents seems to have ulterior motives that coincide with those of the communists. Like McCoy in the previous film, Hammers main drive is not patriotism but personal profit, vengeance and liberating his friend28. These two films expose how effortlessly tensions in the Cold War could be brought into play for narratives more willingly than ideological principles.
Except for Pearl Harbor, no major threat posed by a foreign power had taken place within the American soil since the war in 181229. The notion that a foreign country could attack America with such instantaneous and overwhelming might was a new and petrifying reality.
Apart from this, the period after the cold war saw the establishment of an allegation of a distinctive security threat that arose just after the end of World War I. The existence of the “Fifth Colum”, a well-organized society suspected to have strong organizational ties with foreign powers was suspected to have been present in the country just after the War30.
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPUSA) sought to spread its ideological believes all over the world. It had the media and financial resources beyond its visible ability to operate and political influence31. Over the years, various testimonies from defectors of the communist party and indirect evidence showed that CPUSA was actually under the control of the Soviet Communist Party. There were constant accounts of communist spies working for government agencies and the military.
In the period after the World War I, CPUSA was also very active in advocating the public to overthrow both the economic and political system of the United States. However, even though there were erratic persecutions witnessed in the early 1920s, the American Society mainly endured its domestic communists as a group of marginal, inefficient, misguided and non-threatening radicals. The advent of the cold war changed this view. Most Americans viewed these radicals as the country’s biggest threat.
This threat of domestic communism was also a very common theme in the film industry. During this time, several B rated films casting Americans working as soviet spies within the country facilitated the spread of the notion that the country was swarming with communist agents during the McCarthy era.
These films include Security Risk (1954) in which communist agents infiltrate the American government, Shack Out on 101 in which spies infiltrate an important military research facility and The Fear makers, in which communist agents take over an American marketing organization32. Many of these movies did not succeed as entertainment or anti-communism propaganda.
One of the major films that focused on this theme was My Son John (1952)33. This movie was produced by Leo McCarey as a response to the move by HUAC. The film revolves around an all American family and is played by actors who were already familiar at the time. The movie is about a college educated, highly intellectual and arrogant boy, John, who seems to be a communist sympathizer. John parents are however religious, patriotic and hard working and are very worried about their son’s anti-Americanism.
The film culminates in John being turned in to the F.B.I by his own mother after she suspects he is a spy for the Soviet Union. He manages to escape custody and plans to flee from the country while in possession of some government secrets. He however has a change of heart and phones the Bureau and tells them that he will surrender and become an informant. Before getting to the F.B.I agents, he is gunned down by communist spies in his taxi.
However, John had already recorded his evidence and the tape recording reaches the F.B.I making their case easier. The anti-communistic enthusiasm of the film almost destroys the reception of the film by the audience. The film is one amongst several films that tries to strain the importance of denouncing suspected spies regardless of possible relationships34. Other films of the same genre include, I Married a communist (1950), and the conspirator (1949).
When Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured by the senate due to his unsubstantiated and reckless claims of domestic communist threats, the anti-communist campaign slowly lost momentum. It was during this time that the focus of country threat shifted from internal communist threats to external. American realized that they were the only superpower that could tackle the Soviet Union and ensure that democracy prevailed in the free world.
In order to carry out what was required to support this new focus, American policy makers realized that willingness and a strong military was required35. The American society became anxious when they realized that a permanent conflict between the west and the east could explode into a nuclear war.
This shift was subsequently adopted by Hollywood whereby filmmakers began focusing on communist expansion rather than subversion36. A new genre began in Hollywood that focused on military struggles between the good guys and the bad and nuclear threats.
Most of the films that depicted this new genre were war films and science fiction. The 1951 science fiction movie The Man from Planet X and the 1953 Invaders from Mars both deal with the same theme where aliens invade the earth (set in America) and try to conquer or destroy. One of the most successful films in this period was the 1951 film The Thing from another World directed by Christian Nyby37.
In the film, a couple of scientists and military personnel are able to destroy an alien that feeds off human blood. By doing this, they are able to deflect the first wave of alien invasion. At the end of the movie the team is instructed to keep what transpired a secret from everyone without proper clearances. This film parodies the situation at the time as it forwards coming together to fight an enemy devoid of moral conscious, the need for censorship, and putting national interest above anything else.
The alien used in this movie just as in other movies during this time is a depiction of the Soviet Union. One of the most notable and successful movies of this time was the 1956 film The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
This film depicts a type of invasion that is more unnoticeable in the form of alien seed pods that attacks humans while asleep and takes destroys their conscious taking over their bodies. The invasion turns the residents of this town into insipid, obedient and calm zombies. The alien seed pods depict communist ideas that are perpetrated to the unsuspecting Americans (sleeping residents)38. The film also ridicules conformity that leads to the oppressive atmosphere commonly found in American suburbia.
After the McCarthy era, most Americans were afraid that the cold war would turn into a full blow physical combat. Policy makers and politicians knew that America needed a strong army and that people had to be motivated to enlist into the army39. Hollywood picked up on this atmosphere and various war movies began appearing on screen after a hiatus that began just after the war. Most of this film depicted the various wars that had been fought including World War II, the Cold War and the Korean War.
The films that were based on World were two mainly dealt with themes concerning nationalism and teamwork in fighting foreign oppression and ensuring that democracy was uphold all over the free world40.
Those that depicted the Korean War were based on the theme of the readiness of the American society to live up to the ideals of democracy and those that were based on the Cold War were mainly based on American actions meant to contain the spread of communism and how the ideals of patriotism and cooperative effort can help prevent further wars41. These films also dealt with tools and weapons that were intended to prevent the feared atomic war.
One of the most successful war films produced during this time was the 1955 Strategic War Command42. In this film, “Dutch” is called back into active duty after having retired and turned into a professional baseball player. He is therefore faced with the choice of continuing his baseball career and keeping his marriage intact or joining the army. Although his wife wants him to stay at home, she supports him when he chooses to go back to the army.
This film depicts a highly patriarchal family that is close to one another. During this time when most people felt that war was eminent, it was a common believe that this type of families were the main means of keeping America strong. The film ideological concepts include patriotism, loyalty to family and sacrifice for the greater good.
The threat of a nuclear war was present in the country due to the cold war standoff between the Soviet Union and America. Various films depicted these threats in terms of science fiction and horror. Most of the films produced this era mainly narrated the story of mutated creatures that arose due to exposure of nuclear waste to rein havoc to humanity.
Some of these films include: Them produced in 1954, Fathom produced in 1953 and the Beginning of the End, produced in 1957. Some films even depicted how the world would look like after the nuclear war an example being, The day the world ended produced in 195643.
The Cold War began its decline in the late 1950s. In 1959, the nuclear altercation between the Soviet Union and America became a less threatening issue after a meeting between the top leaders of the two countries44. Films produced this time mainly reflected on what could have been had the Nuclear war occurred.
The 1959 film On the Beach, narrates the story of the last moments of the human race after a huge nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. An American submarine is docked on the beach of Australia waiting for the poisonous nuclear cloud to reach them from the rest of the world. The film forwards that ideal that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union can claim to be morally correct and that the nuclear threat overshadows any political philosophies that the two countries believe in45.
After the cold war, anti-communistic films mainly took a satirical tone. During the end of the 1950s, cold war films changed genres and adversaries now engaged in a world of espionage and not direct military conflicts. Night people, a film produced by Nunnally Johnson is an example of this genre whereby two officers engage in a battle of wits in order to complete a mission of utmost importance to both their respective countries. Various black comedies were produced to ridicule the situation that existed during the cold war.
Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three America (1961) is a satirical comedy that satirizes both the east and the west cold war cultures. The story is about the directing manager for the Coca-Cola Berlin office who hires a spy to turn a communist young man into a capitalist so that he can marry the director’s daughter46. The film uses humor and satire to ridicule the ideologies that existed during the war and is part of the many films in this new genre that were produced in the period after the war.
Filmmakers around the world usually use current events to develop their stories. The cold war period was filled with various issues and ideological concepts that were adopted into the film industry. The films mainly reflected the environment in which people at the time lived in or were created in response to a particular event. Various films were produced to reflect various issues and to forward particular ideological messages. Before the 1950s, various films had been produced with pro-soviet ideologies.
These films however elicited negative feelings from the general public after the War ended and people were insecure about the future of the American society. The HUAC was charged with investigating and rooting out communist subversives within the film industry. However, the investigations initiated by the HUAC led to anti-communist campaigns that changed the film industry at the time. Several new genres emerged and many filmmakers exploited these new opportunities.
The period after brought with it a lot of changes that was usually reflected in the eyes of the camera. The 1950s saw an increase in the amount of films being produced in America. The 1950s was also a period of paranoiac discourse and anti-communism that reached its peak with the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy helped start a campaign that was described by absurd witch-hunts, oppression of civil liberties, unwarranted use of political power and dishonesty.
The film industry came under scrutiny when the HUAC initiated investigations to root out communist sympathizers. The anti-communist campaign brought with it various ideologies into the American society. These ideologies are reflected in the film industry47.
In the late 1940s to the early 1950 several anti-political films were released in America. However the American society at this time was not very interested in politics. The country was ruled by Dwight Eisenhower, a moderate conservative and considered by most as a nonpolitician48. The early fifties were a prosperous period for many Americans. During this time people were mainly focused on having big cars, large families, suburban houses and fancy vacations.
Christenseen and Haas49 note that most films produced during this time reflected the American society at the time where veneration and emphasis on material gain and individual success were highly revered. However, Americans in the early fifties had to adapt to a progressively more urban and corporate nation. The society had to temper the emphasis of individualism in order to fit into the corporate nation, which required consensus and conformity. This change was also mirror in the film industry and the movies produced.
Apart from these situations, America also had to contend with being one of the two main superpowers. In 1950, the cold war changed into a full-on combat between the country and Korea and later reverted back into a Cold War in 195350.
During this time, the threat of communist infiltration created fear among the citizens that bordered on paranoia. This wide spread fear reinforced the conformity that had just started to spring in the country and resulted into an intense anti-communism campaign that terminated with the career of Senator McCarthy.
Modern images and perception of the 1950s are mainly dominated by the forces of consensus and conformity. The American belief in the future had been reinforced with the prosperity that was present in the country and the overwhelming support of President Eisenhower. However, the nation was in turmoil due to cold war that dominated international politics. The perception that American was untouchable and dominated the world began to quickly fade.
When Hungary was invade by the Soviet Union in 1956, America stood by and watched. When the Sputnik satellite was launched into space by Russia, America for the first time realized that it might be inferior to the other superpower51. In 1959, when the Soviet Union made an agreement with Fidel Castro, America realized that communism was just at its doorstep. Apart from this, the threat of nuclear war hanged around the minds of every American citizen52.
Although all this situations were a constant reminder that the world was a precarious place, the paranoia of Senator McCarthy and the HUAC acted as a fire spreading tensions within the country, and the politics within the country became more intricate as various social movements were created and the Liberals became more confident53. Rock and Roll emerged and created a bigger rift between the generations, and journalist increased this generational gap by ridiculing the suburban conformity and the company man54.
All this changes were reflected by the movies produced at this time. Some filmmakers continued producing political films however they were different from the previous ones and were fewer in number. Films depicting social issues climaxed in the late forties, but continued appearing throughout the fifties. Some of these include a rising number of films about rebellious teenagers such as the 1955 Rebel without a Cause and the 1953 film The Wild One55.
However, the 1950s was also a time when new types of movie genre emerge and when the old ones evolved. This was mainly as a result of a power shift in many studios and the degeneration of the Production Code Administration. As the United States of America changed, the film industry was reorganized when the Justice Department ordered all studios to employ divestiture on all there theatre claims in 194956.
By the 1950s, owners of the major theatres could bid on films and had the power to reject showing films that they perceived as controversial. This situation made it harder for many studios to gamble on political issues in films.
This was evident as after 1954, when the divestiture was implemented, very few political movies were ever produced. This situation however had the added advantage that independent film producers could reach a larger number of audiences57. Thus by the late fifties, most political films produced were by independent filmmakers.
As a result of poor studio controls, Independent filmmakers had the opportunity to freely express their ideas. However politically charged films still had a low output as most investors and distributors were cautious and thus access to funding was very hard. However several studios released various cinemas that had political and civil rights contents such as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the Robe (1953)58
One of the main issues that affected the 1950s was the anti-communistic campaigns that were going on. The film industry had been under scrutiny since 1947 and therefore responded to this threat by changing the genre of most films. The American society was nervous and due to widespread tension perpetrated by Joseph McCarthy and his supporters, there was a need to reassure them that although fears were justified, the government was able to handle any internal communist threat59.
Various films were then developed to bring out the theme of domestic communism and how it was rooted out. These films aimed at further spreading the notion that America was flooded by soviet spies and that they had infiltrated various levels of the society. Some of this films forwarded ideologies such as patriotism, sacrifice and the search for the greater good.
The second issue during this period was the threat of a nuclear war. Most people believed that the cold war was soon going to turn hot and the nuclear standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States would lead to a nuclear war60.
Several filmmakers picked up on this and developed films that depicted the world after a nuclear holocaust and some films describing the supremacy of the United States and its ability to protect its citizens through superior technology and team work. In these films, the Soviet Union is usually depicted as an immoral invader, driven by the need to conquer and enslave the American population. Most of the films describing this issue were either thrillers or science fiction films.
After McCarthy was ousted from power, anti-communistic sentiments began to wane. The American society changed its focus from internal security to external threats of communism. Americans felt they had to protect their interest outside the country and that they had to ensure that democracy was not squashed by communism in the free world. Films then changed tactics to mirror this turn of events and provide the people what they wanted. The genre applied during this time was war films, science fiction and horror films.
The action films mainly depicted family men who chose honor and their country sacrificing their careers and time spent with their families to protect American interests. Science fiction and horror films mainly depicted the annihilation of the world due to a nuclear holocaust or infestation with mutated bugs from nuclear wastes released after a nuclear war. Tensions were high and the issue that was on everybody’s mouth and thoughts were about a nuclear attack or World War III.
During the decline of the cold war, the level of a nuclear attack decreased and cold war ideologies were irrelevant. Films produced during this time were mainly comedies parodying the ideological differences between the two world super powers and some science fiction films showing the aftermath of an atomic attack.
The attack on Hollywood by the HUAC also elicited response from filmmakers. Although most filmmakers and studio executives were scared to fight against the committee, some independent filmmakers released films that highlighted the wrongs that were being perpetuated by the government in its course to find and eliminate the communist threat61.
The Hollywood blacklist members also released some movies either defending themselves or attacking the HUAC. Those who had cooperated also defended their choice to corporate through releasing some films that highlighted the honor of being an informant.
In the modern time, the term McCarthyism brings to mind a period where the law could be twisted to produce result regardless of truth. The red scare, anti-communist campaigns and the threat of a nuclear war all combined to shape the film industry of the 1950s. The period after World War II was surrounded by many issues. After the war, various American organizations were concerned about communist subversion.
In 1947, the HUAC began an investigative procedure into the film industry in order to find and remove communist influence that was suspected to have infiltrated this industry.
The procedure resulted into the blacklisting of 10 members and the Waldoff statement that ensured anyone who wanted to work in the industry had to be approved by the committee. The beginning of the cold war brought with it several ideological shifts. Senator Joseph McCarthy used the fear that was already within American citizens to spread this fears to all corners of the country.
The film industry responded to the HUAC threat and the McCarthy communist witch-hunt by producing films tackling these issues. To counteract the HUAC process, various studios produced anti-communist films and other pro-American propaganda films. The nuclear threat that had lingered over the country also provided a prime opportunity from Hollywood filmmakers.
Various science fiction and thriller films were produced to narrate this issue and reflect popular opinion. After the end of Senator McCarthy career, the focus of communist threat shifted from internal to external. War films, horror stories and thrillers were produced to reflect the popular opinion about the situation.
Politics and the film industry have always been intertwined for a long time. Political ideologies are usually spread through the use of motion pictures and other forms of media. The media is a very strong force of democracy and has such has the power to sway public opinion. During the Cold War, the various motion pictures produced not only served as entertainment but also reflected the popular opinion that existed at the time. The film industry had to change and adapt to fulfill the needs of the American society at this time.
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Gladchuk, John J. Hollywood and Anticommunism: HUAC and the Evolution of the Red Menace, 1935-1950. New York: Routledge Publishers, 2006
Hendershot, Cynthia. Anti-communism and popular culture in mid-century America. North Carolina: McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers, 2003.
Howe, Irving and Lewis Coser. The American Communist Party: A Critical History, 1919-1957. Boston: Beacon Press, 1957.
Knight, Amy. How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies. New York: Basic Books, 2006.
Koopes, C.R. and Black, G. “What to Show the World: The OWI and Hollywood, 1942-45” Journal of American History 64 (1977): 87-105
Leab, Daniel. “How Red was my Valley; Hollywood, the Cold War Film, and I Married A Communist.” Journal of Contemporary history 19, no. 1 (1984): 59-88
Radosh, Ronald and Allis Radosh. Red Star over Hollywood. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2005.
Scheibach, Michael. Atomic narratives and American youth: coming of age with the Atom, 1945-1955.North Carolina: McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers, 2003.
Shaw, Tony. “The Politics of Cold War Culture.” Journal of Cold War Studies, 3, no. 3 (2006): 59-76.
Walsh, David. “The anti-communist purge of the American film industry.” International Committee of the Fourth International 4, no.2 (2009): 31-42
Whitfield, Stephen J. The Culture of the Cold War, second edition. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1996
1 C.R. Koopes and G, D. Black, “What to Show the World: The OWI and Hollywood, 1942-45” Journal of American History 64 (1977): 89.
2 John Gladchuk, Hollywood and Anticommunism: HUAC and the Evolution of the Red Menace, 1935-1950. (New York: Routledge Publishers, 2006), 8
3 Irving Howe and Lewis Coser, The American Communist Party: A Critical History 1919-1957. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), 49.
4 Edwin Bayley, Joe McCarthy and the Press. (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981), 32
5 Bayley, Joe McCarthy, 34
6 Howe and Coser, The American Communist Party, 56
7 Terry Christensen and Peter Haas, Projecting politics: political messages in American film. (New York: M.E. Sharp Inc, 2006), 118
8 Cynthia Hendershot, Anti-communism and popular culture in mid-century America. (North Carolina: McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers, 2003.), 94, 156
9 Gladchuck, Hollywood and Anticommunism, 59
10 David Walsh. “The anti-communist purge of the American film industry.” International Committee of the Fourth International 4, no.2 (2009): 34
11 Tony Shaw, “The Politics of Cold War Culture.” Journal of Cold War Studies, 3, no. 3 (2006), 63
12 Christensen and Haas, Projecting politics, 116
13 Ronald Radosh and Allis Radosh, Red Star over Hollywood. (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2005), 44
14Radosh and Radosh, Red Star, 45
15 Hendershot, Anti-communism and popular culture, 138
17 Ibid., 138
18 Gladchuck, Hollywood and Anticommunism, 65
19 Ibid., 66
20 Christensen and Haas, Projecting politics, 122
21 Stephen Whitfield J. The Culture of the Cold War, second edition. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1996), 56
22 Christensen and Haas, Projecting politics, 110.
23 Ibid 103
24 Hendershot, Anti-communism and popular culture, 133
25 Daniel Leab. “How Red was my Valley; Hollywood, the Cold War Film, and I Married a Communist.” Journal of Contemporary history 19, no. 1 (1984): 76
26 John Gaddis. The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987), 15
27 Hendershot, Anti-communism and popular culture, 136
28 Christensen and Haas, Projecting politics, Projecting politics, 119
29 Ibid., 24
30 Hendershot, Anti-communism and popular culture, 94.
31 Howe and Coser, The American Communist Party, 22
32 Gladchuck, Hollywood and Anticommunism, 78
33 Hendershot, Anti-communism and popular culture, 134
34 Daniel Leab, “How Red was my Valley”, 86
35 Whitfield, Culture of the Cold War, 62
36 Gladchuck, Hollywood and Anticommunism, 68
37 Christensen and Haas, Projecting politics, 125
38 Hendershot, Anti-communism and popular culture, 140
39 Whitfield, Culture of the Cold War, 62
40 Ibid., 63
41 Ibid., 63
42 LeRoy With amusement for all, 71
43 Christensen and Haas, Projecting politics, Projecting politics, 127
44 Amy How the Cold War Began, 16
45 Hendershot, Anti-communism and popular culture, 143
46 Ibid., 144
47 Gladchuck, Hollywood and Anticommunism, 57
48 Ibid, 79
49 Christenseen and Haas, Projecting politics, 104
50 Shaw, “The Politics of Cold War Culture”, 62
51 Knight, Amy. How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies. (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 13
52 Hendershot, Anti-communism and popular culture, 92
53 Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War, 48
54 LeRoy Ashby. With amusement for all: a history of American popular culture since 1830. (Kentucky: University press of Kentucky, 2006), 34
55 Michael Scheibach. Atomic narratives and American youth: coming of age with the atom, 1945-1955.(North Carolina: McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers, 2003), 45
56 Walsh “The anti-communist purge of the American film industry.”, 36
57 Terry and Peter. Projecting politics, 126
58 Gaddis. The Long Peace, 62
59 Shaw, The Politics of Cold War Culture, 65
60 Hendershot, Anti-communism and popular culture, 134
61 Gladchuck, Hollywood and Anticommunism, 65