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Hollywoods cold war EUP 10/7/07 10:24 am Page 1




‘Politically nuanced, historically contextualized, and internationally informed,

Hollywood’s Cold War is essential reading for anyone interested in this fascinating
subject. Tony Shaw’s analysis is both penetrating and comprehensive. The broad
range of films he studies will greatly expand conventional understandings of the
Cold War’s impact on American filmmaking.’
Christian G. Appy, author of Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides

Published at a point when American filmmakers are deeply involved in the

War on Terror, this authoritative and timely book offers the first comprehensive
account of Hollywood’s propaganda role during the defining ideological conflict of
the twentieth century: the Cold War. In an analysis of films dating from America’s
first Red Scare in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to the collapse of
the Berlin Wall in 1989, Tony Shaw examines the complex relationship between
filmmakers, censors, politicians and government propagandists.

Movies, Shaw demonstrates, were at the centre of the Cold War’s battle for hearts
and minds. Hollywood’s comedies, love stories, musicals, thrillers, documentaries and
science fiction shockers – to list a few genres – played a critical dual role: on the one
hand teaching millions of Americans why communism represented the greatest threat
their country had ever faced, and on the other selling America’s liberal-capitalist

ideals across the globe.

Drawing on declassified government documents, studio archives and filmmakers’ HOLLYWOOD’S COLD WAR
private papers, Shaw reveals the different ways in which cinematic propaganda was
produced, disseminated, and received by audiences during the Cold War. In the
process, he blends subjects as diverse as women’s fashions, McCarthyism, drug
smuggling, Christianity, and American cultural diplomacy in India. His conclusions
about Hollywood’s versatility and power have a contemporary resonance which will
interest anyone wishing to understand wartime propaganda today.

Tony Shaw is Reader in International History at the University of Hertfordshire.

Cover design:

Cover image: Soviet troops occupy Calumet, Colorado
in John Milius’ Red Dawn (1984). Courtesy of
MGM/United Artists/ The Kobal Collection.
Edinburgh University Press

22 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LF
ISBN 978 0 7486 2524 6
Hollywood’s Cold War
For Shirley and Isaac
Hollywood’s Cold War

Tony Shaw


© Tony Shaw, 2007

Edinburgh University Press Ltd

22 George Square, Edinburgh

Typeset in Garamond
by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Manchester, and
printed and bound in Great Britain by
Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham, Wilts

A CIP record for this book is

available from the British Library

ISBN 978 0 7486 2523 9 (hardback)

ISBN 978 0 7486 2524 6 (paperback)

The right of Tony Shaw

to be identified as author of this work
has been asserted in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Acknowledgements vii
List of Abbreviations ix

Introduction 1
1. Love and defection 9
2. The enemy within 42
3. Projecting a prophet for profit 72
4. Of gods and moguls 103
5. Negotiable dissent 135
6. Turning a negative into a positive 167
7. A cowboy in combats 199
8. Secrets and lies 234
9. The empire strikes back 267
Conclusion 301

Bibliography 310
Film Index 332
General Index 335

I would like to record thanks to the following who, in one way or another, gave
me help on this project: Chris Appy, Dave Bannerman, John Bell, John
Christensen, Nick Cull, Sue Dowe, David Dunn, Colin Gardner, Ifan Hughes,
Pete Kind, Rob King, Dan Leab, Patrick Major, Gregg McClymont, Ross
Melnick, MRFC, MUFC, Kenneth Osgood, Josie Panidou, Ray Ryan, John
Sbardellati, Axel Schäfer, Leslie Shores, Mark E. Smith, Richard Standring,
Mike Thornhill, June Venables, Pete Venables, Hugh Wilford, Gretchen
Wayne, Andy Woods; to the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the
British Academy, the University of Hertfordshire, and the Scouloudi
Foundation at London’s Institute of Historical Research for financial assis-
tance; and, most of all, to Shirley Heckles, for being my movie-watching
partner for twenty years and for collaborating on the best possible distraction
from book-writing: Isaac.
Thanks to I. B. Tauris for permitting me to update a chapter that appeared
in my book British Cinema and the Cold War: The State, Propaganda and Consensus
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permis-
sion to reproduce material and film stills in this book. Every effort has been
made to trace copyright holders, but if any have been inadvertently over-
looked the publisher will be pleased to make the necessary arrangement at the
first opportunity.
White Nights (1985). Columbia Pictures/Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences.
Ninotchka (1939). MGM/The Kobal Collection.
Silk Stockings (1957). MGM/The Kobal Collection.
My Son John (1952). Paramount/The Kobal Collection.
J. Edgar Hoover-Louis de Rochement photograph. Louis de Rochement
Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Walk East on Beacon (1952). Columbia Pictures/Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences.
Walk East on Beacon (1952) poster. Columbia Pictures/Louis de Rochement
Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
viii Hollywood’s Cold War

John Halas photograph. Stills, Posters and Designs Division of the British
Film Institute.
Animal Farm (1954). Columbia Pictures/Halas and Batchelor Ltd.
1984 (1956). Columbia Pictures/Stills, Posters and Designs Division of the
British Film Institute.
Red Planet Mars (1952). United Artists/The Kobal Collection.
The Prisoner (1955). Columbia Pictures/Stills, Posters and Designs Division
of the British Film Institute.
Cecil B. DeMille photograph. Paramount/Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences.
The Ten Commandments (1956). Paramount/The Kobal Collection.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Twentieth Century Fox/The Kobal
Storm Centre (1956). Columbia Pictures/Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences.
On the Beach (1959). United Artists/MGM.
Pinky (1949). Twentieth Century Fox/The Kobal Collection.
George Stevens, Jr. photograph. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Nine from Little Rock (1964). Programme Guggenheim Pictures,
Inc./United States Information Agency.
The Wings of Eagles (1957). MGM/The Kobal Collection.
John Wayne photographs and The Green Berets (1968) poster. Batjac
Productions, Inc.
The Green Berets (1968). Batjac Productions, Inc./ Warner Bros.
Entertainment, Inc.
Hearts and Minds (1974). Columbia Pictures/BBS Productions, Inc.
The President’s Analyst (1967) poster. Paramount.
Three Days of the Condor (1975). Paramount/The Kobal Collection.
Red Dawn (1984). MGM/United Artists/The Kobal Collection.
Walker (1987). Universal Studios.
Red Heat (1988). Carolco/The Kobal Collection.
The Hunt for Red October (1990). Paramount/The Kobal Collection.
List of Abbreviations

ACCF American Committee for Cultural Freedom

ACLU American Civil Liberties Union
AFI American Film Institute
ARVN Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)
BBC British Broadcasting Corporation
CBS Columbia Broadcasting System
CCF Congress for Cultural Freedom
CFF Crusade for Freedom
CIA Central Intelligence Agency
CPUSA Communist Party of the United States of America
ECA European Cooperation Administration
FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation
FCDA Federal Civil Defence Administration
HUAC House Un-American Activities Committee
IRD Information Research Department (UK)
KGB Committee of State Security (Soviet intelligence and security
MI5 Military Intelligence department concerned with state security
MOI Ministry of Information (UK)
MPA Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals
MPAA Motion Picture Association of America
MPEA Motion Picture Export Association
MPPDA Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America
MPS Motion Picture Service (of USIA)
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
NBC National Broadcasting Company
NCFE National Committee for Free Europe
NSC National Security Council
OCB Operations Coordinating Board
OCDM Office of Civil Defence Management
OPC Office of Policy Coordination
x Hollywood’s Cold War

OSS Office of Strategic Services

OWI Office of War Information
PCA Production Code Administration
PSB Psychological Strategy Board
RD-DR Reader’s Digest-de Rochement Corporation
UN United Nations
USIA United States Information Agency
USIS United States Information Services
USO United Service Organisations
VOA Voice of America

In the battle for mass opinion in the Cold War, few weapons were more
powerful than the cinema. From the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution through to
the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, millions of people worldwide went to
movie theatres every week, from the rundown fleapits of Calcutta to the air-
conditioned dream palaces of California. What they saw and heard on the big
screen could have a profound influence on their comprehension of the Cold
War – whether it was via British-made espionage comedies of the 1950s, East
German-made outer-space adventures of the 1960s, American-made ‘para-
noid’ thrillers of the 1970s, or Cuban-made allegorical vampire cartoons of
the 1980s.1
Over the past 50 years, considerable attention has focused on the ‘Great
Fear’ that swept through Hollywood during the McCarthy era. For good
reason: the late 1940s and early 1950s is commonly regarded as Tinsel town’s
‘darkest hour’, when producers were forced into making dozens of lurid ‘red-
baiting’ movies and when scores of filmmakers’ careers were ruined by bogus
accusations of communist subversion.2 More recently, historians have begun
to set the American film industry’s Cold War role in a wider, international
context, by, for instance, highlighting Hollywood’s willingness to export
American ideals in line with the US State Department’s wishes.3 However, this
celluloid ‘cultural diplomacy’ has yet to make serious inroads into mainstream
Cold War historiography, while only a few scholars have taken the lead from
the revelations of Hollywood-State Department collaboration to search for
potential links between the film industry and other government agencies
during the conflict.4
This book is the first attempt to map out Hollywood’s treatment of the
Cold War throughout the whole conflict. On one level, it is a work of film
history, one that provides a comprehensive account of which plots, scenes
and actors figured prominently on the American Cold War screen over a
period of 70 years. On another level, Hollywood’s Cold War fuses film studies
with diplomatic, social and political history. It looks behind the scenes to
determine which individuals, political organisations and government depart-
ments were involved in the filmmaking process. It explains how the political
2 Hollywood’s Cold War

economy of American cinema affected the content and distribution of Cold

War movies, and why filmmakers focused on certain Cold War issues at the
expense of others. It explores the relationship between Hollywood’s Cold War
coverage and the US political establishment’s views on the conflict, and, ulti-
mately, considers the influence Hollywood films had on the public’s percep-
tions of the Cold War in the United States and elsewhere. At root, my chief
interest lies in detailing the general mentalities and values that underpinned
one of the longest international and civil conflicts of the twentieth century.
This means examining the Cold War from the bottom up rather than top-
down and seeing it as a conflict between peoples as much as governments. A
key part of this involves investigating how the most powerful opinion-
forming institutions, the mass media, told the ‘story’ of the Cold War.
Hollywood’s Cold War is also revisionist. It shows that the American film
industry had effectively been at war with communism for three decades prior
to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s now notorious arrival on the political scene in
the late 1940s. Not only was this thirty years before the appearance of William
Wellman’s The Iron Curtain (1948), often called Hollywood’s first Cold War
movie.5 It was also, significantly, thirty years before most scholars indicate the
‘cultural Cold War’ started.6 As I will go on to argue, however, the film indus-
try’s early willingness to portray communism as fundamentally un-American
did not translate automatically into blanket support for Washington’s Cold
War approach between the late 1940s and late 1980s. In order to explain why,
and to trace the main contours of Hollywood’s treatment of the Cold War, it
is necessary to contextualise the American film industry’s changing attitudes
towards, and representations of, the conflict. This entails examining the
motives that lay behind the making of Cold War film material at various stages
of the conflict, and exploring the main Cold War themes addressed by key
feature films and documentaries. It also means assessing how films were
received by a variety of audiences, and looking at the ways in which culture
and public opinion intersected with foreign policy-making in the United States
during the Cold War.
Above all, the book outlines Hollywood’s part in the longest of all inter-
national cinematic propaganda wars to date – that fought between American
and Soviet filmmakers during the Cold War. Scholars now accept that, partly
because of the ubiquity of the mass media in the second half of the twenti-
eth century, the Cold War was a propaganda contest par excellence. Never
before in history had the belligerents in a civil and international conflict pos-
sessed the means of communicating so deeply and so widely. Rarely before
had belligerents also needed to play the propaganda game so assiduously. With
the onset of the rivalry between communism and capitalism after 1917, and
especially after the geopolitical changes wrought by the Second World War,
Introduction 3

the increasingly critical role played by ideology in international relations since

the French Revolution reached its apogee. Two ‘total ideologies’ now faced
each other globally, the result being that scarcely an international episode
between 1945 and 1989 escaped the imprint of the East-West altercation.
Fearful that an armed clash with each other would lead to a nuclear
Armageddon, Washington and Moscow were compelled to turn to twin sur-
rogates. First, they had recourse to proxy wars in the Third World fought, ini-
tially at least, by clients of the superpowers guided by American or Russian
‘advisers’. Second, they conducted the Cold War with words and images, using
psychological warfare laced with ideological slogans on an unparalleled scale,
as a substitute for guns and bombs.7
Thanks to declassified official documentation, we can now paint a broad
picture of the American government’s propaganda strategy during the Cold
War. What is clear is that this strategy was far more sophisticated and expan-
sive than many have supposed. Successive US administrations thought that
winning the hearts and minds of those at home was every bit as important as
those overseas. Crucially, propaganda was also inextricably linked to many
Americans’ highly ideological approach towards the Cold War. Conven-
tionally, historians have thought of propaganda as an accessory to the tradi-
tional military, economic and political components of US Cold War strategy
– the ‘fourth weapon’ in Washington’s armoury. Propaganda has, moreover,
been seen largely as an adjunct to policy, there to support rather than to shape
decision-making. But what if propaganda disseminated about, let us say, the
‘superiority’ of democratic values was more than a policy veneer? What if
presidential speeches on America’s ‘missionary’ role during the Cold War, say,
indicated that American policy-makers saw the conflict as much as a spiritual
and ideological contest as a military or economic battle? Furthermore, what if
propaganda and ideology went hand in hand, reinforcing one another, under-
pinned by a psychological and cultural approach to the Cold War?8
Such questions run counter both to historians rooted in the realist and
national security traditions of American foreign relations, who argue that
policy-makers were concerned primarily about ‘correlations of power’, and
many ‘revisionists’, who emphasise Washington’s quest for economic domi-
nance.9 Yet there is considerable documentary evidence to show that these
two dominant schools of Cold War historiography have overlooked the
importance of ideology and propaganda. Take National Security Council
directive 68 (NSC-68), for example, the Truman administration’s top-secret
blueprint for a global offensive against Soviet communism, written in 1950.
This seminal document defined the Cold War clearly in terms of freedom
versus slavery, democracy versus autocracy, and pluralism versus totalitarian-
ism. It also called for a ‘psychological scare campaign’ aimed at the mass
4 Hollywood’s Cold War

public, one employing arguments that were ‘clearer than truth’. Numerous
other records show that Washington fully realised that its belief in the supe-
riority of ‘American’ values stood for nothing unless it was matched by a
propaganda machine that could project those values at home and worldwide.
Otherwise, the United States risked losing the propaganda/ideological
battle – and thereby, by default, the Cold War itself.10
This marriage between policy, ideology and propaganda called for the
coordination of a diverse range of government information bodies and tech-
niques. Through organisations like the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI), State Department, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and United
States Information Agency (USIA), the US government during the Cold War
waged a war of words and images at home and abroad to influence friends,
woo neutrals, and denounce enemies. Critically, coordination extended
beyond official agencies to embrace the private sector. All administrations
from Harry Truman’s onwards judged that the Cold War was a total conflict
requiring contributions from all sectors of American life, and that the battle
for hearts and minds extended beyond the powers of the government’s infor-
mation agencies. Consequently, overt and covert efforts were made to enlist
the services of ordinary Americans, prominent citizens, civic organisations,
women’s groups, labour unions, academic institutions, the mass media, and
virtually every arm of government in the nation’s anti-communist propa-
ganda campaigns. Here, Washington worked on the basis that private organ-
isations and individuals often conveyed propaganda messages with greater
flexibility and credibility. Furthermore, such ‘camouflaged’, or grey, propa-
ganda was more subtle than the more open, often clumsy manipulation of
opinion by the state in communist countries. It could also be more dynamic,
with the private sector often taking the initiative, and the state then stepping
in if necessary to offer logistical support to ensure that certain sanctioned
‘lines’ were followed.11
This book uses the concept of American Cold War ‘state-private networks’
to take a fresh look at the relationship between Hollywood, politics and pro-
paganda during the Cold War. It delineates the often complex interaction
between the world’s two most powerful image-makers, Washington and
Hollywood, and explores how filmmakers not only reflected and projected
official Cold War doctrine but also shaped and defied that doctrine. It shows
that Washington regarded film as an indispensable means of projecting what
it saw as the superiority of capitalism within and beyond its own immediate
sphere of influence. This led to a range of pressures being imposed on
filmmakers which affected both the content and distribution of movies. It
also entailed a whole range of official organisations – including the FBI,
State Department, Pentagon, CIA and USIA – constructively engaging with
Introduction 5

filmmakers in a myriad ways. This proactive approach included openly lending

logistical and financial assistance to trustworthy filmmakers, and secretly
setting up consortia of famous directors, producers and actors to sell
American democracy. It even encompassed covertly sponsoring ostensibly
foreign-made anti-Soviet productions. The upshot of these negative pressures
and positive measures was cinematic propaganda that ranged across the
colour spectrum, from plain white, through grey, to black, and which targeted
audiences at home and overseas. This propaganda transmitted a host of posi-
tive and negative images of the Cold War, and was deployed across an extra-
ordinary range of genres, many of which appeared innocently apolitical to
most cinema-goers.
Hollywood’s Cold War charts its course via nine chapters built around a series
of case studies. Each chapter delves deeply into the mechanics of cinematic
propaganda production and the modus operandi of the state-film network.
Through detailed analysis of official state documentation, filmmakers’ private
papers, studio scripts, censorship papers, reviews, and box office receipts, it
examines the origins, production, content and impact of a number of para-
digmatic films, and places them within the fullest possible political, social and
diplomatic context.
These movies have been carefully chosen to span the range of Hollywood’s
most popular genres during the Cold War: from comedies to docudramas and
musicals, and historical epics to science-fiction ‘shockers’. They cover the full
range of propaganda messages and techniques deployed during the conflict,
therefore showing how certain films sought bluntly to instil hatred of the
enemy among the American people, while others tried in a more measured
fashion to persuade Third World audiences of the virtues of Western-style
democracy. The key films also highlight contested themes that were central to
the Cold War battle for mass opinion: the dangers posed to the West by com-
munist infiltration, the fears of a nuclear Armageddon, the ‘hot’ wars in Korea
and Vietnam, the comparative lifestyles on either side of the ‘Iron Curtain’,
and the prospects of the Cold War coming to an end. Several of the selected
films – such as Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach (1959) and John Wayne’s The
Green Berets (1968) – are generally regarded as milestones in Cold War film
history. Many of the other movies have disappeared from view almost entirely,
however. By unearthing these productions, I hope to widen the field of film
historiography and to recapture fully the contemporary cinematic vision of
the Cold War.
Looked at together, these case studies illustrate Hollywood’s artistic ver-
satility and political malleability during the Cold War. In so doing, they high-
light the American film industry’s unique contribution to the cultural Cold
War. Just as importantly, the case studies underline the critical role played by
6 Hollywood’s Cold War

the state-private networks in mobilising American and overseas public

opinion during the conflict – sometimes openly, sometimes discreetly, but
always in the pursuit and projection of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’.
Hollywood’s Cold War therefore casts light on cinema’s part in a gigantic cultural
struggle between two competing visions of modernity, and on the profound
effects which that struggle had on American society.

1 The cinema of the Cold War is a rich mosaic of genres and themes, and by no
means confined to movies made in the United States. On the films mentioned
here see, for instance, Neal R. McCrillis, ‘ “Simply Try for One Hour to Behave
Like Gentlemen”: British Cinema during the Early Cold War, 1945–1960’, Film
and History, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2001, pp. 6–12; Stefan Soldovieri, ‘Socialists in Outer
Space: East German Film’s Venusian Adventure’, Film History, Vol. 10, No. 3,
1998, pp. 382–98; Ian Scott, American Politics in Hollywood Film (Edinburgh, 2000),
pp. 119–24; Michael Chanan, Cuban Cinema (Minneapolis, MN, 2004), pp. 435–6.
2 The literature on Hollywood’s troubles during the McCarthy era is vast, and
includes Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund, The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in
the Film Community, 1930–1960 (Berkeley, CA, 1979); Victor S. Navasky, Naming
Names (New York, 1980); Nora Sayre, Running Time: Films of the Cold War (New
York, 1982); Peter Biskind, Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop
Worrying and to Love the Fifties (London, 1984); Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle,
Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist (New York, 1997); Ronald
Radosh and Allis Radosh, Red Star over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance
with the Left (San Francisco, CA, 2005).
3 See, for example, David Ellwood and Rob Kroes (eds), Hollywood in Europe:
Experiences of a Cultural Hegemony (Amsterdam, 1994); Reinhold Wagnleitner,
Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria
after the Second World War (Chapel Hill, NC, 1994); Richard Pells, Not Like Us: How
Europeans have Loved, Hated and Transformed American Culture since World War Two
(New York, 1997).
4 Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War
(London, 1999), pp. 279–302; David Eldridge, ‘ “Dear Owen”: The CIA, Luigi
Luraschi and Hollywood, 1953’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol.
20, No. 2, June 2000, pp. 149–96.
5 For an in-depth analysis of this film see Daniel J. Leab, ‘The Iron Curtain (1948):
Hollywood’s First Cold War Movie’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television,
Vol. 8, No. 2, 1988, pp. 153–88.
6 In the past decade, there has been a flowering of interest in the cultural dimen-
sions of the Cold War among scholars trained in literature, American studies,
sociology, anthropology, communication and media studies, and history. Most of
this has focused on the United States and on the period between 1945 and 1965.
A partial listing of works includes Christian G. Appy (ed.), Cold War Constructions:
Introduction 7

The Political Culture of United States Imperialism, 1945–1966 (Amherst, MA, 2000);
David Caute, The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold
War (Oxford, 2003); Noam Chomsky, The Cold War and the University: Toward an
Intellectual History of the Postwar Years (New York, 1997); Tom Engelhardt, The End
of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (New York,
1995); Richard Fried, The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! Pageantry and
Patriotism in Cold-War America (Oxford, 1998); Woody Haut, Pulp Culture:
Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War (London, 1996); Peter J. Kuznick and James
Gilbert (eds), Rethinking Cold War Culture (Washington, DC, 2001); Lary May (ed.),
Recasting America: Culture and Politics in the Age of the Cold War (Chicago, IL, 1988);
Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era
(New York, 1990); Bruce McConachie, American Theatre in the Culture of the Cold
War: Producing and Contesting Containment, 1947–1962 (Iowa City, IA, 2003); Guy
Oakes, The Imaginary War: Civil Defence and American Cold War Culture (Oxford,
1994); Naima Prevots, Dance for Export: Cultural Diplomacy and the Cold War
(Middletown, CT, 2001); Lisle Rose, The Cold War Comes to Main Street (Lawrence,
KS, 1999); David Seed, American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and Film
(Edinburgh, 2002); Christopher Simpson (ed.), Universities and Empire: Money and
Politics in the Social Sciences during the Cold War (New York, 1998); Jessica Wang,
American Science in an Age of Anxiety: Scientists, Anti-Communism and the Cold War
(Chapel Hill, NC, 1999); Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War
(Baltimore, MD, 1996).
7 Alan Cassels, Ideology and International Relations in the Modern World (London, 1996),
pp. 207–8.
8 On the debate about the ideological basis of US foreign policy during the Cold
War see, for instance, Scott Lucas, Freedom’s War: The American Crusade against the
Soviet Union, 1947–56 (Manchester, 1999); Michael Hunt, Ideology and US Foreign
Policy (New Haven, CT, 1987); John Fousek, To Lead the Free World: American
Nationalism and the Cultural Roots of the Cold War (Chapel Hill, NC, 2000); Anders
Stephanson, ‘Liberty or Death: The Cold War as US Ideology’, in Odd Arne
Westad (ed.), Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretations, Theory (London,
2000), pp. 81–102. On the role played by ideology more broadly during the con-
flict see Leopoldo Nuti and Vladislav Zubok, ‘Ideology’, in Saki R. Dockrill and
Geraint Hughes (eds), Palgrave Advances in Cold War History (Basingstoke, 2006),
pp. 73–110.
9 For a clear and succinct update on Cold War historiography see Steven Hurst,
Cold War US Foreign Policy: Key Perspectives (Edinburgh, 2005).
10 On the private and public aspects of NSC-68 see Ernest May (ed.), American Cold
War Strategy: Interpreting NSC 68 (Boston, MA, 1993); Nancy E. Bernhard, ‘Clearer
than Truth: Public Affairs Television and the State Department’s Domestic
Information Campaigns’, Diplomatic History, Vol. 21, No. 4, Fall 1997, pp. 545–68,
esp. pp. 561–3; Steven Casey, ‘Selling NSC-68: The Truman Administration,
Public Opinion, and the Politics of Mobilization, 1950–51’, Diplomatic History,
Vol. 29, No. 4, September 2005, pp. 655–90.
8 Hollywood’s Cold War

11 On US government propaganda during the Cold War, including the role played
by ‘state-private networks’, see Lucas, Freedom’s War; Walter L. Hixson, Parting the
Curtain: Propaganda, Culture and the Cold War, 1945–1961 (Basingstoke, 1997); Rana
Mitter and Patrick Major (eds), Across the Blocs: Cold War Cultural and Social History
(London, 2004); Giles Scott-Smith and Hans Krabbenham (eds), The Cultural
Cold War in Western Europe, 1945–1960 (London, 2003); Helen Laville and Hugh
Wilford (eds), The US Government, Citizen Groups and the Cold War: The State-Private
Network (London, 2006).

Love and defection

If you have something worthwhile to say, dress it in the glittering robes of

entertainment and you will find a ready market . . . without entertainment no
propaganda film is worth a dime.
Darryl Zanuck, Twentieth Century-Fox production chief, 19431
It is the mid-1980s and we are about to be treated to a cinematic tale of male
bonding, intrigue and high drama, one inspired by real-life events and illumi-
nated by dazzling dance sequences. The movie is Taylor Hackford’s White
Nights. The rather incongruous setting is Soviet Russia.
Kolya Rodchenko, the world’s greatest ballet dancer, is terrified when the
Boeing 747 on which he is travelling from London to Japan is forced to make
an emergency crash-landing in Siberia. Rodchenko faces double jeopardy, for
a decade earlier the Russian defected to the United States, mirroring the bold
action taken by the famous dancer-actor playing his part, Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The KGB cannot believe its luck. Eager to exact revenge, the security agency
brands Rodchenko a criminal and confines him under house arrest, telling the
outside world that the superstar has been incapacitated by the plane accident.
The Soviet authorities mean to exploit Rodchenko’s iconic status for propa-
ganda purposes. He must be persuaded – coerced if necessary – to renounce
the West and to perform again at Leningrad’s great Kirov Theatre. After that,
he will be expendable. To fulfil its aim, the KGB opts for subtle mind games
rather than its more familiar strong-arm tactics. Rodchenko is housed in
Siberia with tap dancer Raymond Greenwood (played by the dancer-actor
Gregory Hines), an African-American who years earlier deserted to the Soviet
Union because of the racial discrimination he experienced during the Vietnam
War. Greenwood scratches a living performing culturally approved routines in
shows like Porgy and Bess – roles designed less to illustrate his tap-dancing
talents than to highlight Western decadence.
Kolya and Raymond start out as sworn enemies, each having moved in the
opposite ideological direction. Hostility slowly turns to friendship, however,
as the proud Russian stubbornly resists his prison-like environment and the
embittered American wakes up to the stultification of communist culture.
Their anti-Soviet alliance is sealed by a secret, enthralling duet, inspired by the
10 Hollywood’s Cold War

On a natural high: Gregory Hines (left) and Mikhail Baryshnikov dance to the freedom of the Western beat
in White Nights (1985). Columbia Pictures/Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

forbidden music Kolya has brought with him from the West. As a conse-
quence, Raymond and his pregnant Russian wife Darya (Isabella Rossellini)
hatch a daring night-time plan to escape with Kolya to the West from
Leningrad. Inevitably perhaps, this goes awry, due to a combination of KGB
surveillance and the city’s famously bright summer nights. While Kolya and
Darya make it to the West via the US consulate, Raymond is left stranded. For
a few painful months the African-American suffers terribly at the hands of a
humiliated security service, until Kolya finally arranges his release in exchange
for a Soviet spy. At the end, as Lionel Richie’s chart-topping ballad, ‘Say You
Say Me’, plays on the soundtrack, the two heroes embrace.
At a time when Hollywood movies like Rambo: First Blood Part 2 were
attempting to provide after-the-fact US victories over North Vietnam,
Columbia Pictures’ White Nights, which premiered in 1985, was unusual for
making the open charge that the Vietnam War was racist.2 White Nights was
also one of the few American movies made throughout the Cold War that
depicted decent (albeit traumatised) Americans – as opposed to communists,
spies or brainwashed POWs – opting for a life on ‘the other side’.3 However,
in all other respects White Nights typified Hollywood’s long-standing treatment
of that most critical of Cold War themes – conditions behind the ‘Iron
Love and defection 11

Curtain’. This theme more than any other helped characterise the Cold War as
a bipolar phenomenon, one fought between two segregated ‘sub-universes’4
whose political and economic systems represented mutually exclusive ways of
life. Thus, the film portrays the Soviet Union as monstrously grey and pock-
marked by labour camps. Soviet officials are wily, racist and lascivious, while
ordinary Russian citizens are down-trodden and clinically depressed. Shots of
Leningrad (actually Lisbon, curiously), with its rusty cars and long shopping
lines, underscore the inferiority of Soviet consumerism. By outlawing modern
dance, communism is presented as the enemy of both progress and freedom
of expression. Worst of all perhaps, White Nights tells us that communism sub-
jugates love. Raymond and Darya are reunited at the end of the movie, but
only because this serves the interests of the Soviet ‘machine’.
White Nights appeared a mere four years before the collapse of the Berlin
Wall in November 1989, and reinforced US President Ronald Reagan’s view
that the Soviet Union was a dysfunctional ‘totalitarian’ state whose economy
was in tatters.5 Yet the film’s roots went extremely deep, long pre-dating the
Cold War’s conventional starting point of 1945. White Nights’ origins can in
fact be traced back to one film in particular, Ernst Lubitsch’s satirical love
story Ninotchka. Released to high acclaim in 1939, Ninotchka powerfully illus-
trated Hollywood’s hostility towards communism during the inter-war era.
The popularity of Lubitsch’s film was due in large part to the fact that it was
the first mainstream Hollywood production to demonise communism and
celebrate Western capitalism by highlighting the clash between individuals
drawn from each side of the developing ideological divide. Ninotchka’s expres-
sion of a binary approach to the Cold War through a series of dichotomous
symbols – freedom versus oppression, materialism versus poverty, beauty
versus ugliness, romance versus asexual androgyny – would act as a model for
numerous later movies. In the late 1940s Ninotchka was reissued for political
and commercial reasons, and appropriated by a US State Department fearful
of communist expansion in Europe. A decade later, the movie’s durability was
confirmed when it was transformed into a musical on stage and screen. This
chapter examines Ninotchka’s three different lives during the early years of the
Cold War, and highlights the American film industry’s ability to combine
profits and politics almost from day one of the conflict.


Ninotchka did not appear out of the blue in 1939. The American film indus-
try had effectively been at war with political extremism, and with communism
in particular, for two decades. During the Progressive era, a number of silent
12 Hollywood’s Cold War

films were made by small companies that tackled America’s social problems
head-on. Some even suggested radical solutions. Why?, for instance, made in
1913 by the American arm of the French company Éclair Films, shocked
critics with its tale of corrupt elites and visions of workers revolting against
capitalism by burning down Manhattan. The Strike at Coaldale (1916), also made
by Éclair Films, which portrayed a successful walkout by miners, was
denounced by one employees’ association as a direct threat to American
industry. However, while granting workers some dignity, most social problem
films of this era also provided viewers with ‘happy endings’ that preached
faith and continuity in the liberal capitalist system. In this way, these forma-
tive years of cinema established a trend for the future, with American films
raising social issues yet containing them in satisfactory bourgeois resolutions.6
The dramatic rise of the Hollywood studio system after the First World
War soon put an end to the production of politically volatile labour-capital
films. Beginning in the 1920s, Hollywood’s eight major film studios –
MGM/Loews, Paramount, Warner Bros., Twentieth Century-Fox, RKO,
Columbia, Universal and United Artists – formed a mature oligopoly that
lasted for over thirty years, bolstered by the vertical integration of production,
distribution and exhibition. Financed by Wall Street, the studios increased
their profits by attracting greater numbers of patrons while retaining their
working-class fan base. They did so by building exotic movie palaces, and
abandoning films that spoke to the problems faced by immigrants and the
working classes in favour of lavish movies that emphasized fantasies of love,
luxury, social mobility and cross-class harmony. In this way, movie industry
leaders in the 1920s and 1930s subtly reinforced a growing capitalist discourse
that promoted a new perception of class identity, one rooted more in the allur-
ing world of middle-class consumption than in the conflictual world of pro-
duction. Here was a vision of society in which all problems, both personal and
social, could effectively be solved through love.7
The introduction of new film censorship rules during the same period
strengthened the industry’s conservative outlook. Hollywood was beset by
sex, narcotics and financial scandals in the early 1920s, prompting film exec-
utives to clean up the industry’s image. In 1922, the Motion Picture Producers
and Distributors of America (MPPDA) was established as a film review
board, headed by a Presbyterian church elder and former postmaster-general,
Will H. Hays. The Production Code, popularly known as the ‘Hays Code’, a
highly restrictive set of guidelines for movie content, was promulgated in
1934, and complied with by virtually every Hollywood producer. The
Production Code Administration (PCA) itself was run until 1954 by the
Catholic intellectual Joseph Breen, and functioned at all stages of production.
It selected stories, examined scripts, and approved the final cuts, and thereby
Love and defection 13

managed to control the content of nearly all films shown in the United States,
domestic and foreign. The PCA’s purview was extremely wide. Movies or
scenes involving organised labour, political corruption and war were consid-
ered to be just as ‘dangerous’ as those depicting sex, drugs and crime. It also
frowned on films that gratuitously offended foreign governments, for fear of
damaging Hollywood’s critical export base.8
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Hollywood rarely presented any serious
analysis of the causes that led people to engage in radical activities.9 When
filmmakers dared to depict political affairs overtly, often prompted by inflam-
matory newspaper headlines, radicals and political activists were portrayed as
‘Red’ agitators responsible for virtually everything wrong in American society.
In 1919–20, the United States witnessed its first full-blown Red Scare, trig-
gered by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, a spate of race riots in 1919, and a
flurry of strikes including one by the Boston police. In 1919, blaming labour
unrest on ‘the red menace’, US Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer ordered
the round-up of dozens of radicals. In a single night in January 1920, more
than 4,000 men were arrested in 33 cities, and eventually over 500 were
deported as undesirable aliens. The fear that communist subversives were
hidden in prominent places soon spread to the motion picture industry. In
1922, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation (renamed the FBI in
1935) opened a file on one of the biggest film stars of the era, Charlie Chaplin,
after he had entertained at home a leader of the newly formed Communist
Party of the United States (CPUSA).10
The federal government, as the New York Times reported, acted swiftly to
harness the ‘power of the movies’ during the Red Scare ‘to combat Bolshevik
propaganda’. In January 1920, Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane
impressed upon filmmakers ‘the necessity of showing films depicting the
great opportunities which industrious immigrants may find in this country,
and of stories of poor men who have risen high’. His own personal recom-
mendation was ‘the story of America as exemplified in the story of [Abraham]
Lincoln’.11 Approximately a dozen overtly anti-Bolshevik films appeared in
this short period, demonstrating the movie industry’s commercial oppor-
tunism, as well as its ability to act quickly and to add to a sense of immi-
nent threat. Several of these films stand out, not least because many of their
propaganda themes would re-emerge in movies produced during the
McCarthy era.
Harley Knoles’ Bolshevism on Trial, released in April 1919, represents the
American film industry’s opening volley in the nascent cultural Cold War.
Adapted from Thomas Dixon’s 1909 novel Comrades, a satire on Upton
Sinclair’s experimental socialist colony at Englewood, New Jersey, in 1906–7,
the film warned that any attempts to build a communist utopia would
14 Hollywood’s Cold War

inevitably lead to chaos. Chester Withey’s The New Moon, released later in 1919,
and Fred Niblo’s Dangerous Hours (1920) both presented the Bolsheviks’ recent
mobilisation order to bring women into the labour force as nothing less than
a license to rape. Alan Holubar’s The Right to Happiness (also 1919) blended anti-
Bolshevism with anti-Semitism in a story about an American girl separated
from her family and raised as a Red revolutionary by Jews. Both Dangerous
Hours and Sidney Lanfield’s Red Salute, a comedy released over a decade later
in 1935, singled out college students as those most likely to fall under the spell
of communist rhetoric preached by intellectuals. The latter film incited a riot
at its New York premiere, when leftist students protested its depiction of
campus radicals.12
Once the Red Scare had subsided, filmmakers turned to projecting nega-
tive images of the Bolshevik Revolution or of life in the New Russia. At least
one, George Zimmer, received official assistance. Zimmer’s 1920 documen-
tary, baldly titled Starvation, used harrowing footage, captured by Herbert
Hoover’s European-based American Relief Administration, of Russia
suffering the after-effects of the Great War to pin the blame for the Soviet
Union’s hungry masses squarely on the Bolsheviks’ shoulders. Zimmer’s Red
Russia Revealed (1923) updated this theme, by showing Soviet leaders Vladimir
Lenin and Leon Trotsky with plenty to eat while the simple Russian people
went without. D. W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1922) took a different tack
and used history as a vehicle for propaganda. Ostensibly a film about the
French Revolution, key scenes drew comparisons between the excesses of the
French revolutionary Jacobins and contemporary events in Russia. The film’s
opening inter-title warned audiences not to draw the wrong conclusions: ‘The
lesson: the French Revolution RIGHTLY overthrew a BAD government. But
we in America should be careful lest we with a GOOD government mistake
fanatics for leaders and exchange our decent law and order for Anarchy and
During the 1930s Depression era, Hollywood’s depiction of political and
economic matters not surprisingly grew less one-dimensional. On the whole
the major studios continued to steer clear of bread-and-butter social issues,
arguing (rightly to an extent) that audiences preferred escapist entertainment.
At the same time, the space opened up for a minority of single-minded,
reform-oriented filmmakers to point out the pitfalls of unfettered capitalism.
Typical of this approach were Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931), a touching
story of a nervous tramp masquerading as a millionaire to win over a blind
flower-girl, and Frank Capra’s heart-warming comedy about two families from
the opposite sides of the tracks, You Can’t Take It With You (1938). Lloyd
Bacon’s Marked Woman (1937), written by Robert Rossen, then a communist,
challenged the capitalist legal system as well as organised crime in equal
Love and defection 15

measure, leaving Bette Davis’ club hostess heroine with nowhere to turn. Its
downbeat ending closely resembled the end of Bertolt Brecht’s 1928 satirical
play about bourgeois society, The Threepenny Opera.14
National perceptions of communism also changed somewhat in the
United States during the thirties. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
made history by formally recognising the Soviet Union. Membership of the
CPUSA grew as the decade progressed. The party’s popularity reached a peak
during the Popular Front period of the late 1930s, when Moscow led the
opposition to Hitler’s expansionism and ordered communists everywhere to
give up their revolutionary rhetoric in order to create a broad anti-fascist coali-
tion.15 Despite these diplomatic and political undercurrents, communists con-
tinued to be portrayed negatively on the silver screen. In comedies, they not
only behaved like deranged lunatics but – even worse perhaps – had no sense
of humour, wit, or style: denouncing Kay Francis’ heroine in Ernst Lubitsch’s
Trouble in Paradise (1932), for instance, for spending a fortune on a handbag. In
topical melodramas such as Heroes for Sale (William Wellman, 1933) and Little
Man, What Now? (Frank Borsage, 1934) communists were exposed as essen-
tially selfish phonies unconcerned with the genuine poverty and hardship of
others.16 One big-budget movie, Rouben Mamoulian’s We Live Again (1934),
did show social injustice in Tsarist Russia, but this could in no sense be inter-
preted as support for the far left.17 In any case, it was far outweighed by movies
like Together We Live (Willard Mack, 1935), which portrayed a wholesome
American family being torn apart by communism,18 or Ben Hecht and Charles
MacArthur’s Once in a Blue Moon (1936), the story of a clown caught in the
middle of the Russian Revolution who falls victim to vicious Bolsheviks.19
Dastardly, subversive-minded Russians also appeared in Hollywood movies
reverently celebrating the British empire. In the 1936 Warner Bros. produc-
tion of The Charge of the Light Brigade, a Russian adviser masterminding the
tribal massacre of British troops and their dependents in 1850s India looked
uncannily like Joseph Stalin.20
Meanwhile, outside the Hollywood mainstream, leftist film societies and
documentary makers struggled to gain access to theatres, and often had to
settle for preaching to the converted in union halls and church basements.
Typical of these was the Marxist Film and Photo League, which might show
an imported copy of Sergei Eisenstein’s Revolutionary epic, Battleship Potemkin
(1926), alongside a domestically produced Worker Newsreel highlighting strikes,
hunger marches or ‘Hoovervilles’. Limited exhibition opportunities were
exacerbated by the internal divisions that bedevilled leftist cinema during this
period. Any filmmaker who collaborated with the major studios or the gov-
ernment in order to reach a wider audience risked being accused of ‘selling
out’. This was the fate suffered by Pare Lorentz, whose documentary The Plow
16 Hollywood’s Cold War

That Broke the Plains played in theatres in 1936. The film was sponsored by
Roosevelt’s US Resettlement Administration, and dealt with the New Deal’s
efforts to improve the lot of farmers in the Oklahoma ‘Dust Bowl’. The doc-
umentary made a strong case for controlled land use, but the Film and Photo
League dismissed it as government propaganda.21


In contrast with many of the films mentioned above, and indeed with the
majority of case studies in this book, MGM’s late 1930s romantic satire
Ninotchka was not designed for political purposes, but rather to entertain and
make money. Yet this arguably, if somewhat paradoxically, made it a more
effective weapon of propaganda than any anti-communist film made in the
United States to that date.
Work on Ninotchka started in 1937, when Bernie Hyman, chief aide to
MGM’s head Louis B. Mayer, asked screenwriter Salka Viertel to help find a
comedy vehicle for one of the studio’s prime assets, Greta Garbo. Because
Garbo was widely perceived as an aloof and reclusive figure, MGM wanted to
display the Swedish star’s humorous alter ego. Viertel, a close friend of
Garbo’s, approached Hungarian screenwriter Melchior Lengyel, who came up
with the basic idea for Ninotchka. This was summed up in three sentences:
‘Russian girl saturated with Bolshevist ideals goes to fearful, capitalistic,
monopolistic Paris. She meets romance and has an uproarious time.
Capitalism not so bad after all.’22 Lengyel wrote a full-length script but was
then dropped from the project, probably because his story lacked sufficient
wit. His place was taken by Gottfried Reinhardt, son of the legendary Austrian
theatre director Max, whose script placed a greater emphasis on the ideologi-
cal differences between Ninotchka (Garbo’s character) and Leon, the Parisian
playboy with whom she falls in love. A third version was then written in early
1938 by Reinhardt in collaboration with the playwright Jacques Deval and
experienced screenwriter S. N. Behrman. Their screenplay was almost a black
comedy, and compared with previous treatments depicted Russian politics
with a much harder edge. Ninotchka herself was made far surlier and shown
positively to hate Leon on discovering he is a count. The screenplay also incor-
porated a graphic description of the brutality of the Russian aristocracy in
order to explain Ninotchka’s ideological fervour, together with explicit refer-
ences to Stalin’s purges and Karl Marx.23
At this point, in order to bring the project to completion, Mayer paid a con-
siderable fee to Paramount Pictures to secure a loan-out of their production
manager, Ernst Lubitsch. A Berlin-born Jew who had worked successfully in
Germany and Hollywood for twenty years, Lubitsch was known as ‘the
Love and defection 17

master’ of the stylish comedy of manners. As producer and director, and,

unusually, given complete control over Ninotchka’s screenplay by Mayer,
Lubitsch lightened the script and hired MGM contract writer Walter Reisch to
add comic panache. Lubitsch then arranged to borrow from Paramount his
Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938) writing team, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder,
who specialised in sophisticated farce.
In the spring of 1939, the three of them, with Reisch, toned up the dia-
logue and finalised the film’s structure. The end result was a script that had
softened many of the most highly charged aspects of the interplay between
capitalist and communist philosophies portrayed in earlier versions, but one
which still crackled with explicitly ideological barbs and which was bound
therefore to generate political controversy.24 Despite this, the Hays Office
approved the script, having initially only been worried about its sexual
content and, ironically, about whether the film might hurt the French – not
Soviet – government’s feelings. Since its birth in 1934, the PCA had been con-
sistently opposed to treatments it deemed favourable to the USSR, and
Ninotchka was hardly likely to fall into that category. Ardent anti-communists
like Joseph Breen and his colleagues cared little if the film irritated the
Kremlin anyway, as Hollywood exports to Russia were negligible due to
Soviet restrictions.25
Each of the main parties involved in creating Ninotchka could not be
unaware of its anti-Soviet stance, but there is no evidence they sought actively
to persuade or proselytise. They were, in fact, a mixed bag politically. As befits
a man who was the highest salaried employee in America, Louis B. Mayer had
arch-conservative views of business and politics. These were reinforced by a
strong friendship with the media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Mayer
instinctively saw ‘Reds’ behind union activity in the film industry, and later
argued that even the Gene Kelly musical On The Town (1949) was slightly com-
munistic because it had a black woman dancing with one of the sailors.26
Charles Brackett, who was president of the Screen Writers Guild in
1938–9, was also a Republican conservative. By contrast, his long-time writing
partner, Billy Wilder, was a Rooseveltian Democrat who had supported the
Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War and was friendly with many communist
writers, some of whom stopped talking to him after Ninotchka’s release.27
Lubitsch was something of a naïve liberal and very far from being a political
filmmaker. His approach towards Ninotchka might have been affected by a dis-
concerting visit he made to the USSR in 1936, but it is more likely given his
roots that Lubitsch saw Nazi anti-Semitism as a greater threat than Soviet
communism. (In 1940, the director was targeted personally in Fritz Hippler’s
infamous ‘documentary’, The Eternal Jew.) Walter Reisch, a Viennese Jew, and
Melchior Lengyel appear not to have held any strong political views. The
18 Hollywood’s Cold War

latter’s decision to give the Garbo vehicle a Russian theme can probably be
attributed to his liking for stories set in Eastern Europe.28
MGM was the biggest and most powerful Hollywood studio in 1939, with
reported assets of $144 million. Consequently, the studio could easily absorb
Ninotchka’s total production costs of $1.3 million, a sum that was roughly
three times the cost of an average feature in the late 1930s. Shooting took
place in June and July 1939, and production finished in mid-August, three
weeks before the outbreak of war in Europe.29 The cast was an impressive
one. Melvyn Douglas, one of the most debonair and witty farceurs in
Hollywood, was chosen to play Leon. The Broadway star Ina Claire played
Ninotchka’s chief political enemy and romantic rival, the Grand Duchess
Swana, while Hollywood’s ‘aristocrat of evil’, Bela Lugosi, star of Tod
Browning’s Dracula (1931), played the cruel Commissar Razinin. Unabashed
opulence had long been MGM’s hallmark, and Ninotchka was no exception in
terms of its glossy sets and technical support, thanks in large part to the
studio’s experienced supervising art director, Cedric Gibbons. Audiences
could watch in awe as Ninotchka and Leon drank champagne in a lavish
mock-up of the Parisian restaurant frequented by the one-time French pre-
miere George Clemenceau. State-of-the-art back projection made it look as
though the lovers really were climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower and that
the filmmakers had gained unprecedented access to Red Square.30
Ninotchka opens in Paris, where Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski, three
scatter-brained delegates of the Soviet Board of Trade, have arrived on a
mission to sell jewels confiscated during the Bolshevik Revolution in order to
raise money for much-needed agricultural machinery. Swana, the rightful
owner of the jewels, learns of the mission and instructs her lawyer-boyfriend,
Leon, to bring about an injunction forbidding the sale. Leon befriends the
three delegates, and proceeds to corrupt them by encouraging a bout of free
spending, boozing and womanising. Before long the Russians have begun to
dress as aristocrats and have almost forgotten what they were sent to Paris for.
Then, one day, a telegram sends shudders down their spines – a special envoy
has been despatched from Moscow to expedite matters.
The envoy turns out to be Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, a straitlaced female
commissar. ‘Ninotchka’ and Leon accidentally meet on the street and strike
up a friendship without knowing of their mutual involvement in the Swana
jewels affair. Slowly, Ninotchka melts under Leon’s romantic advances and the
consumer delights the West has to offer. When the jealous Swana learns of
their attachment, she agrees to relinquish her claim to the jewels in exchange
for Ninotchka’s return to Russia. Ninotchka is by now hopelessly in love with
Leon, but succumbs to Swana’s blackmail out of loyalty to her colleagues and
the benefits the money will bring the Russian people.
Love and defection 19

Back in her cramped apartment in Moscow, Ninotchka is haunted by the

memories of Leon’s affection and the freedom, luxury and privacy she enjoyed
in Paris. Her chief, Commissar Razinin, then orders Ninotchka to travel to
Constantinople, where Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski are on the point of
bungling another job. On catching up with the troublesome trio, however, she
finds that their inability to conclude a fur-selling mission is but a ruse to
reunite Ninotchka with Leon. The film concludes with Iranoff, Buljanoff and
Kopalski deciding to stay in Constantinople, where they open a restaurant
with the proceeds of the fur deal. Ninotchka, meanwhile, opts to forsake the
rigours of Soviet political life in favour of a new life with Leon.
At the tail end of the Cold War, film historian Jeremy Mindich declared that
Ninotchka was ‘arguably the most complex American movie ever made about
the Soviet Union’, and, moreover, ‘one of the few American films that sug-
gests that there are lessons that capitalism can learn from communism’.31
Mindich’s claims have some validity, but only to a point. It is certainly true that,
in contrast with most Hollywood films focusing on Soviet figures produced
before and after 1939, in Ninotchka the communists pose no threat to US
national security. Indeed, Ninotchka and her sidekicks, who resemble
Hollywood’s popular Three Stooges comedy team, help give Soviet commu-
nism a human face. Their quest to procure foreign currency to help pay for
the modernisation of Soviet agriculture also hints at the Kremlin’s concern
for its citizens’ well-being. Added to this, Ninotchka exposes the unacceptable
face of capitalism in the shape of the aristocratic Swana, who is vain, greedy
and does not work. Finally, because the four Russians abscond in Turkey, half
way between East and West, their political defection is less clear cut than it
might have been.
Nevertheless to argue, as some have, that Ninotchka is ideologically neutral
would be absurd.32 Though advertised as harmless entertainment largely on
the basis that it was a romantic comedy, ‘The Picture That Kids The
Commissars’33 delivered a trenchant, unambiguous message about the nature
of Soviet communism. The very fact that it was in light-hearted comedy form,
and therefore less likely to tax the audience’s intellect or offend apolitical sen-
sibilities, arguably made that message all the more persuasive.
From the very first scene, in which Buljanoff fears being sent to Siberia for
checking into an expensive Parisian hotel, the Soviet Union’s repressive, even
murderous regime is made abundantly clear. Later, this comes across verbally
and visually. ‘The last mass trials were a great success – there are going to be
fewer but better Russians’, Ninotchka tells her colleagues soon after her arrival
in Paris. When Ninotchka feels guilty for having betrayed the Soviet Union by
falling in love with a Westerner, she drunkenly simulates her execution. Several
gags – when the Russian trio mistake Ninotchka for a heel-clicking Nazi at
20 Hollywood’s Cold War

the railway station, for instance – imply that communism and fascism are
The third act of the film, set in Moscow, allows the viewer to see the reality
of life under communism through scenes that would become stereotypical in
countless Cold War movies. For example, burly uniformed Russians in Red
Square are shown flanked by overbearing posters of Lenin and Stalin, while the
common people are small and unidentifiable, like cogs in a machine. Ninotchka
feels fortunate because she has to share a room with only two people. She has
no privacy, as the partitioned walls are curtains so that people involuntarily share
everybody else’s noises and snoring. Worse than the lack of comforts, though,
is the communist system’s tendency to encourage people’s inferior qualities.
Some work as spies, such as one of Ninotchka’s neighbours, while others
begrudge each other anything they do not have themselves. Thus Anna, room-
mate and friend, warns Ninotchka not to dry her Parisian slip in the laundry
yard – ‘All you have to do is wear a pair of silk stockings and they suspect you
of counterrevolution.’ Equally sad is the state’s interference with people’s
letters, and the drab, colourless existence everyone leads. To top it all, despite
Stalin’s Five Year Plans, communism simply is not working economically.
Ninotchka can only make an omelette if her guests bring their own egg. Variety,
the entertainment industry’s most important trade paper, applauded Ninotchka
for being ‘smart, exhilarating and penetrating’, adding that its ‘punchy and
humorous jabs directed at the Russian political system and representatives are
the most direct so far presented in an American film’.34
If Ninotchka’s frank lampooning of Soviet officialdom and spoofing of
Marxist ideology helped set it apart from earlier Hollywood material, it was
what the film said of the West – consciously and subconsciously – that is
perhaps more significant. Ninotchka is no communist automaton: unlike her
colleagues, she has convictions and integrity. Yet even she ultimately opts for
the Western ‘way of life’ because it is portrayed as precisely that – organic and
natural – rather than an artificially imposed communist ‘system’. Her awak-
ening takes several stages. First, she discovers the true meaning of love, some-
thing which Marxism had taught her was a mere ‘chemical process’. In so
doing, she learns that some things are more important than politics and that
the heart should at times rule the head. ‘Lovers of the world, unite!’ exclaims
Leon, as they embrace. Having realised how emotionally barren communism
is, Ninotchka then realises that capitalism is the only route to happiness.
Early on in the film, Ninotchka constantly talks of the West being a doomed
culture, but this is consistently contradicted by even poor Parisians’ ability to
live and even to laugh at their problems. When Ninotchka’s regimented facade
eventually breaks in the heavily trailed ‘Garbo Laughs’ café scene, as she
cackles out loud at Leon’s pratfall, the huge weight of ideological baggage is
Love and defection 21

A glimpse of the workers’ paradise: reunited over an omelette in Moscow, Ninotchka (Greta Garbo),
Kopalski (Alexander Granach), Iranoff (Sig Rumann) and Buljanoff (Felix Bressart) sing of their longing
for Paris. Ninotchka (1939). MGM/The Kobal Collection.

seen to lift from her shoulders. Later, caught giggling by her comrades, she con-
fesses: ‘I always felt a little hurt when our swallows deserted us in the winter
for capitalistic countries. Now I know why. We have the high ideals, but they
have the climate.’
If humour is as natural as the weather, then so too is the desire to buy and
to choose. Having loosened her ideological straitjacket, Ninotchka cannot
wait to swap her ugly asexual uniform for an elegant suit she earlier con-
demned as ‘decadent’. Her butterfly-like transformation suggests that all ‘real’
women would benefit from capitalist good-living. That a cash-strapped Soviet
official could afford the latest in high fashion also implies that luxury is avail-
able to all in the West. With its lavish sets showing glamorous hotel interiors
and Parisian working-class cafés brimming with contented, well-fed cus-
tomers, Ninotchka’s whole look is indeed a showcase for Western prosperity.
Finally, in singling out the royal Swana as the ‘people’s enemy’, Ninotchka
eventually realises it is not capitalism per se that produces social injustice but
its old world, European hangers-on. Here, Ninotchka strikes a blow for
American meritocracy, which, with its modern, democratic checks and bal-
ances, creates a fairer society. An earlier script by Wilder, Brackett and Reisch
22 Hollywood’s Cold War

‘It’s only human to kiss’: drunk on champagne, French gowns and love, a blindfolded Ninotchka prepares to
be ‘executed’ for betraying Russia’s communist ideals. Leon (Melvyn Douglas) offers her the warm embrace of
Western joie de vivre. Ninotchka (1939). MGM/The Kobal Collection.

had in fact blurred this distinction between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ worlds, by
alluding to America’s commercialisation and the pernicious role of its tabloid
press, but these points were dropped during shooting.35
Ninotchka had its world premiere at Los Angeles’ famous Grauman’s
Chinese Theatre in October 1939. Normally averse to political films, the
American trade press showered this one with accolades. Part of the reason for
this was the momentous diplomatic changes that had taken place after pro-
duction work on Ninotchka had finished in mid-August. The shock of the
Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of late August 1939, followed by the Red
Army’s invasion of eastern Poland in September, had swept away any liberal
opposition there might have been to the film’s portrayal of an anti-fascist ally.
Soviet perfidy was now on everyone’s lips.36 Except for the few on the far left,
popular journals and newspapers also loved the movie. Most of these,
tellingly, felt there was nothing remotely hostile or propagandistic about the
picture. Typical of this was the New York Times, whose critic thought the film
was just ‘a humorist’s view of the sober-sided folk who have read Marx but
never the funny page’. Some on the political right saw it differently. William
Love and defection 23

Randolph Hearst’s New York Daily Mirror quickly appropriated Ninotchka,

arguing that Garbo had done ‘more in one line to debunk Soviet Russia than
we have been able to do in a hundred editorials’. Enraged, the Communist
Party’s Sunday Worker called it a ‘malicious’ film for ‘ridiculing – and not too
subtly – 180,000 people off the face of the earth’, while the Daily Worker gave
the lie to Ninotchka’s claim that Soviet people did not enjoy themselves by
stating that 22 million Russians had attended circus performances in 1939.37
In 1940, Ninotchka was nominated for four Academy Awards, only to be
overshadowed at the Oscars by Victor Fleming’s Civil War saga Gone with the
Wind. Ninotchka eventually grossed $2.2 million at the box office in 1939–40,
with half of that earned overseas, making it one of the highest-earning
Hollywood films of the year. Foreign takings would have been higher had the
film not been banned in countries where governments were fearful of incur-
ring Stalin’s wrath, such as Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania. In Mexico, the film
was not shown due to preventative action taken by communist-dominated
trade unions.38 Notwithstanding such problems, the ‘defection story’ soon
caught on in Hollywood. Spin-offs of Ninotchka in 1940 alone included
MGM’s Comrade X, in which Clark Gable played an American reporter cover-
ing the Moscow purge trials of the 1930s, and Columbia’s He Stayed for
Breakfast, which saw Melvyn Douglas switch to the role of a communist waiter
in Paris. Both movies portrayed communists abandoning their faith after
falling in love with capitalists.39

In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and
the subsequent marriage of convenience between the United States, Russia
and Britain, such stories were no longer commercially fashionable or politi-
cally advisable. Instead, between 1942 and 1945, the Soviet Union gradually
underwent a makeover on American cinema screens, transformed from an
enemy into a valuable wartime partner. In accordance with Office of War
Information (OWI) guidance, Hollywood movies depicting the USSR tended
to avoid the sensitive issue of communism, rationalise past Soviet behaviour,
suggest that the country was a non-totalitarian state moving towards the
American model, and focus above all on the heroic wartime efforts of the
ordinary Russian people. Thus, Albert Herman’s Miss V. from Moscow (1942)
and Edward Dmytryk’s Tender Comrade (1943) pitted brave Russian spies and
paratroopers against evil Nazi officers. Michael Curtiz’s Mission to Moscow
(1943), with the full support of the White House, whitewashed Stalin’s atroc-
ities. And Gregory Ratoff’s Song of Russia (1943) showed the Soviet mother-
land to have plush nightclubs, thriving collective farms, and lovable comrades
24 Hollywood’s Cold War

worshipping freely at Orthodox churches. The latter film even allowed for the
marriage in Russia between a touring American symphony conductor, John
Meredith (played by Robert Taylor), and Nadya (Susan Peters), a Russian
pianist. When Nadya decides to travel with her husband to the United States
at the end of the movie, this is not to defect but to preach the message of the
Soviets to America.40
Song of Russia, an MGM production, came back to haunt Louis B. Mayer
when East-West relations deteriorated after the Second World War, especially
when the Committee on Un-American Activities of the House of
Representatives started in 1947 to hunt for those who had made Hollywood,
as HUAC chairman J. Parnell Thomas put it, a ‘Red propaganda centre’. Mayer
said under investigation that the film had merely been made to give Russia ‘a
pat on [the] back, to keep them fighting’, but few appeared to believe him. In
November 1947, MGM re-released Ninotchka both as a means of getting
HUAC off its back and to cash in on the growing Red Scare engulfing the
United States. Ninotchka was, as MGM trailers trumpeted, ‘a most timely
film’.41 Indeed it was, especially in war-torn Europe.
During the Second World War, Washington had constructed an enormous
propaganda machine, with two separate organisations, the OWI and Office of
Strategic Services (OSS), handling white and black material respectively.42 At
the end of hostilities, these units were quickly dismantled on economic and
idealistic grounds; at this point many Americans regarded a permanent pro-
paganda organisation run by the federal government as fundamentally unde-
mocratic. By early 1947, however, publicity cutbacks were being hastily
reversed, and a new, more complex machine started to be built. In the wake
of the March 1947 Truman Doctrine, which portrayed the United States and
Soviet Union as two irreconcilable enemies, the newly formed National
Security Council charged the State Department with responsibility for strong
information measures to counter Soviet programmes, and assigned the over-
sight of covert psychological operations to the newly established Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA). The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 then provided the
legal foundation for American peacetime propaganda overseas. The legisla-
tion envisioned using all the tools of modern communication, including print,
radio, films, exchange programmes and exhibitions, to disseminate informa-
tion about the United States.43
Given a major boost by Truman’s Campaign of Truth from mid-1950
onwards,44 then by the Eisenhower administration’s more holistic approach
towards propaganda,45 the American government’s Cold War information
infrastructure was highly sophisticated by the early 1960s. Successive admin-
istrations then built on this sturdy platform. By the 1980s, the US govern-
ment’s full-service international propaganda machine employed more than
Love and defection 25

10,000 full-time staff, spread out among some 150 countries, burnishing
America’s image while maligning the Soviet Union to the tune of over $2
billion per year.46 Compared with its Soviet counterpart, indications are that
the US government’s whole propaganda machine was better organised, staffed
and financed, and more versatile throughout the conflict.47
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the Truman admin-
istration held high hopes that its atomic monopoly and economic superior-
ity would drive the Red Army out of most of the countries it had occupied
on its march to Berlin and reunite Europe. However, this soon proved to be
a chimera, to the point where, by late 1947, the US government feared
Western Europe was on the edge of disaster. In February 1948 the commu-
nists seized power in Czechoslovakia, and in March the US Commander in
Germany, General Lucius Clay, warned Washington that a Soviet military
attack might occur within days. American leaders feared that a communist
victory in the first post-war elections in Italy in mid-April would signal the
collapse of democracy in Europe, by strengthening the bid for power of the
communist parties throughout Western Europe and weakening the ability of
the moderate middle-class and socialist opponents to resist the hard left.
Furthermore, the US would suffer a severe loss of prestige if a strategic
nation within its sphere of influence moved into close collaboration with the
Soviet Union.48
With 1.6 million cinema tickets being sold in Italy per day in 1948, film
inevitably played a central role in the massive ‘state-private’ American propa-
ganda campaign to mobilise voters against the communist-militant-socialist
coalition at the polls.49 This campaign was no one-week wonder. Just as in
other countries, the State Department and Hollywood had been working suc-
cessfully together to penetrate the Italian film market for years. In 1946, for
instance, 600 American commercial films were registered for import into Italy
compared with 100 British and 30 Soviet films. On a more official level, by
1947 the United States Information Services (USIS) had established five
offices in Italy, each stocked with 100 titles of educational and documentary
films. These films, which were usually shown on mobile American equipment
and reached roughly 100,000 Italians each month, dealt with a variety of sub-
jects designed both to give the Italians some idea of America and to help them
improve their agricultural and industrial techniques.50 In the months leading
up to the April 1948 election, the ten leading American film distributors in
Italy formed a consortium and cooperated with US government information
officials in giving the widest possible dissemination to selected American
feature and documentary films on a non-profit basis. Circulated alongside
these were films extolling the benefits of US economic aid, produced by the
leading Italian weekly newsreel programme, INCOM.51
26 Hollywood’s Cold War

The American films, which were watched by an estimated five million

Italians per week in early April, were among the most effective of all media
used in the pre-election propaganda drive. Evidence suggests that Ninotchka
was the most prominent of all. Following State Department requests, distrib-
utors doubled the movie’s print numbers. Special arrangements were made so
the film could be shown among the lower-income population. Italian com-
munists made several attempts to forestall the showing of Ninotchka, includ-
ing threatening movie-theatre managers if they did not remove it from
programmes and stealing copies from cinemas. When Russia’s embassy asked
the Rome authorities in early April to take Ninotchka out of the city’s ten the-
atres in which it had been showing for several weeks, the publicity probably
added to the film’s nationwide success.52 ‘What licked us was Ninotchka’, one
disappointed Communist party functionary is reported to have said when the
pro-Soviet left was defeated at the polls, and the main anti-communist party,
the Christian Democrats, gained an absolute majority in the new parliament.
‘Greta Garbo Wins Elections’, proclaimed one conservative newspaper.53
While both statements are hyberbolic, Ninotchka was perfectly suited to the US
government’s propaganda campaign, a campaign that avoided allegations of
American interference in Italian affairs and that reduced the issues before the
Italian people to a series of simple choices: democracy or totalitarianism,
abundance or starvation, happiness or misery. It also tied in with the Christian
Democrats’ own use of election posters that featured glamorous images of
popular American heart-throbs like Tyrone Power and proclaimed ‘Even
Hollywood stars are against Communism.’54
The 1948 Italian election results were in all likelihood due more to the
Vatican’s political mobilisation than to outside aid, but were read in
Washington as proof of America’s ability to influence the domestic affairs of
other nations through the use of unconventional instruments, including film
propaganda. The results therefore had a lasting effect on American political
and publicity activities in Europe and the Third World.55 In the more imme-
diate term, though, Ninotchka continued to be appropriated – unofficially and
officially – in the struggle against communism in Europe. French censors had
banned the film in September 1947, possibly because of the extreme volatil-
ity of national politics at the time,56 but passed it in late April 1948. When it
was re-released in the same month in Britain, one local journalist focused on
Ninotchka’s comic propaganda qualities to ask why ridicule was being
neglected as an anti-communist weapon. Another judged it the best anti-
Soviet propaganda film made to date, partly because it was so understated:
‘The delaying tactics of the Soviet mission, the consultations with Moscow,
the suspicion, the censoring of letters, phrases like “confiscated legally”, “sent
to Siberia”, “bourgeois capitalism” . . . have become universally topical jokes
Love and defection 27

however macabre . . . How odd that we should ever have thought this devas-
tating caricature merely funny.’57 The film heightened the mood of West
Berliners during the 1948–9 Soviet blockade, and was reissued in the western
half of the city in the summer of 1951 during the Whitsuntide march of the
communist-led East Berlin youth, in order to give the visitors the chance to
laugh at their Soviet occupiers and indigenous communist leaders.58
Around this time Ninotchka also appeared in Vienna, a city then still con-
trolled by the Russians, British, French and Americans. In November 1950
alone, more than 70,000 Viennese saw the film in the two large theatres within
the international zone. A few months later, the US Embassy happily reported
to Washington that ‘considerable persuasion and reassurances of American
interests’ had paid off with respect to the film audience.59 As in Rome in 1948,
Soviet officials complained bitterly about Ninotchka’s release in Vienna, and
several theatre owners withdrew the film due to threats of violence by local
communists. To counter the film’s effects further, Moscow waged an intensive
advertising campaign in the city for one of its own re-releases, Michail
Chiaureli’s Second World War ‘artistic documentary’, The Fall of Berlin (1949).
Widely distributed by indigenous communist parties in Western Europe in the
early 1950s, this two-part film accused Roosevelt and Churchill of having
deliberately prolonged the war in the hope that the Soviet Union and Nazi
Germany would destroy one another. As a consequence, the film argued,
Washington and London had added unnecessarily to the ordinary Austrians’
suffering and precipitated the Cold War.60


The world’s first stage production of Ninotchka opened in Paris in April 1950,
starring Sophie Desmarets and Henri Guisal. Three years later, Billy Wilder,
one of Ninotchka’s scriptwriters who had since become a respected director,
considered making a male version of the story for Paramount. Nothing came
of this, much to the relief of Luigi Luraschi, Paramount’s head of censorship
and a CIA confidant, who suspected Wilder’s ‘liberal-mindedness’ might
encourage undue sympathy towards the Soviet system.61 However, that year,
1953, did see MGM release Never Let Me Go, a McCarthyite remake of King
Vidor’s light-hearted Comrade X. Directed by Delmer Davies, this depicted the
Soviet Union as a paranoid police state forcibly separating an American cor-
respondent (Clark Gable again) from his Russian ballerina wife. At the same
time, RKO made the gentle comedy No Time for Flowers. Directed in Allied-
occupied Austria by Don Siegel, this starred Viveca Lindfors as a Czech sec-
retary who defects to the West after being exposed to the luxuries of
American cocktail dresses, high heels and bubble baths. Rumours circulated
28 Hollywood’s Cold War

via the Hollywood trade press that Austrian actors were deterred from
working on this picture because of communist threats and that the produc-
tion was put under Russian surveillance.62
Three years later, in 1956, Ralph Thomas’ The Iron Petticoat, an Anglo-
American production set in West Germany and London, put a further twist
on the Ninotchka theme by having Katherine Hepburn play a Russian pilot
who defects and marries an American air-force officer, played by the come-
dian Bob Hope. Made during the brief period of East-West détente follow-
ing Stalin’s death in 1953, the film ended with the two lovers taking to the skies
as globe-trotting peace campaigners.63 A year on, Howard Hughes’ Jet Pilot,
originally filmed in 1950 in cooperation with the US Air Force, told a similar
story, minus the conciliatory gesture. After wooing Soviet flying ace Janet
Leigh with sexy lingerie, a weekend in Palm Springs, and a luscious steak
dinner, John Wayne convinces his ‘silly Siberian cupcake’ to defect – along
with her precious MIG aircraft.64
With the East-versus-West love story proving so attractive a subject for
filmmakers, it was only to be expected that Hollywood would turn it into a
musical. The musical was, after all, arguably the quintessential American film
genre: optimistic, perpetuating the most conventional beliefs about individu-
alism, social harmony and patriotism, and offering utopian images of
affluence and material well-being.65 Musicals had played an overt role in
Hollywood’s Second World War propaganda campaign, from the nostalgically
patriotic Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) to military flag-wavers like This is the Army
(1943).66 By contrast, in the struggle to defeat communism during the Cold
War, Hollywood musicals were rarely so transparently political. Unlike many
rock and folk music performers from the 1960s onwards, their lyrics and
scores avoided ideological and geopolitical controversies.67
Nevertheless, immensely popular movies like MGM’s An American in Paris
(1951) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – made during the musical’s ‘golden age’ and
during a period when Cold War mentalities were being formed – carried in their
infectiously enthusiastic acting, catchy tunes and lively choreography an exceed-
ingly powerful message about what America represented. In 1955, British critic
Roger Manvell alluded to the subtle propagandistic qualities of the American
musical when he wrote: ‘The best musicals have the vitality of a nation which
has no inhibitions when it comes to singing about the heartaches and happiness
of contemporary life, or laughing at its own absurdities or glamorising the sheer
love of sex and material success.’68 Many years later, British director Terence
Davies recalled seeing Singin’ in the Rain when he was a child: ‘When you grew
up in a Liverpool slum and you saw these films, that’s what you thought America
was like. Everyone was rich, everyone was beautiful. There was no want, no
poverty; it was always summer. That’s very potent. It’s as potent as religion.’69
Love and defection 29

Silk Stockings, released in 1957, is a collector’s item – a Hollywood musical

that ventured explicitly into Cold War territory. A musical stage version of
Ninotchka, titled Silk Stockings, had been a Broadway success in 1954–5, and in
1956 Arthur Freed, whose prestigious production unit at MGM specialised in
making Technicolor musical extravaganzas, employed a team of writers to
transfer the play to the big screen. Freed hired as director the Armenian-born
Rouben Mamoulian, who a decade earlier had revolutionised the Broadway
musical with shows like Carousel. More recently, Mamoulian had conducted a
tour of Europe with Oklahoma! sponsored by the State Department.70 The
lead roles were filled by one of Hollywood’s best-loved dance couples, Cyd
Charisse and Fred Astaire. Charisse’s first film had in fact been Mission to
Moscow but she was better known as the beautiful, statuesque former dance
partner of Gene Kelly. Astaire, now 58 years of age, had appeared in thirty
movies over two decades, and was described by one critic during filming as
‘the perfect representative of American civilization – simply by being light-
hearted, nimble-witted, small of voice and light of foot’.71 The music for Silk
Stockings was provided by the songwriter Cole Porter, famous for his witty,
risqué lyrics. The choreographers, who created original dance numbers that
ran the gamut from interpretative ballet to jazz and rock ’n’ roll, were Eugene
Loring, Hermes Pan and Astaire himself. In total, Silk Stockings cost $2.4
million.72 The only cuts requested by the PCA related to the film’s sexual
content. One scene showing three married American women dating the com-
missars caused particular concern. ‘We think this is an unnecessarily low
approach’, noted the censors, ‘and seems to indicate that in the great free
western world it is common practice for such things to happen.’73
Silk Stockings follows the plot of Ninotchka fairly closely. Ninotchka
(Charisse) still comes to Paris to discipline three wayward envoys, only to fall in
love with her decadent Western charmer (Steve Canfield, played by Astaire).
Ninotchka and Steve are opposites: he is happy-go-lucky; she is serious, cold
and calculating; he is smartly dressed and devoted to debonair frivolity, she is
khaki-clad and devoted to her country; he makes his own decisions, she takes
orders from Moscow. However, the Russians’ mission is no longer to get money
for tractors by selling grand ducal jewellery, but to coax a wandering composer,
Peter Boroff (Wim Sonneveld), back to Moscow; and Ninotchka’s seducer is no
longer a French aristocrat but an American film producer. Boroff’s character
allowed the music to blend into the plot more naturally, while also alluding to
the real-life conductors like the Czech Rafael Kubelik who had fled from the
Eastern bloc. Canfield’s nationality seems to have been a commercial rather
than political decision, but its effect was to highlight America’s more prominent
political and cultural role in post-war Europe. It also emphasised Ninotchka’s
love of things American, rather than the West generally in Lubitsch’s film.74
30 Hollywood’s Cold War

However, what really sets the two films apart is their differing styles. As in
Ninotchka, some political points in Silk Stockings are delivered through witty
dialogue. Just moments after his failed predecessor is arrested by the secret
police, for instance, one commissar requests a copy of Who Was Who – a
mordant reference to the Soviet government’s deadly capriciousness. But
from the opening of Silk Stockings, with its floor-level close-up of Astaire’s
famous feet, the movie is notable above all for the lead players’ wonderfully
expressive movements. Through these movements and accompanying songs,
we learn to appreciate the difference between an inhibiting, depersonalising
Soviet system and the freedom and spontaneity enjoyed in the West. Dance is
crucial here (just as it would be thirty years later in White Nights), being not a
mere decoration but a leading thematic motif. As the film progresses, so Cold
War politics and ideological differences dissolve as dancing becomes the uni-
versal language of romance.
The implicit theme of dance-as-liberation runs throughout the film, start-
ing from the ‘We Can’t Go Back to Moscow’ number. This establishes and
celebrates the conversion of the three Soviet emissaries to the material delights
of capitalism, notably champagne and available women. Here, critically, the
emphasis in the mise-en-scène is on individual movement, in which even the
clumsy but jovial Brankov (modelled partly after Soviet premier Nikita
Khrushchev and played by Hollywood’s wild-eyed eccentric Peter Lorre)75
finds some physical means of expression. The beautiful Charisse solo number
(‘All of You’) sees Ninotchka surrender to the allures of capitalistic luxury,
dressing in lace petticoat, evening gown and silk stockings to transform herself
into the object of male desire, while the grace and freedom of physical move-
ment (of dancer and camera) throughout the sequence movingly express the
casting off of repressive constraints. Charisse’s discovery, through dance, of
her individual physical existence is perhaps more moving than Garbo’s emo-
tional awakening through laughter.
When the movie shifts to Moscow, we see that Ninotchka herself has
reverted to an automaton, dancing not out of exhilaration but as though dis-
charging a duty. Yet in ‘The Red Blues’ number we see the supreme expres-
sion of vitality through physical movement, with movement only stopping
during the two intrusions of an orthodox communist. In this song, set in a
cold, austere hall, Ninotchka and her friends pay homage to their memories
of the warm, vibrant West. This, ‘Siberia’ and ‘Too Bad’ allow the commissars
to express their lachrymose self-pity for their inevitable return to proletarian
life. ‘Siberia’ lists the ‘joys’ of being sent to a region where one never has to
phone for ice and there is no unemployment.
Silk Stockings does contain certain political ambiguities. In ‘America’s
Swimming Sweetheart’, sassy actress Peggy Dainton (played by Broadway star
Love and defection 31

‘An ideological strip tease’, as Life magazine put it: Ninotchka (Cyd Charisse) gets in touch with her
innermost desires, and the pleasures of Western femininity through consumption, in Silk Stockings (1957).
MGM/The Kobal Collection.

Janis Paige) is the epitome of Western decadence, and generally her character
allows the movie to mock the commercialism of Hollywood. In another scene,
Ninotchka objects to an absurdly dressed-up poodle as ‘useless’, whereas Steve
defends it as ‘amusing’.76 The pro-capitalist message is underlined at the end,
32 Hollywood’s Cold War

however. Charisse is brought back to Paris by Astaire’s machinations, the

climax of which has her seated in the ex-envoys’ new nightclub (La Vielle
Russie) to admire Astaire’s solo-with-chorus dance number (‘The Ritz Rock ’n’
Roll’), a robust affirmation of the material rewards of capitalism. She then,
after a brief misunderstanding has been cleared up, submits to him, and
defects. Ninotchka’s flight to the West proves that deep-rooted ‘universal’ and
‘human’ needs can be suppressed but never ultimately destroyed by the repres-
sions of a social system antithetical to them.77
In contrast to the response to Ninotchka, critics differed on Silk Stockings’
artistic and political merits. Some condemned it for vulgarising a nostalgically
venerated original and for satirising communism more crudely than Lubitsch’s
‘masterpiece’. Others gave it thunderous applause. It ‘never misses a trick in
pointing up [the Soviet system’s] inherent foolishness’, said the Hollywood
Reporter, and its ‘musical portions are as exciting and imaginative as anything
ever done in motion picture musical comedy’. Many a less historically minded
ordinary viewer also approved of the film. At a preview screening at Pasadena
in February 1957, only 1 of 214 report cards rated it ‘poor’, and the film went
on to gross $4.4 million.78
At another preview screening hosted by Eric Johnston, President of the
Motion Picture Association of America, a group of senior government
officials including the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Charles Bohlen,
thoroughly enjoyed the film. Bohlen’s approval should be seen in the context
of Washington’s publicity efforts overseas in the 1950s to highlight the
greater freedoms enjoyed by women in the West compared with the East, be
it in terms of employment, recreation or fashion. The movie also tied in
nicely with one of the United States Information Agency’s (USIA’s) biggest
initiatives of the mid-to-late 1950s, that dubbed ‘People’s Capitalism’.
Created by Theodore Repplier, President of the US Advertising Council,
this multimedia campaign directed overseas sought to challenge the com-
munist line that free market economics only favoured the bosses, and to
package America as a symbol of high productivity, ingenuity and material
It is difficult to gauge Silk Stockings’ reception overseas. If Britain’s news-
papers are anything to go by, many people did not care much for it. The critic
of The Times, a paper which stood on the political right, thought it was ‘dated’,
while the liberal-oriented Observer called the film ‘stupid in its attitude to
Russia, stupid in its understanding of the public’.80 Notwithstanding these
views, Silk Stockings probably reflected and reinforced many cinema-goers’
appreciation of the basic differences between the East and the West. In several
important respects, the film also echoed Washington’s current efforts to infil-
trate the Soviet empire culturally. The film’s portrayal of jazz as an instrument
Love and defection 33

abroad of American free expression, for instance, tied in with the opinion
held by official propagandists in the 1950s that jazz was the United States’
‘secret sonic weapon’ behind the Iron Curtain. In 1955, Voice of America
(VOA), the official broadcasting service of the United States, had launched its
landmark programme Music USA, aiming jazz at the youth of the USSR and
Eastern Europe.81 Silk Stockings’ promotion of the idea that, as the conserva-
tive magazine Time put it, ‘the Soviet Union could be outflanked by a simple
clobbering with Sears [and] Roebuck catalogues’ was derided as overconfident
wishful thinking by some in 1957. Yet when the US government staged the
first American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, hoping to dazzle the
Soviet people with the riches that capitalism provided, in scenes which uncan-
nily echoed sociologist David Riesman’s satirical 1951 essay ‘The Nylon War’
some Russian women literally fought for tickets to the Christian Dior show.82
Ninotchka continued to prove its durability into the next decade. In 1960, the
story crossed from the big to the small screen, when the American
Broadcasting Company produced an orthodox television adaptation, starring
Maria Schell and Gig Young. 83

Thirty years later, in 1989–90, the Soviet-run Eastern bloc dramatically col-
lapsed. Historians continue to debate the reasons for this, yet few now doubt
that the Cold War was won as much in the shopping basket as at the negoti-
ating table. Some have gone further than this, arguing that all paths of Cold
War social and cultural history lead to a consideration of consumerism.84 If
so, Hollywood’s role, combined with that played by television,85 was surely
significant. ‘There has never been a more effective salesman for American
products in foreign countries than the American motion picture’, proclaimed
Gerald M. Mayer, head of the International Division of the Motion Picture
Association of America in 1947. ‘Scenes laid in American kitchens, for
example, have probably done as much to acquaint the people of foreign lands
with American electric refrigerators, electric washing machines, eggbeaters,
window screens, and so on, as any other medium.’86 Hollywood’s ability to
open a window onto Westerners’ conspicuous consumption for Eastern bloc
audiences appears to have been particularly important, notwithstanding the
heavy restrictions communist governments placed on American film imports.
Yale Richmond, one of Washington’s most experienced Cold War cultural
diplomats, recalls how one Russian woman, on seeing Billy Wilder’s 1960
romantic comedy The Apartment, was impressed by watching Jack Lemmon
warm up his TV dinner, unknown at that time in the Soviet Union, and light-
ing his kitchen stove without a match. ‘From foreign films, Soviet audiences
34 Hollywood’s Cold War

learned that people in the West did not have to stand in lines to purchase food,
did not live in communal apartments, dressed fashionably, enjoyed many con-
veniences not available in the Soviet Union, owned cars, and lived the normal
life so sought by Russians’, writes Richmond.87
Even if Ninotchka was made fifty years before the Berlin Wall was
breached, the film remains a key artefact of the Cold War. It was the first
movie that fully articulated a materialist view of the capitalist-communist
divide. It served as the inspiration for many other films, including a few that
subverted the Curtain-crossing-lovers theme, like Billy Wilder’s screwball
farce One, Two, Three (1961).88 And it also anticipated later seminal events in
the cultural Cold War. In 1967, no less a person than Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana
Allilueva, defected to the West and in 1970 became a US citizen when she
married architect William Peters. Surprisingly, given its obvious commercial
and political possibilities, Hollywood declined to make a film based on
Svetlana’s story. This is evidence, according to one writer, of the American
film industry’s abject failure to depict the full horrors of Soviet communism
during the Cold War, due partly to the phenomenon of anti-anti-communism
that swept through Hollywood in reaction to the blacklisting ‘legend’ instilled
in the McCarthy era.89 Whether Hollywood could or should have painted a
more gruesome picture of life in the East is open to question. Certainly, not
one single American film made during the Cold War chose to turn Ninotchka
on its head, by portraying an East-West love affair that ended happily on the
‘wrong’ side of the Iron Curtain.90
Just as importantly, Ninotchka is an early example of the degree to which
the celluloid Cold War was fought independent of official propagandists. At
the same time, MGM’s decision to re-release Ninotchka in the late 1940s in the
face of political pressures from HUAC, plus the State Department’s subse-
quent appropriation of the film for political purposes in Western Europe,
shows how easily the lines between the ‘state’ and the ‘private’ could become
blurred when the Cold War proper started.

1 Cited in Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema (Oxford, 2003), p. 280. During the
Second World War, Zanuck combined his role at Twentieth Century-Fox with
running a documentary film unit as a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Signal
Corps. See Leonard Mosley, Zanuck (Boston, MA, 1984), pp. 195–224.
2 On Hollywood’s Vietnam War movies of the early to mid-1980s, including
Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985), see Jeremy M. Devine, Vietnam at 24 Frames a
Second: A Critical and Thematic Analysis of Over 400 Films About the Vietnam War
(Jefferson, NC, 1995), pp. 198–236. Hollywood’s treatment of the Vietnam War
is discussed at further length in Chapters 7, 8 and 9 below.
Love and defection 35

3 On the POW theme see, for instance, Susan L. Carruthers, ‘Redeeming the
Captives: Hollywood and the Brainwashing of America’s Prisoners of War in
Korea’, Film History, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1998, pp. 275–94.
4 The phrase is historian Eric Hobsbawm’s, who writes significantly that ‘the sheer
degree of mutual ignorance and incomprehension that persisted between the two
worlds was quite extraordinary, especially when we bear in mind that this was a
period when both travel and communication of information were utterly revolu-
tionized’. Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991
(London, 1994), pp. 374–5. The Western public’s lack of access to solid facts
about the conditions behind the Iron Curtain rendered mass media images of
those conditions potentially highly influential.
5 ‘I didn’t set out to make a Cold War movie,’ said Taylor Hackford. ‘White Nights
is a film about the need for artistic and individual freedom.’ Quoted by Peter
Rainer, ‘Mixed Messages’, American Film, March 1986, p. 48. The Soviet govern-
ment lodged a protest against White Nights in the international press, through its
official newspaper, Izvestia. On this and the film generally see William J. Palmer,
The Films of the Eighties: A Social History (Carbondale, IL, 1993), pp. 242–5, and
Margaret Donovan (ed.), Portrait of a Film: The Making of White Nights (New York,
6 Frank Walsh, Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry
(New Haven, CT, 1996), p. 5; Kay Sloan, The Loud Silents: Origins of the Social
Problem Film (Urbana, IL, 1988), p. 9.
7 Steven J. Ross, ‘The Rise of Hollywood: Movies, Ideology, and Audiences in the
Roaring Twenties’, in Steven J. Ross (ed.), Movies and American Society (Oxford,
2002), p. 67; Richard Maltby, Harmless Entertainment: Hollywood and the Ideology of
Consensus (London, 1983).
8 Gregory D. Black, ‘Movies, Politics, and Censorship: The Production Code
Administration and Political Censorship of Film Content’, Journal of Policy
History, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1991, pp. 95–129; Francis R. Walsh, ‘The Films We Never
Saw: American Movies View Organized Labor, 1934–1954’, Labor History,
Vol. 27, Fall 1986, pp. 564–80; Ruth Vaisey, The World According to Hollywood,
1918–1939 (Exeter, 1997).
9 For a selection of pro-labour films of this era see M. Keith Booker, Film and the
American Left: A Research Guide (Westport, CT, 1999), pp. 16–69.
10 Kevin Brownlow, Behind the Mask of Innocence: Sex, Violence, Prejudice, Crime: Films
of Social Conscience in the Silent Era (Berkeley, and Los Angeles CA, 1990),
pp. 442–3; John Sbardellati and Tony Shaw, ‘Booting a Tramp: Charlie Chaplin,
the FBI and the Construction of the Subversive Image in Red Scare America’,
Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 72, No. 4, November 2003, pp. 495–530, esp. p. 498.
11 Garth Jowett, Film: The Democratic Art (Boston, MA, 1976), p. 187.
12 Brownlow, Behind the Mask, pp. 443–52; Variety, 2 May 1919, p. 60; New York
Times, 12 May 1919, p. 11; Variety, 6 February 1920, p. 53, and 16 April 1920,
p. 39; Motion Picture World, 23 August 1919, pp. 1175–6; Hollywood Reporter,
7 September 1935, p. 3. Red Salute was re-released in 1953 as Runaway Daughter.
36 Hollywood’s Cold War

13 Variety, 16 January 1920, p. 61, and 8 August 1920, p. 21; New York Times,
29 January 1922, Section 6, p. 2; Brownlow, Behind the Mask, pp. 453–7.
14 John Belton, American Cinema/American Culture (New York, 1994), p. 235; Variety,
14 April 1937. On the hostility towards monopoly capitalism shown by Frank
Capra, Will Rogers, John Ford and other prominent filmmakers, on and off
screen, during the New Deal era see Lary May, The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the
Politics of the American Way (Chicago, IL, 2000).
15 Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945
(Oxford, 1979), pp. 78–80; Ellen W. Schrecker, The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief
History with Documents (Boston, MA, 2002), pp. 5–8.
16 Variety, 15 November, p. 19; New York Times, 22 July 1933, p. 14; Film Daily, 1 June
1934, p. 7.
17 Motion Picture Daily, 24 September 1934, p. 2.
18 Variety, 23 October 1935, p. 13. This picture, which depicted a factory strike, was
produced in the wake of a general strike in San Francisco. PCA Director Joseph
Breen agreed to certify the proposed film on condition it specified that the strike
was the work of outside agitators. Breen to producer Brian Foy, 25 September
1934, Together We Live – PCA Files, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles, California (hereafter AMPAS).
19 Variety, 9 December 1936, p. 13.
20 Richard Slotkin, ‘The Continuity of Forms: Myth and Genre in Warner Brothers’
The Charge of the Light Brigade’, Representations, Winter 1990, pp. 1–23, esp. p. 9.
21 Thomas Cripps, Hollywood’s High Noon: Moviemaking and Society before Television
(Baltimore, MD, 1997), pp. 124–5; William Alexander, Film on the Left: American
Documentary Film from 1931 to 1942 (Princeton, NJ, 1981); Giuliana Muscio,
Hollywood’s New Deal (Philadelphia, PA, 1996).
22 Maurice Zolotow, ‘Ninotchka: The Movie That Never Should Have Been Made’,
Los Angeles Magazine, December 1976, pp. 1–10; Scott Eyman, Ernst Lubitsch:
Laughter in Paradise (New York, 1993), pp. 265–8.
23 Ninotchka scripts: Folders 2300-f.574–85, Turner/MGM Script Collection,
24 Ninotchka scripts: Folders 2302-f.586–91, Turner/MGM Script Collection,
25 Memorandum, 13 May 1938; Breen to Mayer, 2 June 1939; Analysis Chart,
1 September 1939: Ninotchka – PCA Files, AMPAS; Clayton R. Koppes and
Gregory D. Black, Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped
World War II Movies (New York, 1987), pp. 17–47, 187–8.
26 Ceplair and Englund, Inquisition, pp. 18–19, 30, 91–2; Neal Gabler, An Empire of
their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (New York, 1988), p. 316; Albert Auster,
‘The Hollywood Musical’, in Gary Crowdus (ed.), The Political Companion to
American Film (Chicago, IL, 1994), p. 288.
27 Zolotow, ‘Ninotchka’, p. 3.
28 Eyman, Lubitsch, p. 233; Charles Highham, Merchants and Dreams: Louis B. Mayer,
MGM, and the Secret Hollywood (London, 1993), p. 289; Koppes and Black,
Love and defection 37

Hollywood, pp. 186, 216. Lubitsch exacted revenge on the Third Reich in 1942 by
directing the anti-Nazi satire To Be or Not to Be. See Nora Henry, Ethics and Social
Criticism in the Hollywood Films of Erich Von Stroheim, Ernst Lubitsch, and Billy Wilder
(Westport, CT, 2001), pp. 97–106.
29 Anthony Slide, The New Historical Dictionary of the American Film Industry (London,
2001), p. 125; Kevin Lally, Wilder Times: The Life of Billy Wilder (New York, 1996),
p. 88; Terry Christensen and Peter J. Haas, Projecting Politics: Political Messages in
American Films (Armonk, NY, 2005), p. 21.
30 Peter Hay, MGM: When the Lion Roars (New York, 1991), pp. 187–9.
31 Jeremy Mindich, ‘Re-reading Ninotchka: A Misread Commentary on Social and
Economic Systems’, Film and History, Vol. 20, No. 1, February 1990, pp. 16–24.
32 See, for example, William Paul, Ernst Lubitsch’s American Comedy (New York,
1983), p. 207.
33 MGM Press book, Ninotchka Clippings File, AMPAS.
34 Variety, 11 October 1939, in Variety’s Film Reviews, Vol. 6, 1938–42 (New York,
35 Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and Walter Reisch, Ninotchka: The MGM Library of
Film Scripts, screenplay (London, 1972), pp. 8–9.
36 For the impact that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had on the politics of
Hollywood, and the disintegration of the liberal-communist Popular Front in
particular, see Ceplair and Englund, Inquisition, pp. 129–52. The Pact cast suspi-
cion on liberals in Hollywood, including Melvyn Douglas, who was forced to use
his role in Ninotchka as evidence of his opposition to communism. See Photoplay,
September 1940, pp. 23, 88.
37 New York Times, 11 October 1939; Sunday Worker, New York, 19 November 1939;
Daily Worker, 24 November 1939.
38 Lally, Wilder, p. 88; International Censorship Board Reports: Ninotchka – PCA
Files, AMPAS; Daily Worker, 13 April 1940.
39 New York Times, 26 December 1940, p. 23; New York Post, 31 August 1940, p. 16.
40 Koppes and Black, Hollywood, pp. 185–221; David Culbert (ed.), Mission to Moscow
(Madison, WI, 1980); Todd Bennett, ‘Culture, Power, and Mission to Moscow: Film
and Soviet-American Relations during World War II’, Journal of American History,
Vol. 88, No. 2, September 2001, pp. 489–518.
41 Hearings Regarding the Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry (Hearings
Before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives,
80th Congress, 1st Session, 20–4, 27–30 October 1947) (Washington, DC, 1947),
p. 80; Robert Mayhew, ‘The Making of Song of Russia’, Film History, Vol. 16, No. 4,
2004, pp. 334–57; MGM Press book, Ninotchka Clippings File, AMPAS.
42 Allan M. Winkler, The Politics of Propaganda: The Office of War Information,
1942–1945 (New Haven, CT, 1978); R. H. Smith, OSS: The Secret History of
America’s First Intelligence Agency (Berkeley, CA, 1972).
43 Scott W. Lucas, ‘Campaigns of Truth: The Psychological Strategy Board and
American Ideology, 1951–1953’, International History Review, Vol. 18, No. 2,
May 1996, pp. 279–302, esp. pp. 282–3; Hixson, Curtain, pp. 5–12.
38 Hollywood’s Cold War

44 Gary Rawnsley, ‘The Campaign of Truth: A Populist Propaganda’, in Gary

Rawnsley (ed.), Cold War Propaganda in the 1950s (Basingstoke, 1999), pp. 31–46.
45 Kenneth Osgood, ‘Total War: US Propaganda in the “Free World”, 1953–1960’,
PhD thesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, June 2001; Lucas,
‘Campaigns’, pp. 279–302. The Eisenhower presidency’s Cold War propaganda
mechanisms are detailed in Chapter 4.
46 Alvin Snyder, Warriors of Disinformation: American Propaganda, Soviet Lies and the
Winning of the Cold War (New York, 1995), p. xi.
47 Sustained research into Soviet Cold War propaganda is relatively thin on the
ground. For a partial insight see Frederick Barghoorn, The Soviet Cultural Offensive
(Princeton, NJ, 1960) and Soviet Foreign Propaganda (Princeton, NJ, 1962); Baruch
Hazan, Soviet Impregnational Propaganda (Ann Arbor, MI, 1982); Eric Shiraev and
Vladislav M. Zubock, Anti-Americanism in Russia: From Stalin to Putin (New York,
2000); Marian Kirsch Leighton, Soviet Propaganda as a Foreign Policy Tool (New York,
1991); Ladislav Bittman, The New Image Makers: Soviet Propaganda and Disinformation
Today (London, 1988); V. Pechatnov, ‘Exercise in Frustration: Soviet Foreign
Propaganda in the Early Cold War, 1945–47’, Cold War History, Vol. 1, No. 2,
January 2001, pp. 1–27.
48 James E. Miller, ‘Taking Off the Gloves: The United States and the Italian
Elections of 1948’, Diplomatic History, Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter 1983, pp. 35–56. See
Frank Kofsky, Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948: A Successful Campaign to
Deceive the Nation (Basingstoke, 1995), for a claim that Washington fabricated the
Soviet Union’s perceived military aggressiveness to the West in order, inter alia, to
save the US aviation industry from bankruptcy.
49 On Washington’s mobilisation of Italian-Americans during the election cam-
paign see Wendy L. Wall, ‘ “America’s Best Propagandists”: Italian Americans and
the 1948 “Letters to Italy” Campaign’, in Appy (ed.), Constructions, pp. 89–109.
50 D. W. Ellwood, ‘The 1948 Elections in Italy: A Cold War Propaganda Battle’,
Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1993, pp. 19–33;
Robert T. Holt and Robert W. van de Velde, Strategic Psychological Operations and
American Foreign Policy (Chicago, IL, 1960), pp. 173–4.
51 Arnoldo Cortesi and ‘Observer’, ‘Two Vital Case Histories’, in Lester Markel
(ed.), Public Opinion and Foreign Policy (New York, 1949), pp. 199–200.
52 US Ambassador in Italy (Dunn) to the Secretary of State, 16 June 1948, Foreign
Relations of the United States (hereafter FRUS), Vol. III, 1948 (Washington, DC,
1974), pp. 879–82; Motion Picture Herald, 3 April 1948; Daily Worker, 24 April 1948.
53 Morris Janowitz and Elizabeth Marvick, ‘US Propaganda Efforts and the 1948
Italian Elections’, in William E. Daughtey and Morris Janowitz (eds), A
Psychological Warfare Casebook (Baltimore, MD, 1958), pp. 321–2; ‘Garbo Wins’,
Rome Bureau, 1948 (source unclear), Ninotchka Clippings File, AMPAS.
54 Stephen Gundle, ‘Hollywood Glamour and Mass Consumption in Postwar Italy’,
Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, Summer 2002, pp. 95–118 (quotation at
p. 102).
55 Ellwood, ‘1948 Elections’, p. 20; Miller, ‘Gloves’, p. 35.
Love and defection 39

56 Due to diplomatic pressure from the United States and indigenous political infight-
ing, 1947 saw the collapse of Tripartism in France – the uneasy alliance formed
between the communists, socialists and the Mouvement Républicain Populaire
during the latter stages of the Second World War. Maurice Larkin, France since the
Popular Front: Government and the People, 1936–1986 (Oxford, 1995), pp. 151–6.
57 International Censorship Board Reports: Ninotchka – PCA Files, AMPAS; Daily
Telegraph, 19 April 1948; Time and Tide, April 1948.
58 ‘Germans Laugh at “Ninotchka”’, August 1951 (source unclear), Ninotchka
Clippings File, AMPAS.
59 Charles K. Moffly (Vienna) to Department of State, 23 February 1951, RG 59,
511.635/2–2351, National Archives, College Park, Maryland (hereafter USNA).
60 Los Angeles Times, 9 October 1950; Variety, 25 October 1950; Motion Picture Herald,
3 March 1951. On The Fall of Berlin see Richard Taylor, Film Propaganda: Soviet
Russia and Nazi Germany (London, 1998), pp. 99–122. On the measures taken by
the British Foreign Office to counter this film’s impact in Britain in 1952 see
PREM 11/1124 file, The National Archives, London (hereafter TNAL).
61 My source for Luraschi’s CIA connections is Eldridge, ‘Dear Owen’. For
Luraschi’s views on Wilder’s project see Eldridge, ‘Dear Owen’, pp. 161, 169.
Wilder was one of the few at Paramount who refused to sign a loyalty oath during
the post-1945 Red Scare.
62 New York Times, 11 June 1953, p. 37; Los Angeles Daily News, 7 October 1951.
63 Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1956, pp. 113–14.
64 New York Times, 5 October 1957, p. 8.
65 The musical as a specifically American form is examined in Gerald Mast, Can’t
Help Singin’: The American Musical on Stage and Screen (Woodstock, NY, 1987).
66 Thomas Doherty, Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture and World War II
(New York, 1999), pp. 83, 215. Both films were directed by Michael Curtiz.
67 For an insight into the political role of folk and rock music during the Cold War
see John Orman, The Politics of Rock Music (Chicago, IL, 1984); David P. Szatmary,
Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock and Roll (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1987);
Sabrina Ramet (ed.), Rocking the State: Rock Music and Politics in Eastern Europe and
Russia (Boulder, CO, 1994).
68 Roger Manvell, The Film and the Public (Harmondsworth, 1955), p. 174.
69 Palmer, Eighties, pp. 8–9.
70 Silk Stockings scripts: Folders 2891-f.1181–6, 2892-f.1187–94, 2893–1195–1204,
2894–1205–13, Turner/MGM Script Collection, AMPAS; Mark Spergel,
Reinventing Reality: The Art and Life of Rouben Mamoulian (London, 1993), p. 216.
71 Edward Jablonski, in Films in Review, August/September 1957, p. 351.
72 Robert Vogel-Arthur Freed correspondence, 29 November and 10 December
1956, Folder 1.1, Box 21, and Folder 2, Silk Stockings Budget, Arthur Freed
Collection, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California (hereafter
73 Geoffrey M. Shurlock to Dore Schary, 13 November 1956, Silk Stockings – PCA
Files, AMPAS.
40 Hollywood’s Cold War

74 On the ‘Classical Music Wars’ between East and West see Caute, Dancer,
pp. 379–44.
75 Rouben Mamoulian to Arthur Freed and Leonard Spigelglass, 25 July 1956,
Folder 1.1, Box 21, Arthur Freed Collection, USC.
76 Historian Helen Laville attributes greater significance to the movie’s critique of
American popular culture. For this, plus a detailed examination of the symbolic
power of feminine consumption in Ninotchka and Silk Stockings, see Helen Laville,
‘ “Our Country Endangered by Underwear”: Fashion, Femininity, and the
Seduction Narrative in Ninotchka and Silk Stockings’, Diplomatic History, Vol. 30,
No. 4, September 2006, pp. 623–44.
77 For more on the use of dance to narrate the love story and probe the ideological
divisions between East and West see Tom Milne, Rouben Mamoulian (London,
1969), pp. 147–60, and Robin Wood, ‘Art and Ideology: Notes on “Silk
Stockings” ’, Film Comment, May/June 1975, pp. 28–31.
78 Saturday Review, 20 July 1957; Hollywood Reporter, 20 May 1957, p. 3; Howard
Strickling, Report on Preview Screening at the Crown Theatre, Pasadena,
13 February 1957, Folder 1.2, Box 21, Arthur Freed Collection, USC; Hugh Fordin,
The World of Entertainment! Hollywood’s Greatest Musicals (New York, 1975), p. 452.
79 Orville Croach to Arthur Freed, 27 February 1957, Folder 2.1, Box 21, Arthur
Freed Collection, USC; Laura A. Belmonte, ‘A Family Affair? Gender, the US
Information Agency, and Cold War Ideology, 1945–1960’, in Jessica Gienow-
Hecht and Frank Schumacher (eds), Culture and International History (New York,
2003), pp. 79–93; Hixson, Curtain, pp. 133–41.
80 The Times, 5 August 1957; Observer, 3 August 1957.
81 Osgood, ‘Total War’, p. 181; Hixson, Curtain, pp. 115–19; Penny Von Eschen,
Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Cambridge, MA,
82 Time, 15 July 1957; Caute, Dancer, pp. 40–2; David Riesman, ‘The Nylon War’
(1951) reprinted in his Abundance for What? And Other Essays (London, 1964),
pp. 65–77. Riesman imagined an alternative to the nuclear arms race called
Operation Abundance, in which Washington sowed mass discontent in the Soviet
Union by bombarding the country with Western consumer goods.
83 On ABC’s coverage of the Cold War during this period see Nancy Bernhard, US
Television News and Cold War Propaganda, 1947–1960 (New York, 1999).
84 On this debate see Mitter and Major, Blocs, pp. 1–22. Interestingly, one historian
notes that even as early as the late 1950s state-owned retail enterprises in
Hungary’s big-city department stores attempted to replicate what they described
as ‘American’ shopping experiences. Mark Pittaway, ‘A Home Front in the Cold
War: Hungary, 1948–1989’,
(9 May 2006). On the promise of socialist consumerism see Susan E. Reid and
David Crowley (eds), Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Postwar
Eastern Europe (Oxford, 2000).
85 On the effect that television programmes beamed from the West had on East
Germans’ perceptions of their comparatively drab lifestyles in the 1980s see
Love and defection 41

H. Hanke, ‘Media Culture in the GDR: Characteristics, Processes, and Problems’,

Media, Culture and Society, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1990, pp. 175–93.
86 Gerald M. Mayer, ‘American Motion Pictures in World Trade’, Annals of the
American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, Vol. 254, November 1947, pp. 31–6.
87 Yale Richmond, Cultural Exchange and the Cold War: Raising the Iron Curtain
(University Park, PA, 2003), p. 128. Richmond worked on US-Soviet exchange
programmes for the State Department and USIA.
88 One, Two, Three was set in Berlin and starred James Cagney as a wise-cracking
Coca-Cola salesman. In contrast with Ninotchka, its communist zealot was a man
rather than a woman, an East German student, played by Horst Buchholz. The
student does eventually convert to capitalism, after marrying Cagney’s boss’s
daughter and getting her pregnant. But the film consciously mocks Cold War
stereotyping and, by sending up Nazism, communism and American corpor-
atism, implies that Berlin is little more than a great-power playground. Motion
Picture Herald, 6 December 1961, p. 372; Ed Sikov, On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and
Times of Billy Wilder (New York, 1999), pp. 453–68.
89 Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley, ‘Hollywood’s Missing Movies: Why American Films
Have Ignored Life Under Communism’, Reason, June 2000, pp. 21–9.
90 For an analysis of one British film that dared to enter this territory see Tony Shaw,
‘From Liverpool to Russia, With Love: A Letter to Brezhnev and Cold War
Cinematic Dissent in 1980s Britain’, Contemporary British History, Vol. 19, No. 2,
June 2005, pp. 243–62.

The enemy within

The Communists have developed one of the greatest propaganda machines the
world has ever known. They have been able to penetrate and infiltrate many
respectable and reputable public opinion mediums . . . Communist activity in
Hollywood is effective and is furthered by Communists and sympathizers using
the prestige of prominent persons to serve, often unwittingly, the Communist
cause . . . What can we do? And what should be our course of action? The best
antidote to Communism is vigorous, intelligent, old-fashioned Americanism
with eternal vigilance.
J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, testifying before HUAC,
26 March 19471

His family loved him dearly but knew there was something wrong with John
(played by Robert Walker). Perhaps it was because he had ‘more degrees than
a thermometer’, and had grown apart intellectually from his simple, well-
meaning parents. Maybe it was because he spent too long away from their
small home town, in Washington, DC, where he was mysteriously working for
the government.
Dan and Lucille Jefferson (Dean Jagger and Helen Hayes) had recently
grown to tolerate their son’s effete and snobbish manner. But his failure to
return home in time to see his clean-cut younger brothers depart for combat
in Korea was unforgivable. For John then to ridicule his father’s patriotism and
mock his mother’s devotion to Christianity was the last straw. Little wonder
Mr Jefferson, a member of the American Legion, tries to knock some sense
into his snide son by belting him with a Bible. Who can blame his anxious
mother for trailing John to the nation’s capital, only to have her suspicions that
he is a Soviet agent confirmed? Having failed to extract a confession from her
favourite offspring, Lucille Jefferson knows it is her duty to turn him over to
the FBI.
John calls the Bureau’s bluff, but finally realises his moral corruption when
confronted by the effects his treachery is having on his mother’s health.
Seeking redemption, John rushes to cleanse himself by offering to help the
FBI – only to be tragically gunned down gangland-style by his comrades in
front of the Lincoln Memorial, Hollywood’s favourite symbol of American
The enemy within 43

A family at war: John’s sideways glance at his dad and impertinence to Father O’Dowd are early pointers to
the tragedy about to strike the humble Jeffersons. Helen Hayes, Frank McHugh, Robert Walker and Dean
Jagger in a scene from My Son John (1952). Paramount/The Kobal Collection.

democracy.2 Fortunately, John had taped a speech he expected to deliver to a

college graduating class at his alma mater, detailing his disillusionment with
communism and warning of the party’s subversive threat. In the final scene,
the stunned students listen to John’s disembodied voice: ‘I am a traitor, I am
a native. American. Communist. Spy. And may God have mercy on my soul.’
Leo McCarey’s My Son John, which debuted in 1952, is a familiar exhibit in
studies of America’s domestic Cold War. Though the film initially met with a
mixed reception politically (the American Legion praised it, while some
Catholics thought it slanderous),3 it was soon well on its way to becoming the
most notorious of all the Red-baiting pictures produced during the McCarthy
era, if not the whole Cold War. Historians have recently cited the film as evi-
dence of the homophobic, anti-feminist and anti-intellectual dimensions of
America’s Second Red Scare.4
However, what few commentators have looked at fully are the motives that
lay behind the making of My Son John and the scores of other overtly anti-
communist films produced by Hollywood in the late 1940s and 1950s. Those
who have glanced behind the films’ scenes have tended, for good reason, to
emphasise the political pressures that filmmakers were subjected to during the
44 Hollywood’s Cold War

early Cold War years, and to argue that the movies were political sops designed
to placate those who charged the studios with ideologically suspect output.5
Yet the fact is Leo McCarey wrote, produced and directed My Son John for
Paramount not because he was being blackmailed by HUAC, but principally
because he was an ardent Catholic who believed communism presented a
genuine threat to American national security.6 Other filmmakers voluntarily
contributed to the anti-Red onslaught for more complex reasons. Some did so
partly because of their strong links with the state.
To understand the potential that existed for producers, writers and direc-
tors to project their own personal visions of the communist menace, it is
necessary to reassess Hollywood’s part in the institutionalisation of the Cold
War between the mid-1940s and mid-1950s. This was a critical period: when
Americans were urged to swap one foreign enemy (fascism) for another
(Soviet communism); when the anxieties, values and beliefs which most
people would carry throughout the conflict were first established; when
cinema was still at or near the peak of its drawing power in the United States;7
and when the state-film network in the United States was rapidly evolving to
take account of the exigencies of a full-blown Cold War. As we shall see,
America in the 1940s and 1950s was marked by idealism and creativity as much
as fear and risk, motives that mingled in an unprecedented expansion of gov-
ernmental activity and private initiative and which began to blur the lines
between state and civil society. As the Cold War proper started, so the US gov-
ernment’s propaganda apparatus developed to pressurise, guide and sharpen
the media’s anti-Soviet messages. This included agencies like J. Edgar
Hoover’s FBI that ostensibly concentrated purely on surveillance and security,
but which in reality played a significant role in mobilising the American people
to act as ‘citizen warriors’ in the nation’s fight against communism.

Hollywood was treated as one of the ‘enemies within’ by counter-subversives
in the United States during the early Cold War years. Once the clash between
Washington and Moscow became direct and overt with the articulation of the
Truman Doctrine in March 1947, domestic communism was transformed
from a matter of political controversy to a subject that dominated national
security. If anti-communism had been confined to the relative margins of
American politics at the time of Ninotchka’s production in the late 1930s, it
now moved to the ideological centre. Anyone even suspected of harbouring
communist sympathies faced the prospect of being labelled ‘Un-American’.
Those in influential positions – in government, education, labour unions, the
media – were subjected to intense scrutiny from the state and the public.
The enemy within 45

As was the case in the Soviet Union, those working in the film industry in
the United States in the late 1940s were put under unprecedented political
pressure to act in ‘the national interest’. Whereas cultural vigilance in the
Soviet Union was organised from the centre through a single department (the
Ministry of Cinematography), in the United States it was implemented via a
loose amalgamation of old and new organisations and legislation. The US
Aliens Registration Act, for instance, which made it an offence to conspire to
advocate the overthrow of the American government and was used to pros-
ecute communists in the late 1940s, had been passed by Congress in 1940. In
the Soviet Union, this cultural authoritarianism (or ‘Zhdanovism’) caused film
production to fall to dramatically low levels, meaning that the Russian people’s
diet of fully fledged Cold War movies was meagre.8 However, in the United
States the effect was the opposite, as Hollywood went into Cold War film
production overdrive.
The CPUSA had made the film industry a special organising target in 1936,
a move that reflected Lenin’s and Stalin’s belief in the power of cinema.
Proclaiming that movies were ‘the weapon of mass culture’, the party organ-
isers urged their recruits at least to ‘keep anti-Soviet agitprop’ out of the
movies they worked on.9 HUAC began hearings on the alleged communist
penetration of the motion picture industry in 1938, due largely to the number
of screenwriters professing support for the Popular Front. The committee’s
then chairman, Martin Dies, also believed Hollywood’s Anti-Nazi League to
be a front for the Communist party (which, after August 1939, it was).10
HUAC’s more concerted efforts to ‘trace the footprints of Karl Marx in
movieland’ a decade later, first in 1947 and again in 1951–2, 1953 and 1955–8,
guaranteed the committee maximum publicity for its counter-subversion
investigations elsewhere. At the same time, these efforts were part of a fero-
cious if uncoordinated campaign fought by conservative forces inside and
outside government designed to draft the media into the Cold War.11 They
were also allied to a genuine (if misplaced) belief on many conservatives’ part
that Hollywood’s alleged Russophilia during the Second World War, combined
with the post-war flurry of film-industry strikes and liberal ‘message’ pictures
raising such issues as home-grown racism, was evidence of growing commu-
nist influence behind and on the screen.
HUAC’s seminal nine-day inquiry in Hollywood in October 1947 was a
peculiarly American marriage of show business and politics, and likened to a
‘Roman circus’ by RKO’s liberal head, Dore Schary.12 Despite the inquiry’s
failure (repeated later) to uncover any hard proof of communist infiltration
or Marxism on celluloid, it ended with chairman J. Parnell Thomas calling on
the industry to ‘clean its own house’. The infamous ‘Waldorf Statement’
was issued by Hollywood’s moguls soon afterwards, amounting to a tacit
46 Hollywood’s Cold War

agreement to form a blacklist of real and suspected communists. This spread

like a ‘tapeworm’ throughout the film industry in the years ahead; by 1960 the
studios had black- and grey-listed over two thousand people, ruining many
careers in the process.13
A culture of fear prevailed throughout the film industry during the late
1940s and 1950s, augmented by the policing roles of several key organisations.
The Catholic National Legion of Decency, guardian of the big screen’s moral
and political rectitude since the 1930s, continued to wield considerable
authority in Hollywood well into the 1950s. Its leaders, like Martin Quigley,
the publisher of the important trade paper Motion Picture Herald, were fervid
anti-communists who were apt to detect evidence of ‘Red’ influence in films
that the most zealous patriot failed to see. ‘The Legion holds the whip hand
over Hollywood’, said one politically mainstream producer, Peter Rathvon, in
1949, ‘and nothing can be done about it.’14
This militantly right-wing pressure group was joined after 1944 by another,
Hollywood’s own Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American
Ideals (MPA). Established to vanquish ‘the growing impression that this
industry is made up of, and dominated by, Communists, radicals, and crack-
pots’, the MPA was headed by, among others, Eric Johnston, who succeeded
Will Hays as president of the renamed Motion Picture Association of
America (MPAA, formerly the MPPDA) in 1945 and was also president of the
Motion Picture Producers’ Association, and Roy Brewer, leader of the
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the most powerful film
labour union.15 The MPA sought, in member John Lee Martin’s words, to ‘turn
off the faucets which dripped red water into film scripts’, and went on to issue
regular advice to filmmakers on how they might best express their patriotism
in the Cold War’s critical battle for hearts and minds. In 1946, Eric Johnston
told screenwriters: ‘We’ll have no more Grapes of Wrath, we’ll have no more
Tobacco Roads, we’ll have no more films that deal with the seamy side of
American life. We’ll have no more films that treat the banker as a villain.’ In
1948, the MPA published a highly influential booklet, written by novelist and
ideologue of the right Ayn Rand. Entitled A Screen Guide for Americans, the
booklet warned studios against smearing the free enterprise system or deify-
ing ‘the common man’. The more East-West tensions increased, the more the
MPA and others on the political right in Hollywood saw it as their duty, as citi-
zens and opinion-formers, to support an interventionist US foreign policy as
well as to guard against subversives. Eric Johnston had prophesied as early as
1944 that a commitment to military defence and worldwide economic
arrangements would create a ‘utopia’ of production that would enable the
United States to destroy the threat of global communism. In 1949, this former
president of the US Chamber of Commerce, who had strong connections in
The enemy within 47

the White House and Treasury, was confidently telling the readers of Look
magazine ‘How We Can Win the Cold War With Russia’.16
The American Legion acted as the third point of this triangle, on the one
hand by campaigning against those identified as suspect by the Legion of
Decency, the MPA, HUAC and the FBI, and on the other by organising boy-
cotts of films it deemed subversive or that featured actors labelled as com-
munist sympathisers (‘comsyps’ for short). With over 17,000 posts and nearly
3 million members nationwide in the 1950s, the Legion, like the numerous
other established social organisations of the right such as the Daughters of
the American Revolution and Knights of Columbus, carried considerable
economic and political weight in the film industry. Local Legion posts terri-
fied exhibitors by threatening to picket theatres showing ideologically incor-
rect fare. Boasting a circulation of 3,600,000, its monthly magazine regularly
ran articles on ‘communists’ in Hollywood. In December 1951, the magazine
named over 50 then-current films that had ‘commie influence’. Several
months later, in May 1952, it furnished industry executives with a dossier of
over 300 names of ‘Reds’. The Legion’s victims included the famous and not
so famous. Edward G. Robinson’s mea culpa took the form of a memoir pub-
lished that October in the American Legion Magazine, entitled ‘How the Reds
Made a Sucker Out of Me’. Alongside the executive boards in private indus-
try, departmental heads and politically appointed administrators in the public
sector, and the editors and publishers of key metropolitan newspapers and
national magazines, the American Legion both encouraged and extended the
anti-communist work of the governmental investigatory committees during
the Red Scare. The relationships among these various forces were charac-
terised by acknowledged, conscious, often coordinated interaction as well as
agreement on the larger goals and methods of the Cold War enterprise.17
The culture of fear abated somewhat when the worst excesses of the
nation’s Red Scare paranoia subsided in the mid to-late 1950s. Yet the job
prospects of many blacklistees were affected well into the 1960s, and HUAC
itself remained in existence until 1975. The prosecution of ‘unfriendly’ wit-
nesses, the naming of names, the purging of the politically incorrect on
dubious charges, the early deaths of unemployed blacklistees and the flights
abroad of others, the overseas ban imposed by the MPAA on innocuous polit-
ical comedies like The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947) – looking at these and many
other phenomena as a whole, references to the early Cold War years being
Hollywood’s ‘darkest hour’ seem entirely warranted. The wounds left by the
‘Inquisition’ would be felt across the film industry for years.18
Given the film industry’s established antipathy towards communism, its
tendency to bow to political pressure, and its habit of conflating government
and national interest (especially in wartime), it is hardly surprising that the
48 Hollywood’s Cold War

content of American movies in the late 1940s and 1950s shifted decidedly to
the political right. A myriad of factors helps to explain why liberal ‘message’
pictures diminished and a large number of films exalting war or imperialism
and caricaturing the ‘evils’ of communism took their place. Chief among
these are the industry’s nervousness about providing the anti-communist
crusade against it with more ammunition; the fact that executives’ reputations
were on the line due to their promise to watch out for radical propaganda; the
pressure to design films in such a way as to frustrate the efforts of Soviet pro-
pagandists to condemn America by its own images; the influence exerted by
the MPA’s widely distributed manifesto, Screen Guide for Americans; plus a belief
among some producers that sensational Red-baiting films could possibly
make money and thereby help fill the industry’s dwindling coffers.19
After a detailed investigation of Hollywood’s recent output carried out in the
mid-1950s, former OWI official Dorothy Jones scotched all allegations that
Hollywood had for years been pedalling Marxism on screen. She noted, in the
same report, that upwards of 40 films released between 1948 and 1955 had
explicitly attacked communism and the Soviet Union.20 Historians have since
increased that figure: one has counted 48 made between 1948 and 1952, rising
to a total of 107 between 1948 and 1962. 21 Yet even this figure fails to take into
account the scores of movies set in and around the Korean War, the defining
‘hot’ conflict of the 1950s for most Americans.22 It also omits the dozens of
other films that focused on the communist threat more discreetly or allegor-
ically. Even if it is impossible to agree on a definitive total, there is little doubt
that this period represents the high point of Hollywood’s Cold War ‘agit-prop’.


Hollywood’s depiction of communists as a clear and present danger during
the late 1940s and early 1950s made political and commercial sense. In fact,
there is currently a fierce debate between scholars about how real that danger
was. While the ‘traditionalists’, bolstered by recently opened files, emphasise
the strong links that existed between Moscow-directed espionage and the
CPUSA, ‘revisionists’ tend to argue that the Soviet espionage threat was a
spectre manufactured for the bureaucratic fortunes of the FBI or designed by
reactionaries to smear the American political left generally.23 However, even
one such revisionist, Ellen Schrecker, accepts the plausibility of a communist
threat given the CPUSA’s open allegiance to Moscow, its secretive nature, and
the uncovering of spies in sensitive positions. This is despite the fact that the
party, which at its height in the late 1930s had boasted about 88,000 members
but in 1952 had a mere 9,000 (1,600 of whom were allegedly either undercover
agents or paid informants), was tiny.24
The enemy within 49

Yet the extent to which movies portrayed this threat accurately is not the
issue so much as the way they depicted indigenous communists and those asso-
ciated with them. In short, ‘they’ were presented as a mixture of criminals,
murderers, social misfits and sexual deviants, who were hypocritical, devious
and emotionally detached, and engaged in illegal activities in order to weaken
the USA and advance the Soviet cause of world domination. In contrast,
‘we’ (‘ordinary’ Americans) were presented as law-abiding, capable and self-
sacrificing, as people who, though traditionally peace-loving, were at war with
an implacable enemy. To stand by in such circumstances, the films warned, was
either an act of dangerous naïvety or one of implicit collaboration.
Communists were shown to be undermining the USA in a variety of ways,
ranging from acts of sabotage, espionage and drug-smuggling to infiltrating
labour unions, university faculties and even churches in order to spread the
party line. Communist tentacles reached across the globe: to Western Europe
(Assignment – Paris, 1952), Eastern Europe (The Beast of Budapest, 1956), Africa
(Tangier Incident, 1953), Asia (The Shanghai Story, 1954), the Arctic Circle (Arctic
Flight, 1952), and even outer space (The Flying Saucer, 1950).25 More seriously,
they had penetrated democracy’s very heartland, in a host of locations – San
Francisco (I Married a Communist, 1949), Pittsburgh (I Was a Communist for the
FBI, 1951), Hawaii (Big Jim McLain, 1952), New York (Bowery Battalion, 1951),
Alaska (Red Snow, 1952)26 – and in a variety of institutions: the science labora-
tory (Invaders from Mars, 1953), the military base (The Wac from Walla Walla,
1952), and even a national monument, Mount Rushmore (North by Northwest,
No genre proved immune to the politics of the day, though often this pol-
itics found only indirect expression. Documentaries included The Bell (1950),
which was jointly produced by the Defence Department and the Crusade for
Freedom. The CFF was a project of the CIA-sponsored National Committee
for Free Europe, and campaigned, among other things, for the expansion of
radio broadcasting networks equipped to spread ‘the truth’ among those living
under communism. The Bell was a short educational film which, using the
Liberty Bell, America’s great symbol of independence and freedom, as its
starting point, encouraged movie-goers to purchase savings bonds by spelling
out the dangers of Soviet aggression, partly through footage of the 1948–9
Berlin airlift. The Hoaxsters, another documentary, was made by Dore Schary
in 1952, and showed ‘how the dictators of the world up to and including
Joseph Stalin have been much like the hucksters who attempt to fool the
people with “snake oil” ’. The Hoaxsters was nominated for an Academy Award
and released with the endorsement of the State Department and the FBI.28
Thrillers included Jacques Tourneur’s The Fearmakers (1958), in which a brain-
washed Korean War veteran returns to the US to find his public relations firm
50 Hollywood’s Cold War

taken over by communists, and Edward Dein’s Shack Out on 101 (1955), in
which an FBI agent thwarts a communist smuggling plot operating out of a
Californian hamburger stand. Crime capers included Sam Fuller’s Pickup on
South Street (1953) and Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which respec-
tively depicted a hard-bitten pickpocket and cynical private investigator
(Micky Spillane’s Mike Hammer) turning anti-communist and routing atomic
Closely related to this genre, espionage dramas showed American govern-
ment agents and private citizens, sometimes with their Western allies, chal-
lenging communist spies both at home and abroad, thereby allowing
movie-goers to see the indivisibility of domestic and overseas security. These
included Harold Schuster’s Security Risk (1954), in which a holidaying FBI
agent prevents communists from stealing documents from a murdered
nuclear physicist, and Fred T. Sears’ Target Hong Kong (1953), which depicts an
American soldier of fortune saving the British colony from a Chinese com-
munist plot. Comedies like Norman Z. McLeod’s My Favourite Spy (1951), star-
ring Bob Hope and set partially in Morocco, and Charles Lamont’s Paris-set
Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation (1953), delivered the same message.30 Victor
Saville’s Anglo-American production The Conspirator (1949) and the afore-
mentioned My Son John were melodramas that focused on the traumas of
family relationships caused by communist intrusion. Both highlighted
women’s role in the struggle against ‘domestic’ subversion, and the painful
need for wives and mothers to give up their treacherous loved ones for the
greater good. Together with Elia Kazan’s multi-award-winning docklands
drama, On the Waterfront (1954), ostensibly a film about union corruption but
interpreted by many critics as an allegory justifying those ‘friendly’ witnesses
(like Kazan) who had cooperated with HUAC, these played a central role in
shaping the informer-as-hero sub-genre.31
Science fiction was a popular vehicle for the covert language of the anti-
Red crusade, with monsters from outer space or beneath the sea serving as the
allegorical enemy intruder. Gordon Douglas’ Them! (1954), for example, fea-
tured enormous nuclear-induced mutant ants threatening Los Angeles before
being destroyed by the combined might of the police, FBI and armed forces.32
Don Siegel’s box office hit Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) has been subject
to various interpretations. Some critics have read it as ‘anti-fascist’, others as
‘McCarthyist’, but as historians Leonard Quart and Albert Auster argue,
‘More probably, the alien pods could be seen as Communists . . . who are
everywhere conspiring to turn people into robots.’33 Westerns also took what
one scholar has dubbed a ‘Cold War path’, especially in the early 1950s, when
the genre almost consciously took on a topical relevance. John Lenihan has
demonstrated how various Westerns in this period ‘advocated total military
The enemy within 51

defeat of an irreconcilable enemy’. Some fused history and politics more

explicitly. Sam Katzman’s California Conquest (1952), for instance, posited
Russian agents manipulating indigenous Mexican nationalism in a plot to take
over the territory of California in 1841. Such ambitions were also developed
in Jerry Hopper’s Pony Express (1953). Roy Rogers, ‘the King of Cowboys’,
even found in William Witney’s Bells of Coronado (1950) that the town’s leading
citizens were plotting to sell uranium to an unnamed foreign power.34 Russian
deviousness or subversive themes were also inserted into or featured prom-
inently in other historical films in the 1950s, such as William Dieterle’s Omar
Khayyam (1957), set in eleventh-century Persia.35
In the vast majority of these films, communists were portrayed according
to a set of conventions, making them easily identifiable for cinema-goers as
‘baddies’. In essence, the celluloid communist stereotype of the McCarthy era
was a more dangerous, extreme, ‘Nazified’ version of the pre-1945 model.
The male of the species normally sported a cheap suit, a black hat and an ugly
face, much like a hoodlum. The rare female communist was either a nympho-
maniac or frigid and repressed; virtually all women were treated as prostitutes
by the party. Communism’s appeal as an intellectual creed was simply not con-
sidered in the movies, much less examined. Its political and economic princi-
ples might receive token expression in crudely distilled comments and
speeches, but the overall attitude towards ideological matters can be summed
up in a line from R. G. Springsteen’s The Red Menace (1949): ‘I don’t know what
communism is’, says a party member’s mother to a recent convert, ‘but it must
be bad if it makes you do the things you do.’36
The Communist party did not stand for anything, only against sacred
American principles such as God, motherhood and true love. Because members
came across as stupid and backward, the films also implied that communism as
a political system was much lower on the evolutionary scale than American
democracy. People became Reds principally for one of three reasons: tempo-
rary social injustice, racial discrimination, or sexual seduction. However, what
united all of them was insecurity and mental instability, plus the need to seek
revenge on contemporary society rather than improve it. The foreign puppet-
masters and home-grown leaders would often parrot clichés about making life
better for ‘the masses’, but lived apart, intellectually and economically, from
those to whom they preached. They also exploited their drone-like underlings:
morally, financially and sexually. Alternatively, they were hysterical fanatics, or
cruel snobs who would not think twice about murdering the innocent on a
grand scale. Once someone joined the party, there was only one way to leave it –
in a coffin. Members were therefore both trapped and expendable.
This resembled the way Hollywood had portrayed life in Hitler’s Germany
between 1939 and 1945, and the recycling of actors who had played ‘nasty
52 Hollywood’s Cold War

Nazis’ into ‘rotten Russians’ underlined the link. Yet films made it clear that
the nature of the present, post-war threat was even greater, for international
communism was known to favour clandestine, underground takeover
methods rather than Nazi-style military invasions.37 The US was peculiarly
vulnerable to such subversive tactics, we learn, because of its innocence.
Despite the shock of Pearl Harbor and the advent of the atomic age,
Americans were still too trusting and the country so open and free. Vigilance
and the criminalisation of communism were the only reasonable response.


The conventional view shared by observers at the time and film historians
since is that this clumsily produced, overtly propagandistic Red-baiting mater-
ial was deeply unpopular with audiences, and that it may even have hindered
rather than helped the anti-communist cause by bluntly depicting fifth-
columnists as moronic and easy to spot. In 1953, one notable commentator,
Karel Reisz, a leading light in the British New Wave film movement of the
early 1960s, warned that such a significant body of work risked having a
‘boomerang effect’ because its very directness alienated those whom it was
intended for. Filmmakers should concentrate less on negative, anti-communist
propaganda, Reisz urged, and more on selling the positive aspects of liberal
democracy.38 Because so many of these films were shot quickly on low budgets
with non-stars, most historians have assumed they were not intended either to
make money or to teach the American public anything of real value about sub-
version. Rather, they were meant to rinse Hollywood of its radical image as
rapidly, unequivocally and cheaply as possible.39
While this argument makes good sense, it tends to overlook those movies
of the period that were not triggered by political pressure but were officially
assisted, that were put together far less crudely, that sought to paint a more real-
istic portrait of communist subversion, and that met with some success com-
mercially and propagandistically. One such film was an enterprise made jointly
by Columbia Pictures, the independent producer Louis de Rochement and J.
Edgar Hoover’s FBI. It was released in 1952 under the title Walk East on Beacon.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of Hoover and the FBI in helping
to create the anti-communist consensus in the United States during the Cold
War. Hoover himself largely accepted the fifth-column paradigm which saw
the CPUSA as principally a Soviet-sponsored covert-warfare agency, and
during the remarkably long period he spent as FBI chief (1924–72) managed
to turn the law enforcement agency into one of the most powerful of all state
organisations. The strategic position within government which Hoover had
established for the FBI by the mid-1940s meant that it dominated Truman’s
The enemy within 53

domestic anti-communist apparatus when the Cold War started. In the

process, the Bureau infused its own conservative concerns into what other-
wise might have been purely a programme of internal security.40
The FBI had instructed Americans on the Red Menace both before and
during the Second World War, but largely on an informal, episodic and ad hoc
basis. However this changed radically in 1946, when it sought to develop, as
agency files put it, ‘an informed public opinion’ about ‘the basically Russian
nature of the Communist Party in this country’, and thereby to shape the
emerging national debate on the domestic communist issue. Assistant
Director Louis Nichols acted as the chief architect of this multi-million dollar
public relations programme. It was Nichols’ standard practice to leak infor-
mation from FBI files to trustworthy journalists, writers, broadcast executives
and film producers, while presenting the Bureau as a disinterested, fact-
gathering investigative agency. Simultaneously, with dozens of FBI agents
writing his speeches and articles, Hoover became one of the nation’s most
prolific authors. His magnum opus, Masters of Deceit, published in 1958, had
sold over two million copies by 1970.41
During the 1920s, Hoover had assigned Bureau agents to monitor the
activities of radical filmmakers and send him extensive summaries of their
films. By the middle of the Second World War, the FBI believed that the
Communist International (Comintern) was leading a ‘worldwide conspiracy’
to use movies to deliver subversive messages to the American people.42
Concurrently, the Bureau devised a triangular-shaped film strategy, which it
operated formally until the late 1950s. First, the FBI ran a comprehensive sur-
veillance operation in Hollywood, pinpointing communists with the aid of
secret informers on the one hand, and identifying those movies which were
being used as ‘weapon[s] of Communist propaganda’ on the other. Second,
the Bureau secretly laundered its intelligence through HUAC, thereby helping
to pressure the industry into establishing a blacklist. The Bureau also shared
its surveillance material with popular gossip columnists in exchange for
favourable portraits of the FBI or the exposure of ‘Reds’ in the film commu-
nity, and notified film executives of the names of communist suspects via
such organs as Red Channels. Finally, the FBI helped produce movies that fos-
tered its image as the protector of the American people. It provided script
material, editing expertise, production consultation, and even special agents
as actors for at least eight feature films between 1945 and 1959.43


One filmmaker with whom the FBI developed a special relationship during
the early Cold War was Louis de Rochement, considered by many to be the
54 Hollywood’s Cold War

father of the American docudrama. Beginning his film career in newsreels in

the 1920s, de Rochement had an ambition to develop a comprehensive style
of recounting ‘real-life’ events on screen that led him to launch The March of
Time in 1935. In this monthly magazine, sponsored by the Time-Life Company,
de Rochement combined authentic footage with dramatisations to produce an
innovative and ‘in-depth’ style of screen journalism. The March of Time quickly
achieved international fame, prompting de Rochement to experiment with
feature-length versions of this format during the Second World War, includ-
ing his Oscar-winning The Fighting Lady, made in association with the navy
in 1944.
De Rochement then took his fusion of fact and fiction one step further,
into the domain of the Hollywood entertainment film. A series of fiction-
alised true-life dramas shot on location followed, starting in 1945 with The
House on 92nd Street, a re-enactment of the FBI’s capture of Nazi nuclear spies
during the war using Bureau records. This was a critical and commercial
success, and stylistically anticipated several anti-communist pictures such as
William Wellman’s Iron Curtain (1948) and Gordon Douglas’ I Was a Communist
for the FBI.44 In 1947, de Rochement was again given access to confidential
government material, this time to make a film lionising the role of the Office
of Strategic Services during the Second World War, 13 Rue de Madeleine. In
1949, he produced the critically acclaimed racial drama Lost Boundaries, which
was banned in some southern states for showing blacks and whites working
and playing together. Two years later, in 1951, de Rochement released The
Whistle at Eaton Falls, the story of a strike at a small-town plastic factory, which
the business magazine Fortune admired for its depiction of the shared inter-
ests between labour and management.45
Despite, or perhaps because of, his liberal reputation, de Rochement
emerged as the FBI’s favourite independent producer during the Cold War’s
first decade. Hoover’s friendship with de Rochement dated back at least to
1942, when the former thanked the latter for ‘a magnificent job’ in portraying
his agency’s work in a small film titled The FBI Front. After The House on 92nd
Street, de Rochement also became firm friends with Louis Nichols and Richard
Hood, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office and point man
for the covert relationship that developed between HUAC and the Bureau
after 1947.46 Partly through these contacts, de Rochement received tip-offs
about FBI investigations and the agency’s intelligence-gathering techniques.
In return, the Bureau received the sort of publicity Hoover craved: that which
assured the nation the FBI was in control of domestic subversion, and which
depicted the agency as modern and scientific. In 1950, de Rochement was
given special access to the Bureau’s hitherto-unseen training facility at
Quantico, Virginia, in order to make a ten-minute colour film, A Day with the
The enemy within 55

Scripting surveillance: J. Edgar Hoover (centre) looks over a draft screenplay with the makers of The
House on 92nd Street (1945). Director Henry Hathaway (seated) and actor Lloyd Nolan are on the
FBI chief ’s right. The writer John Monks, Jr., and producer Louis de Rochement (with elbow on table) are on
his left. Louis de Rochement Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

FBI. Released by Columbia in 1951 with Hoover’s on-screen endorsement,

the short was financially successful and came to be used by the FBI for train-
ing purposes.47
De Rochement’s links with the US government’s Cold War propaganda
machine extended further. In the early 1950s, his company made a number of
films for the USIS and bodies associated with the US State Department and
CIA, such as the Ford Foundation.48 In 1951, he drew on the expertise of
Harvard political scientists for a documentary requested by the State
Department’s International Motion Picture Service, provisionally titled ‘The
History of Communism’. De Rochement intended this production to be ‘a
superb teaching film’, one which outlined definitively ‘how the Russian people
had been enslaved’ and why the ‘free world’ was faced with such a grave threat
from Soviet expansionism.49
Walk East on Beacon was de Rochement’s attempt to warn the American
public of the dangers posed by Soviet-backed fifth-columnists, using the ‘now
it can be told’ style perfected in House on 92nd Street. De Rochement was a
56 Hollywood’s Cold War

liberal anti-communist who was appalled by the repressive excesses of

McCarthyism, but one who believed utterly in the need to counter the Soviet
subversive threat. The producer mixed regularly with spies and counter-spies,
and tended to view Washington’s often bureaucratic approach to the Cold War
as a sign of weakness. In early 1950, when Louis Nichols passed onto him the
news that a Soviet spy ring had infiltrated America’s top-secret nuclear labo-
ratories at Los Alamos, de Rochement was livid, telling Richard Hood that,
‘Some of the State Department “boys” who wouldn’t permit action long ago
ought to be lined up and shot.’ ‘I used to accuse Louis of seeing a Red behind
every tree from 1947 to 1969’, one close colleague, Borden Mace, later wrote.50
In the summer of 1950, de Rochement considered a five–page synopsis of
an FBI-based feature film, penned by a junior staff writer with inside FBI
knowledge, Emmett Murphy. This combined the stories of two recently
exposed atomic spies, Klaus Fuchs and Harry Gold, with that of the well-
known communist-turned-informer Whittaker Chambers, and told the tale of
the development and exposure of an American communist who, at his trial, sac-
rifices his wife and child to save his own skin.51 Nothing came of this, but when
Hoover’s own (ghost-written) account of the atom spy ring appeared later that
year in the Reader’s Digest, entitled ‘The Crime of the Century’, de Rochement
quickly struck a deal. Two years earlier, de Rochement had set up the Reader’s
Digest-de Rochement Corporation (RD-DR Corp.), giving him the first movie
rights to anything owned and controlled by the magazine in exchange for a
share of the profits. In early 1951, de Rochement and Nichols reached an agree-
ment allowing RD-DR to transfer ‘The Crime of the Century’ to the screen so
long as the FBI’s approval was obtained for each stage of the film’s production.
Hoover was to be paid $15,000 within 90 days of the film’s release.52 De
Rochement mortgaged his farm as collateral for the film. Extra funding came
from Columbia, with which de Rochement had signed a contract to produce
three films. Its co-founder and president, Harry ‘King’ Cohn, had long had a
reputation for being an apolitical maverick, but this changed somewhat during
the McCarthy era. Cohn’s studio made a number of subversion movies during
this period, including Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard (1950), Invasion USA (1952)
and The 49th Man (1953). Despite this, Columbia continued to have something
of a radical image among conservatives in Hollywood, and it may well be that
Cohn hoped Walk East on Beacon would help counter this. In early 1952, in
response to HUAC charges that the studio had been lax in hiring ‘persons of
questionable loyalty’, the Los Angeles Daily News reported that ‘Columbia has
voluntarily and firmly dedicated itself to fighting Communism and those
who support or sympathise with it.’53 Eight years later, in 1960, Columbia and
de Rochement collaborated again, on Man on a String, which portrayed the
authorities foiling a communist plot to infiltrate Hollywood’s elite.54
The enemy within 57

The FBI and RD-DR worked harmoniously throughout the production of

Walk East on Beacon, which started in August 1951 and was completed in early
1952. Several senior corporation personnel were able to draw on their exten-
sive propaganda experience, notably Borden Mace and Lothar Wolff, who
were assigned associate producer roles. Mace, RD-DR’s president, had been
in charge of procuring training films for the US Navy during the Second
World War. Wolff, formerly chief film editor of The March of Time, had until
recently been production supervisor of the Marshall Plan’s European Film
Unit.55 The FBI had a hand in virtually all aspects of production: story and
screenplay, selection of cast and director, shooting schedule, editing, public-
ity and advertising. Richard Hood, together with two leading Paramount exec-
utives Y. Frank Freeman and Cecil B. DeMille, both of whom had strong links
with official propagandists, helped recommend and vet potential directors,
before de Rochement settled on Alfred Werker, who had directed Lost
Boundaries.56 Louis Nichols furnished de Rochement with information about
the precise location of the Soviet Ministry of Security headquarters in
Moscow, while Bureau personnel familiar with film production acted as tech-
nical advisers and provided up-to-date information on the agency’s crime-
detection field apparatus.
After reading the shooting script, the FBI removed elements from several
scenes that in its view contained ‘classified, secret material’, and in March 1952
Nichols asked for a number of changes to be made, including one scene which
showed G-Men handling a suspect too roughly. One special agent acted as
Nichols’ eyes and ears on the set to ensure accuracy in the portrayal of FBI
procedures, while other agents had minor on-screen roles. The FBI facilitated
access to the US Naval Shipyard at Kittery in Maine, where the USS Apollo was
used for interior scenes set aboard a fictitious Polish freighter. Authenticity
was further enhanced by the US Coast Guard’s appearance in the climactic
chase scenes and the loaning of IBM’s state-of-the-art high-speed electronic
calculators.57 One measure of the control the FBI exercised over the project,
and a reminder of the feverish Red Scare atmosphere that currently prevailed,
was de Rochement’s decision to excise Louis Applebaum’s name from the
credits on the eve of the film’s release. The Canadian composer’s reputation
had recently been politically tarnished, and de Rochement justifiably feared
that any matter arousing controversy of this sort might jeopardise the
Bureau’s final approval.58
The experienced author and screenwriter Leo Rosten wrote the screenplay
for Walk East on Beacon, and was determined to show that the entire pattern of
enemy espionage had changed since the Second World War, forcing the FBI to
adopt new investigative methods. ‘The days of the dashing Mata Hari are
gone’, he wrote in a publicity statement. ‘The modern spy is the insignificant
58 Hollywood’s Cold War

little man whom no one suspects: he receives no money, travels by bus, never
frequents hotels, popular restaurants or bars. He is a dedicated Communist
who never meets his superiors personally.’59 Other members of the production
staff chipped in at various stages, with the aim being to blend fact and fiction
in as entertainingly believable a way as possible. In July 1951, for instance,
casting director Shirlee Weingarten told de Rochement that the script needed
to develop the spy’s other, ordinary life more fully, in order to make the audi-
ence identify with him and consequently feel a sense of betrayal, and to high-
light the terrible ‘schizoid’ existence all spies had. In the same month, Joseph
Breen gave the script the PCA’s seal of approval.60 After initial interest from
one of the leading stars of the day, Tyrone Power, George Murphy was chosen
(specially by the FBI, ads claimed) to play the lead role of Inspector Belden. A
solid Republican and former president of the Screen Actors Guild who had
been one of HUAC’s first ‘friendly’ witnesses in 1947, Murphy was described
in the early 1950s by one of the era’s most aggressive anti-communist politi-
cians, Senator Richard Nixon, as the model of ‘positive Americanism’ in
Other than the Scottish actor Finlay Currie, who played a German scien-
tist, and Karel Stepanek, the espionage ringleader, few members of the cast
would have been known to the general audience. Using minor actors and non-
professionals helped cut costs and gave the film a more documentary feel.
Filming took place almost entirely on location in Boston, with subsidiary
shooting in New Hampshire, Maine and Washington, DC. Shooting on the
streets, in offices, at ports and in sight of well-known public buildings made
the movie look more ‘real’ than a simple dramatic re-enactment of the atom
spy case. Basing the film in New England also helped RD-DR to draw paral-
lels between events depicted in the film and recent revelations of communist
activities in the region provided by the FBI’s star confidential informant,
Herbert Philbrick, and set out in his best-selling book I Led Three Lives
(1952).62 Walk East on Beacon came in on budget, costing a total of $600,000,
and received a glowing, public tribute from J. Edgar Hoover, who called it ‘an
exceptionally fine motion picture [that] plainly shows the vicious pattern
which has enabled the godless tyranny of Communism to enslave millions of


From the outset, Walk East on Beacon actively distances itself from the crudely
constructed, headline-grabbing anti-communist propaganda hitherto pro-
duced by Hollywood. This is a film that purports to offer viewers the truth,
not sensationalist speculation about Soviet espionage, based on cold, hard
The enemy within 59

Calling all Americans! George Murphy (centre) calmly directs anti-communist manoeuvres on home soil in
Walk East on Beacon (1952). Columbia Pictures/Acadamy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

facts. The film opens with a shot of J. Edgar Hoover, whose ‘Crime of the
Century’, the credits tell us, has inspired this ‘Drama of Real Life’ made ‘with
the cooperation of the FBI’. Over further library shots of smartly dressed
G-Men receiving guidance about Soviet intelligence activities and being taught
how to handle surveillance equipment, a stentorian commentator (newsreel
narrator Westbrook Van Voorhis) then reports how the FBI’s current chief
responsibility is to deal with ‘a worldwide conspiracy which seeks through
subversion to destroy established governments everywhere’.
With an aura of authenticity and official legitimacy in place, the movie then
shifts seamlessly to re-enacting an ‘absorbing case history’ of a Soviet plot
centred on Boston to grab secret American scientific data, loosely but obvi-
ously based on the real Fuchs-Gold spy case. Inspector James Belden (Murphy)
is assigned to track down the spies trying to uncover the work of ‘Operation
Falcon’. This is so highly classified we never learn precisely what it is (for secur-
ity reasons, presumably), but we can deduce that it is related to weapons and
space research.64 Masterminding the plot is the Russian Alex Lazchenkov
(Stepanek) and, as the movie unfolds, the complicated underground proce-
dures used by the communists to achieve their ends are exposed – the use of
Comintern-trained Americans as ‘sleepers’, extortion from the vulnerable and
60 Hollywood’s Cold War

innocent, code words, forged documents, safe houses, and doppelgängers.

Also exhibited are the counter-espionage methods deployed by the FBI to
defeat enemy agents – fingerprinting, electronic surveillance, hidden movie
cameras, split-image microscopes, radar, and coordinated legwork.
The principal target of Lazchenkov’s conniving is a Jewish émigré from
Germany, Professor Kafer (Currie), a brilliant mathematician patterned after
Albert Einstein whose computer-based experiments hold the key to Falcon’s
success. When he is pressured to reveal secrets to prevent his son’s death in
East Berlin, Kafer joins with the FBI to break up the coast-to-coast network.
A breakthrough comes following Kafer’s late-night assignation with a com-
munist agent, a taxi driver called Vincent, on Beacon Street in downtown
Boston. When FBI evidence is complete, the spies are arrested, with the
exception of Lazchenkov, who kidnaps Kafer, planning to transfer him to a
Russian submarine offshore. However, the FBI affects a last-minute rescue,
with the help of the Coast Guard. A tearful Kafer believes his beloved son is
now doomed, only to be told by Belden that the US government has helped
free him from communist imprisonment and that he is on a Pan-American
flight to the United States.
Like other subversion films of the era, Walk East on Beacon encourages
‘alert and responsible’ Americans to play an active part in the struggle against
communism by acting as citizen warriors. One early scene shows FBI agents
trawling through letters sent by watchful members of the public; in others
the viewer acts as a witness for the prosecution, seeing through the agents’
eyes when tracking the spies. However, in contrast with My Son John and
others, the film encourages participation without inciting reckless vigilan-
tism. Rather, Walk East on Beacon charts a new breed of hero required for
espionage conflict in a nuclear age: the quiet security expert who works
meticulously and soberly as a member of a professional team.65 In a delib-
erately low-key manner, the film demonstrates the FBI’s supreme, all-round
detective abilities, honed over decades, with an emphasis on patience and
control. In doing so, it discreetly but firmly calls for Americans to allow the
FBI free rein, unencumbered by liberal-minded ‘amateurs’ who in real life
were condemning the Bureau’s use of wire-taps and other surveillance tech-
niques as infringements of civil liberties. Belden and his colleagues succeed
in bringing the communists to justice, but only just in time. Scenes of the
evil Lazchenchov walking the streets of Boston, exploiting what the narra-
tor calls ‘the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to all loyal
Americans’, suggest that constitutional niceties are a naïve irrelevance in this
new kind of war. In such circumstances, such freedoms could only be guar-
anteed if the FBI and other state security organisations were allowed to bend
the rules.
The enemy within 61

This was necessary, the film tells us, because the communists pose such a
potent threat. By delineating the fifth-columnists’ methods in such graphic
and entertaining detail – via close-ups of keys, explanations of code books,
revelations of counter-surveillance techniques – de Rochement presents the
subversives as clever, determined and extremely resourceful. They are deeply
embedded in American society, the result of a long-term and well-thought-
out Soviet plan. Consequently, we can believe a senior operative, Millie
Zalenko (Virginia Gilmore), when she tells her G-Man interrogator that ‘for
every one of us you arrest, there are a lot of others, trained and waiting to take
over’. Yet they must, and can be, vanquished, the movie states.
Despite contrary claims in the film’s publicity material, Walk East on Beacon
eschews any analysis of the communists’ motives. Harry Gold and Klaus
Fuchs had in fact worked for the Soviet Union out of political conviction, but
their rough counterparts in the movie do so either because they are black-
mailed or for personal aggrandizement. A minority of the plotters are shown
to believe in ‘the Cause’ even after their arrest, but, with their stony faces and
unemotional behaviour, this comes across as an affliction or the blind convic-
tion of the zealot. Even if these ideologues have chosen to work for Russia,
their fear of living in Russia is palpable, especially if they are sent there to be
punished for incompetence. Professor Kafer, on the other hand, has chosen
to work in and for the West because he knows the real meaning of freedom.
He has tasted the bitter fruits of totalitarianism at first hand, in Buchenwald
concentration camp during the Second World War. Kafer sees little or no
difference between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and indeed in one
scene implies that German communists had been complicit in the Holocaust.
The fascist-communist overlap was underlined by Stepanek, who had played
Nazis during the Second World War.66
Given the FBI’s long association with fighting the Mafia (on and off
screen), many viewers watching Walk East on Beacon would automatically have
drawn comparisons between communism and gangsterism. The televised
hearings chaired by Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver in 1951 had painted a
picture of organised crime being a degenerative force in American life that
could ruin the nation’s strength overseas.67 These hearings would have been
fresh in many people’s memories when de Rochement’s film was released in
April 1952, making it easy for many to link underworld crime and under-
ground political subversion. The movie drove home this theme through its
use of gangster movie conventions – muggings, a femme fatale, night scenes,
narcotics – thereby helping further to depoliticise the appeals of communism.
Unconventionally, the communists in Walk East on Beacon are not easy to
spot. However, they do share common character flaws. They are congenitally
miserable; are either insolent or obsequious; have contempt for others’ views
62 Hollywood’s Cold War

Communism, AKA Espionage, Inc.: publicity poster for Walk East on Beacon (1952). Columbia
Picture/Louis de Rochement papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
The enemy within 63

and suspect each other; are power- and often sex-crazed; and have no personal
lives – one husband-and-wife team, for instance, share a ‘devotion and service’
only to the party. Vincent (played by Jack Manning) is the only communist
shown any sympathy, when his request to leave the party meets with the threat
of death. ‘Being a Party member is like waking up and finding yourself
married to some woman you hate’, Vincent confesses to his wife, ‘so you end
up hating yourself.’ Minutes later we read of his apparent suicide. In this way,
the film leads us to the conclusion that all American communists are at best
disloyal, at worst traitors who are accomplices to murder.
Walk East on Beacon premiered in April 1952 in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire, de Rochement’s home state, where it was sponsored by the St
John’s Episcopal Church. It then went nationwide.68 Because the movie had
been independently produced outside Hollywood, it lacked the full backing of
the industry’s public relations machine, but the support provided by the FBI’s
publicity engine made up for this to some extent. The critical response to most
overtly anti-communist pictures of the late 1940s and 1950s was overwhelm-
ingly negative, with reviewers denigrating their ludicrous plots and wooden
acting. Not so Walk East on Beacon. In fact, several trade papers and main-
stream magazines criticised the film for being almost too real, that is for con-
centrating on the minutiae of FBI detective procedures at the expense of
thrills.69 This was not how others in the film press saw it, however. BoxOffice
and Cue both found it ‘fascinating’, while Martin Quigley’s Motion Picture Herald
classed it as being ‘as timely, topical and as exciting as this morning’s newspa-
per’. In Philadelphia, where Harry Gold had worked, the Evening Bulletin
treated Walk East on Beacon as a documentary, arguing that the film ‘gives a
better understanding of the workings of communism and should be more
potent ammunition against it than the more pretentious My Son John’. In New
York, William Randolph Hearst’s Daily Mirror described the movie as ‘one of
the most important of all time . . . a vindication of a brave, a brilliant, and a
dedicated little body of men the like of which has not been seen since
Lexington and Concord’.70 Interestingly, de Rochement’s film even garnered
approval among liberals. The Anti-Defamation League, for instance,
applauded it for vigorously exposing communist espionage tactics without
lumping together liberals and communists and taking ‘gratuitous slaps’ at
labour unions, minorities and intellectuals.71 More predictably, the American
Legion roundly endorsed the film, as did the Republican Senators Karl
Mundt, a regular recipient and disseminator of FBI information, and Richard
Nixon, who proclaimed that it was ‘a picture which should be seen by every
Walk East on Beacon was far from being one of Hollywood’s biggest earners
in 1952. However, judging from de Rochement’s accounts it did far better
64 Hollywood’s Cold War

commercially than most other subversion films of the era, grossing in the
region of $2 million. For a docudrama that had virtually no boy-girl action,
was rather one-paced, and whose plot focused on the stealing of complex
mathematical equations, this was quite an achievement. The film’s educational
value was quickly recognised by the US Army and Coast Guard, both of which
hired 16mm prints for instructional purposes. More intriguingly, the CIA also
admired the movie. The agency leased ten prints a year from Columbia from
the early 1950s through till the late 1970s, including five copies dubbed into
foreign languages. It is unclear exactly where and how these prints were dis-
tributed during this long period. However, given a few tweaks Walk East on
Beacon could easily have passed as a bona fide documentary overseas, largely
because its story was told in such a straightforward fashion.73

For decades now historians have argued about the causes and nature of
McCarthyism: about whether it was primarily a top-down phenomenon
prompted by the Truman administration’s Cold War measures, or more of a
‘popular insurgency’ with genuine anti-communism agitated by irrational
‘status anxiety’, similar in some ways to the Populist uprising of the 1890s.74
It has long been acknowledged that Hollywood promoted the politics of
McCarthyism, and that its anti-communist output can be attributed in large
part to the political pressures the film industry faced during the first decade
of the Cold War. Yet our analysis of Walk East on Beacon gives a different side
to the story. It demonstrates the increasingly tight, often consensual relation-
ship that developed on and off screen between filmmakers and government
agencies during the McCarthy era. As the government’s Cold War propaganda
machine expanded during the late 1940s and 1950s and the constituent parts
of it sought to promote their role in the fight against communism, so the film
world’s links with the state grew more complex and concrete.
Movies produced during this critical period of the East-West struggle
overwhelmingly supported Washington’s tough anti-Soviet line, with many
venturing, to borrow Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s famous line to Truman in
1947, to ‘scare the hell out of the American people’ about the threat posed by
communism.75 Whether cinema-goers did actually fear communism more for
having watched movies like Invasion USA, The Red Menace and Walk East on
Beacon is debatable. So, too, is the notion that these viewers were more likely
subsequently to acquiesce in or push for more draconian anti-communist
measures. However, what the production history of Walk East on Beacon and
other films suggests about McCarthyism is that the top-down versus bottom-
up approach towards understanding the phenomenon is in some respects a
The enemy within 65

false dichotomy. Some films, like The Bell, were produced at ‘the top’ by gov-
ernment; others, like My Son John, came ‘from below’, being the result of a
director’s personal take on the Cold War; others still, like Walk East on Beacon,
emerged from above and below, from elements of the industry and state
which shared the same political anxieties and, to an extent, political goals.
That Hollywood promoted Cold War orthodoxy so enthusiastically during
this period should not surprise us in the light of the film industry’s campaign
against communism dating back to 1917. Collaboration between the industry
and state propagandists was eased by the organisational legacy of the Second
World War’s Office of War Information, meaning filmmakers and officials in
the late 1940s could pick up from where they had left off a few years earlier,
updating and finessing the ideas and themes they had used to defeat fascism.
This, together with Hollywood’s structure being more centralised than that of
the press and the country’s nascent television service, helps to explain why
cinema led the way in establishing the American media’s aggressive approach
towards the Soviet Union and, after 1949, Mao Tse Tung’s China.76
Nowadays, Hollywood’s McCarthyite Red-baiters are often offered as anti-
quated kitsch or camp classics, as curious relics of an era when propaganda
was thought to be the same colours as film itself – black and white. Whilst
understandable, this can underestimate the role these movies served in
helping to set Hollywood’s Cold War agenda and to establish enemy stereo-
typing for the years ahead. Blunt they might have been, but not uniformly, as
Beacon attests. Moreover, few viewers would probably have seen the hand of
government in what they were watching. For all the FBI’s input, even Beacon
came across as a regular commercial venture, and no critic bracketed it as an
officially inspired film. As the Cold War progressed, the style of Hollywood’s
coverage of the communist threat might have differed from these hard-hitting
movies, but the substance remained essentially the same. In the 1980s, as we
shall see later, history repeated itself, as communist fifth-columnism (with an
added terrorist twist) returned to the screen with a vengeance.

1 J. Edgar Hoover testimony, Regarding the Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture
Industry (Hearings Before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of
Representatives, 1884 and 2121, 80th Congress, 1st Session, 26 March 1947)
(Washington, DC, 1947).
2 On the Lincoln Memorial’s iconic place in American films, especially those
explicitly about politics, see Scott, Politics, pp. 7–9.
3 My Son John press book, British Film Institute Library, London (hereafter BFIL);
J. A. V. Burke, ‘My Son John: A Disturbing Film’, Focus, Vol. 16, No. 8, August 1953,
pp. 185–6.
66 Hollywood’s Cold War

4 Glen M. Johnson, ‘Sharper than an Irish Serpent’s Tooth: Leo McCarey’s My Son
John’, Journal of Popular Film and Television, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1980, pp. 44–9; Whitfield,
Culture, pp. 136–41; Michael Paul Rogin, Ronald Reagan, The Movie and Other
Episodes in Political Demonology (Berkeley, CA, 1987), pp. 240–6, 250–3.
5 See, for instance, Sayre, Running Time, and David Caute, The Great Fear: The Anti-
Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower (New York, 1978), pp. 487–520.
6 Motion Picture Herald, 26 April 1952; Stefan Kanfer, A Journal of the Plague Years
(New York, 1973), pp. 56–7, 189–92.
7 Weekly cinema attendance figures in the United States reached an all-time high
of 81 million in the mid-1940s, dropping to 16 million in 1970, then rising slightly
to just over 20 million in the late 1980s, when the Cold War ended. Maltby,
Hollywood, p. 124.
8 According to the Catalog of Soviet Feature Films, between 1946 and 1953 the
USSR produced a total of 165 films. Peter Kenez, Cinema and Soviet Society,
1917–1953 (Cambridge, 1992), p. 227. For the extent to which the Cold War
figured in these movies, and for the pressures imposed on Soviet filmmakers by
Stalin’s cultural overseer in the late 1940s, Andrei Zhdanov, see Films in Review,
Vol. 4, No. 1, January 1953, pp. 7–14; Films in Review, Vol. 4, No. 2, February
1953, pp. 64–73; Sarah Davies, ‘Soviet Cinema and the Early Cold War:
Pudovkin’s Admiral Nakhimov in Context’, Cold War History, Vol. 4, No. 1,
October 2003, pp. 49–70; Graham Roberts, ‘A Cinema of Suspicion or a
Suspicion of Cinema: Soviet Film 1945–53’, in Rawnsley (ed.), Cold War
Propaganda, pp. 105–24.
9 Navasky, Naming, p. 78.
10 Ceplair and Englund, Inquisition, p. 109. On the Popular Front in Hollywood see
Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the
Twentieth Century (London, 1998).
11 On the degree to which television and the press acted as unofficial state propa-
gandists or beat the conservative drum during this period see Bernhard, Television
News, and James Aronson, The Press and the Cold War (Boston, MA, 1973).
12 Sayre, Running Time, pp. 31–78; Dore Schary, Heyday (Boston, MA, 1979),
pp. 162–3.
13 John Cogley, Report on Blacklisting, 2 vol (New York, 1971; reprint of 1956 edn.);
Ceplair and Englund, Inquisition; McGilligan and Buhle, Tender Comrades.
14 Walsh, Sin, pp. 241, 269–71.
15 On the bloody union battles in Hollywood in the late 1930s and 1940s, which
formed an important backdrop to the Red-Scare-era blacklist, see Gerald Horne,
Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930–1950 (Austin, TX, 2001).
16 Ceplair and Englund, Inquisition, pp. 211–16, 258; Sayre, Running Time, pp. 18, 50;
May, Tomorrow, pp. 177, 191. The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Tobacco Road (1941),
both directed by John Ford and scripted by Nunnally Johnson, had sympathised
with poor white farmers suffering at the hands of either bankers or capitalism
generally. Ford’s films earned considerable respect in Soviet film circles for their
ability to raise universal human values. Davies, ‘Soviet Cinema’, p. 55.
The enemy within 67

17 Ceplair and Englund, Inquisition, pp. 204, 392; Thomas Doherty, ‘Hollywood
Agit-Prop: The Anti-Communist Cycle 1948–1954’, Journal of Film and Video,
Vol. 40, No. 4, Fall 1988, pp. 15–27, esp. pp. 18–19.
18 Navasky, Naming; Robert Vaughn, Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting
(New York, 1972); Walter Goodman, The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the
House Committee on Un-American Activities (New York, 1968). George S. Kaufman’s
The Senator Was Indiscreet was a gentle satire that spoofed a bumbling and
unabashedly corrupt American senator, played by William Powell. Senator Joseph
McCarthy called the film ‘traitorous’, while a representative of the Allied Theatre
Owners asserted it would be ‘highly recommended by Pravda’. See Sayre, Running
Time, pp. 54–5.
19 Leab, ‘The Iron Curtain’.
20 Dorothy B. Jones, ‘Communism and the Movies: A Study of Film Content’, in
Cogley, Report on Blacklisting. Vol. 1: The Movies, pp. 215, 282.
21 Russell E. Shain, ‘Hollywood’s Cold War’, Journal of Popular Film, Vol. 3, No. 4,
1974, pp. 334–50, 365–72.
22 On Korean War movies see Julian Smith, Looking Away: Hollywood and Vietnam
(New York, 1975), pp. 35–64, and Robert J. Lentz, Korean War Filmography: 91
English Language Features through 2000 (Jefferson, NC, 2003).
23 On these competing judgements see John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, ‘The
Historiography of American Communism: An Unsettled Field’, Labor History
Review, Vol. 68, No. 1, April 2003, pp. 61–78.
24 Schrecker, McCarthyism, pp. 16–19.
25 Variety, 10 September 1952, p. 6; Film Daily, 17 February 1958, p. 11; Variety, 11
February 1953, p. 6; New York Times, 25 September 1954, p. 10; Variety, 30 July
1952, p. 6; Film Daily, 12 January 1950, p. 6. The directors of these films were,
respectively, Robert Parrish, Harmon C. Jones, Lew Landers, Frank Lloyd, Lew
Landers and Mikel Conrad.
26 Variety, 19 September 1949, p. 3; New York Times, 3 May 1951, p. 34; Variety, 27
August 1952, p. 6; Hollywood Reporter, 12 February 1951; Motion Picture Herald, 21
June 1952, p. 1418. The directors of these films were, respectively, Robert
Stevenson, Gordon Douglas, Edward Ludwig, William Beaudine and Boris L.
27 Variety, 8 April 1953, p. 6; Hollywood Reporter, 15 October 1952, p. 3; Variety, 1 July
1959, p. 7. The directors of these films were, respectively, William Cameron
Menzies, William Witney and Alfred Hitchcock.
28 Lawrence Suid (ed.), Film and Propaganda in America: A Documentary History. Volume
IV: 1945 and After (New York, 1991), pp. 116–41; Lucas, Freedom’s War,
pp. 101–3, 126.
29 Hollywood Reporter, 22 September 1958, p. 3; Variety, 30 November 1955, p. 6;
Time, 29 June 1953; Variety, 20 April 1955, p. 6.
30 Hollywood Reporter, 11 August 1954, p. 3; Variety, 17 December 1952, p. 6; New
York Times, 26 December 1951, p. 19; Saturday Review, 28 March 1953.
31 New York Times, 28 April 1950, p. 26; Sayre, Running Time, pp. 151–72.
68 Hollywood’s Cold War

32 William Johnson (ed.), Focus on the Science Fiction Film (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1972),
p. 7; Biskind, Seeing, pp. 123–36.
33 Leonard Quart and Albert Auster, American Film and Society since 1945 (New York,
1991), p. 52; Stuart Samuels, ‘The Age of Conspiracy and Conformity: Invasion of
the Body Snatchers (1956)’, in John E. O’Connor and Martin A. Jackson (eds),
American History/American Film: Interpreting the Hollywood Image (New York, 1979),
pp. 204–17. On the left-wing views of Body Snatchers’ director and scriptwriters
see Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner, Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in
Film and Television, 1950–2002 (New York, 2005), pp. 72–4.
34 John H. Lenihan, Showdown: Confronting Modern America in the Western (Urbana, IL,
1980), p. 25; New York Times, 6 June 1953; Film Daily, 20 January 1950.
35 David Eldridge, ‘Hollywood and History, 1950–1959’, PhD thesis, University of
Cambridge, October 2001, pp. 127–31.
36 New York Times, 27 June 1949, p. 18.
37 At the same time during this period Hollywood also refurbished the image of pre-
Cold War Germany. With West Germany now a vital member of the anti-Soviet
alliance, films presented its citizens overwhelmingly as victims of Nazism rather
than its accessories. Critic Dwight MacDonald marvelled in 1957 at how seg-
ments of the German population in these films were ‘transformed from cowardly
accomplices of one kind of totalitarianism into heroic resisters of another kind’.
Cited in Daniel J. Leab, ‘Hollywood and the Cold War, 1945–1961’, in Robert
Brent Toplin (ed.), Hollywood as Mirror: Changing Views of ‘Outsiders’ and ‘Enemies’
in American Movies (Westport, CT, 1993), p. 127.
38 Karel Reisz, ‘Hollywood’s Anti-Red Boomerang’, Sight and Sound, Vol. 22, No. 3,
January-March 1953, pp. 132–7, 148; Biskind, Seeing, pp. 3, 162; Daniel J., Leab,
‘How Red was My Valley: Hollywood, the Cold War Film, and I Married A
Communist’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 19, 1984, pp. 59–88; Leab, ‘The
Iron Curtain’.
39 Sayre, Running Time; Jowett, Film, p. 368; Shain, ‘Hollywood’s Cold War’; Caute,
Dancer, p. 177.
40 John E. Haynes, Red Scare or Red Menace? American Communism and Anticommunism
in the Cold War Era (Chicago, IL, 1996), pp. 179–80.
41 Kenneth O’Reilly, Hoover and the UnAmericans (Philadelphia, PA, 1983), pp. 76–82.
42 Steven J. Ross, ‘Introduction’, in Ross (ed.), Movies, pp. 7–8; ‘Communist Infiltration
into the Motion Picture Industry’, FBI Report submitted 16 February 1943, in
Daniel J. Leab (ed.), Communist Activity in the Entertainment Industry: FBI Surveillance
Files on Hollywood, 1924–1958, microfilm collection (Bethesda, MD, 1991), 1: 10.
43 John A. Noakes, ‘Bankers and Common Men in Bedford Falls: How the FBI
Determined that It’s a Wonderful Life was a Subversive Movie’, Film History, Vol.
10, No. 3, 1998, pp. 311–19; O’Reilly, Hoover and the Un-Americans, p. 82; Athan
Theoharis, Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed in Counterintelligence but Promoted the
Politics of McCarthyism in the Cold War Years (Chicago, IL, 2002), p. 155. Red
Channels first appeared in 1950 as a special report by the magazine Counterattack,
which was published by American Business Consultants in New York, a
The enemy within 69

corporation formed by three former FBI agents. The publication was widely used
as the basis for unofficial blacklisting within the television and radio industries,
and targeted many individuals who also worked in Hollywood.
44 Raymond Fielding, The March of Time, 1935–51 (New York, 1978); Ephraim Katz,
The International Film Encyclopedia (Basingstoke, 1998), p. 361; Leab, ‘The Iron Curtain’,
p. 158; Daniel Leab, I Was a Communist for the FBI (University Park, PA, 2000), p. 80.
45 Christian Science Monitor, 30 December 1950; author’s correspondence with
Borden Mace, 28 March 1998; de Rochement to Nichols, 22 May 1951, Louis de
Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 49, American Heritage Centre, Laramie,
Wyoming (hereafter AHCW).
46 Hoover to de Rochement, 11 September 1942, de Rochement Collection, 5716,
Box 3, AHCW; author’s correspondence with Borden Mace, 28 March 1998; de
Rochement-Hood correspondence, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 26,
47 A Day with the FBI, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 44, AHCW; author’s cor-
respondence with Borden Mace, 28 March 1998.
48 De Rochement-Ford Foundation correspondence, de Rochement Collection,
5716, Box 20, AHCW; Mace to Paul Lazarus, 6 March 1952, de Rochement
Collection, 5716, Box 44, AHCW. On the Ford Foundation’s connections with
the US government see Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, pp. 139–44.
49 ‘The History of Communism’, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 217, AHCW.
It is unclear whether this film was completed.
50 De Rochement to Hood, 25 August 1950, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box
26, AHCW; author’s correspondence with Borden Mace, 28 March 1998.
51 Murphy to de Rochement, 6 June 1950, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 49,
AHCW. Klaus Fuchs was a German-born, British-educated nuclear physicist who
in January 1950 confessed to passing top-secret information to the Soviet Union
while working on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in 1944–5. In February
1950 he was sentenced in London to fourteen years’ imprisonment. Later that year,
Harry Gold, a Swiss-born naturalised American who worked at Philadelphia’s
General Hospital, was sentenced to thirty years’ imprisonment for being Fuchs’
courier. He in turn implicated a Los Alamos atomic bomb machinist, David
Greengrass, who in turn implicated his sister and brother-in-law, Ethel and Julius
Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were the only two American civilians to be executed,
in June 1953, for conspiracy to commit espionage during the Cold War. On the
publicity these spy revelations excited in the United States see Caute, Fear, pp. 62–9.
52 De Rochement to Hoover, 13 July 1951, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box
217, AHCW; author’s correspondence with Borden Mace, 28 March 1998.
Hoover apparently chose not to take this money, thinking it would damage his
reputation if he was seen to be profiting from his position as FBI Director. No
such inhibition prevented his sharing with other Bureau officials the proceeds of
other ventures, including Masters of Deceit. See Athan Theoharis and John Stuart
Cox, The Boss (Philadelphia, PA, 1988), p. 207. Walk East on Beacon was titled Crime
of the Century overseas.
70 Hollywood’s Cold War

53 Bernard F. Dick (ed.), Columbia Pictures: Portrait of a Studio (Lexington, KY, 1992),
pp. 15–16; Eldridge, ‘Dear Owen’, pp. 162–3, 180–1; Variety, 15 November 1950,
p. 18; Variety, 10 December 1952, p. 6; Hollywood Reporter, 8 May 1953, p. 3.
54 New York Times, 21 May 1960, p. 15.
55 Albert Hemsing, ‘The Marshall Plan’s European Film Unit 1948–1955: A
Memoir and Filmography’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 14,
No. 3, 1994, pp. 269–97. For more on the Marshall Plan film campaign in Europe
in the late 1940s and 1950s see (2 February
2006) and (21 June 2006).
56 Louis de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 49, AHCW. Freeman was the Vice-
President of Paramount Pictures, directing studio operations from 1938 to
1959. He also held the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors of the
Association of Motion Picture Producers from 1947 until 1966. In 1953,
Freeman joined an advisory committee of Hollywood executives and directors,
chaired by Frank Capra, to cooperate with the USIA in producing ‘healthy pro-
paganda’ for overseas consumption, and to screen story material that was
potentially harmful to America’s image abroad. Hollywood Reporter, 8 July 1953.
DeMille was a vastly experienced movie director who in 1953 was appointed as
a special consultant to the USIA on cinema. On Freeman’s government con-
nections see Eldridge, ‘Dear Owen’, pp. 168, 186. For more on DeMille see
Chapter 4.
57 De Rochement memo, August 1951, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 217,
AHCW; Nichols to de Rochement, 16 July 1951, de Rochement Collection, 5716,
Box 49, AHCW; Mace to Paul Lazarus, Columbia Pictures, 7 April 1952, de
Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 44, AHCW; press release, September 1951, de
Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 217, AHCW; de Rochement memo, 22 March
1952, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 217, AHCW; Mace memo, undated
but probably May 1952, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 217, AHCW.
58 Applebaum-de Rochement correspondence, February-March 1952, de
Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 217, AHCW.
59 De Rochement inter-office memo, 8 May 1951, de Rochement Collection, 5716,
Box 44, AHCW.
60 Weingarten to de Rochement, 11 July 1951, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box
217, AHCW; Breen to Martin Maloney, 17 July 1951, de Rochement Collection,
5716, Box 44, AHCW.
61 Borden Mace-Shirlee Weingarten correspondence, 13 August 1951, de
Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 49, AHCW; de Rochement to Nichols, 9 July
1951, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 49, AHCW; Walk East on Beacon
Advertising, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 10, AHCW; Nixon in Senate,
26 June 1952, Congressional Record – Appendix, A4240. In 1953–4, Murphy served
as Chairman of the Republican National Convention, and in 1964 was elected a
Republican Senator in California.
62 Mace to Paul Lazarus, Columbia Pictures, 6 March 1952, de Rochement
Collection, 5716, Box 44, AHCW. On the 1953–6 television series I Led Three
The enemy within 71

Lives, based on Philbrick’s recollections, see Thomas Doherty, Cold War, Cool
Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture (New York, 2003), pp. 140–9.
63 Mace to Leo Jaffe, Columbia Pictures, 20 June 1952, de Rochement Collection,
5716, Box 44, AHCW; Hoover to de Rochement, 19 March 1952, de Rochement
Collection, 5716, Box 49, AHCW.
64 Borden Mace’s suggestion that publicity for Walk East on Beacon should exploit
this space theme to tie in with the current vogue for science-fiction movies fell
on deaf ears at Columbia. The studio felt it would mislead the audience and
detract from Beacon’s politically factual format. Mace-Lazarus correspondence,
March 1952 de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 44, AHCW.
65 Hoover viewed with deep scepticism those films like Gordon Douglas’ I Was a
Communist for the FBI (1951) which highlighted the role of the Bureau’s celebrity
super-counterspies over the agency’s collective efforts. Leab, I Was a Communist,
p. 81.
66 In 1954, the critic Pauline Kael referred to Hollywood’s prodigious remodelling
of Nazi SS guards as Soviet secret police agents during the period thus: ‘The film-
goer who saw the anti-Nazi films of ten years ago will have no problem recog-
nizing the characters.’ Pauline Kael, I Lost it at the Movies (Boston, MA, 1965),
p. 318.
67 Thomas Doherty, ‘Frank Costello’s Hands: Film, Television, and the Kefauver
Crime Hearings’, Film History, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1998, pp. 359–74.
68 De Rochement to Reverend Robert H. Dunn, 11 April 1952, de Rochement
Collection, 5716, Box 49, AHCW.
69 Variety, 30 April 1952, p. 6; Hollywood Reporter, 30 April 1952, p. 3; New Yorker, 7
June 1952.
70 BoxOffice, 3 May 1952; Cue, 3 May 1952; Motion Picture Herald, 26 April 1952,
p. 1329; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin in Mace to Nichols, 22 May 1952, de
Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 49, AHCW; New York Daily Mirror, 29 May
71 ADL memo, 7 May 1952, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 44, AHCW;
Mundt in Senate, 5 May 1952, Congressional Record, p. 4831; Nixon in Senate, 26
June 1952, Congressional Record – Appendix, p. A4240.
72 Hoover to de Rochement, 3 June 1952, de Rochement Collection, 5716, Box 49,
73 Variety, 7 January 1953, p. 61; J. Raymond Bell to Mace, 28 October 1952, and
L. H. Morine to de Rochement, 8 April 1953, de Rochement Collection, 5716,
Box 44, AHCW; Sayre, Running Time, p. 91.
74 For a concise overview of this debate see Schrecker, McCarthyism.
75 Walter LaFeber, The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad
since 1750 (New York, 1989), p. 453.
76 Only 9 per cent of American households had television in 1950. By 1959, that
figure had risen to 85.9 per cent. Cited in Bernhard, Television News, p. 47. On the
press see Aronson, Press, esp. pp. 39–102.

Projecting a prophet for profit

Communism believes that human beings are nothing worse than somewhat
superior animals . . . and that the best kind of world is that world which is
organized as a well-managed farm is organized, where certain animals are
taken out to pasture, and they are fed and brought back and milked, and they
are given a barn as shelter over their heads . . . I do not see how, as long
as Soviet Communism holds those views . . . there can be any permanent
US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, 15 January 19531

If proof were needed that literary images could play as important a role in the
cultural Cold War as those viewed at the cinema, it can be found in the work
of the British writer George Orwell. By the time of his death from tuberculo-
sis at 46 years of age in January 1950, Orwell was regarded by many as the finest
political writer in English since Jonathan Swift.2 Two generations later, many
would class him as one of the most influential political writers of the twenti-
eth century, and, paradoxically given his early demise, a key player in the
East–West information war.3 Inspired by democratic socialist principles,
Orwell’s writing was interwoven to an unusual degree in British fiction with a
European and internationalist view of history and politics.4 This feature,
together with a characteristic unadorned style (‘good prose is like a window
pane’, Orwell claimed),5 was most clearly illustrated by his two literary master-
pieces, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). These novels, the
combined sales of which exceeded those of any comparable post-war writer
in English,6 were immediately interpreted as engaging with the Cold War, and
are now viewed as having contributed many of its most potent images. Words
or phrases culled from the two books – ‘four legs good, two legs bad’, ‘unper-
son’, ‘doublespeak’ – were assimilated into the Western political lexicon and
often used to describe aspects of the Soviet system in particular.
What follows is an analysis of the conversion of Animal Farm and Nineteen
Eighty-Four into films in the 1950s. As we shall see, the American and British
governments appropriated Orwell’s works and image assiduously during the
first decade of the Cold War. First in print, then on the small and big screen,
Projecting a prophet for profit 73

official and unofficial propagandists exploited Animal Farm and Nineteen

Eighty-Four as they did no other books, trading on Orwell’s status as an
independent-minded icon of the left who had definitively exposed Soviet-
style communism, and ‘clarifying’ his powerful rhetoric and vision for the
masses. These efforts played an important role in helping to establish the
books as modern classics and Orwell’s reputation as a ‘prophet’ who had fore-
told the terrible future that lay ahead for an ideologically divided world.
Neither of the movies that lie at the heart of my analysis, the first adapta-
tions of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, apparently had any connection
with Hollywood or with the American government. However, recently declas-
sified documentation reveals that, despite being made in Britain and being
sold as regular commercial ventures, both films originated in the United States
and bore the fingerprints of Washington’s burgeoning Cold War propaganda
apparatus. Together, the movies draw attention to the need to look outside
America’s borders to understand more fully how Hollywood and the
American government participated in the cultural Cold War. They also
demonstrate how competing commercial and political needs could sometimes
stand in the way of effective propaganda.


Animal Farm was first conceived by George Orwell during the 1936–9 Spanish
Civil War, from which he emerged a committed anti-Stalinist. The book was
then written between November 1943 and February 1944, when he was liter-
ary editor of the British Labour party’s weekly magazine, Tribune. However, it
was not until August 1945 that the allegory, based on the Russian Revolution,
appeared in the book shops, published by Secker and Warburg. The delay can
partly be attributed to publishers failing to identify the book’s commercial
value. The American Dial Press, for example, famously rejected Animal Farm
on the grounds that ‘it was impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’.7 Other
publishers, like Cape, declined the novel following warnings about the damage
it would cause Anglo-Soviet relations from the British government’s wartime
propaganda organisation, the Ministry of Information (MOI).8 ‘The first
British post-war novel’, according to novelist and academic Malcolm
Bradbury, became an immediate best-seller and made Orwell famous. The
fable was then selected as a September 1946 Book-of the-Month Club choice
in the United States, through which it had sold approximately half a million
copies by the end of the decade.9
Despite its seemingly simple plot, Animal Farm was immediately inter-
preted in several often conflicting ways. Orwell himself aimed to project two
principal themes. The first was ‘to expose the Soviet myth in a story that could
74 Hollywood’s Cold War

be easily understood by almost anyone’ and, by extension, to condemn

tyranny universally – ‘to clear men’s minds of cant and worship so as to guard
against what he feared would be a future even more threatened by totalitari-
anism’. The second theme was more positive, of ‘revolution betrayed’. This
reflected Orwell’s belief that, despite events in the Soviet Union, socialism was
still an achievable goal and was not bound to be perverted by any and every
post-revolutionary regime.10 While some critics and readers saw this, others
found reason to label the novel Conservative, Trotskyite or Anarchist.11
In the book’s final chapter, Orwell actively sought to anticipate and thereby
warn against the re-emergence of great-power, capitalist–communist rivalry
in the wake of the Second World War, and it is therefore ironic to find Animal
Farm (together with Nineteen Eighty-Four) being used as anti-Soviet propaganda
when East–West relations deteriorated after 1945. From 1948 onwards, the
British Foreign Office’s newly created secret anti-communist propaganda unit,
the Information Research Department (IRD), promoted the novel’s transla-
tion and distribution in Europe and the Middle East. Official American pro-
pagandists quickly developed a firm relationship with the IRD, and put their
considerable financial weight behind its unattributable (or ‘grey’) efforts. By
the mid-1950s, the State Department had sponsored the translation and dis-
tribution of Orwell’s books in more than thirty languages, starting with
German, Russian and Korean editions of Animal Farm in 1948. Orwell lent his
own support to these activities in the last year of his life, freely licensing faith-
ful translations of Animal Farm for the East European market.12
In April 1949, Orwell discussed with IRD official Celia Kirwan, who hap-
pened to be not only novelist Arthur Koestler’s sister-in-law but someone to
whom Orwell had proposed marriage three years earlier, the best means of
attacking Stalinism, including film.13 Orwell also divulged to Kirwan a list of
‘crypto-Communists’ and ‘fellow-travelers’ in media and political circles
whom the IRD ought not to trust; these included the American actors Orson
Welles and Paul Robeson.14 Some commentators have interpreted Orwell’s
‘enthusiastic approval’ of Whitehall’s anti-Soviet stance as evidence of the
writer’s rejection of socialism in his later years, but most see it as part of the
campaign being waged by leftist writers for a ‘third way’ between American
capitalism and Soviet communism in the late 1940s, and the concomitant need
to defend democratic socialism more aggressively.15
In 1950, the US State Department collaborated with the British Foreign
Office to produce, under the cover of a private company based in Cairo, a
cheap, illustrated version of Animal Farm in Arabic.16 Around the same time,
the IRD bought the strip-cartoon rights for Animal Farm for distribution
via local papers in large parts of the developing world, where this ‘brilliant
satire on the Communist regime in the USSR’ would be ‘a most effective
Projecting a prophet for profit 75

propaganda weapon, because of its skilful combination of simplicity, subtlety

and humour’.17 By early 1951, the IRD’s thoughts had turned to making a film
strip of these cartoons for schoolchildren, only for this idea to be superseded
by an altogether grander project.18



The origins of the animated, feature-length film of Animal Farm lie within the
American secret services. In June 1948, the US National Security Council
issued a directive establishing a new agency to conduct deniable political, eco-
nomic, paramilitary and psychological operations to counter the ‘vicious
covert activities of the USSR, its satellite countries and Communist groups to
discredit the aims of the United States and other Western powers’. The Office
of Special Projects – soon renamed the Office of Policy Coordination
(OPC) – was to operate under the direction of the Departments of State and
Defence, and was housed within the CIA for administrative support.19 Frank
Wisner, OPC chief, was fascinated by the power of propaganda and conse-
quently, armed with a budget in 1949 of $4.7 million (growing to $200 million
in 1952), hired Joseph Bryan III, a Virginian navy veteran, to run a
Psychological Warfare Workshop.20 This unorthodox unit, made up almost
entirely of Princeton alumni, acted as a think-tank, devising often unconven-
tional schemes to undermine the solidarity of the emerging Eastern bloc and
to sharpen the Americans’ anti-communist publicity techniques.21
In 1950, two of the Workshop’s operatives, Carleton Alsop, who had
dabbled in radio and movies, and the writer Finis Farr, began negotiations
with Orwell’s widow and literary executor, Sonia Blair, over the rights to turn
Animal Farm into a film.22 This dovetailed with the OPC’s strategy of creat-
ing a more progressive image for the West, whether via the building up of
democratic international front groups or, in this case, by exploiting Orwell’s
radical credentials.23 The scheme was also linked to President Truman’s
Campaign of Truth, launched in April 1950. This heralded a more aggressive
and comprehensive propaganda strategy dedicated to maintaining faith in
‘the free world’ while destabilising Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe.
Motion pictures were assigned an integral role in this strategy.24 Substantial
provision was made for overseas film production without attribution to the
US government, for consumption not only by the illiterate in undeveloped
countries but also ‘among industrial workers, farmers and youth in more
advanced countries, [where] motion pictures are a prime instrument for
building confidence, exposing the threat of aggression and combating
tendencies towards neutralism’.25
76 Hollywood’s Cold War

In March 1951, Sonia Blair sold the animation film rights of Animal Farm for
£5,000 ($14,000) to Louis de Rochement’s production company, RD-DR
Corporation, with Carleton Alsop probably having acted as go-between.26 The
result was an ostensibly normal commercial enterprise but one in reality sub-
stantially brokered and financed by the OPC.27 According to one source, Joseph
Bryan as a sign of gratitude arranged for Sonia Blair to meet Clark Gable.28
Although a paucity of available records makes it impossible to decipher pre-
cisely how the OPC forged links with Louis de Rochement, it is not surprising
he was hired to produce Animal Farm. His proven ability to deal successfully
with unusual subjects suggested he had the necessary credentials to handle
Orwell’s novel. As we have seen already, de Rochement’s contacts in govern-
ment were rich and varied during the late 1940s and 1950s. No less a person
than J. Edgar Hoover, who was also on first-name terms with Carleton Alsop,
could vouch for de Rochement’s discretion. Finis Farr knew de Rochement
too, through having worked on the radio version of The March of Time in the
1930s. In addition, de Rochement had recently lost money on a number of film
projects, which made him highly receptive to the OPC’s offer of substantial
finance. Animal Farm appealed to him not only artistically but also as a weapon
against Soviet tyranny. By cultivating British and American intelligence agents
while he was over in Britain working on the film, de Rochement presumably
picked up tips on where the communists’ soft spots lay.29
Using Orwell’s literary agent as a conduit, in November 1951 de Rochement
secured the services of Europe’s largest animation company, run by husband-
and-wife team John Halas and Joy Batchelor in London.30 Halas and Batchelor
had risen to prominence during the Second World War making humorous
shorts for the MOI, including the ‘Abu’ series, which directed anti-Nazi pro-
paganda to the peoples of the Middle East.31 Such work confirmed both the
proselytising qualities of animation, enhanced by its instant accessibility and
apparent ideological innocence, and Halas and Batchelor’s distinctive style,
which combined the sentimentality of Disney with an Eastern European
graphic boldness and darkness (Halas, a Hungarian, had trained under former
Bauhaus tutors Alexander Bortnyik and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy).32 Government
sponsorship continued into the post-war period with the Charley series,
designed to promote the idea of the welfare state as part of a more interven-
tionist British democracy. This, allied with private commercial work for oil
companies, and commissions for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
(NATO) and the European Cooperation Administration (ECA), which until
1951 directed the European Recovery Programme resulting from the Marshall
Plan, enabled the company to make a reasonable living.33
There appear to be four main reasons why de Rochement preferred hiring
Halas and Batchelor rather than Hollywood’s established animators, Disney
Projecting a prophet for profit 77

or Fleischer. First, the British company was smaller and could produce films
at a lower cost; a Charley cartoon, for instance, cost less than one third of an
American cartoon of the same length.34 Second, de Rochement’s associate
Lothar Wolff had worked with the firm while acting as chief of the Marshall
Plan’s European Film Unit (also linked with the OPC through the CIA) in the
late 1940s. He could therefore attest to the company’s requisite artistic and
intellectual skills in dealing with the difficult levels of visualisation which
Animal Farm’s philosophical and narrative complexity demanded.35 Another
contributory factor, given de Rochement’s concern with subversion, may have
been HUAC’s investigations in 1951 of alleged communists in the US anima-
tion industry.36 Finally, and most importantly, the lighter the American hand
in the film, the greater its propaganda potential became. Halas and Batchelor
themselves grew more aware of the political nature of the project as produc-
tion progressed, but there is no firm evidence that they (or their colleagues)
knew of the precise origins of the film. As self-styled humanists who saw film
as a vital medium for the expression of internationalist ideas, they believed
that Animal Farm carried a simple message to which no right-minded individ-
ual could possibly object – that ‘power corrupts’.37

Transferring Orwell’s novel to the screen represented a major logistical chal-
lenge to Halas and Batchelor, and the film was a notable artistic achievement.
Animal Farm became the first feature-length animation film made in Britain
for the entertainment of the general public and the first ever made for politi-
cally conscious adults.38 Work by the eighty artists employed was split between
Stroud in Gloucestershire and London, where the largest studio in Europe
was developed for this kind of specialised production. John Reed, who had
previously worked for Disney, was put in charge of animation; Matyas Seiber,
who had worked on previous Halas and Batchelor projects, composed the
score; and Maurice Denham, an experienced British stage actor who was just
breaking into films, performed all the voices. In all, 300,000 man-hours were
required to create 250,000 drawings and over 1,000 coloured backgrounds.
Filmmaking was initially scheduled to take eighteen months at a cost of
$270,000, but in the end stretched to three years and totalled roughly
Halas and Batchelor felt the heavy burden of converting into film one of
the world’s best-known and most sophisticated fables. The film’s breakdown
chart, showing all of the novel’s characters in their various relationships to the
plot and to each other, reveals an acute awareness of Animal Farm’s political
significance. Those incidents which strengthened the main dramatic form
78 Hollywood’s Cold War

Shades of grey: Budapest-born John Halas, with some of the preliminary sketches for Animal Farm
(1954). Stills, Posters and Designs Division of the British Filim Institute.

were retained while other sections were discarded. Conveying the satirical
element was particularly challenging given animation’s emphasis on the visual
rather than the spoken, but this was overcome by a naturalistic style, aug-
mented by a stark rather than glossy presentation, which accurately captured
Orwell’s combination of humour and deep pessimism. The Swiftian irony was
transmitted courtesy of the film’s emphasis on the changing slogans. The end
product was a film that reduced the storyline to essentials but still followed
Orwell’s narrative very closely.40
Halas and Batchelor normally worked autonomously, relying on their own
skills to convert a commission to screen. This was not the case with Animal
Farm. The contract drawn up between RD-DR and Halas and Batchelor,
following the agreed treatment in the summer of 1951, gave the former sig-
nificant scope in shaping the film.41 Input came from several interested
parties. De Rochement was himself heavily involved, discussing alterations
at the planning and timing stages in September 1952, and commenting speci-
fically on when the pigs should take over the farmhouse and when the ‘all
animals are equal’ slogan should come in. On viewing the early material, he
insisted that Napoleon’s demeanour and behaviour be modified to make him
Projecting a prophet for profit 79

more authoritarian, and proposed changes to his keynote end speech.

Lothar Wolff’s supervisory role strengthened de Rochement’s control and
provided the unit with an expert Cold War propagandist familiar with
European audiences.42
News of the production attracted the attention and advice of various lit-
erary luminaries in Britain, including the publishers Victor Gollancz and Lord
Weidenfeld.43 Fredric Warburg, who in the mid-to-late 1940s had fought per-
sonally to publish Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, and in the process had
developed a close friendship with Orwell, took a particular interest. Between
1951 and 1953 Warburg was treasurer of the British Society for Cultural
Freedom, a body financed from the Paris headquarters of the Congress for
Cultural Freedom (CCF), an organisation secretly funded by the CIA. Set up
in 1950 with Frank Wisner’s help, the CCF was the most prominent liberal
intellectual and artistic movement to campaign against communism during
the Cold War until newspaper revelations of CIA patronage led to its disap-
pearance in the late 1960s.44 Both the honorary secretary and general secre-
tary of the British Society, Michael Goodwin and John Clews respectively,
were IRD contract employees.45 Warburg visited the Halas and Batchelor
Studios on several occasions, principally in the autumn of 1952.46 It is impos-
sible to tell what effect, if any, these visits had on the filmmaking, but it is sig-
nificant that Warburg had misinterpreted Nineteen Eighty-Four as marking
Orwell’s break with socialism and as an attack on the left as a whole, which he
perhaps felt ought to be conveyed in the filmic treatment of Orwell’s other
great novel.47
Despite reportedly having the authority to approve the script and story-
board in order to ensure that the film was ‘a faithful adaptation of her
husband’s classic’, Sonia Blair soon lost interest in the finer points of the pro-
duction.48 Nevertheless, the company’s experienced and gifted scriptwriter,
Joy Batchelor, grew increasingly frustrated with what she saw as tampering
outsiders. As producer, de Rochement, for one, unsurprisingly insisted on
being kept up to date on the script.49 In early 1952, a draft script was also
assessed by the US Psychological Strategy Board (PSB). Established in April
1951, the PSB was charged with uniting the whole of the American national
security bureaucracy – State Department, CIA (which absorbed the OPC in
1951), military services and other government agencies – behind a campaign
of psychological warfare in a grand effort to combat the Soviet Union.50 The
organisation gave high priority to its Motion Picture Service, which worked
through 135 USIS posts in 87 countries and in 1952 reached an estimated
audience of over 300 million.51 The Motion Picture Service employed
producer–directors who were given top security clearance and assigned to
films that articulated ‘the objectives which the United States is interested in
80 Hollywood’s Cold War

obtaining’ and that could best reach ‘the pre-determined audience that we as
a motion-picture medium must condition’.52 The PSB worked on the basis
that if art was to be good propaganda it needed to be good art, a theory borne
out by its cultivation of respected film directors like Frank Capra and studio
executives such as Nicholas Schenck, President of MGM, Columbia’s
President Harry Cohn, and Walt Disney.53
The Animal Farm script crossed the desk of the PSB’s deputy director,
Tracy Barnes, in January 1952, courtesy of media executive Wallace Carroll. A
consultant to the US government on psychological warfare throughout the
1950s, Carroll also formed a bridge between the CIA and the American
press.54 The PSB’s film experts were disappointed with the script’s propaganda
value and offered suggestions for improvement. ‘[T]he theme is somewhat
confusing and the impact of the story as expressed in cartoon sequence is
somewhat nebulous. Although the symbolism is apparently plain’, the critique
concluded, ‘there is no great clarity of message.’55 One of the PSB’s propa-
ganda lines during this period was to accuse the Soviet regime of having per-
verted Marxism,56 and promoting a wider reception of Orwell’s novel
corresponded nicely with this. However, for the film to have its fullest
impact – and contribute to the PSB’s three-fold ‘consolidate, impregnate and
liberate’ strategy – ease of understanding was considered essential. PSB
officials argued, therefore, that it was far better to simplify, presumably even
at the cost of modifying Orwell’s meaning, rather than confuse the audience
with an overly precious adherence to Orwell’s text.57 Collaboration between
the PSB and OPC in 1952 on political activism in Western Europe meant that
there was ample scope for the former’s views on Animal Farm to blend into
those of the film production team.58
Despite going a year over schedule and through the debilitating process of
nine different scripts, the film’s message was ultimately evident. Several sig-
nificant alterations were made to the book for quite normal commercial or
artistic reasons. For instance, by having Old Major (Marx-Lenin) die immedi-
ately at the end of his revolutionary speech rather than days later created a
more dramatic, heart-rending opening. Similarly, the ferocious chasing and
killing of Snowball (Trotsky) in one scene a third of the way through pre-
cluded the latter’s alleged attempts to overthrow the new regime while in exile,
but made dramatic sense in terms of being more visual and shockingly violent.
However, certain other changes are worthy of further comment given their
cumulative political implications.
There can be no doubting Orwell’s depiction of Napoleon (Stalin) as a
despicable tyrant, or that de Rochement’s desire to magnify the character’s
authoritarian nature made commercial sense. Yet the book states that during
the seminal Battle of the Windmill (the Second World War) ‘all the animals,
Projecting a prophet for profit 81

except Napoleon, flung themselves flat on their bellies and hid their faces’.59
This represents Orwell’s attempt to be fair to Stalin, who remained in Moscow
after Hitler’s launching of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, directing affairs
from the rear. However, in the film Napoleon is singled out as the only animal
(apart from Squealer) that does not fight, other than issuing a few orders from
the safety of the farmhouse in cowardly response to direct attacks on him.
Similarly, the book attributes Napoleon’s trading with humans partly to the
economic needs of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, whereas in the
film Napoleon’s motives are reduced to pure greed, in the shape of jam for
himself and the other pigs.
Related to this last point is the wider one of the way the film diminishes
the book’s human characters and, in the process, its references to the iniqui-
ties of capitalism and the limitations of liberty. Far less is made in the film of
why the animals rebel in the first place; the ‘tyranny of human beings’ in
Orwell’s opening chapter is reduced on screen to Jones’ drunken cruelty.
The role that the humans play throughout the book in trying to stamp out the
rebellion via black propaganda and the flogging of animals for singing the
revolutionary anthem is cut. ‘Sugarcandy Mountain’, Orwell’s reference to
Christianity as the servile upholder of the status quo, is omitted altogether.
Two of Orwell’s central characters, Pilkington and Frederick (the British and
German governing classes), are virtually elided. Other than Jones himself, the
humans are reduced in the film to an indeterminate pub rabble. In the process,
the film plays down the significance that the book attached to capitalist in-
fighting, and Orwell’s condemnation of Britain and Germany’s strategic iso-
lation of the USSR prior to the Second World War.
This line of interpretation is given a further twist in the final scene, which
amounts to a wholesale inversion of Orwell’s ending. The book concludes on
a bleak note, with the now clothed pigs drinking, brawling and gambling with
their human farmer neighbours, and agreeing they have a common interest in
keeping the lower animals and lower classes subservient. The ‘creatures
outside’, reads the last sentence, ‘looked from pig to man, and from man to
pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was
which.’60 Orwell’s suggestion is that there is no difference between old tyran-
nies and new, between capitalist exploiters and communist ones. Moreover,
the raucous farmhouse party is meant to satirise the cynical power politics of
the first wartime meeting between Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt at Teheran
in November 1943, and to predict their inevitable future conflict based on
self-interest. This is why Pilkington and Napoleon draw the ace of spades
together at the end of their card game. By participating in this future struggle,
warns Orwell, the masses would once again be serving their oppressors’
82 Hollywood’s Cold War

The twist in the tail: with the humans airbrushed from the party, Napoleon (centre) and his ‘comrades’
celebrate their takeover of the farm. Moments later the beasts’ revolt will begin. Animal Farm (1954).
Columbia Pictures/Halas and Batchelor Ltd.

The film changes this dénouement in two ways. First, the audience is not
allowed to feel that the capitalist farmers and communist pigs are on the same
debased level. The farmers are excluded from the scene altogether.
Consequently, the watching creatures see only pigs enjoying the fruits of
exploitation – a sight which impels them to stage a successful counter-
revolution by storming the farmhouse. John Halas years later explained this
radical twist in terms of the filmmaker’s conventional need to have an upbeat,
active ending that sent audiences away happy. In fact, although the revolt sce-
nario appeared in production records as early as March 1952, the ending was
the source of a six-month dispute between de Rochement and the directors,
especially Batchelor, who wanted to stick to the book’s conclusion. It is
unclear whether de Rochement’s motives were commercially or politically
grounded, but his insistence on the beasts mounting a fight back eventually
prevailed.62 The result is not only an uplifting ending but also one which
underlines the film’s anti-Soviet message. In the context of the Eisenhower
administration’s strategy of ‘liberating’ those living under communist rule, the
film’s counter-revolutionary theme is particularly intriguing.
Projecting a prophet for profit 83


Billed as ‘the most controversial film of the year’, Animal Farm was released
by RKO in New York in December 1954 and opened in London a fortnight
later. It immediately attracted international coverage, helped by, as one news-
paper put it, ‘the sort of unexpected advance publicity for which Hollywood
would sacrifice its last picture of a pin-up girl’.63 A gala reception at the United
Nations (UN) headquarters in New York added to the film’s already pregnant
political overtones.64 When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill com-
plained that Old Major’s voice too closely resembled his own, conjuring an
amusing image of the staunch Conservative exchanging places with the father
of communism, the film’s appeal grew further.65
Critical responses to Animal Farm stressed its technical expertise and inno-
vation. Though a few critics thought the film too Disneyesque in places, it was
instantly proclaimed a landmark in the history of British animation. Voicing
the consensus, Kinematograph Weekly called it ‘brilliant. At once thoughtful,
controversial, challenging and witty, but never malicious, it should intrigue all
classes and, except for tiny tots, all ages.’66 The film’s paymasters would have
been heartened by its reception politically. While notable reviewers on both
sides of the Atlantic, including one in the CCF’s flagship journal, Encounter,
criticised the film for having watered down the novel’s anti-Soviet message,67
the majority recommended it as a faithful interpretation of Orwell’s anti-
communist classic. In labelling it ‘a merciless commentary on the Slave State’
and ‘a sparkling satire on Kremlin madness’ respectively, Britain’s Catholic
Herald and the New York Daily News indicated how keenly conservative news-
papers exploited such ‘respectable’ opportunities for anti-Soviet propaganda.
Other commentators felt the movie’s political message was enhanced by ani-
mation’s instant accessibility and apparent ideological innocence.68
The changed ending did not go unnoticed by British reviewers, testimony
to the cultural importance of Orwell’s work. Some were scathing, for political
and artistic reasons. ‘I wonder what sort of conferences led to this high-
handed decision’,69 protested one Catholic magazine, Tablet, without pressing
the issue. The Glasgow Herald went further, complaining ‘that even President
Eisenhower has been constrained a little to damp the enthusiasm of those
who call the sheep and goats and donkeys of Eastern Europe to rise in rebel-
lion’.70 Other critics applauded the twist. ‘Reading the book’, Britain’s most
prestigious newspaper, The Times, stated, ‘one felt with passionate conviction
that the animals were right to rebel.’71 However, most ordinary viewers would
probably have interpreted the film as a straight adaptation of an important
book written by a revered radical. Those in the audience able to read the ideo-
logical metaphors would have been encouraged to think that the Soviet order
84 Hollywood’s Cold War

was not only flawed but also either beatable or inherently self-destructive. ‘At
last an anti-Communist film has come along that is 100% effective artistically
and hence is really telling as propaganda’, declared one of Britain’s best-selling
Catholic newspapers, the Universe, ‘[showing that] Communism is an evil
system that does not even make for material happiness.’72
The movie was eagerly promoted. The American Committee for Cultural
Freedom (ACCF), the US offshoot of the CCF, went to great lengths to make
Animal Farm’s opening run at New York’s prestigious Paris Theater a platform
for domestic and international success. Media contacts spread word of ‘one
of the most important anti-Communist documents of our time’; discount
rates were offered to students and labour unions; and strenuous efforts (ulti-
mately unsuccessful) were made to persuade MGM to act as the film’s dis-
tributors.73 The IRD also distributed the film among ‘the slightly educated’ in
parts of the British empire and in other parts of the developing world such as
Indochina.74 A cartoon strip drawn by one of the animators, Harold Whitaker,
appeared in the British and international press; merchandising spin-offs,
unusual for the period, included children’s animal figurines.75 Despite this, the
film was not a great success; its initial run in Britain’s third city, Manchester,
for example, lasted only a fortnight. ‘It was a serious cartoon and the distribu-
tors didn’t know what to do with it’, said a spokesman for the Motion Picture
Association of America.76 ‘One of British film’s more honourable failures’,
claims film historian John Baxter, Animal Farm was arguably too serious a
subject for a medium commonly thought of as suitable only for children.77
Whether the film still prospered in political terms is debatable. Few records
exist relating to the reception outside Britain and the United States of this
most international of films. However, being animated meant that Animal Farm
was easily translatable and versions in Japanese, Swedish, German and other
languages soon appeared.78 In France, where Napoleon was renamed Caesar,
it was lauded as a powerful parody of the Soviet regime.79 The CIA helped to
finance distribution, though it was powerless to circumvent bans imposed on
the showing of the film behind the Iron Curtain.80 If the film’s chief target
was the potentially dissident element suffering under the communist yoke, it
therefore failed. If, on the other hand, success is measured in terms of its
broadening awareness of Animal Farm, previously confined largely to the
literary-minded middle classes, a different picture emerges. The perspective
changes again if the film is examined by way of its subtly contrived Cold War
message, serving both as a warning to developing states and as a reminder to
doubters in the West of the sordid Soviet record. Nor should the film’s poten-
tial impact be restricted in time. By the late 1950s, Animal Farm (and Nineteen
Eighty-Four) had become standard reading in British and American schools. In
the decades ahead, the film became a popular pedagogical aid, helping in the
Projecting a prophet for profit 85

process to provide a new generation with a tendentious grounding in the

origins of the Cold War.81


Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell’s last, dystopian novel, has over the past sixty years
probably been more influential than Animal Farm, certainly so in terms of its
phrases and coinages passing into the common language. Published in Britain
and the US simultaneously in June 1949, it sold over 400,000 copies in its first
year alone, and confirmed Orwell’s place in the modern literary pantheon.82
By drawing on his political understanding of the mechanisms of terror, psy-
chological invasion and brainwashing, the author won widespread praise for
having followed his brilliant essay on recent events in Russia with another that
posed horrific questions for the future. ‘Orwellian’ was soon added to
‘Kafkaesque’ to describe the development of many a state and many a public
vocabulary, up to and beyond 1984. By the final decade of the Cold War, the
book had sold over ten million copies in paperback throughout the English-
speaking world and existed in at least twenty-three other languages.83
Orwell intended Nineteen Eighty-Four to act as a warning against the threat
of totalitarianism, whether from the right or left. However, so complex were
its targets that nearly all commentators immediately seized on one theme to
the exclusion of others. Orwell’s most influential biographer, the political sci-
entist Bernard Crick, argues that Orwell should have made his message clearer
rather than trying to explain the novel’s theme afterwards by press releases,
and that by failing in this regard he made the book’s confused reception
unavoidable.84 Its application to the Cold War was similarly inevitable, espe-
cially in the light of the tumultuous events which had taken place in Eastern
and Central Europe while Orwell had been writing the novel and on which it
was thought he was commenting.85 The Soviet Communist party paper,
Pravda, condemned Orwell for predicting such a ‘monstrous future in store for
man, [in which] he imputes every evil to the people’, and issued an import ban
on the book that lasted till the late 1980s. Accordingly, the novel acquired cult
status among dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, where it was disseminated
in a variety of ways, including balloon operations run by the Free Europe
Press, the publication arm of the CIA-financed National Committee for Free
Europe (NCFE).86 In the United States, arch-conservative Henry Luce’s Time
and Life magazines predictably saw it as a comprehensive anti-socialist
polemic,87 while the radical, anti-Stalinist New York journal Partisan Review
awarded Orwell its annual prize for the most significant contribution to liter-
ature, praising the book as ‘the best antidote to the [Soviet] totalitarian disease’
so far produced.88
86 Hollywood’s Cold War

Britain’s IRD bought the rights to Nineteen Eighty-Four in a variety of lan-

guages, including Japanese, Polish, Chinese, French and Indonesian, while, in
authorising payments for the translation rights to the book in 1951, US
Secretary of State Dean Acheson singled out it and Animal Farm for having
‘been of great value to the Department in its psychological offensive against
Communism’.89 In these ways Nineteen Eighty-Four came to be used for the very
purpose it warned against: propaganda for the maintenance of a super-state
conflict. ‘Whatever Orwell believed he was doing’, argues literary critic Alan
Sinfield, ‘he contributed to the Cold War one of its most potent myths . . . In
the 1950s it [Nineteen Eighty-Four] was marvellous NATO Newspeak.’90


Nineteen Eighty-Four was adapted first for the small screen by the National
Broadcasting Company’s drama series, Studio One, and broadcast in September
1953. NBC was the largest and most powerful of the four main television net-
works in the United States in the 1950s. It lent vigorous support both to
Senator Joseph McCarthy’s subversion allegations and to Washington’s tough
approach towards communism overseas.91 1984, as the one-hour television
play was titled, starred Eddie Albert as Winston Smith, Norma Crane as Julia,
and Lorne Greene as O’Brien. It was watched in 8.7 million homes, a 53 per
cent share of the market, making it the highest-rated Studio One programme
that year.92 The play was a relatively straight adaptation of the novel but most
commentators and media organisations interpreted it as an anti-communist
A year later, in December 1954, the British Broadcasting Corporation tele-
vised a version of Nineteen Eighty-Four, produced with Sonia Blair’s approval.
This two-hour-long play was the most expensive and most ambitious televi-
sion drama made in Britain to that date, and met with considerable praise from
critics for its accurate interpretation of the novel, for its efforts to put over the
principles of Orwell’s language, and for the individual performances of Andre
Morrell as O’Brien and Peter Cushing as Winston Smith.94 Among the wider
public and in the press the production caused a furore. Amidst reports that
one viewer had collapsed and died of a heart attack after watching its torture
scenes, newspapers condemned the ‘sadistic’ and ‘pornographic’ nature of the
play. A month-long debate followed in Parliament and the mass media about
Orwell and broadcasting censorship.95 The BBC had forged strong links with
the IRD by the early 1950s, enabling the British government to disseminate
discreetly valuable anti-communist propaganda at home and overseas.96
Despite these links, there is no evidence of any collaboration between the cor-
poration and government on Nineteen Eighty-Four. Producer Rudolph Cartier,
Projecting a prophet for profit 87

for one, intended his play to act as a warning against totalitarianism in all its
forms, including fascism, communism and McCarthyism.97 However, as had
been the case with NBC’s 1984, the majority of British politicians and jour-
nalists interpreted the play in straight Cold War terms. Indeed, it is notewor-
thy just how many commentators across the political spectrum referred to the
BBC’s ‘coverage’ rather than ‘production’ of Orwell’s book, as if it were a real
event that the cameras were at. This encouraged people to see the book and
play not as fiction but as a ‘true’ account of the nature of totalitarianism gen-
erally and of life behind the Iron Curtain specifically. The play effectively
‘launched’ Orwell as a ‘public’ writer, marking the point when the language of
his novel entered the popular imagination and when Nineteen Eighty-Four
became, as Stalin’s biographer Isaac Deutscher characterised it after the tele-
cast, ‘an ideological superweapon’ in the Cold War of words.98


The desire to capitalise on the tumult surrounding the BBC play seems to have
been a major factor in the decision to make a cinematic version of Nineteen
Eighty-Four in 1955. The film rights had been acquired from the Orwell estate
in 1953 by the former president of RKO, Peter Rathvon. Rathvon enjoyed a
close relationship with Washington in the 1950s, helping to finance films for
the USIA’s Motion Picture Service which, among other things, sponsored
hard-hitting anti-communist films calculated to expose communist lies.99 In
1955, Rathvon formed Holiday Film Productions to make 1984 at Associated
British’s Elstree Studios, outside London. Hiring a strong Anglo-American
cast and British director Michael Anderson, who had just had a hit with a
Second World War drama, The Dam Busters (1954), the intention was to profit
financially and politically. During HUAC’s investigation into communism in
the American film industry in the late 1940s Rathvon had shown little sym-
pathy for the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, including two of RKO’s employees,
the director Edward Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott.100 With a distin-
guished career in banking and business behind him, Rathvon’s stance on the
Cold War was somewhat predictable. In the case of 1984, a $100,000 subsidy
from the USIA, conditional on the agency’s control of the script, was a sig-
nificant bonus. The object was, according to the USIA’s chairman, to make
‘the most devastating anti-Communist film of all time’.101
Filming at Elstree began in June 1955, though the broad framework of the
production appears to have been constructed earlier in the year, partly as a
result of Rathvon’s communication with the ACCF’s executive director, Sol
Stein. Prompted by members like film director Elia Kazan and actors Robert
Montgomery and Hume Cronyn, the ACCF in the mid-1950s sought active
88 Hollywood’s Cold War

involvement in several prominent ‘theatrical’ projects in the US and over-

seas.102 These included financing stage adaptations in Australia and Latin
America of Arthur Koestler’s novel based on the 1930s Moscow trials,
Darkness at Noon (itself a major inspiration for Nineteen Eighty-Four); promot-
ing anti-communist television documentaries such as NBC’s Nightmare in Red
(first broadcast in 1956) in tandem with the USIA; and discouraging distribu-
tion of feature films perceived to carry anti-American or anti-capitalist over-
tones, such as H. G. Clouzot’s 1953 thriller The Wages of Fear.103 The ACCF
earnestly believed that the West was losing the cultural Cold War in this period.
Such activities therefore reflected the organisation’s determination to make
its campaigning increasingly political and explicitly anti-communist, an
approach which eventually led to a parting of the ways with the tactically more
conservative Paris-based CCF.104
In January 1955, Peter Rathvon requested advice from Sol Stein on the
screenplay and publicity for the film. After consulting colleagues, Stein, a suc-
cessful playwright who like many New York liberal intellectuals of the period
interpreted Orwell’s book as an attack on ‘Red fascism’,105 made a series of
‘suggestions’. These, nearly all of which can be seen in the final print, were
effectively confined to two areas: ‘verisimilitude’ and the ending. Stein argued
that for the film to do justice to the book and make audiences aware of the
dangers posed by present-day communism, the production had to have as
contemporary a feel as possible. He therefore recommended that armbands
replace the sashes worn by members of the Anti-Sex League in the book, and
the trumpets used to herald the regime’s announcements be eliminated
because of their association with pageantry and melodrama. Stein’s emphasis
throughout was on making 1984 a reality rather than fiction. Caricatures were
to be reduced as much as possible and the film given a docudrama appearance.
Finally, rather than leaving the audience in ‘total despair’ at the end, with
Winston Smith capitulating to Big Brother, it was essential at least to hint ‘that
human nature can not be changed by totalitarianism . . . so that the viewer, like
the person behind the Iron Curtain, will be left with some small measure of
hope’. This could be done, Stein proposed, by emphasising the enduring love
between Winston and his fellow rebel Julia.106
Compared with that of Animal Farm, the making of 1984 in the summer
and autumn of 1955 was smooth and problem-free. At around £300,000, pro-
duction costs were relatively high and could be accounted for partly by the
choice of Edmond O’Brien and Michael Redgrave to play the lead roles of
Smith and O’Connor (O’Brien in the novel) respectively. O’Brien’s stock had
recently risen considerably following his supporting actor Oscar in Joseph
L. Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa (1954). Redgrave had, ironically, been
on Orwell’s list of suspected crypto-communists in the late 1940s, but his
Projecting a prophet for profit 89

socialist leanings appear to have had no bearing on either his decision to take
part in 1984 or his performance.107 A further expense was Terence Verity’s
ingenious art work, which successfully created an imaginary yet starkly realis-
tic London by eschewing fashionable science-fiction techniques as much as
possible. The elaborate studio sets were augmented by highly publicised loca-
tion work in London’s Hyde Park and the city’s rundown East End.108
1984 opened in London in March 1956 and the United States six months
later. As with Animal Farm, first impressions of the film are those of a rela-
tively straight adaptation of the book. On the whole the film remains close to
the novel in incident and plot. Winston Smith’s disillusionment with life in
Airstrip One, his soul-destroying work for the Ministry of Truth punctuated
by frightening Two Minute Hate sessions, his passionate and rebellious love
affair with Julia, the couple’s imprisonment, torture and brainwashing by the
ruling elite – all of these key features survive intact. A sense of Orwell’s
oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere is conveyed by the ubiquitous tele-
screens and secret police, rumours of traitors being ‘vaporised’, and the rat-
infested junk shop where the two lovers pathetically create their own private
life among the ‘proles’ until their betrayal by the landlord. At the same time,
simplification and condensation abound, inevitably so given the book’s many
almost unfilmable sections. Orwell used paradox – the Oceania slogan ‘War
is Peace’, for example – for some of his most telling blows, and such purely
literary devices could not be effectively translated to the screen.
However, on closer inspection more substantial changes become apparent
which confirm the traces of the film’s abettors. A commentary at the very
outset seeks to set 1984 outside the science-fiction genre and to place events
in ‘the immediate future’. Shocking pictures of genuine atomic explosions
follow, representing the nuclear conflagration of 1965 (undated by Orwell)
and the subsequent establishment of Oceania. This emphasis on reality con-
tinues throughout, with the Thought Police toting machine guns rather than
lasers, and Eurasian prisoners being paraded through an easily recognisable
Trafalgar Square. Julia (Jan Sterling) wears a chastity armband rather than sash
and behaves more like a 1950s housewife than Orwell’s libidinous modern
woman; the old-fashioned trumpets are replaced by electronic sounds. The
overall effect is to make Orwell’s world more tangible and believable, and his
picture of society thirty years hence more relevant to contemporary politics.
One of the major planks of Orwell’s novel was the criticism it levelled
equally at all the great powers. Indeed, Nineteen Eighty-Four was in this sense a
natural extension of his argument in Animal Farm: that continued rivalry
between the powers could result in a world divided into three superstates
locked in never-ending combat (a Cold War). Alliances (like that between the
USA, USSR and Britain between 1941 and 1945) would expediently change
90 Hollywood’s Cold War

London’s future? Winston Smith (Edmond O’Brien) and his omnipresent leader on the streets of Airstrip
One, Oceania. 1984 (1956). Columbia Picture/Stills, Posters and Designs Division of the British Film

from time to time, but the real losers would be the masses, fed on a diet of
propaganda and coercion.109 This theme is obfuscated in the film. Oceania is
certainly at war with Eurasia, but this is attributed wholly to the designs of Big
Brother rather than to the workings of the international system. Moreover,
Eurasia remains an enemy throughout rather than, as happens towards the
end of the book, suddenly being announced as an ally. Thus, Orwell’s refer-
ence to the bankrupt nature of the Grand Alliance during the Second World
War, which was intended to force people to question their leaders’ motives, is
excised. Winston’s failure in the film to read the book ostensibly written by
Goldstein, leader of the underground in Oceania, explaining how the three-
state conflict emerged out of that between Russia, China and the United
States, has a similar effect.110
Big Brother is never identified in either the book or the film. Stein had
recommended to Rathvon that in order to emphasise the possibility of Big
Brother’s real existence, in the film his posters ought to have the photograph
of an actual human – say, of the now dead Stalin – rather than being a cartoon
caricature. For some reason this advice was not followed and a cartoonish ‘BB’
Projecting a prophet for profit 91

Peace-Sex-Hate: in their final act of atonement, Rutherford and Jones are led to the steps of Trafalgar
Square to declare their undying love for ‘Big Brother’. 1984 (1956). Columbia Picture/Stills, Posters and
Designs Division of the British Film Institute.

stares out from the walls.111 The unmistakable indications in the film are, nev-
ertheless, that Oceania’s ruling party is modelled on the Soviet regime, with
Nazi flourishes. Thus some of Orwell’s nomenclature, such as ‘comrades’,
stays in the film, whereas other key points are taken out. Oceania’s currency,
for example, is changed from dollars, denoting American imperialism, to ster-
ling. None of the explicit comparisons between ‘Ingsoc’ and the communists,
which O’Brien makes in the book while brainwashing Winston, find their way
onto the screen. Consequently, the important point that Russian communism
is in fact inferior to ‘Ingsoc’, in terms of its ability to break its opponents’ will
and its ultimate quest for equality rather than power, is omitted. The high-
lighting of a Soviet-style show trial, with ‘traitors’ Rutherford and Jones con-
fessing their guilt before execution, further alters the book’s message.112
Orwell’s story was not entirely pessimistic. ‘If there is hope’, writes
Winston, ‘it lies in the proles.’113 But Orwell rejected the possibility of the
human spirit rising above pain and privation. Faced with the dreaded rats in
Room 101 at the end of the novel, a broken and wizened Winston forsakes
Julia and learns to love Big Brother instead. Believing this to be dangerously
92 Hollywood’s Cold War

defeatist in the context of the Cold War of the mid-1950s, Stein had produced
a draft alternative version which proved Winston’s surviving freedom of
spirit.114 This was taken a stage further in the film released in Britain and in
other countries, though oddly not in the American version.115 As soon as
Winston and Julia meet after their release from the Ministry of Love, we see
that nothing can erase from their minds the knowledge that the system is evil.
They are living proof that the human soul cannot be completely overcome,
even by the most powerful regime. Winston shouts ‘Down with Big Brother’
and is shot, promptly followed by Julia who also sacrifices herself to the cause
of freedom. Orwell’s savage masterpiece is thus brought into line with con-
ventional screen morality and orthodox Western beliefs. Rathvon argued,
almost in Newspeak-ian terms, that this ‘logical’ change was what ‘Orwell
might have written if he had not known when he wrote the book that he was
dying’.116 Orwell had in fact expressed particular objections to Nineteen Eighty-
Four being altered in any way by publishers and, for the record, Sonia Blair was
reportedly ‘horrified’ with the ending of the film.117


The reception of 1984 failed to match the expectations of the film’s backers.
To some extent the film’s makers were in an impossible position. As several
commentators noted, it required a near miracle to make Orwell’s psychologi-
cal detail and intellectual argument as convincing on the screen as they were
in print.118 However, the casting and acting were also culpable, with all three
leading players found wanting: O’Brien because of his incongruously large
girth and for being too obvious a rebel, Sterling for trying to be too glamorous,
Redgrave for simply being languid. Furthermore, the American accents of
O’Brien and Sterling jarred with those of their British colleagues, detracting
from the representation of London life in the near future. Rathvon’s attempt
to exploit the Anglo-American connection seems in this sense to have back-
fired. Michael Anderson’s direction lacked the inspiration and style he brought
most successfully to the war-film genre in the 1950s. The straitjacket imposed
on him by a producer intent on sending the correct ideological message might
explain this.119
1984 attracted some plaudits from the mainstream British press. The Daily
Telegraph, for instance, which stood on the political right, argued that ‘Orwell’s
masterpiece . . . loses none of its shattering impact on the screen.’120 However,
according to most critics the film was impossible to categorise and would
therefore be likely to deter audiences. In attempting to make Orwell’s work
shockingly topical by eschewing the technical wizardry of the science-fiction
genre, 1984 merely ended up looking cheap and unconvincing. Stripped to its
Projecting a prophet for profit 93

basics, the novel lost many of its most subtle and powerful features. The
intense freedom of the love scenes, for instance, was never communicated,
and even the torture scenes lacked impact. Despite Stein’s best efforts, the
characters seemed so rootless they could scarcely begin to engage viewers’
sympathies. Those not ‘repulsed’ by the horror found the film ‘boring’, ‘plod-
ding’ and, above all, ‘depressing’.121 Many critics spotted the changed ending
and its political significance. Representing the majority’s view on this, Milton
Shulman in the Sunday Express condemned it as ‘our own kind of double-
think’.122 However, others – on both the political right and the left – either
thought the ending was ‘more true to life’ or missed it (and the film’s other
alterations) altogether.123 This suggests that the majority of normal viewers
would themselves have been ignorant of the distorted version of Nineteen
Eighty-Four they were being presented with. It also indicates that, for all the
film’s weaknesses, a large proportion of these people would have left the
cinema having their fears of the Soviet Union confirmed.
At the box office 1984 seems to have performed poorly, despite the attrac-
tion of Orwell’s name and the notoriety of the recent television play. What
undid the film probably more than anything else was that in attempting to
straddle several genres – horror, romance, science fiction and thriller – it
merely confused too many viewers.124 This can be attributed to commercial
considerations and Columbia’s need to maximise its profits by appealing to as
wide an audience as possible. The money spent by the US government on what
ultimately looked a shabby production cannot, therefore, have been worth it.
Indeed, the project might have served as a painful lesson in the difficulties of
constructing effective propaganda when commercial and political interests
were not in unison. The final word on the film was left to Sonia Blair. Having
publicly castigated it at the time as a desecration of her husband’s intentions,
she decided to withdraw the film from circulation when the rights expired in
the mid-1970s, twenty years after their original release date. The adaptations
thenceforth became, as the London Times put it, ‘unfilms’.125

George Orwell died at a key point in the Cold War: after the conflict had begun
but before its full global dimensions had become apparent. Consequently,
despite his having spelt out in one of his last essays the desire for ‘a Socialist
United States of Europe’ independent of Russia and America,126 a myriad of
politicians, intellectuals and commentators argued for years after January 1950
about what Orwell’s stance on the Cold War would have been had he lived to
see the conflict reach maturity. While some did this out of academic curiosity,
many others did so for ideological purposes. Orwell would surely not have
94 Hollywood’s Cold War

been surprised to see his name being posthumously appropriated by state and
non-state propagandists. After all, he had himself been involved in propa-
ganda work for the BBC during the Second World War,127 and he had
approved of the IRD’s aims and techniques shortly before his death. These
experiences aside, it is still richly ironic to find a man who had made a career
out of alerting people to the black arts of political propaganda being so sys-
tematically used and abused by the media and governments during the Cold
This analysis has focused on the role played by American and British state
propagandists in the formative years of the Orwell ‘claiming game’. What
exactly the impact these propagandists had in creating Orwell’s iconic status
is debatable. To attribute the presence of dog-eared copies of Animal Farm
and Nineteen Eighty-Four in homes and libraries scattered across the world
largely to the promotional efforts of Washington and London would naturally
be absurd. Yet it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the work of the CIA,
PSB, USIA, IRD and others at least helped to lift Orwell’s profile, especially
during the Cold War’s early years. The more long-term effects of these efforts
is even more difficult to determine, but it is worth noting that by the time of
the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four
had sold almost 40 million copies in more than 60 languages, more than any
other pair of books by a serious or popular post-war author.128
In helping to convert Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four into movies,
American official propagandists undoubtedly, in turn, made the novels
more accessible, especially to the casual reader or those who rarely opened
books. Moreover doing this so secretly, to the point at which even most of
the movies’ senior production staff, let alone the viewers, were unaware of
the political machinations behind the scenes, highlights the value that
Washington attached to clandestine propaganda during the Cold War. What
also helped significantly in this respect was arranging for the films to be made
overseas. This sort of covert media management, or propaganda by proxy,
as it were, was, as we are about to see, given a high priority during the
Eisenhower years in particular. Persuading or assisting foreign film industries
to produce anti-communist propaganda had the added advantage of encour-
aging indigenous hostility towards the Soviet Union, or at least implying that
opposition to communism had found its roots in countries other than the
United States. Finally, by cleverly twisting Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen
Eighty-Four into emphatically anti-Soviet tracts on the big screen, Washington
highlighted both the malleability of even the most famous literary figures
during the Cold War, and the considerable skill and resources it was prepared
to invest in cinematic propaganda in order to win that conflict’s battle of
words and images.
Projecting a prophet for profit 95

1 Cited in Walter LaFeber, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945–1996 (New York,
1997), p. 147.
2 Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (London, 1992), p. 16.
3 Timothy Garton Ash, quoted in Peter Davison (ed.), Orwell and Politics (London,
2001), p. xi.
4 Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel (London, 1993), p. 236.
5 Ibid., p. 238.
6 Peter Lewis, George Orwell: The Road to 1984 (London, 1981), p. 1.
7 Cited in Crick, Orwell, p. 460.
8 Ibid., pp. 455–8.
9 Bradbury, British Novel, p. 282; John Rodden, The Politics of Literary Reputation: The
Making and Claiming of ‘St. George’ Orwell (New York, 1989), pp. 44–5; Fredric
Warburg, All Authors are Equal (London, 1973), pp. 35–59, 92–121.
10 Crick, Orwell, pp. 450–2, 488; Jeffrey Meyers, A Reader’s Guide to George Orwell
(London, 1975), p. 131.
11 Crick, Orwell, pp. 488–92.
12 Roderick Parkes to Ralph Murray, 25 October 1950, FO 1110/319/PR48/
82/G, TNAL; V. Puachev to George Orwell, 24 June 1949, and Celia Kirwan to
Charles Thayer, director of Voice of America, 4 November 1949, FO1110/
221/PR3361, TNAL; Crick, Orwell, p. 536; Rodden, Literary Reputation, p. 202;
Peter Davison (ed.), The Complete Works of George Orwell. Vol. XIX: It is What I
Think 1947–1948 (London, 1998), pp. 211, 224. On the IRD see Andrew Defty,
Britain, America and Anti-Communist Propaganda 1945–53: The Information Research
Department (London, 2004), and Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, Britain’s Secret
Propaganda War, 1948–1977 (Stroud, 1998).
13 Minutes by Celia Kirwan, 30 March and 6 April 1949, FO1110/189/PR1135/G,
TNAL; Crick, Orwell, pp. 483–4.
14 Ibid.; Michael Shelden, Orwell: The Authorized Biography (London, 1991), p. 468.
15 On this highly contentious debate see Peter Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy: The
Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Post-War Europe (New
York, 1989), pp. 15–16; Crick, Orwell, p. 17; Hugh Wilford, The CIA, the British
Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune? (London, 2003), pp. 57–64; Christopher
Hitchens, Orwell’s Victory (London, 2004), pp. 111–21; Scott Lucas, The Betrayal
of Dissent: Beyond Orwell, Hitchens and the New American Century (London, 2004),
pp. 2–3, 33, 52.
16 Roderick Parkes to Ralph Murray, 25 October 1950, and minutes by Murray and
Leslie Sheridan, 7 and 10 November 1950, FO1110/319/PR48/82/G, TNAL.
17 Ralph Murray circular to overseas information officers, 11 December 1950,
FO1110/365/PR127/9, TNAL; FO1110/392/PR32/14/51/G and FO1110/
392/PR32/89/G, TNAL, for details of the cartoon strip’s production and
distribution in 1951; Adam Watson’s report on IRD’s work and importance
attached to cartoons as propaganda, 15 February 1950, FO 1110/359/
PR110/5/G, TNAL.
96 Hollywood’s Cold War

18 IRD circular, 25 April 1951, FO1110/392/PR34/41/51, TNAL.

19 Evan Thomas, The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared – The Early Years of the CIA
(New York, 1995), pp. 29–30; Harry Rositzke, The CIA’s Secret Operations (New
York, 1977), pp. 149–54; John Ranelagh, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the
CIA (London, 1988), pp. 198–202, 216–24.
20 Thomas, Best Men, pp. 32–3, 63; Howard Hunt, Undercover: Memoirs of an American
Secret Agent (London, 1975), p. 70; Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, pp. 40–1.
21 Thomas, Best Men, p. 33.
22 Hunt, Undercover, p. 70; letter from Borden Mace, President of RD-DR
Corporation during the making of Animal Farm, to author, 28 March 1998.
23 Ranelagh, Agency, pp. 218–20.
24 Hixson, Curtain, pp. 14–16; Report to the President by the National Security
Council (NSC), 8 August 1951: ‘Status and Timing of Current US Programs for
National Security’, FRUS, Vol. 1, 1951 (Washington, DC, 1980), pp. 144–5; ‘Study
Prepared by the Department of State: The Information Program’, 8 August 1951,
FRUS, Vol. 1, 1951 (Washington, DC, 1980), p. 925.
25 ‘Study Prepared by the Department of State: The Information Program’,
12 October 1951, FRUS, Vol. 1, 1951 (Washington, DC, 1980), p. 948.
26 Daily Film Renter, 28 November 1951; letter from Borden Mace to author,
28 March 1998.
27 Letter from Mace to author, 28 March 1998; contract for Animal Farm between
RD-DR Corporation and Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films Ltd.,
19 November 1951, Halas and Batchelor Collection Ltd., London. Daniel Leab
argues that the OPC used Marshall Plan counterpart funds to help finance pro-
jects like Animal Farm. These funds ostensibly paid for the running costs of the
European Cooperation Administration, the body that administered the Marshall
Plan. Daniel Leab, ‘The American Government and the Filming of Animal Farm
in the 1950s’, Media History, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2006, pp. 133–55.
28 Thomas, Best Men, p. 33.
29 Martin J. Maloney to de Rochement, 3 January 1951, and Maloney to de
Rochement, Borden Mace and Lothar Wolff, 23 April 1951, de Rochement
Collection, 5716, Box 46, AHCW; letter from Borden Mace to author, 28 March
30 Production records, Animal Farm archive, Halas and Batchelor Collection,
Southampton Institute’s International Animation Archive, Southampton, UK
(hereafter SIIARA).
31 Paul Wells, ‘Dustbins, Democracy and Defence: Halas and Batchelor and the
Animated Film in Britain 1940–1947’, in Pat Kirkham and David Thoms (eds),
War Culture: Social Change and the Changing Experience in World War Two (London,
1995), pp. 61–72; Denis Gifford, British Animated Films, 1895–1985 (London,
1987), pp. 117–31.
32 Wells, ‘Dustbins’, pp. 62–5; Elaine Burrows, ‘Live Action: A Brief History of
British Animation’, in Charles Barr (ed.), All Our Yesterdays (London, 1986),
pp. 272–85.
Projecting a prophet for profit 97

33 Wells, ‘Dustbins’, pp. 70–1. One contemporary source noted that Chancellor of
the Exchequer Stafford Cripps was so pleased with Robinson Charley, which
explained Britain’s economic problems, that he showed it to Ambassador Averill
Harriman, head of the ECA’s Paris headquarters, who took a copy to New York,
where de Rochement saw it. Yorkshire Evening Post, 15 December 1951.
34 Central Office of Information Review: Documentary Films (London, 1948), p. 28.
35 Hemsing, ‘Marshall’; John Halas’s unpublished autobiography, pp. 18–19, Halas
and Batchelor Collection Ltd., London.
36 Karl Cohn, ‘Toontown’s Reds: HUAC’s Investigation of Alleged Communists
in the Animation Industry’, Film History, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1993, pp. 190–203.
37 John Halas’ unpublished autobiography, p. 19, Halas and Batchelor Collection
Ltd., London; production records, Animal Farm archive, Halas and Batchelor
Collection, SIIARA; author’s correspondence with Harold Whitaker, Stroud-
based animator of Animal Farm, 25 February 1998.
38 Roger Manvell, The Animated Film: With Pictures from the Film ‘Animal Farm’ by
Halas and Batchelor (London, 1954), p. 5.
39 Production records, Animal Farm archive, Halas and Batchelor Collection,
SIIARA; Manvell, Animated Film, pp. 5, 11.
40 Tabulation of Animal Farm characters, photographs of rough storyboard and
synopsis, Animal Farm archive, Halas and Batchelor Collection, SIIARA.
41 Contract for Animal Farm between RD-DR Corporation and Halas and
Batchelor Cartoon Films Ltd., 19 November 1951, Halas and Batchelor
Collection Ltd., London; letter from Borden Mace to author, 28 March 1998.
42 Notes on discussion of script changes, September and October 1951, and on
changes made in dialogue and timing, September 1952, Animal Farm archive,
Halas and Batchelor Collection, SIIARA.
43 John Halas’ unpublished autobiography, p. 18, Halas and Batchelor Collection
Ltd., London.
44 Coleman, Conspiracy, pp. 61, 77, 145–6; Warburg, Authors, pp. 154–7; author’s
correspondence with Daniel Bell and Melvin J. Lasky, CCF members in the
1950s, September and November 1997; Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?,
pp. 109–11.
45 Warburg, Authors, pp. 154–7; Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, pp. 109–11, passim.
46 Letter from John Halas to Warburg, 12 November 1952, Animal Farm archive,
Halas and Batchelor Collection, SIIARA.
47 Crick, Orwell, pp. 560, 567. Secker and Warburg published an illustrated edition
of Animal Farm based on the film in 1954
48 Daily Film Renter, 28 November 1951.
49 De Rochement’s letter to Halas and Batchelor, 1 December 1952, Animal Farm
archive, Halas and Batchelor Collection, SIIARA.
50 Directive by the President to the Secretary of State (Acheson), Secretary of
Defence (Marshall) and Director of Central Intelligence (Smith), 4 April 1951,
FRUS, Vol. 1, 1951 (Washington, DC, 1980), pp. 58–60. The PSB was disbanded
in 1953.
98 Hollywood’s Cold War

51 Department of State Bulletin, 18 February 1952; Study prepared by the Department

of State, 12 October 1951 – ‘The Information Program’, and memorandum to
the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (Barrett), 13 November 1951,
FRUS, Vol. 1, 1951 (Washington, DC, 1980), pp. 948, 957–9.
52 Turner Shelton, Motion Picture Service, to Cecil B. DeMille, 11 May 1953, cited
in Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, p. 289.
53 Memorandum on impact of United States commercial films abroad sent by
Irwin to Craig, 13 October 1952, United States Declassified Document Reference System
(Washington, DC, 1976–96) (hereafter DDRS) 1989, 562; memorandum from
John Sherman to PSB director concerning Capra movie idea, 7 September 1951,
DDRS 1996, 514; Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, pp. 289–90. For the support
given by the CIA in this period to Abstract Expressionism, the American avant-
garde, in order to enhance American cultural prestige abroad, see Michael L.
Krenn, Fall-Out Shelters for the Human Spirit: American Art and the Cold War (Chapel
Hill, NC, 2005).
54 Wallace Carroll during this period was acting assistant director of the PSB’s
Office of Plans and Policy, and executive news editor of the Winston-Salem,
North Carolina, Journal and Sentinel. Carroll believed that it was the PSB’s ‘mani-
fest destiny’ to ignite a campaign whose ultimate objective was the ‘rollback of
Soviet power’. For this and the PSB’s priorities in early 1952 see Lucas,
‘Campaigns of Truth’, pp. 279–302; Hixson, Curtain, pp. 18–19; Carroll’s sug-
gestions of how to make PSB more effective, 12 September 1951, DDRS 1991,
1683; Carroll’s procedures for PSB panels, 22 January 1952, DDRS 1992, 1691.
On the links between Carroll, the CIA and the American press during the 1940s
and 1950s see Elke Von Cassel, ‘In Search of a Clear and Overarching American
Policy: The Reporter Magazine (1949–1968), the US Government and the Cold
War’, in Laville and Wilford (eds), Citizen Groups, pp. 116–40.
55 Richard Hirsch, PSB, to Tracy Barnes, ‘Comment on “Animal Farm” script’,
23 January 1952, PSB Index Files 062.2., Harry S. Truman Library,
Independence, Missouri.
56 Lucas, ‘Campaigns of Truth’, p. 290.
57 This emphasis on the simplicity of the propaganda message also surfaced in
January 1952 during the PSB’s consideration of an enhanced role for literature as
an anti-communist weapon. Cleverly distributed, clearly written and effectively
subsidised, ‘a literature of counter-ideology’ would spell out ‘the lie inherent in
Soviet propaganda’. Godel to Barnes, 14 January 1952, DDRS 1991, 1113.
58 Sallie Pisani, The CIA and the Marshall Plan (Edinburgh, 1991), pp. 132–3. Tracy
Barnes, PSB deputy director, had formerly been on the OPC payroll and was a
personal friend of Frank Wisner’s from his days as a Wall Street lawyer in the
1930s. See Thomas, Best Men, pp. 83–4.
59 George Orwell, Animal Farm (Harmondsworth, 1980), p. 88.
60 Ibid., p. 120.
61 Patrick Murray, Companion to Animal Farm (Dublin, 1985), p. 39; Crick, Orwell,
p. 451.
Projecting a prophet for profit 99

62 Manvell, Animated Film, p. 19; script change discussions, March and November
1952, Animal Farm archive, Halas and Batchelor Collection, SIIARA; author’s
correspondence with Vivian Halas, the filmmakers’ daughter, February 1998.
63 Northern Echo, 12 January 1955; The Times, 17 March 1955.
64 Letter from Borden Mace to author, 28 March 1998.
65 John Halas’ unpublished autobiography, section dated 29 April 1994, Halas and
Batchelor Collection Ltd., London.
66 Kinematograph Weekly, 13 January 1955.
67 Commentary, February 1955, p. 157; Encounter, March 1955, pp. 35–7.
68 New York Daily News, cited in Yorkshire Evening Post, 10 January 1955; Catholic
Herald, cited in Films and Filming, March 1955.
69 Tablet, 22 January 1955.
70 Glasgow Herald, 12 January 1955.
71 The Times, 11 February 1955.
72 Universe, 21 January 1955.
73 Sol Stein, ACCF executive director, letter to Paris Theater manager, 5 January 1955;
Stein memorandum concerning discount coupons for Animal Farm, 11 January
1955; Murray Baron circular to trade unions, 17 January 1955; Borden Mace letter
to Stein concerning MGM distribution, 14 January 1955: Box 8, folder 2, ACCF
archives, Tamiment Library, New York University (hereafter TLNYU).
74 H. A. H. Cortazzi to Douglas Williams, 28 January 1955, FO 1110/740/
PR124/3/G, TNAL; Information Section Saigon Embassy to Information
Policy Department, 9 March 1955, FO 1110/740/PR124/6/G, TNAL.
75 Whitaker’s letter to author, 25 February 1998.
76 Author’s interview with Whitaker, 7 April 1998; Rodden, Literary Reputation,
p. 445.
77 John Baxter, Science Fiction in the Cinema (London, 1979), p. 99.
78 International newspaper cuttings scrapbook, Animal Farm archive, Halas and
Batchelor Collection, SIIARA.
79 Le Figaro, 20 January 1955.
80 Hunt, Undercover, p. 70; Hixson, Curtain, pp. 87–119.
81 Rodden, Literary Reputation, pp. 382–98.
82 Warburg, Authors, pp. 114–15.
83 Bradbury, British Novel, p. 284; Lewis, Orwell, p. 112.
84 Crick, Orwell, pp. 563–70, 603–4; Shelden, Orwell, pp. 470–4.
85 Nineteen Eighty-Four had evolved in Orwell’s mind over many years but was
written principally between late 1947 and spring 1949.
86 Rodden, Literary Reputation, pp. 202, 210–11; Arch Puddington, Broadcasting
Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (Lexington,
KY, 2000), pp. 12–13, 67; Lucas, Freedom’s War, pp. 100–4, 253–5. Garton Ash
in Davison (ed.), Orwell and Politics, pp. xi–xii; Dan Jacobsen, ‘The Invention of
“Orwell” ’, Times Literary Supplement, 21 August 1998, p. 3.
87 Luce wielded his publications empire as a powerful anti-Soviet instrument in the
Cold War. His contacts in officialdom were legion, and included the post-war
100 Hollywood’s Cold War

vice-president of Time, Inc., C. D. Jackson, who in early 1953 had been

appointed Special Assistant for psychological operations by Eisenhower. See
Richard Herzstein, Henry R. Luce: A Political Portrait of the Man Who Created the
American Century (New York, 1994).
88 Donald McCormick, Approaching 1984 (London, 1980), pp. 12–13; Crick, Orwell,
pp. 564–5, 568.
89 Minute by IRD’s Editorial Adviser, 21 February 1955, FO1110/738/PR121/
68/G, TNAL; Rodden, Literary Reputation, p. 434.
90 Alan Sinfield, Literature, Politics and Culture in Post-War Britain (London, 1997),
pp. 99, 102.
91 Such was the relationship between NBC executives and the government in the
1950s that programmes such as Battle Report – Washington, a news series covering
the Korean War, were produced in the White House. Bernhard, Television News,
pp. 48, 115–31, 155–77.
92 Rodden, Literary Reputation, p. 274.
93 Ibid.
94 Television Drama 1984 (1954), File 1, T5/362/1, BBC Written Archive Centre,
Reading, UK (hereafter BBC WAC); Manchester Guardian, 14 December 1954. BBC
Radio had adapted Animal Farm in 1947 and 1952, and Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1950.
95 Television Drama 1984 (1954), File 2, BBC WAC T5/362/2; Television
Programmes, 1953–4, Press Cuttings P6555, Book 14a, BBC WAC; Transcript
of Panorama, 15 December 1954, BBC WAC; Rodden, Literary Reputation,
pp. 274–80.
96 Lashmar and Oliver, Propaganda, pp. 57–65.
97 Daily Express, 14 December 1954, in Television Programmes, 1953–4, Press
Cuttings P6555, Book 14a, BBC WAC.
98 The Times, 16 December 1954; New Statesman, 18 December, 1954: Television
Programmes, 1953–4, Press Cuttings P6555, Book 14a, BBC WAC; Isaac
Deutscher, ‘1984 – Mysticism of Cruelty’, reprinted in his Heretics and Renegades,
and Other Essays (London, 1955), p. 35.
99 See USIA report on film propaganda, 19 January 1954, DDRS 1986, 893; Daily
Film Renter, 23 December 1954; Daily Mail, 22 December 1954; News Chronicle,
4 July 1955; Daily Herald, 5 August 1955; Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?,
pp. 288–9, 295. The USIA’s Motion Picture Service is analysed in greater detail
in Chapter 6.
100 Ceplair and Englund, Inquisition, pp. 330–1, 335, 337–8.
101 Sunday Citizen, 14 October 1962.
102 Coleman, Conspiracy, pp. 48–9, 159–70; Alan M. Wald, The New York Intellectuals:
The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s (Chapel Hill,
NC, 1987), pp. 268–78; Michael Ciment, Kazan on Kazan (London, 1973),
pp. 83–101; Stein’s letter to Sidney Kingsley, 28 March 1955, Box 8, folder 8,
ACCF archives, TLNYU.
103 Darkness at Noon, 1954–5, Box 8, folder 8; Nightmare in Red, 1956, Box 8,
folder 19; The Wages of Fear, 1955, Box 14, folder 8: ACCF archives, TLNYU.
Projecting a prophet for profit 101

104 Coleman, Conspiracy, pp. 71–2; Sidney Hook, Out of Step: An Unquiet Life in the
Twentieth Century (New York, 1987), pp. 423–31.
105 Wald, Intellectuals, pp. 268–71; William O’Neill, A Better World: The Great Schism –
Stalinism and the American Intellectuals (New York, 1982), pp. 305–6; Alexander
Bloom, Prodigal Sons: The New York Intellectuals and their World (Oxford, 1986),
pp. 259–73, 371. Stein was ACCF executive director 1953–6, and a member of
the Executive Committee of American Friends of Captive Nations. From 1951
to 1953 he had acted as an ideological adviser to the VOA in the US State
106 Stein’s letter to Rathvon, 31 January 1955, Box 4, folder 11, ACCF archives,
TLNYU; Stein’s correspondence with author, 28 April 1998.
107 Daily Herald, 5 August 1955; Shelden, Orwell, p. 468; Michael Redgrave, In My
Mind’s Eye: An Autobiography (London, 1983), pp. 135–43.
108 1984 micro-jacket, BFIL.
109 George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (Harmondsworth, 1973), pp. 150ff.
110 For the links between Nineteen Eighty-Four and James Burnham’s The Managerial
Revolution (1941), which prophesied a tripartite division of the world, each unit
ruled by a self-elected oligarchy, see Crick, Orwell, pp. 494, 566; Robert Hewison,
In Anger: Culture in the Cold War, 1945–1960 (London, 1981), p. 43.
111 Stein’s letter to Rathvon, 31 January 1955, Box 4, folder 11, ACCF archives,
112 Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, pp. 204, 211.
113 Ibid., p. 59; Shelden, Orwell, pp. 476–8.
114 Stein’s letter to Rathvon, 31 January 1955, Box 4, folder 11, ACCF archives,
TLNYU. Stein recommended that the film end with Winston Smith dreaming
of other rebellious lovers and, counting his fingers, knowing that two plus two
still made four despite O’Brien’s torturing.
115 The ending of the film released in the United States largely corresponded with
Orwell’s book, with Winston and Julia estranged and the two of them express-
ing their love for Big Brother. A final, omniscient voice-over warns the viewer
of the dangers of totalitarianism, in effect tacking on an affirmative didactic
message. Owing to the lack of production records it is not entirely clear why two
endings with different messages were made. It seems that the BBC flap
prompted Columbia Pictures, the distributors, to shoot two endings, one faith-
ful to the novel and the other more hopeful. The latter was also intended for the
American market but was switched despite the director’s protests. For a (posi-
tive) review of the American version see New York Times, 1 October 1956. For
the decisions on the two endings see The Times, 10 March 1957, p. 7.
116 Daily Mail, 27 February 1956.
117 Crick, Orwell, pp. 551, 554. On Blair’s reaction see Daily Mail, 22 December 1954
and 1 March 1956; Sight and Sound, Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring 1984.
118 Daily Telegraph, 2 March 1956; Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1956.
119 Sight and Sound, Vol. 25, No. 4, Spring 1956; The Times, 1 March 1956; Sight and
Sound, Vol. 27, No. 6, Autumn 1958.
102 Hollywood’s Cold War

120 Daily Telegraph, 2 March 1956.

121 News Chronicle, 2 March 1956; Star, 2 March 1956; Sunday Times, 4 March 1956;
Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1956.
122 Sunday Express, 4 March 1956.
123 Daily Herald, 2 March 1956; Daily Mail, 1 March 1956.
124 Sight and Sound, Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring 1984; New Statesman, 10 March 1956.
125 The Times, 15 November 1983.
126 George Orwell, ‘Toward European Unity’, Partisan Review, July–August 1947,
reproduced in Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (eds), The Collected Essays, Journalism
and Letters of George Orwell. Vol. IV: In Front of Your Nose 1945–50 (London,
1968), pp. 370–6.
127 W. J. West (ed.), Orwell: The War Commentaries (London, 1985).
128 Rodden, Literary Reputation, p.16.

Of gods and moguls

The whole world is torn by a great political issue – Freedom or Slavery, which
means Americanism or Totalitarianism.
Ayn Rand, Screen Guide for Americans (Beverly Hills, CA, 1950), p. 2
It is the near future. Chris Cronyn, a Californian scientist (played by Peter
Graves), claims to have established contact with Mars using a hydrogen-
powered radio transmitter. The scientist who originally invented the trans-
mitter, Nazi criminal Franz Calder (Herbert Berghof), is then sprung from jail
by the Russians and from a laboratory hidden in the Andes begins to spy on
the American’s communications. When news spreads that the aliens have con-
firmed their existence to Cronyn by completing the mathematical formula for
pi, Mars mania breaks out across the world. When it is subsequently revealed
that the Martians run a perfect economy using only atomic energy, pandemo-
nium ensues. The West’s mining and oil industries fold, banks close, and
Moscow gloats over the imminent collapse of capitalism.
On the brink of chaos, the Earth learns that Mars is also a Christian-like
society, ruled by a ‘Supreme Leader’ whose teachings parallel those of the
Sermon on the Mount. This revelation prompts a religious revival on Earth
and a new revolution in Russia, where pious peasants inspired by Voice of
America broadcasts throw out the communists and crown an elderly patriarch
as their new ruler. The story ends on a bittersweet note. After a fight, Chris,
his wife and Calder are killed in a laboratory explosion. Despite this, the
American President (Willis Bouchey, made up to resemble Dwight D.
Eisenhower) is able to announce that the faith of the world has been saved,
and that peace now reigns.
Few films capture the personal and political paranoia so often associated
with McCarthyite Hollywood better than Harry Horner’s Red Planet Mars,
described by one British critic at the time of its opening in 1952 as ‘a
grotesque, almost insane fantasy, told in deadly earnest’.1 Even fewer films
threw all their Cold War eggs – anti-communism, ambivalence towards
science, terrestrial and extraterrestrial ‘alienation’, and the power of religion –
into a single, preposterous basket. Yet Red Planet Mars was only one of many
ways in which filmmakers on both sides of the Iron Curtain linked religion
104 Hollywood’s Cold War

The Cold War – a conflict without bounds: publicity poster for Red Planet Mars (1952). United
Artists/The Kobal Collection.

with domestic and international politics in the 1950s. In September 1955, the
esteemed critic Catherine de la Roche drew attention to the frequently recur-
ring and interacting themes of religion, war and anti-communism in British
and American films of the period. In the British journal Films and Filming, she
This can hardly be coincidental. Many people, including some in Hollywood,
believe that the Cold War is fundamentally a conflict between Christianity and
atheism and that religion is therefore a strong weapon against Communism.
Whether the pictures dealing with these three subjects are deliberate pro-
paganda or not, they belong to the same, easily recognisable, pattern of
ideas. . . . The best propaganda, of course, is indirect, hardly noticeable. How
many of us, I wonder, have not been taken in by any of it?2
Taking de la Roche’s speculations as a cue, this chapter examines
Hollywood’s remarkable appetite for religious storylines in the 1950s within
two distinct but interlocking contexts: the spiritual revival that swept the
United States during that decade, and Washington’s attempts to project the
Cold War as a Manichean struggle between Good and Evil. America’s Cold
War state–film network was at the peak of its powers in the 1950s, and included
some of the biggest movie moguls in history. Legendary producer-director
Of gods and moguls 105

Cecil B. DeMille stood at the very hub of the network, and, as we shall see,
tried harder than arguably any other filmmaker to ‘sanctify’ liberal capitalism,
most notably through blockbusters like The Ten Commandments (1956). What
this biblical epic and the other films analysed below help to illustrate is the
more constructive and ideologically charged dimension of the Unites States’
Cold War propaganda campaign. During the 1950s and beyond, many film-
makers and politicians recognised the need to do more than just bang the anti-
communist drum via movies like Walk East on Beacon or present the West as a
consumers’ paradise through pictures like Ninotchka. America’s ‘crusade for
freedom’ – the central trope of US Cold War rhetoric – meant projecting
democracy’s spiritual as well as material values, both to doubters at home
and to the uninitiated overseas. However, overt preaching had to be avoided if
possible, lest it make America appear absolutist. Allegorical techniques were
one way of avoiding this, by encouraging audiences to imbibe the message


There is no clear way to arrive at a precise assessment of the role of religion
in the Cold War. It seems safe to conclude that most people, especially in the
West, viewed the conflict in diplomatic and political terms. Yet religion was not
an insignificant determinant, especially for those who were tempted to see the
battle between communism and capitalism as a latter-day morality play, and in
those countries, like Pope John Paul II’s Poland, where the traditional author-
ity of the church clashed with the enhanced powers of a reconfigured state.3
One of the main planks of Bolshevik propaganda after October 1917 was
its campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church, in line with Marxist-
Leninist doctrine that religion was a product of social oppression and
economic exploitation. During the 1920s Russian communists widely dis-
seminated what they termed ‘scientific-educational’ propaganda, including
vicious anti-clerical literature and films designed to ‘liberate the toiling masses
from religious prejudices’ and rid the state of one of the chief rivals to its all-
embracing ideology. Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1927), for example, commis-
sioned by the Soviet government to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the
Bolshevik Revolution, showed the Orthodox Church and its followers to be
primitive and corrupt.4 During Stalin’s reign these anti-clerical attacks gath-
ered pace, especially during the great purges of 1936–9, buttressed by the
rituals and ceremonials of a ‘cult of leadership’ which were partially designed
to appeal to the spiritual traditions of many Russian people.5
With the onset of a fully fledged Cold War in the late 1940s, Soviet film-
makers were ordered to place a heightened emphasis on the moral superiority
106 Hollywood’s Cold War

of the communist system, rather than simply focusing on its economic and
political advantages. This heralded a renewed assault on Russia’s alternative
spiritual forces, notably the church. Films such as Conspiracy of the Doomed
(Mikhail Kalatozov, 1950) and Dawn over the Neman (A. Faintsimmer, 1953) por-
trayed church dignitaries as American-backed Vatican spies prepared to go to
any lengths to prevent ‘progress’, from poisoning collective farm crops to
coercing Balkan nations into joining the Marshall Plan.6
Official and unofficial propagandists in the West were equally quick to play
the religious card in the early years of the cultural Cold War. In the immedi-
ate aftermath of the Bolsheviks’ rise to power, sections of the American and
British press denounced communists as murderous blasphemers, while the-
atrical productions such as R. Grahame’s The Bolshevik Peril, staged in London
in 1919, warned of the spiritual and sexual depravity inherent in communist
rule.7 After 1945, the persecution of religion under ‘godless communism’
became one of the most emotive themes of Cold War discourse in the United
States. Many American policy-makers assumed a missionary mentality, seeing
the Soviet Union as not just an enemy but something akin to the anti-Christ.8
In 1950, John Foster Dulles, a Presbyterian minister’s son and US Secretary of
State 1953–9, decried the ‘materialistic’ bent of American society, and called
instead for a ‘righteous and dynamic faith’ in the nation’s fight against com-
munism. Three years later, his brother Allen, Director of the CIA between
1953 and 1961, explained to the Council on Foreign Relations the need for a
new ‘Magna Carta of Freedom’ around which the West could rally. To many
conservative Protestants and Catholics in the United States, Americans were
in effect the chosen people, those who believed in the holy trinity of God,
Democracy and Freedom. Their ‘way of life’ was the model for all others, and
was currently threatened, they believed, by the kingdom of hell on earth: what
Ronald Reagan would later call the ‘evil empire’ of the Soviet Union. ‘It is only
through religion that we can lick this thing called Communism’, intoned
Eisenhower in 1953, whose inaugural parade that year was led by a ‘float for
In line with this belief that the Cold War was at root a moral contest, the
State Department, FBI, CIA and USIA took every opportunity to contrast the
West and its ‘gospel’ of religious tolerance with the ‘fanatic faith’ of those in
the East led by their ‘pseudo-Gods’ in the Kremlin. Voice of America (VOA),
the US government’s official broadcasting service, together with Radio Free
Europe and Radio Liberty, both secretly funded by the CIA, consistently
sought to mobilise the great spiritual resources that were still thought to exist
behind the Iron Curtain despite Moscow’s clampdown on the churches in
Eastern and Central Europe.10 Such language and action reaffirmed a
Manichean perspective on the Cold War for many Christian activists in the
Of gods and moguls 107

United States, who believed that the fight to protect theological freedom in
the East would in turn help to revitalise democracy’s own moral and spiritual
All of this tied in with the remarkable resurgence of organised religion
in the United States in the early 1950s, a phenomenon which resulted in
an enhanced political role for Christian pressure groups who defined
Americanism in religious terms. In 1954, Congress created a Prayer Room for
its members, and America became a nation – according to its newly modified
Pledge of Allegiance – ‘under God’. In 1956, the House of Representatives
and Senate unanimously made ‘In God We Trust’ the national motto, and in
1957 church attendance in the US reached an all-time high. At a time when
there was a steady attrition of religious belief in many other countries, one
sociologist, Will Herberg, remarked in 1960 that religion probably played a
greater role in the United States than in any other modern industrial state.
Amidst these fears and hopes, in American popular culture religion became
discursively associated with ‘liberty’, ‘democracy’ and ‘Western civilisation’,
and held in sharp contradistinction to the amalgam of ‘atheism, barbarism
and totalitarianism’ that was communism.11
As religion tightened its grip on Cold War America, so the White House
sharpened the nation’s propaganda tools. During the Truman presidency, as
befits a nation going to war, Washington had focused predominantly on nega-
tive, scare-mongering, anti-communist propaganda. However, on coming to
office in 1953 Eisenhower told publicity officials that he was ‘tired of just plain
indictments of the Soviet regime’, and ordered them to go on a charm
offensive instead to accentuate the West’s moral, political and economic strong
points. In tandem with this more creative philosophy and his belief that the
United States could boast ‘the finest civilisation the world has known’,
Eisenhower did more than any other chief executive before or since to cen-
tralise and expand the US’s capability to wage war at the psychological level.12
Three new propaganda mechanisms were established. Overseas propa-
ganda operations were centralised in the USIA; an Operations Coordinating
Board (OCB) injected psychological considerations into the formulation of
national security policies; and a presidential adviser, C. D. Jackson, a former
OWI operative and vice-president of Time, Inc., was appointed to oversee the
US propaganda effort and to generate new ideas for psychological warfare ini-
tiatives.13 Officials quickly tied religion to Eisenhower’s drive for a more pos-
itive, constructive propaganda strategy. The OCB established a subcommittee
on the ‘religious factor’ and enlisted religious leaders and organisations to
emphasise the ‘spiritual roots of freedom’. The USIA created an Office of
Religious Information instituting publications and radio programmes that
presented the US overseas as a land of spiritual and religious vitality, and
108 Hollywood’s Cold War

where peoples of diverse religious beliefs lived in peace with complete

freedom of worship.14 This was part of a wider strategy of spreading the ide-
ology of ‘freedom’, either overtly by the USIA, or, in order to avoid allega-
tions of official indoctrination, by working through private bodies using
unattributable materials.15
Film was assigned a central role in this new thinking. Immediate efforts
were made to ‘influence’ commercial movie production ‘in order to increase
its contribution to the national information programme’. Renewed energy
was also spent on inspiring or assisting in the production of propaganda
films ‘unattributably’ overseas.16 Within a year, C. D. Jackson could list an
impressive number of government ‘friends’ in Hollywood, including Spyros
P. Skouras and Darryl Zanuck at Twentieth Century-Fox; Nicholas Schenck
and Dore Schary at MGM; Barney Balaban and Cecil B. DeMille at
Paramount; Harry and Jack Warner; James B. Grainger, president of RKO;
Universal’s president, Milton Rackmail; Columbia Pictures President Harry
Cohn; Herbert Yates at Republic; Walt and Roy Disney; and Eric Johnston of
the Motion Picture Association of America.17 By the end of the 1950s, the
CIA had grown adept at secretly financing the distribution of foreign-made
films in regions of the world considered vulnerable to communism. One
project involved the agency entering into partnership with the Family Rosary
Crusade, a worldwide movement led by the famous Irish-American priest
Father Patrick Peyton, in order to disseminate Spanish-made films extolling
the virtues of family prayer throughout Latin America.18
At the same time as this, the USIA and CIA increased official measures to
correct the ‘distorted’ picture that Hollywood movies often gave of American
life to overseas audiences. Like Eisenhower, Luigi Luraschi, the CIA’s conduit
at Paramount, took the view that the exporting of positive ‘American values’
was every bit as important as explicitly anti-communist messages, and cen-
sored production material accordingly. Luraschi’s authority to impede the
development of dubious, particularly left-wing, projects was underpinned by
his militant Catholicism. In 1953, Eric Johnston introduced further checks on
film content via a five-point programme that included strengthening MPAA
contact with the State Department and foreign embassies and ministries in
order to ensure that scripts handled foreign characters and situations with
greater understanding.19 A 1960 report on US information activities commis-
sioned by Eisenhower noted that the USIA maintained a liaison with
Hollywood ‘to reduce the negative impact abroad of US commercial films and
to improve their positive impact’. This ‘delicate and highly confidential’ rela-
tionship with ‘the more responsible producers and producing organizations’,
the report concluded, enabled the USIA ‘to exercise influence on almost all
elements of the theatrical motion picture industry’.20
Of gods and moguls 109


Religious issues appeared in an unprecedented variety of guises and genres in
American movies in the late forties and fifties. To attribute this entirely to the
Cold War or to government manipulation of the film industry would be falla-
cious. After all, Hollywood had been making money out of religion for
decades,21 and the revival of religious consciousness after 1945 offered further
opportunities for commercial exploitation. That said, it is striking just how
many films blended spiritual and geopolitical concerns during this period.
Many of these productions at the very least provided a religious framework for
contemporary political and social matters. Some explicitly encouraged film-
goers to see the Cold War as a conflict in which capitalism, anti-communism
and Christianity were synonymous, and in which neutral bystanders could be
construed as opponents of the West’s divinely ordained mission.
As we have already seen, movies like Leo McCarey’s My Son John, released
at the height of the McCarthyite witch-hunts, stressed communism’s utter
incompatibility with Christian family virtues, and were littered with crude
religious symbolism. Other dramas like William Wellman’s The Next Voice
You Hear (1950), in which God appeals on the radio to suburban America to
count its middle-class blessings, interlinked Christianity, the family and con-
sumerism.22 Heroic characters in European-set espionage thrillers would
often hold strong (though not overpowering) religious beliefs. In Nunnally
Johnson’s Night People (1954), for example, a kidnapping yarn set in West
Berlin, the reminiscences of Gregory Peck’s US army officer, Colonel Steve
Van Dyke, about his home-town church clearly identify him as a Catholic.23
Science-fiction fantasies like the aforementioned Red Planet Mars endorsed
Christianity as both the embodiment of American values and the set of beliefs
best suited for defeating communism.
Holy men (and women, occasionally) featured in a plethora of cinematic
settings, affirming the church’s protective role either in the Cold War specific-
ally or in Western society more generally. Recanting American subversives
would often turn to priests for help, especially if they were doubly guilty of
rejecting the church in favour of the communists, like Mollie O’Flaherty
(Barbra Fuller) in Republic’s The Red Menace (1949).24 In Elia Kazan’s On the
Waterfront (1954), the moral support given by Karl Malden’s quintessential
liberal Catholic priest, Father Barry, to the trade-union informant Terry
Malloy (Marlon Brando) had the effect, according to one historian, of con-
verting a Judas figure into a symbol of Christ.25 The butch William Holden
starred as an unlikely priest in Leo McCarey’s Satan Never Sleeps (1961), a tale
of missionary heroism during the Chinese Civil War. Meanwhile, Second
World War adventure movies like John Huston’s Heaven Knows Mr Allison
110 Hollywood’s Cold War

(1957), in which Deborah Kerr’s nun and Robert Mitchum’s marine outwit the
Japanese invaders of a small Pacific island, reminded viewers of the recent
victory Christianity and democracy had enjoyed over fascism.26
There were also plenty of real-life characters whose activities Hollywood
deemed worthy of screen treatment during this period. Financed by the
Lutheran churches of Germany and the United States, Irving Pichel’s dra-
matic biopic Martin Luther (1953) switched the focus from the Catholics’ to
the Protestants’ historic role as the guardians of Western civilisation. The film
was a critical and commercial success worldwide.27 Henry Koster’s dreary yet
equally popular A Man Called Peter (1955) recounted the life of Peter Marshall
(played by Richard Todd), a Scottish clergyman who became chaplain to the
US Senate.28 Douglas Sirk’s Battle Hymn (1957) had a clearer Cold War focus,
and centred on the story of Colonel Dean Hess (Rock Hudson), a pastor-
turned-fighter pilot who had rescued a large number of Korean War
Cinema accorded a special privilege to Cardinal Jószef Mindszenty, the
post-war Catholic Primate of Hungary, who was the subject of two movies
and a television drama. Mindszenty had been arrested in December 1948 as
part of the Stalinist regime’s policy of subjugating the church to the state.
Charged with treason and currency offences, he ‘confessed’ all at his dramatic
trial in February 1949 and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Media cover-
age of the trial, actively promoted by official propagandists in Washington and
London, provided many in the West with compelling images of communist
injustice and Catholic suffering, and helped establish Mindszenty as the model
of clerical ‘martyrdom’ in the United States in the 1950s.30 Felix Feist’s
‘B’ movie, Guilty of Treason (1950), dealt with the Mindszenty case by focusing
on the gruesome torturing to death of a Hungarian music teacher (played by
Bonita Granville, herself a victim of the Hungarian communist regime) who
refuses to let her class sign petitions for the cardinal’s arrest, and attributed
Mindszenty’s cardinal’s trial confession to hypnosis.31 Peter Glenville’s The
Prisoner (1955) was a more ambitious and commercially successful project.
Financed by Columbia but made in Britain with a predominantly English cast,
it attracted considerable interest on both sides of the Atlantic, not least
because playing Mindszenty inspired the famous actor Alec Guinness to
convert to Catholicism. The Prisoner accused the communists of having ‘brain-
washed’ Mindszenty, thereby helping to confirm the growing Western per-
ception of communism as an insidious form of mind control that induced
‘robot-like enslavement’.32
By the time The Prisoner appeared, the United States and Western Europe
were in fact experiencing something akin to a full-scale ‘brainwashing scare’.
This phenomenon was linked partly to the highly publicised East European
Of gods and moguls 111

God versus evil: in a thinly veiled re-enactment of the 1949 Mindszenty show trial, interrogator and
‘brainwasher’ (Jack Hawkins, centre) humiliates the cardinal (Alec Guinness) before the ‘people’s court’.
The Prisoner (1955). Columbia Pictures/Stills, Posters and Designs Division of the British Film

show trials of the late 1940s and early 1950s, in which senior communists
admitted ludicrous crimes, and partly to the ‘change’ that some Western
POWs underwent at the hands of their communist captors during the Korean
War. In response to these and other events, the CIA helped to produce dozens
of books and articles on what Allen Dulles called ‘brain warfare’, with the
intention of demonising the ‘Communist conspiracy’ and warning of a mono-
lithic aggressor that targeted the very centre of the free self. Among the
movies that played on the Korean War brainwashing theme in the mid-1950s
were Lewis Seiler’s The Bamboo Prison (1955), which also incorporated an
American communist disguised as a POW camp’s chaplain (and hence was
banned in several US states). Two others, Arnold Laven’s The Rack (1956) and
John Frankenheimer’s highly acclaimed, complex conspiracy thriller The
Manchurian Candidate, which appeared a little later, in 1962, appeared to
support writer Philip Wylie’s influential notion of ‘Momism’ – the idea
that America had opened the door to communism by raising a generation
of effeminised young men who were excessively attached to their mothers.
112 Hollywood’s Cold War

These men were thought to have profound psychological weaknesses, which

political brainwashers exploited.33
Not everything on screen was sweetness and seeing the light. The power
of conservative groups like the Catholic Legion of Decency was waning in
the 1950s, as signalled by the US Supreme Court’s declaration in 1952, centred
on Roberto Rossellini’s Italian-made The Miracle (1948), that it was unconsti-
tutional for government bodies to impose religious orthodoxies on film or any
other art.34 Yet the Legion’s well-established authority in Hollywood, and the
fact that one of Joseph Breen’s two key ‘deputies’ at the PCA, Jack Vizzard,
was a devout Catholic, meant it was still very difficult to make films that chal-
lenged traditional Christian values during the decade.35 A few films offering
criticisms of religious excess did squeeze past the censors, but even these still
asserted the presence of religion. Those movies that juxtaposed religion and
science are a case in point.
Nuclear weapons developments went hand in hand with Christian evan-
gelism in this period, particularly in the United States, as fears of thermonu-
clear destruction fuelled apocalyptic predictions from well-known evangelical
preachers like Billy Graham, who called on their congregations to make their
peace with God before it was too late.36 Films played a significant part in medi-
ating these emotions, combining science-fiction images that depicted The
End of the World as Nigh with others which provided glimpses of The
Meaning of Life and Life After Death. In some of these films, religion might
yield to science, as in Byron Haskins’ Conquest of Space (1955), which depicted
a soldier hero who deteriorates into a religious fanatic blindly opposed to
rocket research. On other occasions, religion could be used to chastise science:
in Kurt Neumann’s The Fly (1958), the Faustian mad scientist is warned not to
interfere with God’s work. By portraying scientists as troublesome idealists or
villainous obstructionists of the state, rather than the progressive saviours of
Mankind, the majority of images helped act as a counter to those who argued
that science had rendered Christianity superfluous.37


While some movies looked rather uncertainly into the future, others turned to
the past. Prior to the Cold War, Hollywood filmmakers had a long tradition of
using history for political purposes. Some of the most prestigious propaganda
films of the Second World War, for example, had mythologised Great War
heroes in order to cast a positive light on the conflict against fascism, among
them Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York (1941) and Henry King’s Wilson (1944).38
During the 1950s, American filmmakers saw history as an opportunity to
advance or critique contemporary political concerns on an unprecedented
Of gods and moguls 113

scale.39 Audiences were inundated with thinly and thickly camouflaged mes-
sages about the Cold War carried in movies set in the near or distant past. A
handful of Westerns featuring evil land-grabbers, among them George
Stevens’ Shane (1953) and Joseph H. Lewis’ Terror in a Texan Town (1958),
reflected their writers’ left-wing views.40 The revival of Indian War Westerns
during this era, however, should be seen in a conservative light, with the con-
flict between the pagan ‘red skins’ and God-fearing whites standing in for the
ideological clash between East and West – with one key difference: ‘civilised’
American military skill and political judgement prevailed virtually every time
on screen, compensating perhaps for the frustrations of the real-life Cold War
stand-off.41 Walt Disney’s films reverberated with tried-and-true Americanism
even more than usual in this period. Having declared in 1947 that Hollywood’s
communists ought to be ‘smoked out’, Disney, an FBI informant, proclaimed
a year later that the time was ripe to ‘renew acquaintance with the American
breed of robust, cheerful, energetic, and representative folk heroes’. During
the 1950s, the basic tropes of religion, work, individualism, progress and
patriotism formed the backbone of Disney’s stories, which were often set in
the past, and in which the protagonists confronted and overcame enemies to
their society. In some films, like Davy Crockett (1955), the heroes were unmis-
takably American, while in others, like The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie
Men (1952), they personified America’s idealised democratic spirit.42
Religion, history and the Cold War came together most concertedly in one
of the defining genres of the era – the biblical saga. A succession of films set
against the backdrop of pyramids and Old Testament temples – Samson and
Delilah (1949), The Prodigal (1955), The Ten Commandments (1956) – or New
Testament Rome and Jerusalem – Quo Vadis (1951), Salome (1953), The Robe
(1953), Ben-Hur (1959) – made huge profits in the 1950s, despite being among
the most expensive films ever made.43 This cycle of film epics, the first since
the silent era, principally relates to Hollywood’s need to compete with televi-
sion. By offering more extravagant ‘widescreen’ entertainment than television
could afford, the major studios hoped they could reclaim dwindling domestic
audiences and maximise their pre-eminent strengths as production-distribution
companies in the increasingly important international market. Producers also
sought to increase income by appealing to the public’s perceived craving for
sexuality on screen and by capitalising on the fact that bare flesh was, ironically
perhaps, often more permissible in biblical pageants than in modern settings.44
Recently, however, commentators have suggested ways in which these biblical
epics might have given scriptural authority to the ideology of America’s Cold
War. Maria Wyke points out, for instance, how the publicity surrounding
MGM’s Quo Vadis depicted Nero as a Stalinist dictator defeated by the Christian
faithful, and that the movie was banned in Eastern Europe for decades.45
114 Hollywood’s Cold War

A close analysis of the biggest epic of them all, The Ten Commandments (1956),
not only confirms Wyke’s general thesis; it also reveals some of the more
subtle qualities that characterised the state–film network at the height of the
Cold War.

Few filmmakers better appreciated the importance of offering audiences an
entertaining set of images that extolled America’s spiritual values during the
Cold War than Cecil B. DeMille. Fewer still had the talent, drive and power to
put this into effect. The son of a Protestant minister, and a Republican who
equated Americanism with Christianity, Manifest Destiny, and the triumph of
free enterprise, DeMille had entered the movie business in 1913. Working
largely as a semi-independent director-producer at Paramount, for decades he
had enthralled audiences with stories of consumption and upward mobility,
rugged individualism and empire-building, sexual titillation and, above all, reli-
gious uplift.46 The success of films like King of Kings (1927) and The Crusades
(1935) earned DeMille a reputation as the world’s leading exponent of religious
film entertainment. On presenting a Bible to the mogul in the early 1950s, the
evangelical preacher Billy Graham described DeMille as ‘a prophet in celluloid
who has had the privilege of bringing some of the Word of God to more
people throughout the world than any other man’.47 By this stage DeMille was
into his seventies and in the twilight of a career encompassing more than sixty
movies. Dubbed ‘Mr Motion Pictures’ in Hollywood and Washington, he had
been showered with professional honours and was a household name;
Paramount claimed his films had been seen by three billion people worldwide.48
DeMille was as busy off the studio lot as he was on it, especially politically
during the early Cold War. In 1944, he co-founded the Motion Picture Alliance
for the Preservation of American Ideals. A year later, he established his own
Foundation for Political Freedom to crusade for right-to-work laws and
against communist infiltration in all walks of American life. The Foundation
regularly sent information to California’s ‘little HUAC’, the Tenney
Committee, and to the real HUAC in Washington. Many of the speeches
DeMille delivered under the Foundation’s aegis, largely to businessmen and
civic organisations, were infused with religious rhetoric. Thus he described the
CPUSA as ‘the Party of Judas Iscariot’, proclaimed America’s ‘spiritual
strength of freedom under God’, and called Hollywood’s movies ‘a teacher of
our children and an ambassador to the entire world’.49 After attributing criti-
cism of his Samson and Delilah in 1949 to a communist conspiracy, DeMille
campaigned in vain in 1950 for a loyalty oath for fellow members of the
Screen Directors Guild. In 1953, he and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, star of the
Of gods and moguls 115

television programme Life is Worth Living, were presented with awards for out-
standing contributions to the American way of life by the strenuously anti-
communist Freedom Foundation.50
DeMille’s political activities extended further, linking him directly with US
foreign policy. He was one of the original board members of the National
Committee for Free Europe (NCFE), the ostensibly private organisation estab-
lished by the CIA in 1949 to mobilise dissent within the Soviet satellites. This
brought him into contact with C. D. Jackson, the NCFE’s President and
Eisenhower’s future psychological warfare expert, through whom DeMille
urged the Committee to target Catholics behind the Iron Curtain.51 DeMille was
also on the Board of the Crusade for Freedom, an initiative launched by
Eisenhower in 1950 which campaigned for the expansion of Radio Free
Europe.52 In 1952, DeMille turned down a request from the Second World War
hero Admiral Chester Nimitz to become the chairman of the CFF’s Motion
Picture Committee,53 but a year later agreed to become the USIA’s chief film
consultant. DeMille’s main function at the USIA was to serve as liaison between
the agency and Hollywood, and to enlist the cooperation of the film industry in
making movies for training and informational purposes. Taking guidance from
the former film sales executive who ran the USIA’s Motion Picture Division,
Andrew Smith, DeMille advised the Motion Picture Industry Council on scripts
and projects that would fit the government’s propaganda programme.54
Soon after his appointment to the USIA, in April 1953, DeMille met with
C. D. Jackson, now working for the White House, to mull over their approach
towards propaganda. The two agreed ‘that the most effective use of American
films is not to design an entire picture to cope with a certain problem, but
rather to see to it that in a “normal” picture the right line, aside, inflection,
eyebrow movement, is introduced’.55 A few months later, DeMille admon-
ished his colleagues on the MPA Executive Committee for ignoring the more
‘positive’ side of their duties: ‘You cannot fight anything with nothing . . . We
have two missions – to fight subversion in our own industry and to make the
pictures we produce effective carriers of the American ideals we are pledged
to preserve’.56 In March 1954, the Director of the USIA, Theodore Streibert,
told the Motion Picture Industry Council that his organisation ‘was most
appreciative of the cooperation that is being extended to the Government . . .
in this fight against Communism’. He added: ‘Cecil B. DeMille and other
members of his Committee are serving us well’.57

Cecil B. DeMille’s single biggest contribution to Freedom’s Cause was an
updating of his 1923 classic, The Ten Commandments. DeMille had been loosely
116 Hollywood’s Cold War

planning a remake since the mid-1940s, but in 1953 was given the go-ahead
for the project from Paramount’s chief executives, Barney Balaban and
Y. Frank Freeman. As producer and director, DeMille was given a free hand
in the making of the picture, the only stipulation being that he shoot it in the
studio’s new widescreen process, VistaVision. Paramount appears to have set
few if any financial constraints, judging that even at an initial costing of $6
million (during production it would balloon to a world record $13.5 million)
the movie would still make a hefty profit.58
DeMille took from his archives Jeannie Macpherson’s scenario for the
silent version, which had consisted of two parts: a biblical prologue about
Moses’ later years, followed by a modern story about lovers violating the com-
mandments. At first, DeMille inclined towards another two-parter, and one of
his staff suggested giving the second half an explicitly political twist by focus-
ing on the devious forces aligned against an American city official. However,
this whole idea was soon discarded in favour of a conventional narrative
telling Moses’ life story stretching from birth through slavery to Mount Sinai,
which was thought to be more commercially appealing and would look less
propagandistic. By concentrating entirely on Moses, who was honoured as a
prophet by Jews, Christians and Muslims, DeMille also hoped to use the film
overseas ‘as a means of welding together all faiths against the common
enemy of all faiths, atheistic Communism’. He and assistant producer Henry
Wilcoxon expected to repeat the success that Samson and Delilah had enjoyed
in the Near East and Asia especially, two regions considered strategically and
politically vital by Washington.59
Having decided to concentrate on delivering a history lesson, DeMille and
his team of four scriptwriters – Aeneas Mackenzie, Jesse L. Lasky, Jr., Jack
Gariss and Frederick Frank – did everything they could to make it as believ-
able and as topical as possible. DeMille had always rejected films that focused
on mass movements in favour of individuals: on those, as he put it, ‘in whose
fortunes they [audiences] can feel personally involved’. The final script for The
Ten Commandments, which ran to 308 pages, almost three times longer than
the average Hollywood film, duly highlighted Moses’ heroic quest to liberate
the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage, and was built around spectacular ‘his-
toric’ moments such as the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the
Burning Bush.60 The Bible actually says nothing about the first thirty years of
Moses’ life, but DeMille made a virtue of this by claiming to fill in the gap
through scholarship. Led by Henry S. Noerdlinger, a team of researchers
costing $300,000 spent months ‘reconstructing’ Moses’ movements and
thoughts by consulting books, periodicals, museum directors and experts in
Egyptian history. The results were published as a 200-page scholarly mono-
graph in the same year the movie was released.61
Of gods and moguls 117

Naturally, selling the film as a historical document that told the definitive
version of the Bible story also involved shooting at the Holy sites. In late 1954,
DeMille and eighty-two assistant directors undertook three months’ advanced
location filming in Egypt, whose king had recently been unseated in an
officers’ revolution. This involved building the biggest movie set in history
outside Cairo to house a 60-acre mock-up of the traditional ‘treasure city’ of
Per-Rameses, and mobilising probably the greatest number of extras (25,000)
ever used. Press releases focused on the pilgrimage made to the Sinai desert,
where an elite group of cast and crew ‘followed the path taken by Moses as
described in Exodus’, giving a sense that the making of the film was itself a
religious experience.62 DeMille suffered a heart attack whilst filming the
Egyptian sequences, and yet seems to have interpreted his survival as a sign
of God’s support for the project. Despite a hectic schedule, he found time to
conduct a spot of cultural diplomacy with the new Egyptian regime, which
the State Department and CIA were then courting. In exchange for the loan
of large cavalry formations for the chariot scenes, DeMille agreed to produce
a film showing Egypt’s past and present glories. Wearing his official consul-
tant’s hat, DeMille also inspected the USIA facilities at the US embassy in
Cairo, where he found ‘there was a touching eloquence in the tin cans of film,
battered and dented from their many trips to and from Egyptian towns and
villages, with their message of what America means’.63
Principal photography on The Ten Commandments began in California in
March 1955 and ended in August. Totalling 112 days, this was reportedly the
longest shooting schedule of all time. At Paramount DeMille discovered that
the 35-acre lot was not big enough to contain one of his biggest set-piece
scenes, the crossing of the Red Sea. He therefore demolished the intervening
buildings, joined Paramount and RKO territory, constructed a 200,000 cubic-
foot swimming pool, and installed hydraulic equipment that could deluge the
area with 360,000 gallons of water in two minutes flat. This scene alone cost
more than $1 million and took eighteen months to shoot.64 Paramount’s volu-
minous coffers also paid for a stellar cast assembled from the screen, stage,
television and radio. America’s favourite gangster, Edward G. Robinson, who
had recently been released from the blacklist, played the villainous Hebrew
subversive, Dathan; Yul Brynner, fresh from the Broadway hit musical The
King and I (adapted for the screen in 1956), and whose Eurasian features might
have led some viewers to think of the current East–West divide, played
Rameses II;65 and the Oscar-winning Anne Baxter played the scheming
Nefretiri, Queen of Egypt.
Moses was played by Charlton Heston, Hollywood’s resident epic hero of
the 1950s and 1960s. Tall and muscular, with a dominant physical presence
and a strong-jawed, patrician facial bone structure implying intelligence and
118 Hollywood’s Cold War

All eyes on the master story-teller: Yul Brynner (left), comedian Danny Kaye (with cap) and Charlton
Heston listen to Cecil B. DeMille during the production of The Ten Commandments (1956). Kaye was
among the profusion of actors, politicians and religious leaders who visited the movie’s California set.
Paramount/Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

dignity, Heston managed, as one critic later put it, ‘to suggest both the rugged
American frontiersman of myth as well as the God who creates Adam in
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco’. Heston was an active anti-communist
in Hollywood in the 1950s, and took his role so seriously he could recite whole
passages of the Old Testament.66 The Ten Commandments’ crew also included
some of the biggest names in the movie business, including Oscar winners
Loyal Griggs (director of photography), Edith Head (costumes), Ray Moyer
(set director) and Anne Bauchens, who had been DeMille’s film editor for
thirty-eight years. Arnold Friberg, one of the America’s foremost religious
artists, was commissioned to paint biblical events as well as wardrobe and
character interpretations, on which many of the scenes were based.
Animators were borrowed from the Walt Disney Studios to spruce up the
special effects.
Unlike one of his rival directors, Alfred Hitchcock, DeMille had never
been one for appearing on screen. DeMille was also opposed to blatant ser-
monising, as his advice to the Protestant Film Commission in 1949 attests:
‘[L]et the story itself carry the message. Do not put propaganda speeches into
Of gods and moguls 119

the dialogue. Convey the message through what the characters do.’67 DeMille
broke both of these rules with The Ten Commandments, however. Immediately
after the movie’s overture, he steps before a silver curtain to explain to his
audience that: ‘The theme of this picture is whether men are to be ruled by
God’s law, or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like
Rameses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God?
This same battle continues throughout the world today.’ The ‘eternal’ nature
of this conflict was further emphasised in the souvenir programme, which
carried the imprimatur of democracy’s ‘great saviour’, recently retired British
Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and stated:
The foundations of freedom’s triumph over the forces of darkness are found
in the words that came from Mount Sinai – the Ten Commandments . . .
These events are both timely – and timeless. They are as timeless as God’s
word to Moses heard as the last speech in our film and found on America’s
famed Liberty Bell: ‘Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all its inhabi-
tants thereof ’ . . . In the relationship between Moses and Rameses, we have
the clash between two great opposing forces, forces which have confronted
each other throughout human history and which still – at this very moment –
are engaged in mortal combat for the future of all mankind. On the one hand,
there is the Pharaoh Rameses – worshipped as a God – the massive machin-
ery of oppression at his command, his people chattels, and his will their only
law. Opposing him stands Moses, armed only with a staff – and the unquench-
able fire of freedom under God.68
The Ten Commandments itself was not as direct as the publicity surrounding it,
but this was typical of the efforts made in promotion during this era to ensure
that audiences came to biblical epics with the knowledge that they were ‘about’
much more than just their historical narrative.


Originally one million feet in length, The Ten Commandments’ final print was
trimmed on the editor’s table to 19,778 feet, and ran for a whopping 3 hours,
39 minutes.69 Its plot was fairly straightforward. In ancient Egypt, when the
Pharaoh Rameses I (Ian Keith) is told that a Deliverer is to be born who will
set free the enslaved children of Israel, he condemns all newborn male
Hebrew children to death. But one mother, Yoshabel (Martha Scott), defies
the order, and places her infant son in a basket to be set adrift in the river.
Princess Bithiah (Nina Foch), the Pharaoh’s daughter, discovers the child, and
adopts him as her own, calling him Moses.
Thirty years later, Moses has grown to manhood as an Egyptian prince and
rivals Rameses II (Brynner), the cruel son of new Pharaoh Sethi (Sir Cecil
120 Hollywood’s Cold War

One of ‘the afflicted, the hopeless, the oppressed’: once a prince but now a Hebrew slave, Moses (Charlton
Heston) is paraded before Pharaoh Sethi’s court in The Ten Commandments (1956). Paramount/The
Kobal Collection.

Hardwicke), for the affection of the people, the Pharaoh, and the beautiful
Nefretiri. The Pharaoh is displeased with Rameses’ inability to finish con-
struction of the massive new city of Goshen for his upcoming jubilee and
assigns the task to Moses. While he is supervising work at the building site,
Moses rescues from death an old woman whom he does not recognise as his
mother and orders more humane treatment of the Hebrew slaves. Suspicious,
Nefretiri learns about Moses’ origins from one of Bithiah’s servants, and dis-
closes the secret to him. Humbled by his real family’s love for him and the
Hebrews’ quiet religious devotion, Moses rejoins his people, and goes to work
in the brick pits among the slaves he once commanded. When he becomes
popular with the Hebrews who are seeking a leader, Rameses exiles him,
leaving him in the barren wilderness to perish.
Yet Moses miraculously survives the desert, travels to Midian, and marries
Sephora (Yvonne De Carlo). Years later, on Mount Sinai, Moses speaks to
God, who appears in the form of a burning bush, and returns to Egypt to
confront Rameses, who is now Pharaoh and married to Nefretiri, and demand
Of gods and moguls 121

the freedom of his people. Moses brings the wrath of God upon the
Egyptians, but Rameses is unyielding until the angel of death takes the life of
every Egyptian first-born. Rameses sets the Hebrews free when his own son
dies, but is goaded by Nefretiri into pursuing them with his chariots. When the
Hebrews are trapped, Moses demonstrates the power of the Lord by parting
the Red Sea, allowing them to pass through the chasm of waters, which surge
closed when the Egyptians attempt to cross. Moses spends forty days on
Mount Sinai while the people, provoked by the Egyptian informant Dathan,
worship a golden calf and engage in bacchanalian revels. Moses returns with
the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets, and punishes the idolaters by
forcing them to wander in the wilderness for forty years. When this period
draws to a close, Moses goes alone to Mount Nebo to face his God, as his
people cross the River Jordan on to the Promised Land.
On the face of it, this storyline has nothing whatsoever to do with the Cold
War. Historian David Caute has recently taken issue with postmodernists like
Alan Nadel who contend that The Ten Commandments was ‘a major product of
American Cold War ideology’ through its equation of ‘God’s perspective with
American global interests’. Caute highlights aspects of the film that are at
odds with Washington’s Cold War outlook. For instance, the movie does not
hold out the hand of salvation to the Egyptians/communists, it justifies indis-
criminate slaughter by the Almighty/the West, and Rameses’ Egypt is not set
on military or ideological expansion like the Soviet Union. Caute makes some
valid points, especially about those cultural studies scholars who seek to
impose interpretations on movies of the 1950s that in his view ‘would most
probably have been news to the screenwriters and directors themselves’.70 Yet
he overlooks the fact that DeMille was not making a movie that sought
mechanically and unambiguously to press every one of Washington’s Cold
War buttons.
To DeMille, the very splendour of the film – with a musical score by Elmer
Bernstein, art work by Walter Tyler, fantastic special effects, and rich colours
painted on a spectacularly large canvas – testified to America’s capitalist-based
creativity and advertised the superiority of democracy’s freedom of spirit. Its
simple yet profound story of good winning over evil, wrapped up in a soap-
opera formula with a deeply chiselled morality at its core, would, he believe,
connect with millions at home and overseas. In his estimation a good pro-
portion of these people were bound to see the resemblance between ancient
Egypt – with its monolithic architecture, labour camps and muscle-bound
security guards – and the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. They could not
fail to see the Hebrews as modern-day Americans – sincere, honest, compas-
sionate and innocent – confronted by an imperialist enemy that was sustained
by militarism and surveillance. So what if anachronistic Hollywood-isms like
122 Hollywood’s Cold War

Behold one of the miracles of cinema! Moses parts the Red Sea, thanks to God and Paramount’s special
effects department. The Ten Commandments (1956). Paramount/The Kobal Collection.

that spoken by Nefretiri – ‘Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid,

adorable fool’ – made a mockery of Paramount’s claims that the actors were
using dialogue taken directly from the Scriptures. In DeMille’s view, artistic
licence was vital if the film was to help America stake out the highest moral
ground in his lifetime’s defining conflict. As far as salvation goes, he believed,
like most religious conservatives, that while this was to be sought by no means
everyone would see the light, especially communists.
As with all DeMille productions, The Ten Commandments reeks of self-
righteousness, a tone underscored by the mogul’s own running commentary.
Significantly, it also subtly transforms the Jewish Passover story into a
Christian, almost evangelical tale. The casting of the all-American Heston
depicts Moses as a Westerner rather than a Semite, especially when compared
to Brynner’s more Oriental features.71 Moses and his successor Joshua (John
Derek) both possess the strong ‘he-man’ qualities that Billy Graham attributed
to Jesus. The movie in fact contains most of the key insignia of evangelical
convictions: the personal conversion experience, the intuitive and mystical
experience of God’s presence, salvation through belief, and the affirmation of
the Bible as the sole inerrant authority. On another level, implicit comparisons
are made between the textual bases of American freedom (the Constitution
and the Bill of Rights) and biblical law (the Ten Commandments), thereby
Of gods and moguls 123

universalising the sources of American freedom and highlighting their

importance as worthy successors to the Holy Scriptures. In this way, the
Passover story is used not only to celebrate the birth of freedom (in 1300 
and  1776); it also provides a prediction or prophecy of the end of the Cold
War by portraying a Western liberator defeating an evil dictator. Moses wins
the struggle for freedom, thereby demonstrating the power of belief in God
over the futility of atheistic, militaristic, rigidly stratified totalitarianism.
Critics noted at the time how the movie fused religion and modern-day
capitalism. Like all despots, Rameses believes that the only way to run an
economy is from the centre and by the whip, whereas Moses succeeds in build-
ing Goshen because he improves the workers’ conditions in the interests of
greater efficiency. At times the movie has the feel of a Western. God is sym-
bolically linked with America as covered wagons in the Exodus sequences
suggest the Promised Land that welcomed America’s pioneer settlers. The
signs indicating the umbilical link between the founding of Israel and the
United States’ democratic mission were legion. ‘Picture-postcards shots of
Moses seeking refuge under fruit-laden palm trees’, writes one DeMille
scholar, Sumiko Higashi, ‘conflate the Promised Land . . . with the United
States as a “city on the hill”.’72 In describing the film’s closing moment, when
Moses raises his hand to wave his final goodbye to Joshua and Sephora,
Michael Wood has the impression that the prophet ‘looks just like the Statue
of Liberty seen across New York Bay’.73
Rarely before can a movie have attracted so much hype prior to release as
The Ten Commandments. This was partly due to the enormous sums being spent
on the production, but also because of a carefully crafted marketing campaign
designed to lend the movie historic and spiritual significance. During produc-
tion, DeMille regularly lunched with religious figures at Paramount, asking
them for their ‘reactions and advice’. One Methodist leader, Bishop Gerald
Kennedy, came away suitably impressed: ‘One cannot see it without realizing
anew that God is the guarantee of our liberties and the ground of all our
hope’. Others were stunned by the director’s financial generosity. DeMille had
announced that his percentage of the film’s profits would be donated to the
DeMille Trust, established by the director and his wife in the early 1950s for
‘charitable, religious and educational purposes’.74
The Ten Commandments opened triumphantly in New York and Los Angeles
in November 1956, coincidentally just as Soviet tanks were rolling into
Budapest and the Western alliance was suffering the strains of the Suez crisis.75
Admiration for the movie was by no means unanimous. Variety thought it too
long, while Time, referring to DeMille’s penchant for semi-nudity, called it
‘almost a Sexodus’.76 A small number of clergy and religious commentators
protested against the film. Some feared that its ‘distortion of our religious
124 Hollywood’s Cold War

Freedom’s crusader: Moses bids farewell to Joshua and his fellow disciples at the end of The Ten
Commandments (1956). Paramount/The Kobal Collection.

heritage’ would be interpreted as authentic; others criticised its portrayal of

God as ‘a cosmic combination of Thomas Jefferson and King Kong’.
Another, the liberal Malcolm Boyd, a former president of the Television
Producers Association, denounced the movie for its tasteless exalting of the
issues of freedom and slavery given the recent events in Hungary.77 Benjamin
H. Freedman, the controversial Jewish New York businessman who had con-
verted to Catholicism and founded the anti-communist, anti-Semitic Christian
Anti-Defamation League in 1950, warned that The Ten Commandments was
nothing less than a ‘secret weapon for liquidating the Christian faith’.78
Elsewhere there was loud applause for The Ten Commandments. To put this
down to ‘an aura of publicity-manufactured religiosity’79 is to ignore DeMille’s
skill and the film’s genuine pulling power. Trade press veterans admitted to
being rendered ‘slightly breathless’ by The Ten Commandments’ special effects,
which won an Academy Award. Others called it ‘assuredly the best picture on a
religious theme ever produced’ and praised it for not being ‘didactic or preachy’.
A host of reviewers across the US picked it as the best film of 1956, and the
movie was nominated for nine Oscars, including best picture.80
Of gods and moguls 125

Outside the Academy, The Ten Commandments soon became, in the words of
the Catholic publisher Martin Quigley, ‘much more than a motion picture’.
Some of America’s most famous Christian and Jewish leaders were quoted in
full-page newspaper advertisements urging people to see it, for religious
and political reasons. The Vice-President of the National Committee of
Christians and Jews announced that the film was ‘a spiritual weapon that will
have a telling effect in the current world-wide struggle for the preservation of
freedom’. Public schools in certain cities and states granted their students time
off to watch the movie, and special showings were arranged at cut-price group
rates. Paramount even arranged for buses to take customers from northern
Mexico, where the film’s exhibition was restricted, to see a Spanish subtitled
version in El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, California. Further north, in Fresno,
a judge placed three offenders on probation on condition that they saw The Ten
Commandments and wrote essays on the moral lessons they had learned. In San
Francisco, five women shoplifters were similarly directed. A group calling
itself the Disc Jockeys National Committee for Public Service was formed
as a result of discussions about the film on the radio, thereby tying the movie
to the Red Cross and other charities.81 DeMille received scores of letters
expressing admiration and thanks for the film, including one from an anti-
communist Hungarian émigré, Bela Kornitzer. He, at least, had got the point
of the film: ‘The tyranny of the Pharaos [sic] and the relentless drive for
freedom and the dignity of man – which to me was the keynote of your
picture – left a deep mark in my family who lived under the oppression of the
modern Pharaos a short while ago.’82
By the time DeMille conducted a promotional tour of Western Europe in
late 1957 to mark The Ten Commandments’ release overseas, the film had become
the top money-maker of the year, already taking approximately twice what it
had cost to produce.83 It is difficult to ascertain whether the USIA helped to
promote or distribute The Ten Commandments abroad, but DeMille’s official
position within the agency certainly opened a number of important doors.
American ambassadors met him at each stop on his tour, arranging receptions
and meetings with dignitaries. In Italy, he enjoyed a private audience with Pope
Pius XII, during which DeMille presented the pontiff with replicas of the Ten
Commandments tablets used in the film. In Germany, he was received by
Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and the Mayor of Berlin, Willy Brandt, and
made a speech before the Berlin League of Human Rights. In Paris, he was
awarded the Legion d’Honneur; in London he met one of his heroes, Winston
Churchill.84 In what was probably little more than a publicity stunt, in early
1958 DeMille offered the Kremlin free copies of The Ten Commandments so
long as it was exhibited in unexpurgated form in the Soviet Union. By the end
of that year the movie had been barred from the whole of Eastern Europe
126 Hollywood’s Cold War

and China, proving, according to the Hollywood Reporter, that communism

‘denies God and preaches deceit and ill-will toward all men and nations not
held in bondage to the Kremlin’.85
The film also ran into trouble elsewhere. In Egypt, it fell foul of
Arab–Israeli tensions, being banned by the censor for depicting the Egyptians
as villains and the Jews as victims. In Pakistan, the film was temporarily
banned by the authorities for fear that it might provoke Muslim extremists
who had recently torched a theatre screening a documentary on Christianity.
This dented the hopes both DeMille and the Pakistan government had held
that the movie would help promote Christian–Muslim solidarity in a country
to which Washington had recently sent vast sums of relief and military aid.
However, in other parts of Asia, where it was sold as ‘a spectacle focusing on
good versus evil and oppressed people rising up against tyranny’, The Ten
Commandments was a runaway success. In Singapore, for instance, it set a new
first-run gross record, topping the old mark set by a communist Chinese pro-
duction of Romeo and Juliet.86
By 1960, The Ten Commandments had played to an estimated worldwide audi-
ence of 98.5 million (55 million in the US alone), and, having taken more than
$85 million, had become the second highest-grossing film of the decade at the
North American box office, after Disney’s The Lady and the Tramp (1955). By
1966, when it was reissued with a new marketing and merchandising campaign
to mark its tenth anniversary, the movie had become the third highest domes-
tic grosser ever, behind Gone With the Wind (1939) and Ben-Hur (1959). By
1975, when it made its ‘farewell’ cinema tour, the film was already established
as an annual television fixture during Passover and the Easter holidays in the
US and elsewhere. The year after the European ‘velvet revolutions’ of 1989,
the epic enjoyed another mini-revival in Californian cinemas. Like that of
Ninotchka, therefore, The Ten Commandments’ potential political influence
stretched overseas and over time.87

The use of religious propaganda in wartime predates the Cold War by at least
2,500 years.88 The Catholic Church had signalled its own awareness of the arts
of public persuasion in the seventeenth century, when Pope Gregory V estab-
lished the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide in 1622.89 Religion as a theme
in wartime cinematic propaganda has not been confined to the struggle between
communism and capitalism either. During the Second World War, American
films constantly linked God with democracy in the fight against fascism.90
Since the mid-1980s, Hollywood has profited considerably from its portrayals
of the perceived threat posed to the West by Islamic fundamentalism.91
Of gods and moguls 127

As we have seen, religion was an integral component of Cold War cine-

matic discourse in the 1950s in both the East and the West. American film-
makers in particular were remarkably versatile propagandists in fusing religion
and Cold War issues, and in providing support for their government’s strategy
of positive, morally muscular propaganda. It would be wrong to attribute this
versatility simply to official influence of one sort or another. Studio execu-
tives, directors and producers who turned out films that highlighted the com-
munist threat to religious freedom or that accentuated American spirituality
were motivated by a variety of factors. Many merely sought to cash in on
topical, controversial concerns. Some, like Cecil B. DeMille, were Cold
Warriors in their own right, whose connections with the government might
have given them greater impetus to express their ideological views on screen.
It is difficult to judge how the films analysed above affected their audiences.
What can be said is that many of them bore the hallmarks of shabby B-
pictures – blaring music, arbitrary passages of violence, bad continuity and
dismal acting. Because these films were so sloppily made, and because their
messages were often so clumsily explicit, they might inadvertently have pro-
vided a forum for some people to laugh at or even ridicule popular Cold War
hysteria, instead of encouraging them to think seriously about religion and
politics. For example, by implying that extraterrestrials and human beings
might share the same God, Red Planet Mars arguably did more to bring
Christian piety into disrepute than to persuade cinema-goers of the contem-
porary resonance of the Gospel. Many of the movies were also open to a
variety of possibly conflicting interpretations. For instance, whereas most
commentators described Columbia’s The Prisoner as pro-Catholic, others,
because it suggested Mindszenty was the illegitimate child of a prostitute,
labelled it pro-communist.92 Similarly, many religious conservatives watching
The Next Voice You Hear and The Ten Commandments were troubled by the jux-
taposing of images of Christianity and consumerism, and Christianity and
sexuality, respectively. Of course, there is also the distinct possibility that audi-
ences simply failed to see certain movies through a Cold War lens.
That said, it can still be argued that many of these pictures amounted to
solid, effective propaganda by offering easily digestible, emotive messages in
highly charged, usually action-driven formats. Cheap science-fiction shockers
like Conquest of Space and spy thrillers like Night People might, each in its own way,
have helped to endow the Cold War with the black-and-white moral clarity most
people and official propagandists sought. The more cerebral docudramas like
The Prisoner perhaps left a similar impression on a different sort of audience. It
and others that blended religion with political dissidence in Eastern Europe
depicted the East–West conflict as a modern holy war most directly. Biblical
epics like The Ten Commandments need not have been explicitly read as Cold War
128 Hollywood’s Cold War

movies, or as having relevance to the conflict. Their persuasive abilities lay

deeper than that. Many of these films articulated in a simple yet spectacular way
the differences between God-fearing and God-despising societies. Like most
effective propaganda, their power lay not in converting but in reinforcing, and
in embedding positive messages in an indirect fashion. They were also one of
the best ways Hollywood could demonstrate America’s seemingly endless store
of resources; no Iron Curtain films could rival the extravagant production
values of the biblical epics. Together, these filmic representations of religion
might have helped at least some cinema-goers to forge key mental and concep-
tual Cold War linkages, above all between Christianity and democratic capital-
ism, in which the latter took on the appearance of a new ‘civil religion’.

1 Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1952, pp. 140–1.
2 Films and Filming, September 1955, p. 13.
3 Despite this, religion has so far been the Cinderella of Cold War historiography.
See Dianne Kirby (ed.), Religion and the Cold War (Basingstoke, 2003) on why this
has been the case, and how historians are now starting to rectify this omission.
On John Paul II’s Cold War role see ‘Karol Wojtyla and the End of the Cold War’,
in Silvio Pons and Frederico Romero (eds), Reinterpreting the End of the Cold War:
Issues, Interpretations, Periodizations (London, 2005), pp. 82–9.
4 Taylor, Film Propaganda, pp. 69–70.
5 Geoffrey Hosking, A History of the Soviet Union, 1917–1991 (London, 1992),
pp. 227–41.
6 Davies, ‘Soviet Cinema’, pp. 56–60; Caute, Dancer, pp. 147–53.
7 Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty: From the Crimea to the Falklands: The War
Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth Maker (London, 1989), p. 149; Steve
Nicholson, British Theatre and the Red Peril: The Portrayal of Communism, 1917–1945
(Exeter, 1999), pp. 31–3.
8 Kirby (ed.), Religion and the Cold War, pp. 1–8.
9 John Foster Dulles, War or Peace (New York, 1950), pp. 251–9; Mark Silk, Spiritual
Politics: Religion and America since World War Two (New York, 1988), pp. 86–107;
Allen Dulles speech, 5 June 1953, quoted in Washburn to William H. Jackson, 11
June 1953, White House Central Files, Official File, Box 674, 133-M-1 President’s
Committee on International Activities Abroad (3): Dwight D. Eisenhower
Library, Abilene, Kansas (hereafter DDEL); ‘President Sees Editors’, New York
Times, 10 April 1953.
10 Public Papers of the Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953 (Washington, DC, 1960),
pp. 179–88; Hixson, Curtain, pp. 42, 64, 83, 93–4, 122; Puddington, Broadcasting
11 Eric R. Crouse, ‘Popular Cold Warriors: Conservative Protestants, Communism,
and Culture in Early Cold War America’, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture,
Of gods and moguls 129

Vol. 2, Fall 2002, unpaged, (10

February 2006); Will Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Sociology
(Garden City, KS, 1960), pp. 47, 52.
12 Emmet John Hughes, Ordeal of Power: A Political Memoir of the Eisenhower Years
(New York, 1963), p. 103.
13 Osgood, ‘Total War’, pp. 16, 29–30, 46–7.
14 Basic Guidance and Planning Paper No. 10, Themes on American Life and
Culture, 14 July 1959, USIA Historical Collection, and Memoranda of Meetings
of the Ideological Subcommittee on the Religious Factor, 19 May 1955, 8 June
1955 and 10 June 1955, both in OCB Central Files, Box 2, OCB 000.3 [Religion]
(File #1) (2): DDEL; Harlow to O’Hara, 6 June 1955, White House Central Files,
Official File, box 910, OF 247 1955 (2): DDEL.
15 Osgood, ‘Total War’, p. 251.
16 Jackson Committee Report, FRUS, Vol. 2, 1952–4 (Washington, DC, 1984),
pp. 1849, 1847, 1872; Progress Report on Jackson Committee Report, 30
September 1953, White House Central Files, NSC Staff Papers, Psychological
Strategy Board Central Files, Box 22, PSB 334, President’s Committee on
Information Activities Abroad: DDEL.
17 Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, pp. 289–91.
18 Richard Gribble, ‘Anti-Communism, Patrick Peyton, CSC and the CIA’, Journal of
Church and State, Vol. 45, No. 3, 2003, pp. 535–58.
19 Eldridge, ‘Dear Owen’, pp. 153–5, 157.
20 The US Information Program Since July 1953, Records of the President’s
Committee on Information Activities Abroad (Sprague Committee), Box 19,
21 On this tradition see R. H. Campbell, The Bible on Film: A Checklist, 1897–1980
(Lanham, MD, 1981), and John R. May and Michael Bird (eds), Religion in Film
(Knoxville, TN, 1982).
22 New York Times, 30 June 1950, p. 18.
23 Variety, 17 March 1954, p. 6.
24 Variety, 25 May 1949, p. 3; Motion Picture Herald, 28 May 1949.
25 Whitfield, Culture, pp. 107–13.
26 Variety, 21 February 1962; Variety, 20 March 1957, p. 6.
27 Films and Filming, September 1955; author’s correspondence with Borden Mace,
President of RD-DR Corporation (the producer of Martin Luther) in the 1950s,
28 March 1998.
28 Life, 4 April 1955, pp. 115–20.
29 Variety, 19 December 1956, p. 7.
30 Ferenc A. Vali, Rift and Revolt in Hungary (Cambridge, MA, 1961), pp. 65–6. On
the exploitation of the Mindszenty case by the British Foreign Office’s
Information Research Department, see Foreign Office Files (FO) 1110/167-8,
TNAL. On American television’s emphasis on religion as a Cold War theme in
the 1950s, including ‘Cardinal Mindszenty’, a Studio One episode of 3 May 1954,
see Fred J. MacDonald, ‘The Cold War as Entertainment in Fifties Television’,
130 Hollywood’s Cold War

Journal of Popular Film and Television, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1998, pp. 3–31. The villain in
the aforementioned Soviet film Conspiracy of the Doomed, Cardinal Birnch, was
probably modelled on Mindszenty.
31 Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1950, pp. 185–6.
32 Columbia marketing material, The Prisoner micro-jacket, BFIL; Alec Guinness,
Blessings in Disguise (London, 1985), pp. 38–49.
33 Charles S. Young, ‘Missing Action: POW Films, Brainwashing, and the Korean
War, 1954–1968’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 18, No. 1,
1998, pp. 49–74; Susan L. Carruthers, ‘The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and the
Cold War Brainwashing Scare’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television,
Vol. 18, No. 1, 1998, pp. 75–94; David Seed, Brainwashing: The Fictions of Mind
Control – A Study of Novels and Films since World War II (Kent, OH, 2004), esp.
chs 2, 4 and 5.
34 The Miracle told the story of a peasant woman who believes her baby has been
immaculately conceived. US Customs gave the movie a licence in 1949, only to
revoke it under pressure from the New York Roman Catholic Archdiocese on the
grounds that it was ‘sacrilegious’. During the row over The Miracle, Catholic moral
reformer Martin Quigley, publisher of the Motion Picture Herald, said that com-
munists and fellow-travellers applauded every time someone bought a ticket to
see the picture because they knew that religion was an essential bulwark against
the Red threat. His assertion that Rossellini and the film’s star, Anna Magnani,
were active leftists and that the logical birthplace of the film was the Soviet Union
helped transform the Legion of Decency’s condemnation of the movie into a
crusade. Walsh, Sin, pp. 251–2.
35 Jack Vizzard, See No Evil: Life Inside a Hollywood Censor (New York, 1970).
36 On American evangelism and Billy Graham see Donald W. Dayton and Robert
K. Johnston (eds), The Varieties of American Evangelism (Knoxville, TN, 1991).
37 Variety, 13 April 1955; New York Times, 30 August 1958; Biskind, Seeing, p. 116.
38 Doherty, Projections, pp. 100–3; Thomas J. Knock, ‘History with Lightning: The
Forgotten Film Wilson (1944)’, in Peter C. Rollins (ed.), Hollywood as Historian:
American Film in a Cultural Context (Lexington, KY, 1983), pp. 88–108.
39 Eldridge, ‘Hollywood and History’.
40 Buhle and Wagner, Hide, pp. 113–15. The writers were Michael Wilson and
Nedrick Young respectively. Wilson had penned a script for Shane prior to
his appearance before HUAC in September 1951; Young worked under a
41 Richard Maltby, ‘A Better Sense of History: John Ford and the Indians’, in Ian
Cameron and Douglas Pye (eds), The Movie Book of the Western (London, 1996),
p. 44; Biskind, Seeing, pp. 230–40; John Tuska, The American West in Film (London,
1985), p. 244. The number of big-budget Westerns made in Hollywood rose
from 14 titles in 1947 to 46 in 1956, not to mention the hundreds of titles each
year in B and lesser categories. Buhle and Wagner, Hide, p. 112.
42 Peter Filene, ‘ “Cold War Culture” Doesn’t Say It All’, in Kuznick and Gilbert,
Rethinking, pp. 164–6.
Of gods and moguls 131

43 The directors of these films were, respectively, Cecil B. DeMille, Richard Thorpe,
Cecil B. DeMille, Mervyn LeRoy, William Dieterle, Henry Koster and William
Wyler. Biblical epics consistently topped the film money-making lists in the
1950s – for example, Samson and Delilah was No. 1 in 1950, Quo Vadis was No. 2
in 1952, The Robe was No. 1 in 1953, and Ben-Hur was No. 1 in 1960. Quo Vadis
($8.25), The Ten Commandments ($13.5) and Ben-Hur ($15 m) each set a new record
for the most expensive film ever made. The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur and The
Robe were, respectively, the second, fourth and seventh highest-grossing films at
the North American box office in the 1950s, with grosses of $85.4 m, $73.2 m
and $45.2. Peter Cowie (ed.), The Variety Almanac 1999 (Basingstoke, 1999), p. 13.
44 Bruce Babington and Peter Evans, Biblical Epics: Sacred Narratives in the Hollywood
Cinema (Manchester, 1993).
45 Maria Wyke, Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema, and History (New York, 1997),
pp. 143–4.
46 For general accounts of DeMille’s career and political conservatism see Sumiko
Higashi, Cecil B. DeMille: A Guide to References and Resources (Boston, MA, 1985),
and Charles Higham, Cecil B. DeMille (New York, 1973).
47 DeMille’s statement ‘Envoy To All Peoples’, 1955, Cecil B. DeMille Collection,
MSS 1400, Box 213, f. 14, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee
Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (hereafter TPCBY); DeMille
draft speech for Federal Communications Commission hearing, 10 March 1952,
DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 437, f. 1, TPCBY.
48 Lou Greenspan, Executive Secretary of Motion Picture Industry Council, to
Andrew Smith, Jr., Chief, USIA Motion Picture Division, 28 May 1954, DeMille
Collection, MSS 1400, Box 456, f. 6, TPCBY; Los Angeles Times, 29 December
49 DeMille correspondence with J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Hood, c. 1941–5,
DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 115, f. 39, TPCBY; DeMille speeches 4
November 1947 and 15 May 1948, DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 1138, f. 8,
TPCBY; DeMille Foundation for Political Freedom Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 1,
February 1956, DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 1136, f. 9, TPCBY; Navasky,
Naming, p. 179.
50 Ceplair and Englund, Inquisition, pp. 368–9; Hollywood Citizen-News, 23 February
1953. In 1954, Life is Worth Living was reaching 25 million Americans each week.
See Doherty, Cold War, pp. 153–60.
51 DeMille–Jackson correspondence, March–April 1951, DeMille Collection, MSS
1400, Box 439, fs. 9 and 15, TPCBY; Lucas, Freedom’s War, pp. 67, 100–4.
52 Lucas, Freedom’s War, pp. 101–3.
53 DeMille to A. J. Gock, Chairman, Southern California Crusade for Freedom, 30
December 1952, DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 439, fs. 9 and 15, TPCBY.
54 Lou Greenspan, Executive Secretary of Motion Picture Industry Council, to
Andrew Smith, Jr., Chief, USIA Motion Picture Division, 28 May 1954, and
Greenspan circular, 30 April 1954, DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 456, f. 6,
TPCBY; Variety, 23 April 1953.
132 Hollywood’s Cold War

55 Jackson to the publishing magnate Henry Luce, cited in Saunders, Who Paid the
Piper?, p. 288.
56 DeMille’s speech notes for meeting of MPA Executive Committee, 3 June 1953,
DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 1146, fs. 4–5, TPCBY.
57 Circular by Art Arthur, Executive Secretary of Motion Picture Industry Council,
12 March 1954, DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 456, f. 6, TPCBY. When
DeMille died in 1959 at the age of 78, he received this tribute from the USIA’s
Director, George V. Allen: ‘The contribution of Mr. DeMille, not only to the art
of motion picture production but to the preservation of those ideals of freedom
and justice for which our government stands, will always be remembered. His
close cooperation with the USIA and his wisdom, advice and counsel have been
invaluable to us all’. ‘Condolences for Mr. DeMille’, undated, DeMille Clippings
file, AMPAS.
58 Cecil B. DeMille, The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille, ed. Donald Hayne (London,
1960), pp. 376–9.
59 DeMille, Autobiography, p. 385; DeMille address, November 1956, DeMille
Collection, MSS 1400, Box 708, f. 16, TPCBY; Hollywood Reporter, 20 May 1953.
60 DeMille, Autobiography, p. 169; ‘The Ten Commandments Press Release’, 1956,
DeMille Clippings file, AMPAS.
61 DeMille address, November 1956, DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 708, f. 16,
TPCBY; Henry S. Noerdlinger, Moses and Egypt: The Documentation to the Motion
Picture The Ten Commandments (Los Angeles, CA, 1956).
62 Time, 12 November 1956, p. 63; ‘The Ten Commandments Press Release’, 1956, Cecil
B. DeMille Clippings file, AMPAS.
63 Higham, Cecil B. DeMille, pp. 307–8; DeMille, Autobiography, pp. 386–7; Motion
Picture Herald, 24 October 1953; Jon B. Alterman, Egypt and American Foreign
Assistance 1952–1956: Hopes Dashed (Basingstoke, 2002).
64 Time, 12 November 1956, p. 63. An actual atom bomb rumble recorded during a
recent test was used as a sound effect in the Red Sea sequence, according to
Paramount’s report to the American Motion Picture Academy and Sciences. See
American Film Institute Catalogue entry for The Ten Commandments (1956):
8222967_.... (26 January 2006).
65 Soon after The Ten Commandments was released, in late 1956, Brynner could also
be seen playing a Russian general grooming a destitute girl to pose as heir to the
Romanov throne, in Twentieth Century-Fox’s Anastasia.
66 New York Times, 25 March 1984; Charlton Heston, In the Arena: An Autobiography
(New York, 1995), pp. 133–4. Heston later claimed he was given the part because
DeMille thought he resembled Michelangelo’s renowned statue of Moses in the
Church of St Peter in Rome. Such was Heston’s association with Moses in the
public’s mind after The Ten Commandments that in 1959 he recorded the Five Books
of Moses, all in the King James version, for Vanguard Records. Michael Munn,
Charlton Heston: A Biography (London, 1986), pp. 61–2; Steven Cohan, Masked
Men: Masculinity and the Movies (Bloomington, IN, 1997), p. 156.
Of gods and moguls 133

67 DeMille notes, 16 March 1949, DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 431, f. 8,
68 ‘Report on the Production of The Ten Commandments’, The Ten Commandments
Clippings file, AMPAS.
69 Motion Picture Herald, 6 October 1956, pp. 18–20.
70 Alan Nadel, Containment Culture: American Narratives, Postmodernism, and the Atomic
Age (London, 1995), pp. 90–116; Caute, Dancer, pp. 177–81.
71 On the ideological significance of Heston’s and Brynner’s different forms of
masculinity in the movie see Cohan, Masked Men, pp. 150–9.
72 Sight and Sound, Vol. 27, No. 3, Winter 1957–8, pp. 57–8; Sumiko Higashi, Cecil B.
DeMille and American Culture (Berkeley, CA, 1994), p. 202.
73 Michael Wood, America in the Movies (New York, 1975), p. 187.
74 Hollywood Citizen-News, 22 and 26 October 1956; DeMille, Autobiography, p. 384;
Malcolm Boyd, Christ and Celebrity Gods: The Church in Mass Culture (Greenwich,
CT, 1958), pp. 60, 67.
75 In collusion with Israel, the British and French governments had incurred the
wrath of the US administration by invading Egypt in October–November 1956,
in order to regain control of the Suez Canal and in the process hopefully topple
Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser. The subsequent Eisenhower Doctrine of January
1957 registered American supremacy in the Middle East. See William Roger
Louis and Roger Owen (eds), Suez 1956: The Crisis and its Consequences (Oxford,
1991). American opposition to Israel in November 1956 allowed DeMille to
counter allegations that his film was pro-Israeli, anti-Arab propaganda. See
DeMille, Autobiography, p. 385.
76 Variety, 10 October 1956; Time, 12 November 1956.
77 Boyd, Christ, pp. 59, 62.
78 Common Sense, Vol. 9, No. 262, 15 October 1956.
79 Boyd, Christ, pp. 60–1, 73.
80 Motion Picture Herald, 4 October 1956; Film Bulletin, 15 October 1956; Los Angeles
Times, 1 December 1957. The Ten Commandments won one Oscar, for special effects.
Winner of the Oscar for best film of 1956 was Around the World in Eighty Days, a
United Artists production directed by Michael Anderson.
81 Boyd, Christ, pp. 52, 66, 70, 72; Motion Picture Herald, 6 October 1956, pp. 18–20;
Los Angeles Times, 1 December 1957; Beverly Hills Citizen, 13 August 1957;
Hollywood Reporter, 3 September 1958, p. 1; Hollywood Reporter, 9 September 1958,
pp. 1, 6; Hollywood Reporter, 10 September 1958, pp. 1, 9.
82 Kornitzer to DeMille, 15 April 1958, DeMille Collection, MSS 1400, Box 496,
f. 21, TPCBY.
83 Cobbett Steinberg, Reel Facts (Harmondsworth, 1981), p. 437; Los Angeles Times,
1 December 1957.
84 Hollywood Reporter, 5 April 1957, p. 1; Los Angeles Times, 1 December 1957; Variety,
16 October 1957; DeMille, Autobiography, pp. 399–400.
85 Hollywood Citizen-News, 29 March 1958; Hollywood Reporter, 29 October 1958,
pp. 1, 6.
134 Hollywood’s Cold War

86 New York Times, 20 December 1959; DeMille, Autobiography, p. 385; Variety , 13

November 1957; Hollywood Reporter, 29 October 1958, pp. 1, 6; Hollywood Reporter,
19 August 1958; Variety, 5 October 1966.
87 Hollywood Reporter, 18 April 1960; Cowie, Variety Almanac 1999, p. 67; Variety,
10 November 1965; Variety, 24 May 1990. The Lady and the Tramp earned $88
million. Using US gross takings adjusted for inflation, in 2005 The Ten
Commandments (at $819 million) was rated the fifth biggest movie of all time. Gone
With the Wind (1939) came top, at $1.2 billion. Guardian, 6 September 2005, p. 10.
88 For the role religious symbols and beliefs played in ancient Greek warfare see
Philip M. Taylor, Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda from the Ancient
World to the Present Day (Manchester, 1995), pp. 27–34.
89 Robert Jackall (ed.), Propaganda (Basingstoke, 1995), p. 1.
90 See, for instance, William Wyler’s Mrs Miniver (1942) in Koppes and Black,
Hollywood Goes to War, pp. 222–31.
91 See, for instance, True Lies (James Cameron, 1994), Executive Decision (Stuart
Baird, 1996), The Siege (Edward Zwick, 1998) and Rules of Engagement (William
Friedkin, 2000).
92 Columbia marketing material, The Prisoner, BFIL.

Negotiable dissent

One of the great tragedies of culture and learning took place in Alexandria,
an ancient seaport of Egypt, about 630 .. In the Alexandrian library had
been gathered together, starting about 1500 ., most of the literary works,
scientific knowledge and philosophies of the intellectuals of the known world
up to that time. It is not quite clear whether this unequalled collection of
books was destroyed by fire all at once or piecemeal during the riots when
Caesar visited Cleopatra, when the Arabs overran Alexandria, or at a later
date. But this tragedy gave significance to a phrase which was to harass us
forever after, the phrase ‘the burning of the books’.
Doubtless with this in mind, the framers of our American Constitution
wrote into the First Article two guarantees which have given character and pro-
vided insurance for the perpetuation of American democracy. One was the
guarantee respecting the establishment of religion and the free exercise thereof.
The other was the prohibition of any law which would abridge the freedom of
speech or of the press. They are not unrelated; they are inter-related. They were
intended to complement each other . . .
It is to this theme, in dramatic form, that ‘STORM CENTER’ addresses itself.
Arthur H. DeBra, Motion Picture Association of America, July 19561
Generating and maintaining media support had been a relatively easy task for
the American government during the Second World War. Newspapers, broad-
casters and filmmakers were not beyond criticising Washington’s tactics, but
only a few questioned its motives and overall strategy. The nation had, after
all, been attacked, and was fighting a war in which men and women were dying
on various battlefronts. On top of this, notwithstanding its unprecedented
scale, the conflict lasted only four years. The Cold War was different. Neither
side had officially declared war, comparatively few Americans came face to
face with the enemy, and the conflict lasted some four decades. In such cir-
cumstances, any government – democratic or dictatorial – was bound to meet
some form of criticism, opposition or even resistance. This made official
management of the media all the more vital.
The American government was never in a position to dictate to filmmak-
ers entirely how they should cover the Cold War. Nor would it have wished to
have such powers. America’s claim to have the freest media in the world lay at
136 Hollywood’s Cold War

the very heart of Washington’s propaganda strategy, and was one of the sim-
plest yet most powerful ways for Americans to distinguish ‘us’ from ‘them’.
As it was, through established industry constraints and contingent controls,
the state–film network facilitated a large measure of downward pressure on
filmmakers throughout the conflict, with the result that relatively few movies
challenged prevailing views on official Cold War policy. However, the fluidity
of the network meant that there was always some scope for negotiable cine-
matic dissent, particularly by liberals. This was even the case during the late
1940s and 1950s, despite the atmosphere of self-restraint fostered by HUAC
and the dreaded blacklist. It is important to recognise this, and to emphasise
how from an early point in the Cold War the cinema was some sort of forum
for debate, unlike in the Soviet Union.
The different forms in which a small number of films expressed disquiet
with the super-patriotic, anti-subversive and militaristic consensus emerging
in the United States during the high Cold War of the late 1940s and 1950s
require close attention. So too does the variety of motives that lay behind the
making of these movies, the difficulties that filmmakers came across before
and during production, and the obstacles many of them needed to overcome
in order for their projects to reach a wide audience. We need to identify how
far dissent stretched, and the extent to which images offering alternative per-
spectives on the Cold War were ‘contained’.
Three films are subjected to close analysis below: The Day the Earth Stood Still
(1951), Storm Centre (1956) and On the Beach (1959). Each highlights an issue that
caused the US government considerable political discomfort during this period,
and which filmmakers would continue to probe throughout the Cold War. Of
these issues, Washington’s faith in nuclear deterrence stands out. Taken together,
these films show how the nature of cinematic Cold War dissent gradually altered
through this early but critical period of the conflict. At the beginning, in the late
1940s and early 1950s, dissent largely came in allegorical or semi-allegorical
form. As the 1950s progressed, and with the broad outlines of the Cold War
consensus now firmly established, a number of filmmakers grew more openly
critical of Cold War orthodoxy. This shift can be linked to institutional changes
within the film industry that allowed for greater experimentalism on screen. It
can also be tied to the relaxation in East-West relations following Stalin’s death
in 1953, and to the growing anxieties about the Cold War shared by a number of
pressure groups, commentators and the American public in general.


The years immediately following the Second World War represented, in hind-
sight at least, something of a boom time for liberal and left-wing filmmakers
Negotiable dissent 137

in Hollywood. The war had exposed a number of America’s social problems

which producers, sensing that topical subject matter would be profitable, were
happy to play with on screen. Scriptwriters and directors on the political left
used this rare opportunity to advance egalitarian or democratic themes, or to
make pictures that, like Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire (1947), dwelt on hitherto
taboo issues such as American anti-Semitism.2 The onset of the Cold War and
HUAC’s hearings in Hollywood in late 1947 by and large put paid to these
‘message’ pictures. However, while the case of the Hollywood Ten (which
included Dmytryk) was making its way through the courts, some liberal oppo-
sition remained alive, and a handful of films seriously questioned some of the
basic tenets of American society. All the King’s Men (1949) and The Lawless
(1949), made by the communists Robert Rossen and Joseph Losey respec-
tively, analysed the nature of political and social oppression, while Charlie
Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil (1948)
suggested that corruption, greed and murder were at the core of Western
society. Frank Capra’s political comedy State of the Union (1948) both critiqued
American conservatism and espoused one-world internationalism.3
By mid-1952, only one of these directors, Frank Capra, was free to work
in the United States.4 Chaplin had been forced into exile by the FBI and the
Immigration and Naturalisation Service, and Rossen, Losey and Polonsky
were blacklisted. Dmytryk was effectively on parole. Having been imprisoned
for contempt in 1950, he had cooperated with HUAC in 1951, and a year later
was hired by Stanley Kramer, whose production company worked under
Columbia’s banner. Kramer, as we shall see, went on to make some of the
boldest, most socially conscious movies to come out of Hollywood in the
1950s and 1960s, and was an early example of the Hollywood liberal who took
a sceptical view of the Cold War.5
By the early 1950s, the Cold War and McCarthyism were both in full swing.
A small number of filmmakers reacted to this either by expressing concern
with the direction American foreign policy was taking, or by highlighting the
negative impact anti-communism was having on American society. Science-
fiction movies flourished throughout the Cold War and especially during the
1950s, when seemingly omnipresent images of aliens, giant insects and white-
coated megalomaniacs projected the United States as a nation in a constant
state of alert. While such images have been submitted to a multitude of inter-
pretations over the years, there seems little doubt that the majority of them
dramatised the need for Americans to pull together in the face of internal and
external political and social threats. Some science-fiction movies had more
obvious Cold War connotations than others. Dozens of films, like Christian
Nyby’s The Thing (1951) and William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders from Mars
(1953), made quite overt connections between the danger to national security
138 Hollywood’s Cold War

posed by aliens devoid of both moral sense and emotion, and the threat feared
from the Red Menace. Others, such as the slug-like movements of Irvin
S. Yeoworth, Jr.’s The Blob (1958), provided an objective correlative for the
right-wing fear of ‘creeping communism’. Brian Murphy, among others, has
argued that the vast majority of these ‘monster movies’ buttressed the moral
and political order: by showing the authorities and scientists collaborating
against their abominable foe, by depicting ordinary Americans doing exactly
as they were told, and by teaching viewers that there was no turning back the
technological clock.6
If most filmmakers exploited for politically conservative ends one of the
decade’s more artistically exciting genres, a few others used the greater
freedom which science fiction – with its fantastic plots and peculiar conven-
tions – afforded for social and political dissent. Boasting a horrific assortment
of radiation-engendered mutant monsters which threatened Earth with death
and destruction, films like Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
articulated the fears that many Americans had of an atomic age spiralling out
of control.7 During the 1940s and 1950s, the Truman and Eisenhower admin-
istrations generally took the view that aggressively disseminating atomic infor-
mation was the best way to offset Americans’ fears of nuclear weapons and
science. This contrasted with the situation in the Soviet Union and Britain, the
two other members of the ‘nuclear club’, whose governments avoided pub-
licity whenever possible.8 Washington was of course highly selective in terms
of the nuclear information it spread; among the material it suppressed (until
1970) was explicit documentary footage of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki
bombings, shot by a Japanese film crew in August 1945.9 The government also
encouraged a public discourse that made ‘disarmament’ a dirty word, one syn-
onymous with 1930s-style appeasement, neutralism or even subversion.10
In late 1953, in response to the new Soviet leadership’s peace overtures that
summer, and growing public disquiet about the arms race brought on by
Moscow’s recent successful hydrogen bomb test, Eisenhower breathed new
life into the US government’s nuclear propaganda offensive by launching his
‘Atoms for Peace’ campaign at the United Nations. A formula that spoke of
pooling international atomic resources for humanitarian purposes, ‘Atoms for
Peace’ was one of many imaginative initiatives aimed at enhancing America’s
status as the world’s leading proponent of peace and progress. In the decade
following this, Washington produced or financed at least fifty short films for
domestic and worldwide distribution showing the peaceful uses of nuclear
energy.11 Film studios like Disney and other ‘private’ agencies played their part
in this long-running campaign by utilising official information to make movies
that, like Disney’s Our Friend the Atom (1957), made nuclear energy appear excit-
ing and safe.12 This material came on top of the ubiquitous ‘duck-and-cover’
Negotiable dissent 139

instruction shorts for school children, and other officially sanctioned civil
defence pamphlets, broadcasts and films designed to persuade the American
people that, by learning the relevant facts and taking elementary precautions,
they would be able to cope with whatever Moscow launched at them.13 One of
the alleged effects of this barrage of publicity was to facilitate what psycholog-
ist Robert J. Lifton calls ‘nuclearism’, the acceptance of nuclear weapons as
part of everyday life.14
Amidst these efforts to allay the public’s nuclear fears, Hollywood contin-
ued to toy with the relationship between aliens, radioactivity, mutation and
death, albeit largely by displacing the anxieties about the Bomb onto the
horror film.15 Of particular interest here, however, are those movies in which
aliens appeared as benevolent forces, warning Earth of the lunacy of the
nuclear arms race, preaching East-West peaceful coexistence, or exposing
McCarthyite paranoia and xenophobia.
One of the most commercially successful examples of this sub-genre was
Jack Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space (1953), which used the hostility shown
towards a group of harmless visiting aliens by their hysterical small-town
hosts to condemn contemporary America’s fear of the Other. Scripted by a
former Communist party member, William Alland (who also produced the
film), and Ray Bradbury, the libertarian sci-fi author and fervent critic of the
blacklist, It Came from Outer Space stridently defends society’s non-conformists
through its support for the lead character John Putnam (played by Richard
Carlson), who helps the pod-people to escape from the mob-like authorities.
By depicting parts of the United States as narrow-minded and virtually bar-
barous, it also suggests that the ‘civilised’ West might have more to learn from
the Other Side – terrestrial and extraterrestrial – than prevailing discourse
would allow. Alland later argued the film carried the Rooseveltian message that
all the human race had to fear was ‘fear itself . . . If you fear the Communists,
we destroy ourselves’. ‘I think science fiction films are a marvellous medium
for telling a story, creating a mood and delivering whatever kind of social
message should be delivered’, opined Jack Arnold, a social democrat who had
previously produced government documentaries. ‘If ten per cent of the audi-
ence grasped it, then I was very successful.’16 Arnold went on to make an
Ealing-esque international relations satire, The Mouse that Roared, in 1959 for
Columbia’s British offshoot, Open Road Films, with the blacklisted writer-
producer Carl Foreman. The project had languished for years in the United
States, with prospective backers and distributors claiming that the script’s lam-
pooning of great-power diplomacy lay outside the American public’s then
politically limited sense of humour.17
Two minor films, Burt Balaban’s Stranger from Venus (1954) and Herbert
Greene’s The Cosmic Man (1959), both concocted versions of the alien Other
140 Hollywood’s Cold War

to emphasise the destructive power of atomic weapons and humankind’s

paradoxical blind allegiance to the false ethic of deterrence.18 But it was
Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) which carried Hollywood’s
most powerful intergalactic liberal message of the decade, as well as providing
a counterpoint to the crude anti-communist nationalism of movies of the
period like Walk East on Beacon. The Day the Earth Stood Still came at the very
end of a period, between 1945 and 1951, when a small body of films had ques-
tioned the morality of nuclear weapons, and before the debate about nuclear
matters on screen was effectively emasculated for the rest of the 1950s by the
switch to ‘creature-features’ aimed at the increasingly large but limited teenage
market.19 Based on a short story, ‘Farewell to the Master’, by Harry Bates, pub-
lished in Astounding Science Fiction magazine in 1940, The Day the Earth Stood Still
was the first ‘A’ treatment given to a science-fiction theme by a major studio
(it cost $1.2 million).20
The movie told the tale of a spaceman, Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie),
who lands on Earth in his flying saucer with an indestructible robot. Klaatu
has been sent on an interplanetary peace mission to break the Cold War dead-
lock and so save the whole universe from a nuclear catastrophe. Gort, the
robot, has the power to destroy Earth if humankind does not come to its
senses. Scriptwriter Edmund H. North and producer Julian Blaustein were
mainly responsible for the film’s political message. North wove his pacifist
beliefs into a number of screenplays throughout a long career, which included
the Oscar-winning Second World War drama Patton (Franklin J. Schaffner,
1969) and Race to Oblivion (Robert Churchill, 1982), a documentary made for
the anti-nuclear group Physicians for Social Responsibility.21 Blaustein had
made military training films during the Second World War, before being
appointed a producer at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1949. He had just made
Broken Arrow (1950), an account of the first peace pact between white settlers
and the Apaches in nineteenth-century Arizona, told, unusually, from the
Indians’ viewpoint. His new film was, he told journalists, ‘a plea for a stronger
United Nations with an effective police force’, and was intended to show that
‘peace is not a dirty word’.22 Robert Wise, the director, had gained prominence
in the early 1940s as the editor of Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane
(1941), and was not regarded at any point in his long career as a political film-
maker. Despite this, his involvement in The Day the Earth Stood Still was risky
given his close association with many on the Hollywood left who had recently
been blacklisted.23
The head of Twentieth Century-Fox, Darryl Zanuck, strongly supported
The Day the Earth Stood Still but, with one eye on HUAC and the other on his
friends in government, watered down what he saw as the dangerously radical
aspects of North’s early scripts. Zanuck persuaded North to make a number
Negotiable dissent 141

of substantive political changes. First he told North to modify an early scene

in which Harley, a White House official, tells Klaatu that the United Nations
had already proven to be a failure. This would have weakened Washington’s
professed support for UN-brokered arms controls, not to mention its claim
to be fighting in Korea on the organisation’s behalf. Zanuck also warned that
a later scene, in which Klaatu (using the adopted name Mr Carpenter) and his
human confidant Helen (Patricia Neal) agree that the great powers’ continued
unwillingness to relinquish sovereignty was ruining prospects for interna-
tional peace, ‘might be misconstrued’.
Second, Zanuck asked North to tone down his suggestions throughout the
script that only internationalist-minded scientists offered the world hope of
salvation, rather than, as Zanuck countered, great statesmen such as former
US Secretary of State George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower, not to
mention God himself. To Zanuck, North’s suggestions smacked of support
for the Atomic Scientists’ Movement, a group of scientists (which included
the world-renowned physicist Albert Einstein) who had worked on the
Manhattan Project and since 1945 had been campaigning for international
controls on nuclear weapons. Zanuck did not believe for one moment in ‘the
idiotic theory that we should have given up all our atomic secrets to the
Russians eight years ago, as some “brilliant” scientists recommended’. Most
of them had since changed their minds anyway, he argued caustically, ‘now
that the USSR has made very clear its intentions by aggressive and unpro-
voked war’.24
Third, Zanuck insisted that Klaatu’s shooting by a soldier at the outset of
the movie be put down to nervousness rather than trigger-happiness. He also
had North delete a line uttered by Helen’s son Bobby (Billy Gray) – ‘some of
the kids always want to play war, but I never do’ – which implied American
society had become dangerously militarised. Finally, Zanuck challenged North
on the negative picture his script painted of the authorities’ and the public’s
hysterical reaction to Klaatu’s escape from a secure hospital wing. Zanuck felt
that it would be more appropriate to pin the blame for the public’s mob-like
hunt for the innocent fugitive on the press, and to show the police and FBI
trying responsibly to dampen the lynch psychology.25
Even after these changes had been made, both the Production Code
Administration and the Department of Defence still regarded The Day the
Earth Stood Still as controversial. The PCA insisted that Klaatu’s ending speech
be rewritten where his ‘words seem to be directed at the United States’.26 The
army and the National Guard reluctantly provided some soldiers and equip-
ment for the production, since the Pentagon acknowledged that it would be
the military’s responsibility to confront any sort of threat to the nation’s well-
being. This assistance, allied to impressive location work in Washington, DC,
142 Hollywood’s Cold War

A monster with a message: moments after landing on Earth and announcing his peaceful intentions, Klaatu
(Michael Rennie, lying in the foreground) is shot and wounded by the US military. The gigantic robot, Gort
(Lock Martin), comes to his master’s rescue. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Twentieth Century
Fox/The Kobal Collection.

the presence of real-life news commentators like Elmer Davis, and innovative
technical effects, gave the film a sense of actuality and immediacy.27
Zanuck’s and the PCA’s interventions did blunt the film’s message in some
regards, but The Day the Earth Stood Still was by no means neutered. Despite its
fantastic plot, the end product patently makes serious and well-crafted points
about the build-up of nuclear weapons and the Red Scare. The film conveys
the inability of world leaders, including the American president, to compro-
mise; the statesmen won’t even meet to discuss Klaatu’s proposals on arms
negotiations. It portrays the American government as cynical and ruthless,
imprisoning the well-meaning Klaatu lest his message causes political embar-
rassment. It then shows how easy it is for the media to whip up public hyste-
ria, to the point at which Klaatu is tracked down and killed like a wild animal.
A few in the audience might even have seen Klaatu/Mr Carpenter as a Christ-
like figure persecuted for carrying a message of peace and willing to die to save
the world.28
Most unusually for films of this era, The Day the Earth Stood Still depicts paci-
fist intellectuals sympathetically. Klaatu befriends Dr Barnhardt, played by
Negotiable dissent 143

A meeting of minds: Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and Dr Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) construct a plan for
international disarmament. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Twentieth Century Fox/The Kobal

Sam Jaffe, a well-known non-communist progressive (who would be black-

listed in 1951–2) with a physical resemblance to Einstein.29 Barnhardt, his
fellow scientists and other experts from the East and the West who are invited
to a meeting with Klaatu are far more open-minded and trustworthy than the
US military establishment, which is presented as both ignorant and arrogant.
When Klaatu makes ‘the Earth stand still’ for half an hour by stopping all
motors and electricity, thereby exhibiting his power to punish the planet if its
nuclear arms threaten its neighbours, Barnhardt is awe-struck, whereas the
authorities are stricken by panic. Similarly, when Klaatu delivers his final ulti-
matum – that if humans fail to coexist Gort will have no alternative but to
reduce Earth ‘to a burned-out cinder’ – Barnhardt’s face suggests he still sees
the alien as more of an ally than an enemy and that a breakthrough in world
relations is finally now possible.30
At the very end of the movie, Helen chooses to remain on Earth rather
than leave with Klaatu, arguing that the world’s dire predicament is as much
her fault as anyone else’s and that it is up to everyone to regain effective
control of nuclear technology. In this way, the film concludes on a construc-
tive, optimistic note and chooses not to challenge US officialdom as directly
144 Hollywood’s Cold War

as it might. Overall, though, The Day the Earth Stood Still validates a turn to
extra-governmental politics, and suggests that for a major social and philo-
sophical change one cannot depend on the political status quo.
In the event, when The Day the Earth Stood Still was released in September
1951, Twentieth Century-Fox’s publicity department made conspicuous
efforts to play down the film’s political overtones. This was not that unusual;
studios traditionally argued that overtly political material was box office
poison. In this case, however, Zanuck’s cautiousness was doubtless height-
ened by HUAC’s return to Hollywood in early 1951 in order to open up a
further round of subversion investigations. Financially, The Day the Earth Stood
Still performed satisfactorily, taking $1.8 million at the US box office.
Politically, though, the movie seems to have made little impact.31


A second category of celluloid Cold War dissent relates to films which, in alle-
gorical form, condemned those who led or tacitly condoned the witch-
hunting of the Red Scare era. The best-known example of this, because it
alludes to Hollywood itself, is High Noon, a 1952 Western produced by Stanley
Kramer, directed by Fred Zinnemann, and written by Carl Foreman. The
movie tells the story of sheriff Will Kane (played by that icon of frontier deter-
mination, and friendly HUAC witness, Gary Cooper), whom the cynically
fearful townspeople of Hadleyville desert when a gang leader recently
released from jail returns to exact revenge on Kane for arresting him. An
ex-communist who felt abandoned by his industry colleagues after being sub-
poenaed to testify before HUAC while the film was in production, Foreman
claimed his script was a parable about the committee’s onslaught on
Hollywood and ‘the timidity of the community there’. This message was
understood by some within the film trade when it was released. John Wayne,
then President of the MPA, vilified the movie, condemning its depiction of
cowardly townsfolk as ‘the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my
whole life’. Equally, others interpreted the film quite differently. The official
Soviet newspaper, Pravda, for instance, attacked High Noon as ‘a glorification
of the individual’. In the years ahead, the most influential political reading of
the film seems to have been Swedish critic Harry Schein’s. Schein asserted that
High Noon was the great American foreign policy movie: an allegory for the
United Nations’ fear of the Soviet Union and China around the time of the
Korean War, and, in Will Kane’s reluctant hero, an affirmation of the United
States’ moral courage, duty and sense of justice.32
Another broody but lesser known Western, Silver Lode (1954), focused
more overtly on the nature of liberty, truth and memory in a free society.
Negotiable dissent 145

Neither its director, Allan Dwan, nor its writer, Karen DeWolf, appears to
have had overt political objectives. Dwan had been making movies for forty
years and was best known for directing the Second World War flag-raiser Sands
of Iwo Jima (1949). DeWolf ’s credits included Appointment in Honduras (1953),
a jungle adventure starring Glenn Ford as an American restoring democracy
in Central America. Silver Lode, a B-movie, told the story of Dan Ballard (John
Payne), a respected citizen in the town of Silver Lode, who on his wedding
day is accused of murder and robbery by four men from Discovery led by an
old acquaintance called Ned McCarthy (Dan Duryea), who is posing as a US
Marshal. Though entirely innocent, Ballard is soon deserted by his erstwhile
friends and hunted down on the basis of allegations, suspicion and circum-
stantial evidence. In the dénouement, Ballard and McCarthy fight it out in the
town clock tower, where the villain is eventually killed when a bullet from his
own gun ricochets from a replica Liberty Bell. As a final twist, we then learn
that the document which has helped clear Ballard’s name is itself a forgery. In
this way, the film seemed to be criticising the very process of political inves-
tigation and sneering at the public’s willingness to accept ‘evidence’ that either
suited them personally or corresponded with the temper of the times.33


Films that challenged prevailing American Cold War values openly were very
rare indeed in the 1950s. A handful of espionage comedies, such as Norman
Panama and Melvin Frank’s Knock on Wood (1954), ridiculed the images of a
world imperilled by subversion created or fostered by political leaders and the
media. Other, less slapstick comedies made qualified attacks on McCarthyism.
H. C. Potter’s Top Secret Affair (1957), for example, was a comical battle of the
sexes that centred on an American military hero (Kirk Douglas), who is falsely
accused of leaking information to the enemy while stationed in Korea, and a
misguided liberal journalist (Susan Hayward), whose exposé of the spy scandal
provokes a McCarthyite Senate hearing. This sort of material reflected a certain
willingness on the part of Hollywood and its audiences to laugh at their own
phobias, and to address the unhealthy fear and suspicion accompanying the
quest for national security, but it was not directly confrontational. No come-
dies questioned the very basis of the national security state, or pre-empted
assaults on the McCarthyites from within the political establishment. And
none was as bitingly satirical on the relationship between McCarthyism, HUAC
and American popular culture as Charlie Chaplin’s British-made A King in New
York (1957), which was not shown in the United States until 1973.34
One film that did strike a range of dissenting notes, and which has con-
sequently attracted considerable attention from historians, is Herbert
146 Hollywood’s Cold War

Biberman’s Salt of the Earth (1954). Made outside Hollywood by the blacklisted
Biberman, Michael Wilson and Paul Jarrico, this was a powerful drama based
on a strike in 1950–1 by the Mexican-American zinc miners of Bayard, New
Mexico, who had demanded equality with their Anglo colleagues, as well as
safety regulations on the job. Salt of the Earth was the first American feature
film to focus on and present a strike by a militant union from the workers’
point of view. The film was so successfully suppressed by elements within the
film industry mainstream, federal and state governments, and organised
labour that it had only a brief showing in a handful of cities and, despite high
praise and prizes in Europe, did not go into general US release until 1965. For
its defiance of the blacklist, and its socially conscious unionism that sought to
break down racial barriers, bridge class divisions, and enlarge the role of
women, Salt of the Earth has been described by one scholar as ‘the single most
anomalous cinematic legacy of Cold War America’. Its uniqueness can best be
appreciated by noting that a quarter of a century passed before another posi-
tive feature film about unions was made: Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae, in 1979.35
There are two Hollywood movies of the era that bear some comparison
with Salt of the Earth, in terms of reconstructing a real-life case of political per-
secution and deprecating Cold War America’s lurch to the right: Philip
Dunne’s Three Brave Men (1957) and Daniel Taradash’s Storm Centre (1956).
Dunne’s docudrama was based on the true story of a navy clerk (Abraham
Chasanow, played by Ernest Borgnine) who was fired as a security risk in 1954
because of suspected connections to the Communist party, and who then
took the case to court to prove his loyalty to the United States. Daringly for
its time, Three Brave Men portrays the emotional torture caused to an innocent
citizen victimised by reckless political charges, but the film ultimately retreats
to the centre ground. Instead of attacking the atmosphere of paranoia that
fostered the communist witch-hunts, Borgnine’s crucifixion is treated as a
necessary evil in the interests of ‘democracy’.36 Storm Centre has largely been
ignored by historians, yet is worthy of sustained analysis for two reasons. First,
it represents Hollywood’s most direct assault on McCarthyism until the mid-
1970s, and, second, the film, paradoxically, won approval from a number of
nationalist pressure groups whose rampant anti-liberalism had helped gener-
ate the Red Scare.37
The origins of Storm Centre lie in the summer of 1950, when Elick Moll sug-
gested to his friend and fellow screenwriter Daniel Taradash that a letter in the
Saturday Review might provide them with a basis ‘to fight McCarthyism through
film’. Though avowed liberals, neither Moll nor Taradash had a reputation for
political activism, on or off screen. Taradash had earned his first Hollywood
feature credit in 1939 as one of four screenwriters on the film adaptation of
Clifford Odets’ socially conscious play Golden Boy; Moll’s credits included the
Negotiable dissent 147

anodyne musical You Were Meant for Me (Lloyd Bacon, 1948). The letter in ques-
tion, written by Darlene Essary, told of the recent dismissal of her friend Ruth
Brown, who had been librarian at the Bartlesville Public Library in Oklahoma
for thirty years, amid allegations of subversive activities that included sub-
scribing to left-wing magazines and participating in interracial programmes.
In March 1951, Taradash and Moll persuaded the Stanley Kramer Company,
whose five-year, thirty-picture contract signed that year with Columbia gave
Kramer control over the subject matter of his films, to purchase their story.
Titled ‘The Library’, its themes of book-burning and character assassination,
leavened with anti-intellectualism and ‘political ambition disguised as patrio-
tism’, amounted to, in the screenwriters’ opinion, ‘a dangerous picture about
dangerous ideas’. The core of the film was to be the librarian’s battle against
pressure to remove books labelled communist and therefore subversive in a
Red Scare atmosphere.38
For four years, between mid-1951 and mid-1955, the shooting of ‘The
Library’ was postponed. A series of personal, commercial and political obsta-
cles held up production. First, veteran star Mary Pickford agreed to play the
lead role of the librarian, only to drop out of the project in late 1952, partly
for fear of working with what her friend and influential right-wing Hollywood
gossip columnist Hedda Hopper called ‘that red, Stanley Kramer’. Next,
Irving Reis, the film’s director, died in the summer of 1953. Following this, in
1954, Kramer’s company, a number of whose employees had resigned or been
fired as a result of their encounter with HUAC in 1951–2, parted from
Columbia, leaving ‘The Library’ in the studio’s hands.39 In early 1955,
Taradash, who had won the 1953 screenplay Academy Award for From Here to
Eternity, formed an independent production company, Phoenix Corporation,
with his old Harvard friend Julian Blaustein, and made a two-picture deal with
Columbia. Blaustein was looking to kick-start a production career which had
stuttered somewhat since The Day the Earth Stood Still. Harry Cohn, Columbia’s
chief, was then persuaded to give Phoenix $800,000 for ‘The Library’, with
Blaustein and Taradash agreeing to work respectively as producer and direc-
tor for profits but no salary. In August 1955, filming of what was now called
Storm Centre finally got under way in Santa Rosa, California, with the legendary
Bette Davis playing a matronly Alicia Hull. The 90-minute movie was released
in the US a year later, in the summer of 1956.40
The plot of Storm Centre revolves entirely around the character of Alicia
Hull, a devoted public servant widowed during the Second World War. As
librarian of the Kenport Public Library, she has been for over twenty-five
years not merely a custodian but a loving guide who helps mould the future
generations of her New England town. In turn, the children of Kenport
regard her as a friend and counsellor, her favourite being Freddie Slater (Kevin
148 Hollywood’s Cold War

Coughlin), whose father resents his son’s bookish habits. Over a seemingly
innocuous lunch one day, city officials ask Hull to remove from her shelves a
tome, The Communist Dream, which they feel is subversive ‘garbage’. In
exchange they promise to build her long-desired children’s wing. Hull at first
acquiesces, but then quickly reverses her decision, sensing bribery and an
assault on the freedom of expression.
The next day, in the film’s key scene, reminiscent both of events in
Bartlesville and of the HUAC hearings in Hollywood years earlier, Hull
defends her action before the city council. In response to charges that she is
in danger of turning ‘the library into a propaganda agency for the Kremlin’,
Hull argues that the book in question actually exposes the truth about com-
munism and that having it in the library is testimony to America’s faith in its
citizens’ ability to make judgements for themselves. One of the council
members, Paul Duncan (Brian Keith), then produces a file on Hull, which
points to her membership of a number of wartime communist front groups.
Upset by Duncan’s implications and his burrowing into her private life, Hull
declares that she detests communism but that she also disagrees with censor-
ship. Duncan retorts by calling her ‘a dupe’ for those people ‘who hide behind
our laws . . . to destroy our laws’, but agrees with his colleagues that Hull
should be forgiven so long as she removes The Communist Dream and accepts
the council’s right to ‘screen’ all the library’s ‘questionable material’ hence-
forth. When Hull stands firm, saying that the council can remove the book
but only at the cost of dismissing her, the council feels it has no option.
Several members fear losing power if the press learns that they have been
‘soft’ on communism. Consequently, Hull is fired and replaced by Duncan’s
fiancée, Martha Lockridge (played by Kim Hunter, an Oscar winner and
former blacklistee).
Smeared in the local newspapers as a Red, Hull, once a much-loved pillar
of the community, is systematically ostracised by the townsfolk. Friends and
acquaintances are too scared to campaign on her behalf lest they be branded
communists. Even the children shun her, compounding her sense of loneli-
ness and desperation. All of this has a profound psychological effect on
Freddie Slater, who, suffering from frenzied nightmares and told by his father
that Hull has poisoned his mind with ‘crummy notions’, begins to hate her.
His emotions come to a head some months later when, at the ceremonial
opening of the library’s new children’s wing, Freddie throws a fit and tearfully
denounces Hull as a communist in front of everyone. That night, ashamed
and confused, Freddie sneaks into the library and sets it on fire. As Kenport’s
inhabitants watch aghast as one of their most treasured civic buildings burns
to the ground, and as the camera lingers on the flaming volumes of Mark
Twain and Shakespeare, they realise their collective wrongdoing. Duncan gets
Negotiable dissent 149

Food for thought: Alicia Hull (Bette Davis) learns for the first time that one of her library’s books,
The Communist Dream, is stirring controversy. The McCarthyite enforcer, Paul Duncan (Brian Keith),
sits on her right. Storm Centre (1956). Columbia Pictures/Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences.

the punishment he deserves: condemned by his council colleagues as a polit-

ical opportunist whose Red-baiting has debased American civil liberties, then
dumped by Martha for his scheming cruelty. The film wraps up neatly when,
amid the ashes and the craven town inhabitants, Hull declares her determina-
tion to help rebuild the library. ‘And if anyone ever again tries to remove a
book from it’, she adds fiercely, ‘they’ll have to do it over my dead body.’
Several high-profile liberals, among them the former First Lady, Eleanor
Roosevelt, applauded Storm Centre for its courage, and justifiably so. During
filming, Davis had received threatening letters from women’s groups warning
her of the long-term damage the ‘subversive’ project would have on her and
her children’s reputations. Support for the film also came from influential
Washington columnists like Drew Pearson, with whom McCarthy had had a
long-running public feud.41 Conversely, the Catholic Legion of Decency gave
Storm Centre a ‘separate’ classification, used for only the fifth time in twenty
years, on the grounds that it was ‘a propaganda film’ that ‘offers a warped,
150 Hollywood’s Cold War

oversimplified and strongly emotional solution to a complex problem of

American life’. The Motion Picture Industry Council stridently objected to
this, arguing that the Legion’s action amounted to blatant censorship. From
one of the liberal magazines that Ruth Brown had been sacked for circulating
in 1950, the Nation, came this ringing endorsement: ‘It should be hard to con-
vince a woman’s friends and neighbours that she is an enemy agent. The great
merit of Storm Centre is that it shows – with no sentimentality and little melo-
drama – how very easy it is.’42
However, it would be a mistake to overstate Storm Centre’s political audac-
ity, for several reasons. For a start, the film expresses no sympathy at all for
the plight of the thousands of American communists or left-wing ‘fellow
travellers’ whom the national security state had labelled traitors. The movie is
careful to depict Alicia Hull as a respectable civil libertarian who abhors com-
munism, not as a radical outsider. Second, far from questioning the United
States’ role in the Cold War, the filmmakers explicitly supported it. ‘We’re
telling Russia we can read a book designed to be inimical to democracy’,
Taradash told Variety, ‘and yet not be damaged by it, because we are stronger
than Russia.’ This, and the movie’s celebration of Hull’s archetypical provin-
cial pluck in the face of bullying politicos, help to account for the strong
backing Storm Centre received from a number of ultra-conservative organisa-
tions which had campaigned successfully for Ruth Brown’s dismissal in 1950,
such as the Daughters of the American Revolution. The film would have
carried a very different message had Hull, like Brown, abandoned her com-
munity, rather than staying to rebuild it after what is presented as a temporary
collective loss of sanity.43 Third, via Hull’s keynote speech, in which she com-
pares The Communist Dream with Hitler’s Mein Kampf, the film encourages the
audience to look on communism and fascism as two halves of the same coin,
and thereby to reduce the Cold War to a struggle between democracy and
totalitarianism. As already mentioned, this was one of the chief refrains of
official and unofficial American Cold War propagandists.
Fourth, the movie deletes all references to Ruth Brown’s work for racial
equality in Bartlesville, which was the main reason why she was fired. While this
can be attributed mainly to the scriptwriters’ targeting of McCarthyism, and to
the perceived need to give audiences a story they could easily comprehend,
Storm Centre missed an opportunity to show that during the Red Scare anti-
communists were often driven by ulterior motives – economic, personal and
racial. Finally, even the strongest theme of the movie – its excoriation of the
McCarthyite practices of censoring books, smearing intellectuals and persecut-
ing liberals for pre-Cold War political activities – was, by 1956, to all intents and
purposes out of date. McCarthy’s own four-year assault on domestic commu-
nism had ended in 1954 with his censure by the Senate for unethical tactics, after
Negotiable dissent 151

which witch-hunting had slowly lost its appeal (though not its effect). Had Storm
Centre appeared in the early 1950s, when political informing, stigmatisation and
guilt by association were at their peak, it would undoubtedly have packed a polit-
ical punch. As it was, in 1956, critics of varying political persuasions deemed
the film preachy, artificial and hysterical.44


If the early 1950s saw the Cold War at its most glacial, the latter part of the
decade represented one of the conflict’s more schizophrenic phases.
Nikita Khrushchev’s instantly historic denunciation of Stalin at the Twentieth
Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in early 1956, the 1958 Soviet–-
American cultural exchange agreement, and Khrushchev’s visit to the United
States in September 1959, the first ever by a Soviet leader (and whose low
point was a Hollywood studio tour),46 were all signs to Westerners that the
Kremlin’s desire for ‘peaceful coexistence’ was more than mere rhetoric. Many
Americans also saw the alcohol-induced death of Joseph McCarthy in May
1957 as marking the end of a dark period in the nation’s recent history. On the
other hand, Moscow’s brutal intervention in Hungary in late 1956, the blow
delivered to American pride by the Soviet launch of the first space satellite,
Sputnik I, in 1957, and the crisis over Berlin in 1958–9 saw East–West tensions
rise to new levels amidst official and media speculation about mutual assured
destruction, global fallout and doomsday machines. Eisenhower’s ‘New Look’
nuclear-oriented military strategy, combined with Khrushchev’s high-stakes
‘rocket-rattling’ diplomacy during the late 1950s and early 1960s, produced
what many historians now see as the Cold War’s most frightening phase, cul-
minating in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.47
During this period, the public’s fears about the arms race often bordered
on acute paranoia. This is hardly surprising given that even physicists and
politicians did not know the full extent of thermonuclear power. This fact was
dramatically illustrated in March 1954, when the unexpectedly large radioac-
tive fallout from an American bomb test in the Pacific caused the first human
casualties of the hydrogen bomb era: the crew of a Japanese fishing boat, the
Fukuryū Maru, or Lucky Dragon. Eisenhower’s efforts to limit the accident’s
political fallout by telling journalists that even the scientists were surprised by
what had happened not surprisingly backfired, sparking a debate in the media
that ruled out any thoughts people might still have had that a nuclear war
would resemble the Second World War. Despite this revelation, a year later the
head of the US Federal Civil Defence Administration (FCDA) was still advis-
ing urban dwellers that they would be able to escape fallout exposure merely
by building a roadside trench, covering it with tar and paper, and huddling
152 Hollywood’s Cold War

underneath until the air cleared. By 1958, having already conceded publicly
that fallout would produce genetic damage and cancer, the US Atomic Energy
Commission felt it was losing the battle in trying to present the nuclear build-
up as an ultimately beneficial and peaceful activity.48
Five years after the Lucky Dragon disaster, the first American movie to ques-
tion seriously the feasibility of nuclear war survival appeared.49 Produced and
directed by Stanley Kramer, On the Beach (1959) was based on Nevil Shute’s
1957 novel depicting the aftermath of an all-out nuclear confrontation. Set in
Melbourne in 1963, Shute’s story followed the fates of the crew of a US
atomic submarine, submerged when the bombing took place, and their
Australian hosts, who are helplessly awaiting the cloud of radioactive fallout
that is drifting south, having already killed everyone in the Northern
Hemisphere. On the Beach differed markedly from the majority of military-
based films of the fifties which, like Above and Beyond (Melvin Frank/Norman
Panama, 1952), Strategic Air Command (Anthony Mann, 1955) and Bombers B-52
(Gordon Douglas, 1957), had received logistical support from the Pentagon
and which had portrayed atomic weapons as the benign protectors of democ-
racy.50 Suggesting instead that nuclear weapons might completely destroy the
world and all life upon it, On the Beach was praised as a deterrent to further
nuclear armament and credited with initiating a public dialogue that ques-
tioned the value of the bomb.51 Such socially pertinent fare was the speciality
of Kramer, whose self-appointed liberal mission was ‘to use film as a real
weapon against discrimination, hatred, prejudice, and excessive power’.52
The space for Kramer and others like him to operate had opened up during
the 1950s due to the demise of the traditional Hollywood studio system. The
catalyst for this was the Supreme Court’s divorcement decrees of the late
1940s, which separated the studios from their theatre chains in order to
promote fair competition within the film industry. Many of the major studios
reacted to these rulings, which made them even more vulnerable to the
onslaught of television, by cutting in-house production and transforming
themselves into conglomerates that emphasised distribution and the funding
of contracted independents. This gave rise to a greater number of independ-
ent producers who felt less bound by the old studio hierarchies or the increas-
ingly outmoded strictures of the PCA. Simultaneously, surveys indicated that
the post-Second World War baby boom was giving rise to a younger, more
liberal audience that wanted more experimental films. Added to this, by the
late 1950s HUAC’s grip on Hollywood had diminished and the practice of
blacklisting was being discontinued.53
These developments combined to facilitate the emergence of more
socially critical and artistically innovative filmmakers like Kramer, who in 1954
had set up a new company which released through United Artists. Kramer was
Negotiable dissent 153

no nuclear radical; he was not a member of America’s largest anti-nuclear

peace group, SANE, for instance, which had formed in 1957, nor was he a
committed nuclear unilateralist. He made On the Beach to ‘attempt to get
people to think about the arms race’, proclaiming it would be ‘a concept of
hope on celluloid . . . to reach out to the hearts of people everywhere that they
might feel compassion – for themselves’.54
Whilst their movie was bound to attract political opposition, both Kramer
and United Artists could argue they were merely tapping into the anti-nuclear
Zeitgeist. When it was published in the United States in the summer of 1957,
Nevil Shute’s novel had sold 100,000 copies in the first six weeks, and then
been serialised by some forty newspapers with a circulation of eight million.
A March 1958 poll by the American Institute of Public Opinion found that
70 per cent of the American public favoured ‘setting up a world-wide organ-
isation which would make sure – by regular inspections – that no nation,
including Russia and the United States, makes atom bombs, hydrogen bombs,
and missiles’.55
As it was, Kramer did not go out of his way to make the film any more
frightening or politically controversial than the novel already was. Kramer had
a habit of leavening the political content of his movies by focusing on indi-
vidual lives and romance, and in foregrounding the doomed love affair
between the commander of the USS Sawfish, Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck),
and careworn Australian Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner), On the Beach was no
different. Having consulted scientists during production, Kramer might have
chosen to present his viewers with explicit images of radiation’s effects. Yet its
picture of the nuclear holocaust is bland and antiseptic. The bombs ‘tastefully
explode off screen’, as the New Republic later put it, we see no corpses, and no
one suffers radiation sickness.56 When the Sawfish’s crew sails to California to
investigate a radio transmission, only to discover that the signal is merely an
empty Coke bottle banging against a telegraph transmitter, San Francisco and
San Diego appear untouched. One of the most moving scenes in the book
centred on an Australian naval officer, Peter Holmes (played on screen by
Anthony Perkins), injecting his infant with a lethal serum, then administering
government-issue suicide pills to his wife and himself. In the film, this is
reduced to a discussion about suicide between husband and wife, a change
that might be related to the pressure exerted on Kramer by the Legion of
Decency and PCA.57 In contrast with the novel, the film also ends on a poten-
tially upbeat note. The final shot of Melbourne, now a ghost town, focuses on
a Salvation Army banner proclaiming, ‘There is still time, Brothers’. Some
have read this as irony on Kramer’s part, but at the time many critics believed
that this, combined with the movie’s flowery portrayal of the post-nuclear
world, diluted the unmitigated grimness of Shute’s reality.58
154 Hollywood’s Cold War

The end of the line: dressed in a radiation suit, the Sawfish’s Lt. Sunderstrom (Harp McGuire) finds the
source of the mysterious San Diego radio transmission. The city, like the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, is
dead. On the Beach (1959). United Artists/MGM.

Even with these changes, On the Beach is an intensely moving film. The script,
by John Paxton and James Lee Barrett, highlights the different kinds of denial
that each victim practises. Holmes’ wife, Mary (Donna Anderson), refuses to
think of or tolerate talk of the impending disaster; Towers cannot accept the
death of his wife and children; Moira and others drink excessively; nuclear
physicist Julian Osborne (Fred Astaire) races his sports car, before gassing
himself with its exhaust fumes. There is a conspicuous lack of panic, and the
submarine crew maintain a stiff upper lip throughout. But Towers’ decision to
leave Moira at the end to make the journey home with his crew, while admirably
patriotic, also appears absurd and sadomasochistic. Kramer diverges from
Shute’s novel, which specified that the war was started by China and Russia delib-
erately attacking one another. The film instead states that the fatal confrontation
was caused by a mixture of technical failures and human fallibility, suggesting
therefore the only rational solution would be to dismantle the whole nuclear
apparatus. ‘Everybody had an atomic bomb and counter bombs and counter
counter-bombs’, intones Osborne. ‘The devices outgrew us. We couldn’t control
them.’ Attempts by the Department of Defence and the navy to alter this during
script consultations, and to show Russia starting the war, came to nothing.59
The movie pulls no punches either when it comes to predicting the terri-
ble scale of the disaster: the world faces extinction. Kramer in fact refused to
Negotiable dissent 155

Doing the unthinkable: the moment at which Lt. Cmdr Holmes (Anthony Perkins) and his wife Mary
(Donna Anderson) realise the time has come to kill their baby daughter before committing suicide. Their
deaths will take place offscreen. United Artists/MGM.

modify his script in this regard, despite protests from military and civil defence
authorities, who argued that there were not enough weapons in existence to
spread the quantity of radioactivity required to sterilise the planet. As a result
of this, the Pentagon turned down Kramer’s request to borrow a nuclear sub-
marine, but the producer’s willingness to challenge overtly both the military’s
tight relationship with Hollywood and the big screen’s support for nuclear
deterrence during this period was highly significant. Lawrence Suid, an expert
on the links between filmmakers and the Pentagon during the twentieth
century, writes: ‘On the Beach, not the Vietnam War, marked the real beginning,
albeit in a small way, of a greater scrutiny of the US military establishment by
the mass media and the cultural community.’60
With the Defence Department having largely failed to influence the movie’s
content, other government agencies worked feverishly to reduce the public
impact of On the Beach. The film arrived during a period in which the White
House was acutely sensitive to the issue of nuclear testing and disarmament.
Since the Lucky Dragon incident in 1954, an assortment of world leaders, sci-
entists, international organisations and VIPs, including Pope Pius XII, had
campaigned for a test ban, to the point at which, by the winter of 1958, radioac-
tive fallout had become one of the most important issues in international
affairs. Despite a long-running government information programme stressing
156 Hollywood’s Cold War

that the need to test was solely to maintain ‘an atomic shield against aggres-
sion’ and to perfect the development of ‘clean’ weapons that did not produce
radioactive fallout, testing had also become a divisive domestic political issue,
leading to the birth of SANE and other nuclear disarmament groups.61 In early
1959, while On the Beach was being shot in Australia, the Office of Civil Defence
Management (OCDM) found via opinion polls that, despite an optimistic pub-
licity campaign promising that only minimal precautions were necessary to
protect from the dangers of hydrogen bomb fallout (the duck-and-cover ads),
less than 20 per cent of the American population believed that their chances
of survival were very good, even if they were housed in a fully equipped bomb
shelter (which only 2 per cent of the population had yet constructed).
Government psychologists concluded that these findings showed the public
was psychologically unable to ‘think about the unthinkable’ without falling into
total despair, and that this was the greatest danger to civil defence.62 The USIA
had already, in June 1958, condemned an early script of On the Beach for ‘its
utterly pessimistic outlook’ and a ‘tendency to “blame America” in much of its
preparation’.63 Such readings, allied to the FBI’s conviction that communists
were infiltrating SANE chapters, helps explain why the CIA was drafted in to
ferret behind the scenes of the production. The agency drew a blank, however,
concluding that there was ‘no information to support [the contention, made
by prominent church leaders amongst others] that On the Beach is a communis-
tic vehicle of propaganda’.64
On the eve of the film’s release, in November and December 1959,
Eisenhower’s Cabinet discussed the matter on several occasions. Secretary of
State Christian Herter believed the movie’s ‘extremist, ban-the-bomb propa-
ganda’ constituted a potentially ‘serious obstacle’ to national security. If audi-
ences embraced the film’s message, it could have a ‘tremendous impact’,
undermining public support for the government’s civil defence programme
and military expenditure. OCDM director Karl Harr agreed, decrying the film
for making his fallout shelter programme ‘utterly hopeless’.65 After the Cabinet
had watched On the Beach at a special White House preview in early December,
it was suggested that Secretary of Defence Robert Anderson should make a
televised statement discrediting the film, in particular using his connections
with religious leaders to exploit Catholic concerns over the depiction of mass
suicide. Concluding that this would merely give the movie added publicity, and
that it must avoid ‘the appearance of an American government boycott of an
anti-war film’, the Cabinet opted instead for a more subtle briefing strategy.
White House staff distributed a classified report on the movie among State
Department and Pentagon personnel, directing them to refuse comment on
the actual movie yet providing them with tips on how to disprove its scientific
validity. Quotations from the report found their way into negative reviews of
Negotiable dissent 157

On the Beach, and into speeches by members of Congress as well as key military
and defence officials. The USIA sent classified information guides on On the
Beach to all embassy posts, with a cover letter signed by Herter, setting out, a
tad optimistically, how the movie’s undoubtedly strong emotional appeal might
be turned ‘into intellectual support for our quest for safe-guarded disarma-
ment’. Unfortunately, this directive backfired somewhat when it was leaked to
journalists, leaving the impression among some Americans of a manipulative
government that lacked either the intellectual imagination or the political
ability to rethink its deterrent strategy.66
In a carefully choreographed release campaign, designed to enhance the
picture’s international importance, On the Beach opened simultaneously in
eighteen major world capitals, from Berlin to New Delhi, including Moscow.
The event marked the first time an American film had had a premiere in the
Soviet Union.67 Variety claimed that the premieres were attended by some
33,000 people and reported that in Tokyo ‘many of the 1,500 persons in the
first-night audience wept openly’.68 The Soviet government used its endorse-
ment of the movie as proof to the world that the Soviet Union was as ‘peace-
loving’ as the United States, but reportedly found it far too hopeless and
depressing for public viewing in Russia.69
In the United States, On the Beach, like The Ten Commandments, generated
heated discussion among critics, politicians, pressure groups and the public
way beyond the norm. Republican Senator Wallace F. Bennett of Utah
accused Kramer of being a pacifist and of ‘playing the Soviet’s game’ by
alarming the public with unjustifiable fears. From the other side of the polit-
ical spectrum, Paul V. Beckley in the New York Herald Tribune praised the film
as ‘one of the most successful dramatisations of ideas in recent history, the
thorough evolution of a particular nightmare which has been haunting our
generation ceaselessly’. The Los Angeles Times suggested strongly that the gov-
ernment’s damage-limitation measures had served little purpose, since ‘these
scattered criticisms are but a small volley amid a generally favourable reaction
to an excellent and moving film’. The distinguished American physicist Linus
Pauling waxed lyrical: ‘It may be that some years from now we can look back
and say that On the Beach is the movie that saved the world.’70
There is some debate over the commercial success and social impact of On
the Beach. Within a few months the film had generated $6.2 million in domes-
tic rentals, making it the eighth highest-earning movie of 1959. Despite the
fact that this figure dwarfed the movie’s $2.9 million budget, Kramer thought
that On the Beach financially underachieved. Years later he told biographer
Donald Spoto that he took ‘full responsibility for the film’s disappointing box
office’, blaming it on his failure to make the film’s sober subject ‘exciting’
enough to attract a mass audience.71 Kramer may have a point here. Ironically,
158 Hollywood’s Cold War

opinion polls of the time suggested that most Americans found the film real-
istic and accurate in its depiction of the real threat of nuclear war, and that is
why they stayed away from watching it.72 This could help to explain why no
Hollywood-produced film attempted to deal so explicitly with nuclear-
induced extinction for another twenty-four years.73
Yet, as these polls, and G. Tom Poe’s fascinating analysis of the American
reception of On the Beach, show, because the movie attracted such interest, its
rhetorical impact and political influence went far beyond its actual spectators.
As the most controversial nuclear film of the 1950s, On the Beach was talked
about by more people than actually watched it.74 This does not mean of
course that, by itself, the film necessarily altered the average American’s per-
spective on nuclear war, or that it forced the media to challenge official views
on the subject. For the most part, the media continued throughout the early
1960s to refuse to publish the writings of nuclear critics and did little to ques-
tion government policy. This paradoxical, if not bizarre treatment of the
nuclear threat was highlighted in the summer of 1961. That August a Rand
Corporation study, available to but largely ignored by the press, estimated that
a 3,000-megaton attack on American cities would kill 80 per cent of the popu-
lation. In September, Life magazine ran a lengthy article, accompanied by an
appreciative letter from President Kennedy, assuring readers in remarkably
sunny terms that 97 out of 100 Americans would survive a nuclear war if only
they built bomb shelters. The best cure for radiation sickness, it advised, was
‘to take hot tea or a solution of baking soda’.75
On the Beach certainly developed a politically intriguing afterlife. Many anti-
nuclear groups, spanning the globe from New Zealand to Britain, enthusias-
tically incorporated the movie into their propaganda campaigns in the early
1960s.76 It was then superseded in this regard mainly by two harder-edged
films made in Britain in the aftermath of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis: Stanley
Kubrick’s black comedy, Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love
the Bomb (1964),77 and Peter Watkins’ horrifying docudrama, The War Game
(1965).78 A new generation of activists then recycled On the Beach in the 1980s,
when the issue of nuclear escalation returned to the top of the international
political agenda.79

Between 1947 and 1960, the major Hollywood studios released an approximate
total of 300 feature films per year.80 A relatively small number of these movies
were explicitly anti-communist or anti-Soviet. A far greater number lent
implicit ideological support to the US government’s Cold War stance through
their inherent endorsement of individualism, consumerism and patriotism.
Negotiable dissent 159

Even many movies that professed to show the dark underside of affluent
American family life – epitomised by James Dean’s delinquent Jim in Nicholas
Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955) – effectively underpinned the Cold War con-
sensus by suggesting that acutely personal relations outweighed wider social,
political and economic concerns.81 Looked at in the context of these hundreds
of movies, the two dozen or so non-conformist films analysed above obviously
amount to a weak retort.
Making movies that encouraged audiences to question cherished national
values during wartime is not something that Hollywood had (or has) ever found
easy. During the early stages of the Cold War, the innate conservatism of the
American film industry was reinforced by a unique number of externally and
internally imposed pressures of a political and economic nature. Never before
had industry personnel and output been politically scrutinised so exhaustively
as they were in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The institutional trauma this
caused was made worse by the sharp drop in cinema attendance figures during
the era, a depressing phenomenon which tended to act as a further disincentive
to producers to take political and artistic chances on screen. The result was an
overarching culture of censorship and self-censorship in relation to the Cold
War on the film trade’s part. Any filmmaker who courted Cold War controversy
risked being labelled a communist at worse, or naïve at best. One angry trade-
press reviewer of Storm Centre, for instance, a movie released two years after
Joseph McCarthy’s highly publicised fall from grace, wondered whether its
director realised how simple it would be for others to turn his film into Soviet
propaganda: ‘Our Central Intelligence Agency would do well to keep its eye
open for the appearance behind the Iron Curtain of prints of this film that are
altered, by dubbed dialogue, inaccurate sub-titles or otherwise, so as to make it
appear that Americans are now setting their public libraries afire.’82 Such state-
ments of ideological anxiety, tinged with paranoia, substantiate the general
picture historians have painted of a nervously fundamentalist American film
industry during the early Cold War.
And yet, as we have seen, a small number of filmmakers did not entirely
conform to this conventional picture. Driven by a combination of liberal beliefs
and a determination to make intellectually aware movies, semi-autonomous
producers like Stanley Kramer and Julian Blaustein were able to challenge –
albeit in a small way – some of the dominant national views about US nuclear
policy and internal political subversion. Crucially, they could do this only as long
as they were willing to accede to studio executives’ demands for political
changes to their scripts, as was the case with The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Alternatively, they might claim an individual mandate to promote liberal anti-
consensual views by trading on their reputation for politically informed pictures
and a successful track record of drawing audiences to films with controversial
160 Hollywood’s Cold War

themes through conventional Hollywood formulae. Had either Blaustein or

Kramer not boasted these qualities, and had independent filmmakers not been
able to exploit their greater leverage in an industry undergoing institutional
change, it is unlikely either Storm Centre or On the Beach would have got the nec-
essary financial backing from any major studio. Most of the time it was safer to
voice dissent allegorically, but on a few occasions open defiance could be risked,
so long as the filmmaker could claim to be running as much with public opinion
as against it. If he could not, yet went ahead with his project anyway, the chances
were that work would be entirely marginalised, as the fate of Salt of the Earth
Movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still, Storm Centre and On the Beach there-
fore demonstrate the non-monolithic nature of the US state–film network,
and prove that even during American Cold War cinema’s most conservative
phase, the US film industry was never officially straitjacketed in the way that
Soviet cinema was. This is not to say, of course, that American filmmakers
were as free to comment on the Cold War as most movie-goers presumably
believed. Viewers might have known of HUAC’s Tinsel-town investigations,
but few would have necessarily connected these with what they saw (or did
not see) on the big screen at the Saturday night drive-in. To them, Hollywood
remained a Dream Factory that produced cheap, escapist entertainment
utterly divorced from foreign policy decisions taken two thousand miles away
in the nation’s capital.

1 Open letter by DeBra, Director of MPAA Community Relations Department, in
Columbia Studios publicity material, Storm Centre micro-jacket, BFIL.
2 Sayre, Running Time, pp. 31–56.
3 Peter Roffman and Jim Purdy, The Hollywood Social Problem Film: Madness, Despair,
and Politics from the Depression to the Fifties (Bloomington, IN, 1981), pp. 293–4; John
H. Lenihan, ‘Hollywood Laughs at the Cold War, 1947–1961’, in Toplin (ed.),
Hollywood as Mirror, pp. 140–3.
4 During this period, the White House briefly raised the possibility of asking Capra
to remodel his Oscar-winning Second World War documentary series, Why We
Fight, for the Cold War. Nothing came of this, for reasons unknown. White
House minute, 20 March 1952, DDRS 1990, 555. On Why We Fight see Joseph
McBride, Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success (New York, 1992), pp. 467–91.
5 Sbardellati and Shaw, ‘Booting a Tramp’; Roffman and Purdy, Social Problem Film,
p. 293; Edward Dmytryk, It’s a Hell of a Life But Not a Bad Living (New York,
6 Biskind, Seeing, pp. 102–44; Brian Murphy, ‘Monster Movies: They Came from
Beneath the Fifties’, Journal of Popular Film, Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 1972, pp. 31–44.
Negotiable dissent 161

7 Variety, 20 March 1957, p. 6.

8 Oakes, Imaginary War; Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and
Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (New York, 1985); David Holloway, Stalin and
the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939–1956 (New Haven, CT, 1994),
pp. 237, 266; Margaret Gowing, Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy,
1945–1952. Vol. Two: Policy Execution (Basingstoke, 1974), pp. 116–26. The Soviet
Union and Britain exploded their first nuclear devices in August 1949 and October
1952 respectively. The United States and the Soviet Union exploded thermonuclear
devices in 1952 and 1953 respectively. The first British thermonuclear tests were
carried out in 1957, which enabled London to deploy hydrogen bombs in 1961.
9 Erik Barnouw, ‘The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Footage: A Report’, Historical Journal of
Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1982, pp. 91–100.
10 Lawrence S. Wittner, The Struggle Against the Bomb. Vol. One: One World or None: A
History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement through 1953 (Stanford, CA,
1993), pp. 263–74; Lawrence S. Wittner, The Struggle Against the Bomb. Vol. Two:
Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954–1970
(Stanford, CA, 1997), pp. 125–59.
11 Saki Dockrill, Eisenhower’s New Look National Security Policy, 1953–1961
(Basingstoke, 1996), p. 133; Osgood, ‘Total War’, pp. 88–121; Spencer R. Weart,
Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (Cambridge, MA, 1988).
12 Elizabeth Walker Mechling and Jay Mechling, ‘The Atom According to Disney’,
Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 81, No. 4, 1995, pp. 436–53.
13 Guy Oakes, ‘The Family Under Nuclear Attack: American Civil Defence
Propaganda in the 1950s’, in Rawnsley (ed.), Cold War Propaganda, pp. 67–83;
JoAnne Brown, ‘“A is for Atom, B is for Bomb”: Civil Defence in American
Public Education, 1948–1963’, Journal of American History, Vol. 75, No. 1, 1988,
pp. 68–90; Suid (ed.), Film and Propaganda, pp. 85–115.
14 Robert J. Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial (New
York, 1995), pp. 337–441.
15 Examples include Not of This Earth (Roger Corman, 1956), The Beginning of the
End (Bert I. Gordon, 1957), Kronos (Kurt Neumann, 1957) and The Queen from
Outer Space (Edward Bernds, 1958). On these and others see Joyce A. Evans,
Celluloid Mushroom Clouds: Hollywood and the Atomic Bomb (Boulder, CO, 1998).
16 Buhle and Wagner, Hide, pp. 74–8; Biskind, Seeing, p. 159; David Pirie, Anatomy of
the Movies (New York, 1981), pp. 277, 280. In 1953, at the end of the HUAC hear-
ings, Alland had nearly escaped testifying, only to make a career move by giving
the committee the names of his former friends and comrades.
17 The Mouse that Roared scrapbooks, items 90–1, Carl Foreman Collection, BFIL.
18 Mick Broderick, Nuclear Movies (Jefferson, NC, 1991), pp. 19–20, 76, 89.
19 Evans, Mushroom Clouds, pp. 21–44.
20 Filmfax, November 1989, pp. 70–9. The Day the Earth Stood Still altered Bates’ story
somewhat. Whereas Bates’ point seemed to be that it was difficult for humans to
understand something different from themselves, The Day the Earth Stood Still
stressed the need for international and even interplanetary understanding.
162 Hollywood’s Cold War

21 Obituary of North, Los Angeles Times, 30 August 1990; Laurence H. Suid, Guts and
Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film (Lexington, KY, 2002),
pp. 267–8. Though North intended Patton to carry an anti-war message, this was
not necessarily how others interpreted it, including President Richard Nixon.
Suid, Guts and Glory, pp. 276–7.
22 Hollywood Citizen-News, 1 May 1951; Blaustein, cited in British National Film
Theatre programme, The Day the Earth Stood Still micro-jacket, BFIL.
23 Buhle and Wagner, Hide, p. 77. At the height of the Second Cold War in 1982,
Wise tried but failed to make an American–Communist Chinese love story, ten-
tatively titled Our Destiny, in Shanghai in association with the Chinese Film
Corporation. Variety, 26 August 1982.
24 ‘Farewell to the Master’, Memorandum on Outline 8/8/50 from Darryl Zanuck
to Julian Blaustein, 10 August 1950: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Box 542,
Twentieth Century-Fox Script Collection, UCLA Arts Library Special
Collections, Los Angeles (hereafter UCLA AL). On the Atomic Scientists’
Movement see Wittner, One World or None, pp. 59–66.
25 ‘Farewell to the Master’, Memorandum on Outline 8/8/50 from Darryl Zanuck
to Julian Blaustein, 10 August 1950, and ‘Farewell to the Master’, Conference on
First Draft Continuity of 11/28/1950 with Zanuck, Blaustein and North, 6
December 1950: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Box 542, Twentieth Century-Fox
Script Collections, UCLA AL.
26 Joseph Breen to Colonel Jason S. Joy, Twentieth Century-Fox Director of Public
Relations, 25 January 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still – PCA Files, AMPAS.
27 Suid, Guts and Glory, p. 223.
28 By giving Klaatu the name ‘Mr Carpenter,’ Edmund North was drawing parallels
with Christ. This was his ‘private little joke’, intended to evoke a ‘subliminal’
response. North, quoted in Biskind, Seeing, p. 152.
29 Variety, 17 October 1978.
30 Some historians have interpreted Klaatu’s ultimatum and other aspects of The
Day the Earth Stood Still as deeply authoritarian, by strongly implying that experts
had the right to keep ‘ordinary people’ in line. See, for example, Mark Jancovich,
Rational Fears: American Horror in the 1950s (Manchester, 1996), pp. 41–3. In my
opinion, these readings fail to take the filmmakers’ intentions fully into account.
However, such interpretations do provide evidence of science-fiction cinema’s
potential for multiple meanings.
31 Hollywood Reporter, 4 September 1951, p. 3; Variety, 5 September 1951, p. 6;
BoxOffice, 8 September 1951; Newsweek, 1 October 1951;
tt0043456/business (28 September 2006).
32 Richard A. Schwarz, Cold War Culture: Media and the Arts, 1945–1990 (New York,
1998), p. 138; John Wayne interview, Playboy, May 1971, p. 9; Harry Schein, ‘The
Olympian Cowboy’, American Scholar, Vol. 24, No. 3, 1955, pp. 309–20.
33 New York Times, 24 July 1954, p. 6.
34 Lenihan, ‘Hollywood Laughs’, pp. 144–8; Sbardellati and Shaw, ‘Booting a
Tramp’, pp. 524–30.
Negotiable dissent 163

35 Thomas Doherty, review of James L. Lorence, The Suppression of Salt of the Earth:
How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America
(Albuquerque, NM, 1999), in Labor History, Vol. 4, No. 3, August 2000, pp. 380–2;
Walsh, ‘Films We Never Saw’, pp. 578–80. On Norma Rae see Variety, 28 February
1979, p. 20, and Hollywood Reporter, 14 March 1980, p. 28.
36 Time, 11 February 1957; Variety, 16 January 1957, p. 6.
37 Though several films released in the 1960s – notably John Frankenheimer’s
Manchurian Candidate (1962) – contained critiques of 1950s American right-wing
extremism, it was not until the release of Sydney Pollack’s The Way We Were in
1973 and Woody Allen’s The Front in 1976 that filmmakers focused specifically on
the McCarthy witch-hunts. The latter excoriated the entertainment blacklist. On
these movies, and Irwin Winkler’s 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion, see Booker,
American Left, pp. 258–60 and Jeanne Hall, ‘The Benefits of Hindsight: Re-visions
of HUAC and the Film and Television Industries in The Front and Guilty by
Suspicion’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 2, 2001, pp. 15–26.
38 Daniel Taradash Papers, Boxes 3, 24, 33 and 81, AHCW. For more on the Brown
case see Louise S. Robbins, The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown: Civil Rights, Censorship,
and the American Library (Norman, OK, 2000).
39 Variety, 19 September 1952; Taradash Papers, Box 81, AHCW; Variety, 21
November 1952; New York Times, 14 October 1956.
40 New York Times, 14 October 1956; Pat McGilligan (ed.), Backstory 2: Interviews with
Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s (Oxford, 1981), pp. 322–4. From Here to Eternity
was directed by Fred Zinnemann.
41 Charles Higham, Bette: A Biography of Bette Davis (London, 1981), p. 194; Taradash
Papers, Boxes 24 and 33, AHCW; Columbia publicity material, Storm Centre
micro-jacket, BFIL.
42 Variety, 11 July 1956; America, 4 August 1956; Taradash Papers, Box 33, AHCW;
Nation, 27 October 1956.
43 Variety, 6 July 1955; Film Culture, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1956, p. 25.
44 For critical reviews of Storm Centre see, for example, New York Times, 22 October
1956, p. 25; Catholic World, October 1956, pp. 64–5; Commonweal, 10 August 1956,
pp. 466–7. For a closer analysis of the relationship that Storm Centre bore to the
Ruth Brown case see Robbins, Ruth Brown, pp. 150–3.
45 Physicist Robert Oppenheimer, Supervising Scientist on the Manhattan Project,
quoting from the Bhagavad-Gita, upon seeing the first atomic test in July 1945. On
Oppenheimer’s isolation from government weapons research following the
Second World War, and his being charged in 1953 with communist sympathies by
the US Atomic Energy Commission, see Alice Kimball Smith and Charles Weiner
(eds), Robert J. Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections (Stanford, CA, 1995).
46 On the Soviet–American cultural exchange agreement of 1958, which incorpo-
rated film, see Hixson, Curtain, pp. 153–4, and Variety, 10 September, 22 October,
29 October and 19 November 1958. On the offence Khrushchev took to being
pictured surrounded by the scantily clad dancers of the cast of Twentieth
Century-Fox’s Can Can (1960), see Hixson, Curtain, p. 216.
164 Hollywood’s Cold War

47 John Lewis Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford, 1997),
p. 230.
48 Ibid., pp. 225–6; Kenneth D. Rose, One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in
American Culture (New York, 2001), p. 31; Wittner, Resisting the Bomb, pp. 52, 58.
49 A small number of post-apocalyptic films had already been made, starting with
what historian Spencer Weart calls ‘the first serious film on the aftermath of
nuclear war’, Arch Obeler’s Five, in 1951. However, Five, Roger Corman’s The Day
the World Ended (1955) and Ranald MacDougall’s The World, the Flesh and the Devil
(1959) had focused utterly unrealistically on the trials of small groups of sur-
vivors (each, according to Weart, looking like ‘a new Adam and Eve with back-
packs’), and had made no attempt to confront the true horror of World War
Three and its aftermath. The scenario presented in such films, writes Joyce A.
Evans, was one in which ‘nuclear war is like a cloth that wipes away the accumu-
lated ravages of history and allows a clean, fresh world to be reborn’. Weart,
Nuclear Fear, p. 221, 238; Evans, Mushroom Clouds, p. 137.
50 New Yorker, 7 February 1953: Variety, 30 March 1955; New York Times, 23
November 1957, p. 11.
51 Nation, 2 January 1960, p. 20; Commentary, June 1960, pp. 522–3; Joseph
Keyerleber, ‘On the Beach’, in Jack Shaheen (ed.), Nuclear War Films (Carbondale
and Edwardsville, IL, 1978), p. 31; Wittner, Resisting the Bomb, p. 260.
52 Hollywood Reporter, 4 August 1958. Kramer’s earlier and subsequent films tackled
subjects such as ethnic bias in the military (Home of the Brave, 1949), paraplegic
soldiers (The Men, 1950), racism (The Defiant Ones, 1958), evolution (Inherit the
Wind, 1960) and Nazi genocide (Judgement at Nuremberg, 1961). For Kramer’s
career see Daniel Spoto, Stanley Kramer (New York, 1987).
53 Michael Conant, ‘The Impact of the Paramount Decrees’, in Tino Balio (ed.), The
American Film Industry (Madison, WI, 1976), pp. 346–70. The blacklist was pub-
licly broken in 1960, when director Otto Preminger announced that one of the
Hollywood Ten, Dalton Trumbo, had scripted one of his movies, Exodus (1960),
as well as Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960). Preminger’s announcement made the
New York Times front page, and President-elect John Kennedy and his brother
Robert crossed an American Legion picket line to view Spartacus. Buhle and
Wagner, Hide, pp. 172–6.
54 New York Times Magazine, 12 November 1959; Los Angeles Times, 9 September
55 Wittner, Resisting the Bomb, pp. 58–9.
56 New Republic, 13 May 1967. In 2000, the Showtime cable network and an Australian
company, Coote Hayes Productions, co-produced a three-part television minis-
eries of On the Beach, directed by Russell Mulcahy. Unlike the feature film, the tele-
vision series emphasised the graphic nature of the panic, destruction and death
caused by atomic radiation. (26 January 2006).
57 Jack Vizzard to Geoffrey Shurlock, 28 October 1959, On the Beach – PCA Files,
AMPAS; Msgr. Thomas F. Little to File, 23 September 1959, Kramer to George
Schaefer, 1 October 1959, Little to Cardinal McIntyre, 4 November 1959: On the
Negotiable dissent 165

Beach File, National Legion of Decency Files, The Chancery of Washington, DC

(hereafter LODCW).
58 Time, 29 December 1959, p. 44. One early screenplay written by John Paxton
(dated 28 May 1958) concluded in an unambiguously bleak fashion, with no
Salvation Army banner. A later script (dated 8 December 1958), written by
Paxton and James Lee Barrett, did end with the banner. Paxton later claimed the
banner was Kramer’s idea. See Box 1, John Paxton Collection, and Box 48, f. 404,
Gregory Peck Collection, AMPAS, and Paxton’s article in the Dallas Times Herald,
17 January 1960, pp. 3, 14. Looking back in the mid-1980s, Kramer wondered if
in fact the closing statement had ‘offered enough hope’. Stanley Kramer, ‘On the
Beach: A Renewed Interest’, in Danny Peary (ed.), Moni’s Screen Flights/Screen
Fantasies (New York, 1984), p. 118.
59 Suid, Guts and Glory, pp. 225–6.
60 Kramer, quoted in Spoto, Stanley Kramer, p. 211; Suid, Guts and Glory, p. 227.
Chapter 7 below explores the Hollywood–Pentagon relationship during the Cold
War in detail.
61 Osgood, ‘Total War’, pp. 150–1.
62 G. Tom Poe, ‘Historical Spectatorship Around and About Stanley Kramer’s On
the Beach’, in Melvyn Stokes and Richard Maltby (eds), Hollywood Spectatorship:
Changing Perceptions of Cinema Audiences (London, 2001), pp. 95–6.
63 Suid, Guts and Glory, p. 224.
64 Letter from FBI to Msgr. Thomas Little, 1 November 1959, LODCW; Cardinal
McIntyre to Bishop McNulty, 19 January 1960, Chancery Archives of the
Archdiocese of Los Angeles, San Fernando Mission, Mission Hills, California;
Wittner, Resisting the Bomb, p. 361.
65 ‘Cabinet Meeting’, 11 December 1959, Ann Whitman File, Cabinet Series, Box
15, DDEL.
66 Cabinet Paper CI-56-64, 7 December 1959, Cabinet Meeting (handwritten notes),
11 December 1959, and ‘INFOGUIDE 60-24’, 4 December 1959, White House
Office, Office of the Special Assistant for National Security Affairs – Records,
1952–61, Box 5, Nuclear Energy Matters (8), September 1959–March 1960: DDEL;
Los Angeles Mirror News, 24 December 1959; Poe, ‘Spectatorship’, pp. 97–8, 100.
67 Hollywood Reporter, 2 December 1959, p. 3; On the Beach advertising file, John
Paxton Collection, AMPAS.
68 Variety, 10 October and 21 December 1959.
69 New York Times, 22 December 1959.
70 Bosley Crowther, ‘Hollywood’s Producer of Controversy’, New York Times
Magazine, 10 December 1961, p. 76; New York Herald Tribune, 20 December 1959;
Poe, ‘Spectatorship’, pp. 98–9.
71 Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company that Changed the Film Industry (Madison, WI,
1987), p. 144; Poe, ‘Spectatorship’, pp. 91, 99.
72 Poe, ‘Spectatorship’, p. 99.
73 Lynne Littman’s Testament (1983) was jointly produced by Entertainment Events,
American Playhouse and Paramount, and co-written by Carol Amen and John
166 Hollywood’s Cold War

Sacret Young. The 90-minute drama depicted the effects of a nuclear attack on
the United States, as told through the eyes of a family in suburban California. Its
social and political impact was adversely affected by the media blitz surrounding
the 1983 ABC television special The Day After, which set a record for the number
of viewers watching a single TV show. The Day After was directed by Nicholas
Meyer and depicted the effects of a nuclear holocaust in Kansas City. Film News,
April 1984; Cinefantastique, May 1984; Broderick, Nuclear Movies, pp. 155, 159, 195;
Richard Kilborn, Multi-Media Melting Pot: Marketing ‘When The Wind Blows’
(London, 1986), pp. 95–7.
74 Poe, ‘Spectatorship’, pp. 100–2.
75 Charles Maland, ‘Dr. Strangelove (1964): Nightmare Comedy and the Ideology of
Liberal Consensus’, in Lori Lyn Bogle (ed.), The Cold War. Vol. 5: Cold War Culture
and Society (New York, 2001), pp. 215–16; Life, 15 September 1961, pp. 95–108.
76 Wittner, Resisting the Bomb, p. 207; John Minnion and Philip Bolsover, The CND
Story (London, 1983), p. 28; Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Archives, 5/17,
‘Hiroshima Day’, 1960, Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, UK.
77 Dr Strangelove can lay claim to being the most influential nuclear film of all during
the Cold War. Shooting the film at Shepperton Studios outside London in 1962–3
allowed Kubrick to avoid much of the interference he might have faced in the
United States from Columbia, the movie’s financiers, and from the US Air Force,
which regularly exerted pressures on filmmakers interested in depicting its activ-
ities during this period. ‘Strangelovian’ soon became a widely used short-hand term
for the dangers inherent in nuclear deterrence, and for the threat posed to
American democracy by the military. On the making of Dr Strangelove and its legacy
see John Baxter, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (London, 1997), pp. 165–98; Lawrence
Suid, ‘The Pentagon and Hollywood: Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying
and Love the Bomb’, in O’Connor and Jackson (eds), American History/American Film,
pp. 219–35; Maland, ‘Dr. Strangelove’; Gaddis, We Now Know, pp. 231, 258.
78 Unlike Dr Strangelove, The War Game’s action did not stop when the bomb exploded.
The hour-long film blended fact and fiction in a startlingly graphic fashion, in order
to depict the effects of a nuclear attack on England. Made for but banned by the
BBC from television screens worldwide for twenty years, ostensibly on the grounds
that it was too ‘horrifying’, Watkins’ film soon attracted a cult following via screen-
ings in art-house cinemas, church halls and universities across the Western world.
Today, many commentators see it as the most frighteningly realistic depiction of
nuclear war ever made for the big or small screen. See Tony Shaw, ‘The BBC, the
State and Cold War Culture: The Case of Television’s The War Game (1965)’, English
Historical Review, Vol. 121, No. 494, December 2006, pp. 1351–84.
79 Kramer, ‘On the Beach: A Renewed Interest’, pp. 118–19.
80 Freeman Lincoln, ‘The Comeback of the Movies’, in Balio, Industry, p. 377.
81 Roffman and Purdy, Social Problem Film, p. 297; Biskind, Seeing, pp. 168–96.
82 Films in Review, October 1956, p. 417.

Turning a negative into a positive

Selling is too simple a word for our needs. The circumstances and complexi-
ties of the civil rights movement in the United States are not going to be sold
to the people of Africa . . . What is required is understanding . . .[through] a
vigorous and unending communication with curious people of other lands.
For this task the motion picture is eminently qualified.
George Stevens, Jr., Director of the USIA Motion Picture Service,
at the American Film Festival, April 19651

This chapter shifts our focus away from the commercial Hollywood feature
film intended mainly for domestic consumption, to the government-produced
documentary aimed at audiences overseas, particularly those located in the
developing world. This is an area of Cold War propaganda that hitherto has
been largely overlooked, yet which formed a key weapon in the American gov-
ernment’s publicity arsenal. The chapter is the first of a pair dealing with the
role of film during a new and turbulent decade for both the Cold War and the
United States internally: the 1960s. Several issues dominated sixties America,
but fewer caused more social and political strife than the civil rights movement
and the Vietnam War. Here I’ll address the first of these issues, and demon-
strate how American domestic affairs could often impact on the nation’s Cold
War policies and image overseas. My analysis will also highlight the subtle skills
that Washington often employed to produce cinematic counter-propaganda
during the Cold War.
As we shall see, during the 1950s and 1960s American policy-makers iden-
tified the nation’s so-called ‘Negro problem’ as their Achilles heel in the Cold
War’s war of words. Consequently, race was the one theme that official pro-
pagandists probably spent more time on than any other. As coordinator after
August 1953 of the nation’s overt international propaganda activities, the
USIA carried the chief burden of this task, seeking to counter allegations
made by critics at home and overseas that the conditions American blacks
suffered were utterly inconsistent with the United States’ claim to be the land
of the free and equal. As part of the agency’s multi-million-dollar media cam-
paign designed to cast America’s racial problems in a positive light overseas,
one film stands out in particular: Charles Guggenheim’s Nine from Little Rock.
168 Hollywood’s Cold War

Released in 1964, this documentary cleverly repackaged an event that had

played a defining role in international perceptions of race in America in the
late 1950s into an American success story. The film not only won an Oscar,
but was translated into more than a dozen languages and distributed in almost
100 countries. Nine from Little Rock was produced during a halcyon period for
documentary filmmaking at the USIA, and capped US government efforts to
manage foreigners’ perceptions of the race issue during the Cold War. What
follows is an analysis of the political, diplomatic and cultural contexts that
shaped the creation and reception of Nine from Little Rock, together with an
evaluation of the USIA’s overall contribution to the battle of film images
fought during the Cold War.


Before examining the USIA’s race-related documentaries, we should first ask
why the agency actually needed to produce such films at all; why, that is, the
government could not rely on Hollywood to do the job for it. After all, several
historians have written of the symbiotic relationship that developed between
the State Department and Hollywood during the Cold War. This relationship
was built on links dating back to the 1920s, and saw the two bodies working
together as natural allies to capture foreign film markets for political and com-
mercial gain. In the years following the Second World War, Hollywood began
to depend increasingly heavily on overseas audiences to help offset the decline
in domestic cinema attendance, caused by the arrival of television and other
leisure activities. The State Department’s help in navigating tariff and tax bar-
riers was therefore vital. Indeed, without Washington’s muscle, in the 1950s,
when roughly half of their annual revenue came from exports, many studios
would probably have gone out of business.2
As it was, collaboration between moguls and diplomats continued well
beyond the 1950s. On the one hand, this stymied the importation and exhibi-
tion of foreign films in the United States. As a result, few of the movies
designed in the communist bloc to spread the ‘sunshine of socialism’ in the
West were seen by ordinary Americans.3 On the other hand, the relationship
also underpinned the American film industry’s dominance of the inter-
national movie market.4 This helped Hollywood’s values to structure the
agenda of the Cold War not only for the American people, but also for hun-
dreds of millions overseas. It played a central role in the United States’ strate-
gic use of ‘soft’ power (as opposed to ‘hard’ military and economic power),
spreading its values in a form of Gramscian cultural hegemony, during the
conflict. It was also one of the most powerful instruments in the process of
American ‘cultural imperialism’ in the decades after the Second World War.5
Turning a negative into a positive 169

This close relationship naturally had more explicitly political implications,

particularly when the Cold War was at its height. Immediately after the Second
World War, Washington made particular use of Hollywood movies in the
process of ‘de-Nazifying’ Germany and Austria and in ‘re-educating’
Japan.6 In the 1940s and 1950s, the film industry’s trade lobby, the Motion
Picture Export Association (MPEA), happily called itself ‘the Little State
Department’, so isomorphic were its methods and ideology with American
foreign policy.7 During this period and beyond, motion picture industry
spokesmen regularly claimed they acted as ‘ambassadors of goodwill’ for the
United States. Moreover, in emphasising their role in the ‘struggle for men’s
minds’, producers like Walter Wanger often echoed the very language that
Washington’s own psychological warriors used to describe the Cold War.8 Film
executives and diplomats shared the same worldview, and could therefore
easily agree on what types of films best served the national interest. The
overall effect of this mutually beneficial, politico-economic arrangement was
an extraordinarily powerful ‘Marilyn Monroe doctrine’, to borrow Austrian
historian Rheinhold Wagnleitner’s playful phrase.9 Overseas filmmakers
might, to their cost, have been aware of this collaboration, but it is highly
unlikely foreign film-goers were. Hence German director Wim Wenders’
famous (if contested) claim in the 1970s that American movies – with their
lavish sets and easily understood pictorial grammar glamorizing capitalism –
had ‘colonized the subconscious’ of Europe.10
As important as these ties between Washington and Hollywood were in
terms of facilitating the international supply of American movies, the State
Department was never in a position to regulate systematically the content of
commercial motion pictures exported overseas. State Department archives
from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s are replete with complaints from embassy
staff about the damaging impression that Hollywood films were giving of
American life to foreigners. Had the State Department had its own way,
American movies would have produced far fewer pictures loaded with
gangsters, corruption, sex and juvenile delinquency. Even portraying the high
standard of living that Americans enjoyed – one of the central planks of
Washington’s propaganda throughout the Cold War – could have its downside
if not fully contextualised. One US embassy report from New Zealand from
the early 1950s, for instance, noted how rural audiences had greeted a March
of Time story on farm modernisation in the United States with boos, reflect-
ing the dismay the locals felt at the degree of material prosperity Americans
were depicted as enjoying. Elsewhere, embassy reports and opinion polls
showed that the common image overseas of the United States was one of a
dynamic but violent place, a wealthy society where the opportunity to do well
was available to all, but where it required aggression to take that opportunity.
170 Hollywood’s Cold War

An embarrassment of colour: ‘Pinky’ Johnson (Jeanne Crain), a light-skinned African-American who

passed for white while at school in the northern United States, helps her aggrieved southern grandmother
(Ethel Waters) with the washing in a scene from the liberal ‘message’ film, Pinky (1949). Twentieth
Century Fox/The Kobal Collection.

Diplomats often believed that movies were chiefly to blame for constructing
this impression of hedonism mixed with social Darwinism.11
State Department records from the 1940s and 1950s show that officials
were peculiarly sensitive to Hollywood’s depiction of American race relations
and of black Americans generally. One 1953 report from the US public affairs
officer in the Caribbean island of Martinique did comment positively on
Columbia’s Harlem Globe Trotters (1951), for showing the ‘Negro basketball
players . . . as well dressed, well-paid and well-fed Americans whose skill is
admired by Negro and white fans alike’. However, more common were those
like the 1951 report from the US embassy in Karachi, Pakistan, which con-
demned Twentieth Century-Fox’s Pinky (1949), a film that dealt in a very gin-
gerly way with the subject of ‘passing for white’, for ‘lend[ing] itself to the
Communist propaganda line that all Negroes in the United States are
oppressed and subjected to discrimination’. Studios were aware of the prob-
lems the race question caused America’s image, not least because they feared
that offending non-whites overseas might damage box office returns. At times,
therefore, they were willing to restrict the distribution of certain movies and
Turning a negative into a positive 171

to modify their age-old ‘Sambo’ stereotype of black Americans in others in

order to make output more politically acceptable.12
However, on many other occasions even the most powerful of
Washington’s Hollywood insiders hit a brick wall. During the 1950s, Luigi
Luraschi, Paramount’s head of international censorship, was consistently told
by the CIA to be on the lookout for insensitive portrayals of African-
Americans and for opportunities to ‘plant’ blacks in scenes which would imply
a ‘normal’ and ‘equal Negro situation’. Yet when in 1953 Luraschi recom-
mended the insertion of token blacks as spectators on golf courses in The
Caddy, a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy, the studio’s head, Y. Frank
Freeman, flatly refused, on the grounds of upsetting southern whites. This
was a small but significant example of the state-film network’s limitations
when confronted by commercial and domestic political constraints.13 Thus,
while Hollywood had effectively sewn up the international film market with
Washington’s assistance in the 1940s and 1950s, this did not work out uni-
formly to the government’s advantage. Consequently, when it came to the pre-
sentation of the ‘Negro problem’ on the big screen, there was plenty of room
for official agencies to correct impressions, fill gaps or engage explicitly with
communist accusations of racism.


As the brouhaha surrounding Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach signifies, the
doubts Americans expressed about the nation’s nuclear weapons programme
probably caused Washington’s propagandists more headaches over the course
of the Cold War than any other issue. However, during the conflict’s first two
decades no issue challenged the central image the USIA wished to present of
the United States overseas more than the nation’s persistent problems caused
by racial injustice. Many civil rights activists and non-white nations especially
questioned America’s very right to act as a beacon of democracy during the
Cold War when it practised brutal discrimination against blacks at home.
Others asked how the United States could possibly hope to be a model of
progress for those struggling against Soviet oppression when it treated
minorities within its own borders so terribly.
State Department archives show that even in the very earliest phases of the
Cold War, when Washington’s eye was trained almost entirely on Europe,
officials in the developing world were worried about America’s image on race.
In the late 1940s, US embassy staff issued constant warnings to their superiors
in Washington about the deleterious effect southern segregation was having
on many Third World citizens’ support for the United States’ war on com-
munism. The ‘colour bar was’, according to one official in Ceylon in 1948,
172 Hollywood’s Cold War

citing a local journalist, ‘the greatest propaganda gift any country could give
the Kremlin in its persistent bid for the affections of the coloured races of the
world’. In the same year, the US embassy in Moscow reported that the ‘Negro
question’ was ‘one of the principal Soviet propaganda themes regarding the
United States’.14 Evidence of this can be found in a number of Soviet films
of the era, most notably Grigori Aleksandrov’s The Meeting on the Elbe (1949)
and Abram Room’s Silvery Dust (1953). Aleksandrov’s assault on American
perfidy at the end of the Second World War treated viewers to images of
jeering white GIs beating up a black soldier outside a German nightclub.
Room’s espionage drama showed white American fascists caging black peace
partisans like monkeys, in order to use them as guinea pigs for chemical
warfare experiments. Harlem, USA, a more obscure Soviet film that was
dubbed into English and found its way into America in 1952, portrayed the
New York district as an impoverished black ghetto exploited by white busi-
nessmen and ringed by police.15
The State Department and, after 1953, the USIA worked hard to paint a
more favourable picture of American race relations, acknowledging that the
issue had a critical impact on US prestige abroad. A twin-track propaganda
strategy emerged: first, to characterise civil rights as a sectional problem that
was restricted to the American south, and which was the product of US fed-
eralism; second, to emphasise the improvements black Americans were expe-
riencing in their daily lives, and to place these within the narrative of America’s
historical progress towards social justice and equality for all. This was a clear
attempt to turn a liability into an asset: to assert that democracy was the only
model of government that was both truly inclusive and allowed for peaceful
social change.16 On the ground, officials bombarded international media
outlets with press releases and feature stories illustrating the progress African-
Americans had made since emancipation, and countered media reports of
racial prejudice or violence with evidence of social mobility and the rise in
income of America’s minorities. Washington sponsored overseas trips by dis-
tinguished African-Americans to speak on the ‘Negro problem’, and confis-
cated the passports of others like the actor Paul Robeson who argued that
only fundamental economic and political change would improve African-
Americans’ prospects in America.17 Officially sponsored tours of musicals like
George Gershwin’s folk opera Porgy and Bess allowed African-Americans to
demonstrate their artistic prowess on stage in Europe.18
However, by the mid-1950s official reports indicated that Washington’s
message of measured yet constructive progress on civil rights appears to have
made little or no headway. America’s continued vulnerability on the race issue
was summed up by the New York Times in early 1955, in an article that con-
demned the ease with which communist propaganda ‘sedulously fosters the
Turning a negative into a positive 173

notion that . . . American Negroes live under conditions little if any different
from those described in Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.19 Many countries in the develop-
ing world, which were only just earning their independence from European
colonialism, not surprisingly viewed anti-colonialism as a more salient issue
than anti-communism. To them, America’s racial practices made the so-called
leader of the West appear like any other white imperialist nation – bigoted,
hypocritical and intent on domination.20
Things got worse for Washington before they got better. In 1954, in its his-
toric Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the US Supreme Court called for
the desegregation of public schools across America. What was seen at first as
a public relations coup for official propagandists – Voice of America broad-
casts trumpeted the news across Eastern Europe within hours of the Court’s
ruling, while the USIA’s post in India immediately sent all of its educational
films showing clips of multi-ethnic American schools on mobile unit tours21
– turned three years later into a public relations nightmare. In September
1957, President Eisenhower’s month-long struggle to persuade the governor
of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, to integrate the previously all-white Central High
School in the city of Little Rock culminated with the White House sending a
1,000-strong contingent of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division to accom-
pany nine African-American children to school. The prolonged duration and
the military drama of the school siege made Little Rock, according to one his-
torian, ‘the first on-site news extravaganza of the modern television era’.22
Throughout September 1957, overseas audiences were appalled by the
photographs and newsreel images of angry whites verbally and physically
intimidating African-Americans. Significantly, Eisenhower’s extraordinary use
of federal troops during the Little Rock crisis can itself be put down partly to
the need to assuage foreign opinion. Unless he acted decisively, the president
feared the stand-off ‘could continue to feed the mill of Soviet propagandists
who by word and picture were telling the world of the “racial terror” in the
United States’. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles felt utterly frustrated by
the impact of the crisis on his whole Cold War strategy. ‘[T]his situation was
ruining our foreign policy’, he told Attorney General Herbert Brownell. ‘The
effect of this in Asia and Africa will be worse for us than Hungary was for the
Russians.’23 Anger at the government was also palpable at home among some
of the State Department’s most prominent African-American cultural ambas-
sadors. One, the jazz musician Louis Armstrong, reacted to Little Rock by
telling the government it ‘could go to the devil with its plans for a propaganda
tour of Soviet Russia’.24
Amidst such vitriol and doom-laden rhetoric, Little Rock caused a jolt
to the political and foreign policy machines in the United States. As historian
Mary L. Dudziak writes, Little Rock was a crisis of such magnitude for
174 Hollywood’s Cold War

worldwide perceptions of race and American democracy that it would

become a critical reference point for the future. Later presidents would try
their best to avoid ‘another Little Rock’, and foreign commentators would
judge American racial progress by how far the United States had come since
the events of September 1957.25 The USIA and its sister agencies learned their
own lessons from Little Rock, pinpointing the need for a tighter marriage
between propaganda and policy formulation, the potential benefits of being
more open about America’s social problems, and the higher priority that ought
to be given to winning over Third World nationalists by using as wide a range
of techniques and media as possible. When, in 1961, a younger and more
media-friendly politician, John F. Kennedy, moved into the White House, their
prayers seemed to have been answered. Kennedy spoke openly of his deter-
mination to switch the focus of the cultural Cold War away from Europe,
where many felt the West had to all intents and purposes already won, to the
nascent and unaligned states in Africa and Asia. When Kennedy then
appointed the legendary Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) journalist
Edward R. Murrow to spearhead a revamped USIA, optimism increased.
Murrow vowed that the USIA would be ‘in on the take-off’ of foreign policy,
not just its execution. A renowned liberal, he also proclaimed his intention of
telling ‘America’s story to the world, warts and all’. With these changes, the
stage seemed set for a more vigorous and imaginative campaign to explain
America’s race issue overseas.26



The USIA was the largest national propaganda organisation directed overseas
in history, and one that dwarfed its rivals during the Cold War.27 The agency’s
relationship with US private industry, and the media in particular, was
extremely close. Theodore Streibert, its first director, was a former board
chairman of the Mutual Broadcasting System radio network. His deputy,
Abbott Washburn, had handled public relations for the food giant, General
Mills, before becoming executive vice-chairman of the CIA front organisa-
tion Crusade for Freedom.28
Relations between the USIA and Hollywood were intimate throughout the
conflict. Cecil B. DeMille was by no means the only film executive to be given
an agency consultancy contract. Streibert had previously worked with FBO
Pictures and Pathé, and the agency’s director in the 1980s was former
Hollywood producer Charles Z. Wick.29 The USIA and Hollywood formed a
discreet yet vital reciprocal arrangement, one which neatly combined profit
and propaganda. Hollywood could use the agency as an overseas audience
Turning a negative into a positive 175

service unit, helping the film industry to tailor commercial features to partic-
ular market tastes in different geographical regions. In turn, studios and pro-
ducers might learn from the USIA how the content, style and promotion of
movies best served foreign policy objectives. The agency helped sell some of
the latest developments in American film technology, like the widescreen
process, Cinerama, in the 1950s, as part of a long-running campaign designed
to link capitalism with scientific accomplishment. It also worked with the
Motion Picture Association of America in getting major feature films made
available to VIP audiences in Eastern Europe, Russia and other key locations
through a programme known as the US Ambassadorial Screenings.30
The USIA could boast the largest and most sophisticated production
operation targeting foreign film-goers run by any government during the Cold
War. Its well-resourced Motion Picture Service (or MPS) produced scores
of high-quality documentaries, employing Hollywood-trained producer-
directors on short-term contracts. The MPS financed and directed special
projects directly supporting foreign policy, together with periodic newsreels
in areas designated crucial. As the earlier analysis of Peter Rathvon’s 1984
(1956) shows, it also secretly subsidised films made by foreign companies
overseas. This all added up to an extraordinarily heavy and sustained propa-
ganda barrage. In 1962, for instance, the agency produced 36 films within the
United States and a further 147 overseas, and issued 197 newsreels.31 By and
large these films were designed, like most aspects of cultural diplomacy, to
work indirectly, almost imperceptibly. Their task was not to attack the enemy
or scare the neutral into submission through ‘hard-sell’ techniques focused on
political issues, but rather to ‘convey the rich background and warmth of spirit
characteristic of America’, through low-key celebrations of its art, cultural
diversity, educational strength and economic democracy. For the most part
this was white propaganda, clearly, though not strongly, labelled as American
government output. Covert projects running in the 1960s included a weekly
newsreel for audiences in Africa and Asia, produced by an ostensibly inde-
pendent company, Associated Films. In the 1960s, the agency also secretly
subsidised MGM’s commercial newsreel, then playing in twenty-eight coun-
tries across Africa and Asia, supplying funding and footage of politically
useful events.32
The MPS’s distribution network spanned the globe. At its peak, in the
1960s, it maintained film centres at 226 USIS posts in 106 countries, reaching
an estimated audience of 600 million people. These centres housed upwards
of 50,000 prints of hundreds of MPS-made 16mm and 35mm films (the latter
produced for theatrical use), acting as lending libraries to a host of local insti-
tutions comprising schools, clubs, churches and union halls. In smaller posts
and in developing countries the 16mm productions were often used alongside
176 Hollywood’s Cold War

mobile units, with USIS staff using trains, vans and even small boats to
connect with villages, where they would set up portable generators, screens
and projectors for open-air presentations. Back in Washington, a special unit
kept track of showings, viewer numbers and audience reactions.33


The USIA’s MPS achieved little of real note during the 1950s. The director of
the service during this period, Turner Shelton, had risen through civil service
channels and was considered more of a cost accountant than a film expert.
The service did produce a few imaginative films. Shelton’s best achievement
was probably one provided for him by Walt Disney, whose technically brilliant
multi-screen Circarama tour of the United States appeared to surround the
viewer with beautiful scenery and well-fed, cheery American faces. This film
was a hit in cities as far afield as Casablanca, Djakarta and Moscow. Shelton’s
MPS also demonstrated a shrewd opportunist streak. Hungarian Fight for
Freedom, A Nation in Torment and Now We Are Free were all produced within
months of the abortive Hungarian uprising in late 1956 and shown widely
overseas.34 However, most output was dull, badly executed and crudely ideo-
logical. This was by no means all the USIA’s fault. The agency suffered from
extremely low morale during the Eisenhower era. On the one hand, it was
hobbled by a parsimonious Congress highly sceptical of cultural diplomacy’s
merits. On the other hand, like VOA, the agency came under fierce attack
from Joseph McCarthy for promoting ‘subversive’ material, and experienced
more than its share of forced resignations. Under pressure to produce films
quickly and cheaply, Shelton tended to assign projects to the lowest bidders,
usually one of the big newsreel companies, whose experience of making
thoughtful and attractive documentaries was minimal. The results on occa-
sions could be embarrassing. One documentary meant to celebrate the
famous painter of Western scenes Charley Russell was edited so badly that,
according to one commentator, it looked as though the artist’s work had been
done by one of the cowboys.35
The five-year period following Shelton’s departure, between 1962 and
1967, represents the USIA’s golden age of Cold War filmmaking. The chief
credit for this can go to John Kennedy, Ed Murrow and, most of all, Shelton’s
successor, George Stevens, Jr. Kennedy had an instinctive understanding of
the media’s power, and believed the previous Republican administration had
botched the presentation of US Cold War policy overseas. He also felt that the
nation’s Cold War strategy required updating, and that Washington needed to
take a more progressive approach towards the Third World in particular.
Eisenhower had held that communism fed on misery and instability, and that
Turning a negative into a positive 177

‘premature independence’ portended both. In contrast, Kennedy embraced

the challenge offered by the emergence of new nations arising from the old
European empires, and felt that, if persuaded of America’s virtues, these
countries might even be the route to the West’s Cold War victory.36
Murrow fully appreciated film’s role as America’s chief image-maker, and,
as a former presenter and co-producer of the television documentary series
See It Now and CBS Reports, grasped the importance of non-fiction films. He
believed that neither the ideologically charged USIA output of the 1950s, nor
Hollywood sensationalism, served the best interests of US foreign policy
overseas, and took steps to change things. ‘Movies are doing a lot of harm to
America’, Murrow warned Hollywood’s leading managers in November 1961.
‘They convey the notion that America is a country of millionaires and
crooks.’37 Two months later, Murrow plucked George Stevens, Jr., from
Hollywood to be the MPS’s new director. Stevens was young and ambitious,
had worked as a television producer, and could tap into Hollywood’s talent
pool via his father, one of the most respected directors in the business and a
veteran of Second World War military documentary units.38
Despite being only 28 years of age when he arrived in Washington, Stevens
had firm ideas on how films should be made at the USIA and how subjects
might be dealt with in a subtle yet moving fashion. In contrast with his pre-
decessor, he looked for individuals rather than companies to produce films,
thinking that the best results came from essential control by a single artist.
Contracts no longer simply went to the lowest bidders, but often to those
directors whose skills best suited a particular subject. Once Stevens had hired
a director, often through Hollywood’s Screen Directors Guild, he would try,
as far as possible, to give him the freedom to choose a subject and, after that,
freedom to make the film. As executive producer, Stevens retained overall
control of all projects. The agency’s numerous area specialists might generate
general ideas for films and brief the filmmaker before he started work on a
project. These specialists also retained the right to see and approve the inter-
lock print as the film neared completion, but Stevens could be very persuasive
if they had objections.
Critically, because USIA control was relatively loose in the early stages of
production, innovation blossomed. Stevens cajoled the ablest of America’s
young producers into making films for the USIA and developed a documen-
tary ‘school’ akin to that which had flourished in Britain in the 1930s. His per-
suasive skills and energy united the talents of filmmakers young and old across
the political spectrum, such as the Paris-trained liberal James Blue and ardent
conservatives like Bruce Herschensohn, best known hitherto for making
missile films for the defence industry. On top of this, Stevens developed an
intern programme by scouring universities for the best prospective filmmakers.
178 Hollywood’s Cold War

George Stevens, Jr., flanked by the actor Sidney Poitier (on his right) and the vice-president of United Artists,
Arnold Picker, at the inaugural meeting of the American Film Institute (AFI) in May 1968. After leaving
the USIA in 1967, Stevens took up the directorship of the AFI and remained in post until 1979. Academy
of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Recruits included the future feature film director Carroll Ballard, whose gently
persuasive study of an Oregon farm family in Beyond This Winter’s Wheat testi-
fied to the value of foreign aid and trade.39
Stevens was not given a completely free hand in running the MPS. He stuck
to those aspects of the American way of life the USIA directives told him to
emphasise – economic strength, economic democracy, scientific and educa-
tional strength, cultural diversity, and racial and ethnic progress. He was also
beholden to the agency’s policy directives – the pursuit of peace, strength and
reliability, free choice, the rule of law, and trust in the UN.40 However, these
Turning a negative into a positive 179

broad parameters allowed for considerable experimentation, and under

Stevens’ tutelage the MPS turned out films that not only covered a wider range
of subjects than those made in Shelton’s era but did so in a greater variety of
James Blue, for example, made a trilogy of 10-minute films in Colombia,
showcasing the social and economic benefits that Kennedy’s Alliance for
Progress programme was bringing to ordinary Latin Americans: Letter from
Colombia, Evil Wind Out, and The School at Rincon Santo.41 In Invitation to India and
Invitation to Pakistan, the veteran left-wing documentary maker Leo Seltzer
exploited Jackie Kennedy’s charms during the First Lady’s tour of South Asia in
1962.42 Smaller productions sought to modify the commonly held view of a
harsh American capitalism by highlighting the nation’s welfare state provision.
Robert K. Sharpe’s Joe, for instance, focused on the help an old man retiring from
work in a machine shop was receiving from social security benefits, whereas
Barry Goldsmith’s Born a Man depicted the rehabilitation of an electrician
blinded in an accident at work.43 Bruce Herschensohn’s NASA-commissioned
film of astronaut John Glenn’s orbit of the earth in 1962, Friendship Seven, was
part of the keenly fought space-race propaganda war. Foreign policy points were
made more explicitly in powerful short documentaries like Walter de Hoog’s The
Wall, which portrayed ordinary life in the shadow of the Berlin Wall.44

While many of these films were being made, America’s image on race relations
was again tarnished. In the early 1960s, the domestic and foreign media
reported some of the most harrowing clashes between American whites and
blacks yet recorded. Followers of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s strategy of non-
violent civil disobedience imposed increasing pressure on the federal and state
governments to bring about real racial equality. At the same time, militant
groups like Elijah Muhammad’s Black Muslims advocated more radical tactics
and solutions, pouring petrol on an already inflammatory atmosphere. In
October 1962, the same month as the Cuban missile crisis, America reeled
from another integration crisis, this time after President Kennedy had ordered
in federal troops to quell ugly confrontations between whites and blacks
caused by the admission of the first African-American student, James
Meredith, to the University of Mississippi. As at Little Rock five years earlier,
the USIA trumpeted Kennedy’s forceful action as proof of the US govern-
ment’s commitment to civil rights – only for further controversy to spoil any
positive effect this might have had.45
In the spring of 1963, attention switched to Birmingham, Alabama, where
television pictures of police using water cannons and snarling dogs to break
180 Hollywood’s Cold War

up a generally peaceful civil rights demonstration were beamed around the

world, further highlighting African-Americans’ oppression. That summer,
Kennedy initiated a civil rights bill focusing on public accommodations, and
continued protest culminated in the March on Washington for Jobs and
Freedom in August, the site of King’s instantly famous ‘I Have a Dream’
speech. The tumult caused by these events, plus the White House’s belated
support for stronger civil rights legislation, gave an impetus to the USIA’s race-
relations visual communication efforts. Effective propaganda was needed, and
at once, agency officials urged. Days after racists had bombed a Birmingham,
Alabama, church in September 1963, killing four young girls, Ed Murrow told
the African-Americans Federal Bar Association in Philadelphia that racial vio-
lence was doing grave damage to the nation’s reputation overseas. The treat-
ment of African-American was, he said, ‘the single subject, month in and
month out, that so consistently occupies the cares and curiosities of other
people about the United States’.46 A USIA report from the same year con-
cluded that for the vast majority of Africans, compared with the issue of black
civil rights, most US foreign and domestic policies paled into insignificance.
Secretary of State Dean Rusk concurred, admitting that racial discrimination
was ‘the biggest single burden we carry on our backs in our foreign relations
in the 1960s’.47
In fact, one of the first projects that George Stevens, Jr., initiated as MPS
director was a film addressing the status of black Americans. In early 1962, he
hired documentary filmmaker Willard Van Dyke and African-American jour-
nalist Louis Lomax to make a film, provisionally titled The Progress of the
American Negro. Stevens’ intention was to cover ‘a subject the world knows so
little about’ and to show ‘[w]hat strides we have made, for all our failings’.
However, when the press reported Van Dyke having filmed a sit-in at a seg-
regated cafeteria in North Carolina, senior staff at the USIA feared accusations
of incitement, and the film was kept under lock and key.48 After this false start,
the MPS released a steady stream of documentaries through the rest of the
decade that framed American race relations positively. Some focused explic-
itly on the subject, while others made their points more discreetly via short
segments or scenes in films dealing with other issues.
One example of the latter was Bruce Herschensohn’s Oscar-nominated
The Five Cities of June (1963), which juxtaposed events of ‘world importance’
during June 1963. Sandwiched between sequences depicting Viet Cong infil-
trators menacing a South Vietnamese ‘strategic hamlet’ and President
Kennedy’s triumphal appearance in Berlin was another reporting the admis-
sion of two black students to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.49
Herschensohn’s feature-length paean to the Kennedy years, John F. Kennedy:
Years of Lightning, Day of Drums, made in 1964, suggested that civil rights was
Turning a negative into a positive 181

one of the dead president’s highest priorities and greatest achievements. In a

fast-moving compilation made a year later, Eulogy to 5:02, which used twenty-
four 1-minute sequences filmed simultaneously around the world in order to
show what free people could do with a minute of time, Herschensohn incor-
porated images of black and white workers relaxing over lunch at Cape
Canaveral and an African-American doctor delivering a white baby.50
Other, less flamboyant films focused on ‘star’ African-Americans, such as
diplomat Ralph Bunche, Olympic track medallist Wilma Rudolph and opera
singer Marian Anderson. Others still, like William Hale’s Grand Central Market,
showed the mingling of races in a downtown market in Los Angeles, thus
demonstrating America’s melting-pot qualities.51 These and other USIA films
were given an extra boost by the fact that the agency managed American par-
ticipation in international film festivals. Such gatherings also allowed Stevens
to exploit mainstream Hollywood movies that showed America facing up to
its racial problems, such as Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958) and Ralph
Nelson’s Lilies of the Field (1963). Stevens later incorporated Kramer’s movie
into the ‘American Classic Feature Film Programme’, a group of elite movies
– like Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) and Shane (made by Stevens’ father,
and released in 1953) – that were selected by critics and designed for prestige
screenings at American embassies around the world.52
James Blue’s The March was the first of two major USIA documentaries
devoted entirely to the issue of black civil rights to be released in 1964. Shot
in cinéma vérité style, with handheld cameras and a minimum of artifice, this
30-minute film presented an apparently straightforward account of the March
on Washington in August 1963. Yet, however authentic the film would have
appeared to most viewers, Blue’s choices of focus told the story of this
seminal event from a perspective that highly favoured the US government.
Peace, consensus and a sense of progress shone throughout. Conflict, both
between the civil rights protestors and the Kennedy administration, and
within the civil rights movement itself over goals and tactics, was airbrushed
out. The forward-looking ‘dream’ parts of King’s speech were included, but
not those in which he had criticised the US Constitution for letting down
African-Americans. The film’s overall impression was that of a united,
respectful, interracial movement enjoying the fruits of liberty, and carrying
out the democratic ideals of free speech and political participation.
However, even this sanitised picture of the march was too radical for some
within the Johnson administration and Congress, who thought the film’s
publicising of the civil rights movement’s grievances was equivalent to airing
dirty laundry in public. In response to its critics, the film was edited and a pro-
logue added by the USIA’s new director, Carl Rowan, a former journalist
and an African-American, whom Johnson had chosen as a replacement for the
182 Hollywood’s Cold War

terminally ill Ed Murrow mainly in order to demonstrate his commitment to

civil rights reform at home and around the world. Aligning the film and march
with federal policy, American political tradition and the Cold War, Rowan told
viewers of his belief ‘that this demonstration of both whites and Negroes
supported by the Federal government and by President Johnson and the late
President Kennedy is a profound example of the procedures unfettered men
use to broaden the horizons of freedom and deepen the meaning of personal
liberty’. George Stevens, Jr., disliked this introduction, thinking it flagged the
documentary as propaganda, but The March picked up several European film
festival awards. More importantly, many of the hundreds of embassy posts to
which the film was sent found it extremely valuable.53


The second major documentary about American race relations that the USIA
released in 1964 was Nine from Little Rock. If The March represented agency film
‘reportage’ at its best, Nine from Little Rock captured the MPS’s ability to deliver
an emotionally and socially uplifting history lesson, and to turn a propaganda
liability into an asset. Ostensibly an update on the nine African-American
students who had been at the centre of the Little Rock Central High School
integration debacle in 1957, the film was a beautifully crafted, low-key adver-
tisement for American democracy. It was possibly the most influential of all
the USIA’s films about African-American civil rights during the Cold War, and
the first USIA film to receive an Academy Award.
The idea for a film about the Little Rock Nine came from George Stevens,
Jr. In June 1963, a month in which President Kennedy appeared on television
to berate those Americans who were ruining the country’s reputation for
freedom by treating blacks as second-class citizens, the MPS director spotted
a piece in the New York Times Magazine about present-day Little Rock. The
article made uncomfortable reading for pro-integrationists. It described how –
six years after the 1957 crisis and nearly ten years after the Brown ruling – only
20 African-American students were among the 2,100 who attended Central
High School, and only 69 African-American pupils had finished the 1962–3
school year in the city’s integrated schools, which had a total population of
7,727. As dismaying as this was, what most interested Stevens (and about which
the article said nothing) was what had happened to the nine students who had
first integrated Little Rock’s public schools. Stevens believed that a documen-
tary about the lives they now led could form the basis of an intriguing human
interest story. If the film demonstrated that the Nine had survived their ordeal
and now played a constructive role in society, it would help mitigate foreign-
ers’ concerns about racial violence and African-Americans’ prospects.54
Turning a negative into a positive 183

Stevens commissioned Charles Guggenheim to write and direct the docu-

mentary. Born in Cincinnati in 1924, Guggenheim was one of the most gifted
filmmakers to work for the USIA. In a career spanning five decades, his docu-
mentaries earned a total of twelve Academy Award nominations (a figure
matched only by Walt Disney), and won four Oscars. Guggenheim’s films
covered a broad range of subjects: from construction of the Gateway Arch in
St Louis and the refurbishment of the Statue of Liberty, to remembering
D-Day 1944 and chronicling hate crimes in the United States. Guggenheim
began his media career in 1952, producing television political spots for Adlai
Stevenson. His links with the Democratic party remained strong thereafter,
and he acted as media director for the presidential campaigns of Stevenson,
Robert F. Kennedy, George McGovern and Edward M. Kennedy. In 1954, he
launched Guggenheim Productions in St Louis, specialising in making indus-
trial and educational films. Guggenheim produced and directed his first
feature movie in 1959, The Great St Louis Bank Robbery, a modest crime caper
starring Steve McQueen.
When Stevens arrived at the MPS, Guggenheim’s company began making
documentaries for the USIA. These varied in subject and style but in general
Guggenheim, like Stevens, preferred subtlety to bluntness. He had been
opposed to the overtly propagandistic material produced by Turner Shelton’s
MPS, especially during the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, and felt he could do a lot
better. An early indication of his more measured style was United in Progress, a
survey of the moves towards a common market economy in Central America,
made soon after Stevens’ takeover. Significantly, Guggenheim had already
made one highly respected documentary about integration and education in his
pre-USIA days, called A City Decides, in 1957. This reflected a long-standing
and on-going interest in civil rights; decades later, in 1991, Guggenheim won
his final Oscar for a story of the civil rights movement, A Time for Justice.55
Stevens had the utmost respect for Guggenheim’s taste and integrity, later
saying that as a documentary maker he ‘had more strings in [sic] his bow than
anyone of our time’.56 Crucially, the two of them agreed on a film’s need to
appeal to the heart rather than the head. In their minds, a documentary’s role
was to provide the emotional frame for an issue. ‘On the racial question, there
is very little use in making up lists of logical arguments to defend our record’,
said Stevens. ‘If we involve people in the emotional aspects of the problem,
they will see what we are up against and sympathize with the depth and
difficulty of it.’ The two of them also eschewed overtly propagandist, hard-
sell techniques. As Stevens’ speech at the 1965 American Film Festival (cited
at the head of this chapter) tells us, Guggenheim’s film on Little Rock was
expected to help foreigners gain a better ‘understanding’ of American race
relations by using a scalpel rather than a hammer. To bludgeon viewers with a
184 Hollywood’s Cold War

crude message designed to counter directly Soviet allegations that most

Americans were closet supporters of the Ku Klux Klan would, they believe,
only backfire. Instead, the film’s aim should be to show quietly but powerfully
that the leader of the Free World was doing all that it could to foster racial
equality at home and, by implication, overseas.57
With a catchy and politically recognisable title, Nine from Little Rock engages
its audience immediately. This is a documentary, but one that begins like a
thriller. As the credits roll, and spiky, ominous music builds on the soundtrack,
the camera focuses on a tall, shadowy figure approaching a pristine, white,
somehow familiar-looking building. Is this a menacing intruder, or perhaps a
symbol of black encroachment on white ‘civilisation’? Peeling away to give us
a broader view of the scene, the camera reveals the figure to be that of a
benign, young, smartly dressed African-American. He is Jefferson Thomas,
who introduces himself as one of the Little Rock Nine; the building is Little
Rock Central High. Now walking towards a wire fence, which at first suggests
his exclusion, even imprisonment, Thomas peers through it towards the
school’s track area. The sports field was once ‘an ancient battleground’, he
reminisces on the soundtrack, but one that now clearly bears the fruits of inte-
gration: black and white athletes running together. Thomas has returned to
his alma mater, seven years after the historic events of 1957, to tell us in his
own words what has become of the Nine and to pass judgement on the
progress of black civil rights.
Like others in the film, his softly spoken words have been carefully
scripted58 and dubbed by an actor for greater clarity, but to the viewer they
appear entirely natural, untainted by government. As the camera flits between
a pensive, intelligent-looking Thomas and the energetic athletes, the film pur-
ports to distance itself further from official-looking propaganda. Thomas has
an air of healthy scepticism. As a ‘dark man’ you have the right to look back
in time, he intones, to find out ‘if you’re really moving forward or if the world
is just moving beneath your feet’. This opening sequence sets the tone for the
film, with Thomas and others quietly narrating their recent life stories, unen-
cumbered by a commentator or interviewer.
Cut to newsreel flash-backs of the Little Rock integration crisis in
September 1957. Graphic pictures accompanied by dramatic drums and
strings show us how things used to be in the city: young, short-sleeved red-necks
intimidating lone black students on the way to school, mayhem caused by
racists fighting with the police, the frightening noise of a brick-throwing mob.
This was ‘how a minority in our state brought hate to Little Rock’, Thomas tells
us. The majority, we learn, are represented by the federal troops, seen escort-
ing the nine Negro students into school. The soldiers are the upholders of the
individuals’ rights and protectors of the nation’s innocent minorities.
Turning a negative into a positive 185

As Burrill Phillips’ unsettling musical score and the shots of helmeted

soldiers pointing bayoneted guns at white thugs reminds us, this was a tense
and dangerous time for the Nine and for America generally. President
Eisenhower’s measured display of force is shown to have been critical,
however. It proved to Jefferson and his fellow heroes that, as he puts it,
American ‘laws do have meaning’, and that there were ‘millions of others who
thought we represented something important’. The Little Rock crisis was, in
short, a turning point in America’s continuing transition towards a non-racial
democracy, a major step on the nation’s long road towards true equality. The
government and the country had passed a decisive test because they had held
firm to the rights set out for all Americans in the US Constitution. The
sequence ends with a freeze-frame of a white soldier, arms behind his back,
dutifully and respectfully standing guard over a gangly Thomas in the newly
integrated school yard.
The documentary then returns to the present, and Thomas’s place is tem-
porarily taken by another of the Nine, Minnijean Brown. Confident and artic-
ulate, Brown is a student at the University of Southern Illinois. There, we see
her smoking, cycling and laughing with white friends, walking with a white
professor, and working part-time as a writer on the student newspaper. We
learn that opportunities for black Americans like her are apparently unlimited.
Having initially thought of becoming a nurse, she now wants to be a journal-
ist. Furthermore, she has already been offered a job on a newspaper, despite
having made only two applications. Far from bearing any scars or grudges
from the Little Rock ordeal, Brown appears actually to have gained from the
experience. Tapping away at a typewriter, she tells us that it was seeing how
free the press was to report the events in Little Rock back in 1957, and how
open a society the United States is, that inspired her to become a journalist.
Dressed sensibly yet fashionably, Brown comes across as the very embodi-
ment of a modern American woman: one whose ambitions have grown from
adversity, who thrives on pressure, and whose work ethic is fully in keeping
with the capitalist mainstream. Brown does not discount the seriousness of
America’s on-going racial problems, but attributes racism largely to the whites’
fear of losing their way of life. Moreover, she is able to place recent events in
their historical context. Looking out calmly over the campus lake, she tells us
that today’s America offers African-Americans the sorts of life-chances their
forefathers could only dream of.
The next, shorter sequence focuses on Elizabeth Eckford, the only one of
the Nine to go to a predominantly African-American college, Central State in
Ohio. Eckford had already graduated by the time Nine from Little Rock was
shot, but Guggenheim chose to present her as if she was still at college, min-
gling with a multi-racial crowd of students singing pep songs. This allowed
186 Hollywood’s Cold War

A picture of progress: Minnijean Brown, hard at work with a white colleague on her university’s newspaper.
Nine from Little Rock (1964). Programme Guggenheim Pictures, Inc./United States Information Agency.

Guggenheim to brush over Eckford’s failure to land a professional job since

graduation, and to suggest that racial segregation could cut both ways. Central
State had until recently only taken black students, meaning that those whites
who attended the college were as heavily outnumbered as the Little Rock Nine
had been at Central High in 1957. Moreover, Eckford tells us that many blacks
at the college are themselves opposed to the whites’ presence. Even here,
though, integration is shown to have been a success, as witnessed by one white
girl’s enthusiastic cheerleading. The shot of a clapping Japanese-American girl
(presumably inserted primarily for Asian audiences) further underscores
America’s ethnic diversity.
More stock news footage from September 1957, including the infamous
scene of Eckford braving Hazel Massery’s screaming taunts, then shows her
to have suffered particularly vicious racial abuse during the integration crisis.
Despite this, Eckford tells us that no lasting damage was done. If anything,
the fear she then experienced has made her a more rounded person. It forced
her to question her goals and made her better equipped to face future chal-
lenges. Like Brown and Thomas, she too speaks of racists being ‘the few’ who
were ‘uninformed’. Like all those in the film, Eckford expresses no animosity
towards those whites who abused her, or the system that encouraged them to
do so. As it happens, after the filming, Eckford and Robert Pierce
(Guggenheim’s editor, who was white) were refused service at a restaurant in
Turning a negative into a positive 187

Xenia, Ohio. The anger Pierce felt at this encouraged him to leave at least
some hints in the documentary’s final cut that discrimination was still a serious
issue in America.59
The film’s final two segments focus on Thelma Mothershed and Ernest
Green. Like Brown, Mothershed is pictured at college in Illinois, where she
is studying to be a school teacher. This affords numerous shots of her being
tutored by white faculty members in a range of subjects, and close-ups of her
playing with smiling white children. Mothershed is shown to be a kind-
hearted and cultured African-American, one who is colour blind in the class-
room and who can appreciate the abstract paintings that decorate the walls
of her well-equipped college. Her ambitions are less grand than those of
Brown, but no less significant, for she hopes to find work in her home city.
This offers the prospect of a new generation of African-Americans not
only graduating from Central High, but acting as leading members of the
If Mothershed was a perfect African-American role model for the USIA,
Ernest Green represented a challenge. Like the other pupils already featured
in the film, Green was a high achiever who was studying in the north, in his
case at Michigan State University. However, Little Rock had radicalised Green,
who was now a civil rights activist with plans to become a full-time organiser
when he graduated. Guggenheim could have chosen to relegate Green to a
bit-part in his film but knew this might smack of censorship. Instead, he deftly
turned Green’s political consciousness into an asset. In Guggenheim’s hands,
Green comes across as a sincere moderate, one given to handing out leaflets
to passers-by in the park rather than violently waging war on the system. As
he does this, we hear protest songs on the soundtrack, but get little beyond
general platitudes on how Green thinks African-Americans will achieve
greater social justice. ‘The American Negro must protest’, he says to the
viewers, but ‘he must also build understanding by searching for truth’. We then
see the university authorities giving Green the opportunity to do just that,
allowing him to deliver speeches in their lecture halls and channelling his
activism into sociological research. Shots of a conservatively dressed Green
using the university’s computers to process data on racial prejudice testify to
democracy’s inherent strength and America’s technological prowess. Any
doubts that viewers have that the United States is becoming a more equal
society can be banished altogether, according to Green. Power in the country
is passing to a new generation, his commentary proclaims, all part of a ‘quiet
revolution’ in American thinking. Proof of this are the shots of blacks and
whites attending civil rights rallies together.
With Green’s optimism striking a powerful concluding note to the film, it
is left to Thomas to complete the rosy picture of the Nine. This he does in
188 Hollywood’s Cold War

America – where science and humanity meet: Ernest Green discusses his research data with a computer
assistant in another shot showing blacks and whites collaborating for the future good. Nine from Little
Rock (1964). Programme Guggenheim Pictures, Inc./United States Information Agency.

brief, by flicking through the school year book as we look over his shoulder:
Carlotta Walls is studying in Denver, Colorado, where ‘she likes the high
mountains’; Gloria Ray is about to complete a degree in chemistry at the
Illinois Institute of Technology; Terrance Roberts is studying business admin-
istration in Los Angeles; Melba Pattillo is a housewife, though obviously a rela-
tively wealthy one judging from the photograph of her stepping off an aircraft;
and Thomas himself is about to become a certified accountant. What does all
this amount to? asks Thomas. ‘I haven’t counted all the victories since that first
day we went to school here’, he says, admiring Central High’s trophy cabinet,
‘but I know there’s been at least nine.’ With that, we see Thomas descending
the famous steps to Central High, until a helicopter shot of the city of Little
Rock focuses on the dome of the state capitol building (where Governor
Faubus still resided), glistening in the Arkansas sun. The music rises, and
Thomas delivers his final encomium. America is not perfect and has still to rid
itself fully of the problem of racial intolerance. Yet, ‘[i]f Little Rock taught
nothing more, it taught all Americans that problems can make us better –
much better’.60
Nine from Little Rock did not seek to hide America’s racial discord or pass it
off as a trivial issue. Guggenheim and Stevens knew it would have been a
mistake to have done this, given the degree to which America’s racial divisions
Turning a negative into a positive 189

were submitted to constant scrutiny by the international press. The docu-

mentary’s inclusion of shocking news footage from 1957 gives a real flavour
of southern America’s potential for racial bigotry. Minnijean Brown alludes to
the difficulties whites and blacks have in escaping the mindset imposed by
America’s recent history of slavery. And Ernest Green alludes to the existence
of racial discrimination in America’s northern states, hitherto presented by the
USIA as effectively prejudice-free.
Yet the film tells us little about the nine students’ atypical backgrounds. All
came from relatively affluent families and were academically ambitious before
they entered the gates of Little Rock Central High in 1957. It is therefore
perhaps not surprising that so many of them went on to college. The film also
conspicuously provides few insights into how the nine students coped at the
school. In fact, only three of them – Green, Walls and Thomas – eventually
graduated from Central High, partly because in 1958–9 an intransigent
Governor Faubus had closed all the city’s high schools in defiance of the
highest court in the land, forcing the African-American students to take cor-
respondence courses or go to out-of-state institutions. Even before this, in
February 1958, Minnijean Brown had been expelled for retaliating against the
daily verbal and physical harassment to which the Nine were subjected,
forcing her to go to school in New York. Under the noses of the federalised
but racist National Guardsmen, Jefferson Thomas had been knocked uncon-
scious during one attack in November 1957, while Melba Pattillo was so trau-
matised she burned her schoolbooks at the end of the academic year in 1958.
Furthermore, the film glosses over the exceedingly poor integration record
that Little Rock had as a whole in the early 1960s. As the very newspaper
article that inspired the film indicated, and future historians would corrobor-
ate, it was hard to find strong evidence to support the documentary’s claim
that the 1957 crisis had acted as a catalyst for significant change in the city. It
would actually take until the early 1970s, for instance, before all grades in Little
Rock public schools were fully integrated. The documentary also chooses not
to explain why so many of the Nine had gone to college in the north of the
country. Was this because of continuing segregation in higher education in the
south or because, notwithstanding Green’s remark, the students felt safer
above the old Mason-Dixon Line? Terrance Roberts, for one, went to college
in California because his family had migrated there to escape continuing white
intimidation in Little Rock. For obvious reasons, Nine from Little Rock makes
no reference whatsoever to the recent hardening of black opposition to the
state by activists like Malcolm X, to say nothing of the upsurge in interracial
violence in the United States.61
Nine from Little Rock was simply structured, slow moving and just over 20
minutes long, making it easily digestible for audiences. Despite this short
190 Hollywood’s Cold War

length, few other USIA films fused so many of the agency’s key Cold War
directives. Nine from Little Rock showed America to be an economically mature
and technologically exciting country, one whose chief strengths were its cul-
tural and ethnic diversity, a progressive approach towards education, and a
refreshing honesty when it came to owning up to its social problems. By refin-
ing and refocusing the meaning of Little Rock, Guggenheim’s documentary
harnessed the emotional power of an event that some Arkansas historians call
a ‘tragedy’62 and relocated it gently but convincingly within Washington’s
ideological agenda.
The film dealt with each Little Rock student as an individual, with particu-
lar hopes and fears about advancing as professionals in mainstream American
society, not as members of a disaffected mass. In doing so, it showed how,
despite the behaviour of a backward-looking racist minority in America,
African-Americans could fulfil their aspirations by working within that society
rather than against it. As a group, the students exhibited just those qualities
that America as a whole had to offer the world: dignity, hard work, persever-
ance and the chance for personal growth. The film presented racism as a sec-
tional issue, one confined predominantly to America’s deep south, due to that
region’s particular history. However, it was an issue that the full force of the
federal government was utterly committed to solving, in partnership with
blacks themselves. For their part, civil rights activists were shown to have com-
plete freedom to protest, because they were protected at root by a US
Constitution that enshrined the rights of minorities and political expression.
This protest might at times embarrass the American government, but the
nation – and democracy – was all the better for it.
The USIA’s Research and Reference Service made regular assessments of
the impact of its various literary, broadcast, television and film outputs.
Findings were then fed back into the agency’s policy and production sections
for tactical reviews or for the fine tuning of propaganda material. Yet while
the USIA kept a close eye on films in general, once they had been sent for
transmission overseas, individual agency documentaries tended to disappear
off Washington’s radar. Nine from Little Rock was different. Unlike James Blue’s
The March, it escaped Congressional censure when it was released in early 1964,
and, relieved perhaps, the agency gave the film its fullest backing.
When a new Civil Rights Act later that year cut huge swathes through
America’s remaining racial discrimination practices, for once politics and pro-
paganda were in synch. Nine from Little Rock was translated into 17 languages
and distributed to 97 countries. State Department and USIA staff were
extremely grateful to have at last a documentary that so clearly met its objec-
tive of addressing ‘racial and ethnic progress’, and that provided ‘evidence of
America’s commitment to freedom of the individual’. Overseas officers
Turning a negative into a positive 191

praised the film highly. In early 1965, the USIS post in Kampala, Uganda,
reported that ‘[t]his film closes the book on Little Rock and frees the mind to
consider the changed story of the struggle’. Several months later, agency
director Carl Rowan told President Johnson that ‘[i]n Africa where it is vitally
important that we do our best to keep the United States civil rights struggle
in perspective, USIS Nairobi reported that “Nine from Little Rock” was the
“best film the Agency has yet made on civil rights . . . [I]t supports the high
priority country objective of showing progress in the US to our racial
difficulties” ’. Though he was hardly an impartial observer, the USIA officer
in charge of placing Nine from Little Rock in international film competitions,
John Mendenhall, noted that the mere fact of the American government
taking on this subject impressed many overseas audiences. This sort of
acclaim no doubt played a large part in the film’s winning the Academy Award
in 1965 for best short documentary feature. Publicity associated with the
Oscar gave the film a further boost overseas.63
Like most USIA films, Nine from Little Rock was designed to appeal to as
broad a cross-section of international audiences as possible. We can get a
firmer sense of the documentary’s impact on one of its key target audiences
thanks to a detailed USIA report from India in 1965. During the Cold War,
Washington regarded India as a vital political and strategic counterweight to
the other Asian giant, communist China. Unfortunately for the US govern-
ment, Indians felt racism was the central flaw in American society, and one
that was inevitably reflected in Washington’s foreign policy. Consequently, by
the mid-1960s, the USIA, the Ford Foundation and other bodies had for years
been campaigning strenuously to counter these beliefs, with mixed results.64
At the end of 1964, the USIA tested the effectiveness of Nine from Little
Rock before a well-educated Indian audience, comparing the responses of 200
graduate students with an equal number of graduate students who had not
seen the film. The report, which underlines the importance the USIA attached
to Nine from Little Rock and to winning over students in the developing world
because of their potential to become future opinion-formers or political
leaders,65 indicated that the film had left its audience with a somewhat ambigu-
ous picture of race relations in the United States. Nine from Little Rock had
indeed had a generally positive effect on viewers’ opinions about the treatment
of Negroes in the United States, but it had reduced the number who thought
most American whites favoured equal rights for Negroes, which the report
attributed to the violent scenes from 1957. Similarly, while the film had
improved Indians’ opinions of the federal government, it had also conveyed
the idea that government force was required to assure equality. Related to this,
many viewers got the impression that Little Rock’s violent opposition to
school integration was the rule rather than the exception in the United States,
192 Hollywood’s Cold War

a misunderstanding which the report said could have been avoided by changes
in narration.
One scene which particularly confused viewers was when, half way
through the film, a present-day Central High white student is seen to confront
Jefferson Thomas on the school’s main staircase. Intended by Guggenheim to
demonstrate white boys’ newfound respect for Negroes – after asking
whether Thomas needs help, the boy courteously gives him directions to a
teacher’s room – through its music and camera angles, the scene appeared to
many of the Indian graduates to show how scared Thomas still was of whites.
With hindsight, this scene was probably a mistake, and perhaps the result of
both Robert Pierce’s late intervention and Stevens’ frequent unwillingness to
tailor films to an audience’s level of sophistication.66
On a more positive note, the report was pleased to record that most
viewers’ impressions of Negro educational opportunities had improved
after seeing the film, while viewers gave Nine from Little Rock a high score
for all-round credibility. If Indian student opinion is anything to go by,
Guggenheim’s documentary had clearly been worth the USIA’s investment. At
the same time, it illustrated the difficulties even the best filmmakers had in
combining entertainment and politics for a culturally diverse international

Nine from Little Rock marked the high watermark of the USIA Motion Picture
Service’s attempts to foster a positive image of American race relations during
the Cold War. The American government did not suddenly stop trying to
manage foreigners’ perceptions of the race issue, and the USIA itself would
continue to produce documentaries – like Dan Klugherz’s thematically
complex I am a Man (1970) – that put a positive spin on American racial
discord.68 But, by 1966, the USIA believed that a watershed had been reached
in foreign judgements on race issue in the United States. Most foreigners con-
tinued to believe that African-Americans were treated poorly in the United
States, but, significantly, this no longer appeared to damage America’s prestige
abroad. Partial evidence of this could be found in the Indian students’ reac-
tion to Nine from Little Rock, where, despite their doubts as to whether most
American whites favoured equal rights, 84 per cent of viewers and non-
viewers had a good opinion of the United States.69
Other USIA reports indicated that the message the United States had been
promoting – whether through government propaganda programmes or
simply due to press coverage of American developments – had gotten
through. Foreign opinion was developing along the lines the USIA had long
Turning a negative into a positive 193

sought. Racial incidents were not viewed as a sign of moral failure or a com-
promise of the nation’s underlying principles. Instead, they were seen as the
result of America’s federal system and the tensions inherent in integrating a
historically disadvantaged minority into the mainstream. The target of blame
was now a white supremacist minority, not the federal government, which was
doing all it could to promote Negro rights. In other words, America could be
seen as good, even as American racism was abhorrent.70
One of the key features of the Cold War, and one that has been underlined
in this chapter, was the interconnectedness between foreign and domestic
policy. As we have seen, Washington’s Cold War propaganda machine
expended an enormous amount of energy in the 1950s and 1960s on an issue
that superficially had no bearing on America’s world role. This was due at least
in part to the inescapable ubiquity of the mass media in the second half of
the twentieth century, bringing racial incidents into homes around the world.
In this respect, America paid a price for its relative openness compared with
the communist world. In countering communist allegations of white colo-
nialism in America, Washington was not above retaliating negatively: for
instance, by alleging that Moscow was creating its own empire in Eastern
Europe. Such tactics seem rarely to have worked.71 However, in general the
USIA and other bodies stuck to conducting a positive, fact-based propaganda
campaign, one that admitted a problem existed but enveloped it within an
overarching theme of progress. Turning a negative into a positive – claming
that the African-Americans’ fight for equal rights demonstrated the vitality of
American democracy – was not always easy, or successful. Yet it was an intel-
ligent way of combating charges of hypocrisy (always one of the propagan-
dist’s greatest bugbears), while the emphasis on equality and progress helped
undercut a pronounced tendency in the developing world to equate those two
virtues with socialism.
If USIA reports from the mid-1960s are to be credited, this propaganda
strategy appears to have paid off in the long term. Washington believed it
would still need to contain or combat anti-Americanism as much as it needed
to advocate anti-communism,72 but it had at least resolved the Cold War/civil
rights dilemma. However, as one weak point was dealt with, another emerged.
If the United States seemed more legitimately to be the land of the free by the
late 1960s, it was also the country fighting an increasingly unpopular war in

1 Richard Dyer MacCann, The People’s Films: A Political History of US Government
Motion Pictures (New York, 1973), pp. 199–200.
194 Hollywood’s Cold War

2 Kristin Thompson, Exporting Entertainment (London, 1985); Ian Jarvie, Hollywood’s

Overseas Campaign: The North Atlantic Movie Trade, 1920–1950 (Cambridge, 1992);
Paul Swann, ‘The Little State Department: Hollywood and the State Department
in the Postwar World’, American Studies International, Vol. 29, No. 1, April 1991,
pp. 2–19.
3 On the Soviet Union’s efforts to sell communism overseas via film see Hazan,
Impregnational Propaganda, pp. 66–9. On the poor quality (technically and propa-
gandistically) of many Soviet films and the distribution problems they faced, par-
ticularly in the wake of the 1958 Soviet-American cultural exchange agreement,
see Caute, Dancer, pp. 230–1; Variety, 26 November, 3 December and 31
December 1958; American Legion Magazine, January 1959, p. 28. See also Kerry
Segrave, Foreign Films in America (Jefferson, NC, 2004).
4 Kerry Segrave, American Films Abroad: Hollywood’s Domination of the World’s Movie
Screens from the 1890s to the Present (Jefferson, NC, 1997); Toby Miller, Nitin Govil,
John McMurria and Richard Maxwell, Global Hollywood (London, 2001); Thomas
H. Guback, ‘Hollywood’s International Market’, in Balio, Industry, pp. 387–409.
Segrave’s appendix (pp. 285–6) shows the following percentage figures for screen
time held by American-made movies across the world – 1925: 75 per cent, 1948:
72 per cent, 1962: 60 per cent, 1992: 62 per cent.
5 There is a rich literature on the highly contentious issue of American ‘cultural
imperialism’, and film’s role within it. Most, though not all, relates to post-Second
World War Europe. See, for instance, Pells, Not Like US; Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
and Steven Ricci (eds), Hollywood and Europe: Economics, Culture, National Identity
1945–1995 (London, 1998); Rob Kroes, If You’ve Seen One, You’ve Seen the Mall:
Europeans and American Mass Culture (Champaign, IL, 1996); Ellwood and Kroes
(eds), Hollywood in Europe; Richard Kuisel, Seducing the French: The Dilemma of
Americanization (Berkeley, CA, 1993); Ralph Willett, The Americanization of
Germany, 1945–1949 (London, 1992); Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire:
America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe (Cambridge, MA, 2005); Seth
Fein, ‘New Empire into Old: Making Mexican Newsreels the Cold War Way’,
Diplomatic History, Vol. 28, No. 5, November 2004, pp. 703–48.
6 Nicholas Pronay and Keith Wilson (eds), The Political Re-education of Germany
and her Allies after World War II (London, 1985); Kyoko Hirano, Mr Smith Goes
to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema under the American Occupation, 1945–1952 (Washington,
DC, 1992).
7 Swann, ‘Little State Department’; Maltby, Harmless Entertainment, pp. 78–83.
8 Eric Johnston, ‘Messengers from a Free Country’, Saturday Review of Literature,
Vol. 33, 4 March 1950, pp. 9–12; Walter F. Wanger, ‘Donald Duck and
Diplomacy’, Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 3, 1950, pp. 443–52.
9 Wagnleitner, Coca-Colonization, pp. 222–71.
10 Wenders’ phrase is taken from his 1976 road movie, Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the
11 Theodore B. Olson, Public Affairs Officer, Oslo, Norway, to Secretary of State,
21 January 1952, RG 59, 811.452/4-1850, USNA; ‘Reaction to American Motion
Turning a negative into a positive 195

Pictures’, 14 May 1953, RG 59, 811.452/5-950, USNA; H. L. Munson, European

Beliefs Regarding the United States: 1949 (New York, 1949), p. 23.
12 Stephen M. Carney, Public Affairs Officer, Fort-de-France, Martinique, 2 July 1953,
Despatch 2TOUSI 8, RG 59, 811.452/10-253, USNA; Ray E. Lee, Public Affairs
Officer, Karachi, Pakistan, to Secretary of State, 8 June 1951, Despatch 21779, RG
59, 811.452/6-251, USNA. Elia Kazan’s Pinky was part of a short cycle of ‘racially
aware’ pictures made between 1948 and 1950 that touched on the problems of
being black in the United States. On that cycle, Hollywood’s traditional depiction
of African-Americans as docile and irresponsible ‘Sambos’, plus the changes to
that stereotype in the late 1950s and 1960s, see Daniel Leab, From Sambo to
Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures (London, 1973), pp. 145–231.
13 Eldridge, ‘Dear Owen’, p. 156.
14 American Embassy, Colombo, Ceylon, to Secretary of State, 31 December 1948,
RG 59, 811.4016/12-3148, USNA; American Embassy, Moscow, USSR, to
Secretary of State, 27 July 1949, RG 59, 811.4016/6-2749, USNA.
15 Caute, Dancer, pp. 138, 157–8; Paul Babitsky and John Rimberg, The Soviet Film
Industry (New York, 1955), pp. 204–5, 209; Variety, 2 April 1952. In the early
1930s, the Comintern had tried in vain to make a film about racial prejudice in the
United States, provisionally titled Black and White. The organisation even paid for
a cast of African-Americans to travel to the Soviet Union for filming. The project
collapsed for political and artistic reasons, as well as the racism of the Russians.
See Jack El-Hai, ‘Black and White and Red’, American Heritage, Vol. 42, May–June
1991, pp. 83–92, and Langston Hughes, I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical
Journey (New York, 1993), pp. 69–100.
16 Mary L. Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights (Princeton, NJ, 2000), pp. 76–7. See also
Thomas Borstelmann, The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the
Global Arena (Cambridge, MA, 2003), and Brenda Gayle Plummer (ed.), Window on
Freedom: Race, Civil Rights and Foreign Affairs, 1945–1988 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2006).
17 Ibid., pp. 49–78; Osgood, ‘Total War’, pp. 231–4.
18 On the complex critical reactions to Porgy and Bess in Berlin and Vienna in the
early 1950s see David Monod, ‘ “He is a Cripple an’ Needs My Love”: Porgy and
Bess as Cold War Propaganda’, in Scott-Smith and Krabbenham (eds), Cultural
Cold War, pp. 300–12.
19 New York Times, quoted Third Quarterly Report, President’s Emergency Fund for
Participation in International Affairs, 1 January 1955–1 March 1955, Operations
Coordinating Board (OCB) Central Files, Box 14, OCB 007 (File#1) (5): DDEL.
20 Status of USIA Program, National Security Council 5720, 11 September 1957,
FRUS, 1955–7, Vol. 9 (Washington, DC, 1987), p. 607.
21 New York Times, 18 May 1954, p. 1; USIS Bombay to USIA, 20 August 1954, RG
306, Foreign Service Despatches, Box 1, Asia: USNA.
22 Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–1963 (New York,
1988), p. 223.
23 Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace, 1956–1961 (New
York, 1965), p. 171; Telephone Conversation, Dulles to Brownell, 24 September
196 Hollywood’s Cold War

1957, FRUS, 1955–7, Vol. 9 (Washington, DC, 1987), pp. 612–13; Cary Fraser,
‘Crossing the Color Line in Little Rock: The Eisenhower Administration and the
Dilemma of Race for US Foreign Policy’, Diplomatic History, Vol. 24, No. 2, Spring
2000, pp. 233–64; Azza Salama Layton, ‘International Pressure and the US
Government’s Response to Little Rock’, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 56,
No. 3, Autumn 1997, pp. 257–72.
24 Gary Giddins, Satchmo (New York, 1988), pp. 160–5.
25 Dudziak, Civil Rights, p. 118.
26 Jack De Viney, ‘History of USIA Film and Television’ (c. 1993), unpaged document
but ch. 2, RG 306, 01.1 (USIA Historical Branch), item 15, Box 30 (Motion Pictures
File): USNA. Murrow’s hopes for greater transparency in US public relations were
not entirely realised. On Murrow’s time at the USIA’s helm see Thomas Sorenson,
The Word War: The Story of American Propaganda (New York, 1968), pp. 118–38, and
A. M. Sperber, Murrow: His Life and Times (London, 1986), pp. 623–87.
27 Donald W. White, The American Century: The Rise and Decline of the United States as a
World Power (New Haven, CT, 1996), p. 236. In the mid-1970s, for instance, twenty
years after the agency’s birth and when the Cold War had reached maturity, the
USIA had 10,000 paid employees and an annual budget of $240 million. It then
produced 66 magazines in 27 languages, operated 200 libraries in 83 nations,
broadcast 774.5 hours weekly in 34 languages through the Voice of America,
entered 264 US government films in 46 international events and sent 49 shorts to
8 film festivals in Eastern Europe. Fred Kaplan, ‘Vietnam! Vietnam! ’, Cineaste, Vol.
7, No. 3, 1976, pp. 20–3. For more detail on the USIA’s role during the Cold War
see Nicholas J. Cull, American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945–1989: The
United States Information Agency and the Cold War (Cambridge, forthcoming).
28 Sorenson, Word War, p. 47.
29 Nicholas J. Cull, David Culbert and David Welch (eds), Propaganda and Mass
Persuasion: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1500 to the Present (Santa Barbara, CA, 2003),
pp. 426–8.
30 Turner Shelton, Motion Picture Service, to Cecil B. DeMille, 11 May 1953, cited
in Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, p. 289; Osgood, ‘Total War’, pp. 178, 207; De
Viney, ‘History of USIA Film and Television’, ch. 2.
31 Cull, American Propaganda, ch. 4.
32 Ibid.; MacCann, People’s Films, pp. 179, 186; Sorenson, Word War, p. 64.
33 De Viney, ‘History of USIA Film and Television’, ch. 1 and 2. ‘United States
Information Services’ was the term used for the USIA’s posts overseas.
34 MacCann, People’s Films, pp. 178–9; Sorenson, Word War, p. 93.
35 De Viney, ‘History of USIA Film and Television’, ch. 1; MacCann, People’s Films,
p. 178.
36 Theodore H. White, The Making of the President, 1960 (London, 1961), pp. 256,
304; Mark Haefele, ‘John F. Kennedy, USIA and World Opinion’, Diplomatic
History, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter 2001, pp. 63–84; Andrew J. Rotter, Comrades at
Arms: The United States and India, 1947–1964 (Ithaca, NY, 2000), pp. 161–2.
37 Variety, 6 and 7 November 1961.
Turning a negative into a positive 197

38 Sorenson, Word War, pp. 183–4.

39 Ibid.; MacCann, People’s Films, pp. 184–94.
40 MacCann, People’s Films, p. 186.
41 Motion Picture Service VB (hereafter MPSVB), RG 306.3321, Letter from
Columbia; RG 306.338, Evil Wind Out; RG 306.5915, The School at Rincon Santo:
42 Nicholas J. Cull, ‘Projecting Jackie: Kennedy Administration Film Propaganda
Overseas in Leo Seltzer’s Invitation to India, Invitation to Pakistan and Jacqueline
Kennedy’s Asian Journey (1962)’, in Bertrand Taithe and Tim Thornton (eds),
Propaganda: Political Rhetoric and Identity, 1300–2000 (Stroud, 1999), pp. 307–26.
43 MacCann, People’s Films, p. 194; MPSVB, RG 306.5085, Born a Man, USNA.
44 Sorenson, Word War, pp. 179–83; MPSVB, RG 306.5605, The Wall, USNA.
45 Donald Wilson, USIA Deputy Director, to US Embassies and Consulates in
Africa, 9 October 1962, Department of State, Central Files, 1960–3, RG 59,
811.411/10-942, USNA. Meredith graduated in 1963 but three years later was
shot and wounded on a lone civil rights march through Mississippi.
46 Murrow cited in Sorenson, Word War, p. 172.
47 USIA, ‘Foreign Reaction to the Presidential Succession’, 6 December 1963,
pp. 19–20, Folder: USIA Vol. I, National Security File, Agency File, Box 73,
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, Texas (hereafter LBJL); Rusk cited in
Rotter, Comrades, p. 164. Rusk’s daughter Margaret was in an interracial marriage
and this played against the Secretary of State’s public statements with American
48 Stevens interview, Washington Post, 19 September 1962; Christian Science Monitor, 29
November 1962.
49 MPSVB, RG 306.765, The Five Cities of June, USNA. For a full treatment of this
film see Nicholas J. Cull, ‘Auteurs of Ideology: USIA Documentary Film
Propaganda in the Kennedy Era as Seen in Bruce Herschensohn’s The Five Cities
of June (1963) and James Blue’s The March (1964)’, Film History, Vol. 10, No. 3,
1998, pp. 295–310.
50 Sorenson, Word War, pp. 257–9; MPSVB, RG 306.9015, Years of Lightning, Day of
Drums; RG 306.5765, Eulogy to 5:02: USNA. Such was the high regard for Years of
Lightning, Day of Drums, special legislation was passed to allow its release in the
United States itself, where USIA films were normally prohibited.
51 Melinda Schwenk, ‘Reforming the Negative through History: The US
Information Agency and the 1957 Little Rock Integration Crisis’, Journal of
Communication Inquiry, Vol. 23, No. 3, July 1999, pp. 288–306, esp. p. 293;
MacCann, People’s Films, p. 194.
52 De Viney, ‘History of USIA Film and Television’, ch. 2. On Hollywood’s more
positive portrayal of black Americans in the late 1950s and 1960s see Leab, Sambo,
pp. 197–231.
53 MPSVB, RG 306.765, The March, USNA; Cull, ‘Auteurs of Ideology’; Sorenson,
Word War, pp. 178–9.
54 Schwenk, ‘Reforming’, p. 293; New York Times Magazine, 2 June 1963.
198 Hollywood’s Cold War

55 Los Angeles Times, 11 October 2002; International Documentary, Vol. 19,

No. 9, November 2000, pp. 24–6; ‘Clear Pictures: Filmography for Charles
Guggenheim’, Charles Guggenheim Clippings File, AMPAS; MacCann, People’s
Films, p. 188; Sorenson, Word War, p. 279.
56 Los Angeles Times, 11 October 2002.
57 Ibid.; MacCann, People’s Films, pp. 199–200.
58 See Box 209, Charles Guggenheim Collection, AMPAS for a heavily annotated,
undated shooting script.
59 Pierce, cited in Schwenk, ‘Reforming’, p. 296.
60 MPSVB, RG 306.5160, Nine from Little Rock, USNA.
61 John A. Kirk, Redefining the Color Line: Black Activism in Little Rock, Arkansas,
1940–1970 (Gainesville, FL, 2002), pp. 108, 121, 129, 176; Dudziak, Civil Rights,
p. 146; Ben F. Johnson, Arkansas in Modern America, 1930–1999 (Fayetteville, AR,
2000), pp. 131–8.
62 Johnson, Arkansas, p. 148.
63 MPSVB, RG 306.5160, Nine from Little Rock, USNA; US Information Agency,
CA-644, 1 September 1964, Folder: ‘Nine from Little Rock’, USNA; Rowan to
Johnson, 8 April 1965, Folder: FG 296, US Information Service 1/1/65-6/1/65,
White House Central Files, Subject File, Federal Government, Box 314, LBJL;
Mendenhall cited in Schwenk, ‘Reforming’, p. 297.
64 Rotter, Comrades, pp. 152–9, 170–1; Chester Bowles, Promises to Keep: My Years in
Public Life, 1941–1969 (New York, 1971), pp. 457–71; Leonard A. Gordon, ‘Wealth
Equals Wisdom? The Rockefeller and Ford Foundations in India’, Annals of the
American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 554, November 1997, pp. 104–16.
65 Sorenson, Word War, p. 63.
66 Ibid., p. 183.
67 ‘Reaction of Indian University Students to “Nine from Little Rock” Film’,
December 1965, USIA Research and Reference Service, Office of Research, ‘R’
Reports, RG 306, Box 10, R-174-65, USNA.
68 MPSVB, RG 306.5188, I Am a Man, USNA. Klugherz’s 30-minute film combined
a history of African-Americans with brief visual and narrated essays on three
different kinds of black leaders: Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, activist-preacher
Jesse Jackson, and Little Rock’s Ernest Green, now doing social justice work in New
York’s Harlem district. For more details see Schwenk, ‘Reforming’, pp. 299–305.
69 ‘Reaction of Indian University Students to “Nine from Little Rock” Film’,
December 1965, USIA Research and Reference Service, Office of Research, ‘R’
Reports, NA, RG 306, Box 10, R-174-65, p. 2, USNA.
70 Dudziak, Civil Rights, pp. 239–41.
71 Rotter, Comrades, pp. 170–1.
72 On the need to combat anti-Americanism see, for instance, Volker R. Berghahn,
America and the Intellectual Cold Wars in Europe: Shepherd Stone between Philanthropy,
Academy and Diplomacy (Princeton, NJ, 2002).

A cowboy in combats

Perhaps you remember the scene from ‘The Alamo’, when one of Davy
Crockett’s Tennesseans said: ‘What are we doing here in Texas fighting – it
ain’t our ox that’s getting gored.’ Crockett replied: ‘Talkin’ about whose ox gets
gored, figure this: a fella gets in the habit of gorin’ oxes, it whets his appetite.
May gore yours next.’ Unquote. And we don’t want people like Kosygin, Mao
Tse-Tung, or the like, ‘gorin’ our oxes.
John Wayne to President Lyndon B. Johnson, 28 December 19651

So far, this study has centred on those engaged in Cold War propaganda behind
the screen – Hollywood producers, directors and scriptwriters, and government
bodies like the USIA and CIA. But what of the part played in the battle for mass
opinion by those who appeared in front of the camera? Ever since the creation
of Hollywood’s ‘star system’ in the 1920s, America’s cinema-goers had devel-
oped a close affinity with Hollywood’s leading actors and actresses. By 1945, for
millions of Americans, film stars were little less than life coaches: in everything
from fashion to family life, from language to politics. In the 1960s, despite the
emergence of television celebrities, the deaths of ‘Hollywood greats’ like
Spencer Tracy, Vivien Leigh and Montgomery Clift were the occasion for
national mourning. Even in the Cold War’s twilight years of the 1980s, the social
and cultural influence of Hollywood’s fewer but more economically powerful
stars remained immense. Mega-salaried actors like Tom Cruise and Harrison
Ford were global icons, American brand names as identifiable as Coca-Cola and
Several stars can compete for the title of America’s greatest Cold War on-
screen propagandist. War being what it is, they are all male. Dana Andrews and
Richard Widmark played a disproportionately high number of square-jawed
anti-communist heroes in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.3 From the mid-
1960s and through the 1970s, their place was taken by the more ironic Sean
Connery and Roger Moore in the highly successful James Bond espionage
series, produced in Britain with American money.4 During the Second Cold
War of the 1980s, Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris became many people’s
favourite commie-bashers, largely through their roles as testosterone-fuelled
Vietnam War veterans in the Rambo and Missing in Action series.5
200 Hollywood’s Cold War

Charlton Heston and Gregory Peck, on the other hand, can both stake a claim
on the grounds of durability. Heston remained an iconic symbol of he-man
American virtue and righteousness long after The Ten Commandments, playing,
among other things, Christ-like figures in the post-apocalyptic fantasies Planet of
the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968) and The Omega Man (Boris Sagal, 1971). He
was known as a staunch Republican, served six terms as president of the Screen
Actors Guild, and in the 1980s co-chaired President Reagan’s Task Force on the
Arts and Humanities.6 By contrast, Peck was a life-long Democrat and liberal
‘actor-vist’, who earned a place on President Nixon’s infamous enemies list in
the early 1970s. His Cold War roles stretched over three decades, four if we
count his very first film, the pro-Soviet Days of Glory (Jacques Tourneur, 1944),
in which he played an anti-Nazi Russian partisan. Sometimes Peck played arche-
typal Cold Warriors – saving young GIs abducted by the Soviets in West Berlin
in Night People (1954), for example. On other occasions, he added his weight to
pro-disarmament projects like Amazing Grace and Chuck (Mike Newell, 1987).7
However, towering above all these actors was John Wayne, for many the
living symbol of American patriotism during the Cold War. From the late 1940s
until his death in 1979, ‘Duke’ Wayne waged a relentless war – on and off screen –
against those he defined as America’s Cold War enemies. Wayne was at the peak
of his powers during the Cold War’s most critical years, and had a greater impact
on the way Americans viewed the conflict than probably any other Hollywood
figure. Moreover, Wayne’s powerful cowboy-cum-soldier persona was tied inex-
tricably to the special relationship that the film industry enjoyed with the mili-
tary during the Cold War. Throughout the conflict, the links between Hollywood
and the Pentagon formed the main strand of the state-cinematic network. This
helps to explain why Wayne and the US Defence Department invested heavily
in the only major direct-combat portrayal of Vietnam made during the war itself,
The Green Berets, released in 1968. A paean to the US military’s efforts to save
South Vietnam from communism, and designed to show that the Cold War was
just as much a matter of life and death as the Second World War, The Green Berets
represented mainstream Cold War cinematic propaganda at its most overt. The
film sparked intense controversy in the United States and elsewhere, thus con-
tributing to the feverish debate then taking place about the Vietnam War. Over
the years, political and film historians have consistently dismissed Wayne’s movie
as a naïve anachronism. But, as we shall see, this was not how many cinema-goers
viewed The Green Berets when the Vietnam War was at its height.


When, in his farewell address of January 1961, President Eisenhower uttered
his now-famous warning of a ‘military-industrial complex’ profiteering from
A cowboy in combats 201

the Cold War arms race, he was drawing attention to the unhealthily close rela-
tionship which had developed between the US Defence Department and the
nation’s defence companies.8 Yet his charge might equally have applied to the
Pentagon’s almost symbiotic link with the American film industry. America’s
silver screen had enjoyed a love affair with all things military during the late
1940s and 1950s, making the studios millions at the box office and validating
Washington’s fortress mentality in the process. A major factor in this was the
Defence Department’s carefully calibrated carrot-and-stick approach towards
Ever since the 1920s, the US armed services had shown themselves to be
more than willing to offer logistical help with film productions that portrayed
their activities positively. This suited both parties: movie producers got access
to military bases and equipment, while the military benefited from free adver-
tising.9 During the 1930s, some of the biggest names behind and on screen
owed their fame at least in part to movies made with the cooperation of the
armed services. The director Frank Capra, for example, collaborated on a
trilogy of films with the US Navy and Marines: Submarine (1928), Flight (1929)
and Dirigible (1931). The actors Jimmy Cagney and Pat O’Brien established
their popular screen partnership with the help of the same services in Lloyd
Bacon’s Here Comes the Navy (1934) and Devil Dogs of the Air (1935).10 ‘I have
never found such a group of wholehearted, willing, patriotic people trying to
do something for the government,’ Colonel K. B. Lawton, chief of the Army
Pictorial Division of the US Signal Corps, said of the Hollywood community
in the middle of the Second World War.11
As ‘peace’ was accompanied by an unprecedented conventional and nuclear
arms build-up in the late 1940s, the Pentagon was forced to give more thought
to the military’s image. In 1949, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of
Defence for Public Affairs created a Motion Picture Production Office to regu-
late and facilitate cooperation between the military and the film industry. Movie
producers thereafter got free use of military hardware, official film clips and
actual soldiers, in return for feature films that aided recruitment and enhanced
the military’s public image by projecting glowing pictures of life in the services
and the valour of their members. Donald Baruch, Chief of the Motion Picture
Production Office, vetted scripts for forty years, and was responsible more
than anyone else for the extraordinary variety of films that the military helped
produce during the Cold War. This included 16mm indoctrination shorts
designed for American high-school students, paid for and produced by defence
contractors; newsreels shipped from the Korean War front; documentaries
made with the USIA and other official propaganda agencies; and educational
material intended to prepare Americans for possible atomic attacks from
aggressor nations.12
202 Hollywood’s Cold War

However, it was on the Hollywood feature film that Baruch’s office con-
centrated most of its energies, and with considerable success. Ready access to
military assistance in the late 1940s and 1950s not only encouraged the pro-
duction of scores of war films and movies that contained military sub-plots.
It also, because of the Defence Department’s veto on ‘unpatriotic’ scripts,
ensured that the vast majority of these films depicted the armed forces and
combat generally in a positive light. In turn, movies strongly endorsed the mil-
itarisation of US Cold War strategy in the 1950s and the development of a
permanent national security state.13 One early example of the Hollywood-
Pentagon alliance in action in an explicitly Cold War context was George
Seaton’s romantic drama The Big Lift (1950). This film managed both to glorify
the US Air Force’s efforts to thwart the Berlin Blockade and to portray the
recently hated Germans as anti-communist partners. The movie was made in
cooperation with the Air Force Public Affairs Office and the Commander-in-
Chief of the European command, General Lucius Clay.14
When Hollywood turned to widescreen and colour in an attempt to lure
audiences back into the theatres in the 1950s and 1960s, the military’s modern
technology, especially the jet plane, made an attractive film topic. Films made
during this era about America’s nuclear strike force, like Delbert Mann’s A
Gathering of Eagles (1963), which received the personal endorsement of the
Strategic Air Command’s head, Curtis LeMay, depicted the atomic bomb as
the guarantor of peace.15 On one level, these sorts of sentimental flag-wavers
sent a clear message to cinema-goers: that the Cold War required bravery,
teamwork, even the ultimate sacrifice. On another level, the retelling of the
‘good war’ against fascism in the scores of films made about the Second
World War in the 1950s and 1960s – almost none of which referred to the
Soviet Union’s massive contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany – taught
audiences the historic lessons of military preparedness and the dangers of
trusting dictatorial regimes.16 Some of the most popular Hollywood films of
the 1950s, like Mister Roberts (John Ford/Mervyn LeRoy, 1955) and White
Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954), simultaneously celebrated military authority
and utterly denied that this authority exercised an increasingly potent force in
American life.17

The climate of Hollywood-Pentagon cooperation fostered by the threat of
communism led to a number of creative projects, designed to sell official Cold
War strategy more discreetly. One of the most fascinating of these was the top-
secret ‘Militant Liberty’ programme instigated in the mid-1950s by John C.
Broger, an evangelical Christian working as a psychological warfare consultant
A cowboy in combats 203

in the US Defence Department. Broger felt that it was essential to propagate

more aggressively through a range of media the ideas of freedom and indi-
vidual responsibility, both in the developing world, in order to inspire anti-
communism among cadres of activists, and at home, including among the
armed forces, whose ‘brainwashing’ during the Korean War had, some felt,
exposed an ideological and spiritual vacuum inside the United States itself.18 By
late 1955, ‘Militant Liberty’ had brought together Pentagon, State Department
and CIA officials, intent on using Hollywood ‘to explain the true conditions
existing under Communism in simple terms and to explain the principles upon
which the Free World way of life is based’. In line with the CIA’s belief that the
exporting of positive ‘American values’ was often better than explicitly anti-
communist messages, audiences were to be presented with images which
would help them to frame the East-West conflict appropriately: for example,
showing America to be a land of opportunity and affluence, teaching that com-
petition was healthy, encouraging Good to fight Evil, and explaining why Free
World principles were superior to those promulgated by Moscow and Beijing.
What was needed was a ‘consortium’ of Hollywood actors, producers and
directors willing and able to insert into films ‘the right ideas with the proper
subtlety’ for domestic and overseas audiences.19
A year later, after several meetings in California, the Joint Chiefs of Staff
had signed up some of the biggest names in Hollywood for the Militant
Liberty campaign. At the centre of the ‘consortium’ was the acclaimed direc-
tor John Ford. An outspoken supporter of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s,
Ford had moved markedly to the political right during the first decade of the
Cold War. A rear-admiral in the reserves by this point, who had produced films
for the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, during the Second
World War, Ford was entirely in sympathy with the idea that the government’s
intelligence services should suggest themes for Hollywood audiences. He had
already made a number of overtly anti-communist pictures, and distributed
Militant Liberty material sent to him by Pentagon officials among his team of
scriptwriters.20 Another recruit was the producer and brigadier-general
Merian C. Cooper, whose mortal fear of communism dated back to 1919,
when he had flown sorties against the Red Army in Poland. Best known as the
creator of King Kong, the classic monster movie directed by Ernest B.
Schoedsach in 1933, Cooper arranged for Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, pro-
ducer of Ford’s recent Western The Searchers (1956) and cousin of senior CIA
psychological warfare operative Tracy Barnes, to be briefed.21 The actors John
Wayne and Ward Bond, past and present presidents of the Motion Picture
Alliance respectively, completed the consortium’s high-profile quartet. Bond
was a veteran of nearly 200 films, and in the late 1950s starred in television’s
highly popular Western series Wagon Train, significantly raising his profile. For
204 Hollywood’s Cold War

many Americans, John Wayne was the screen hero of the age, and the person-
ification of the nation’s martial values. Wayne, Bond and Ford had worked
together for years, notably producing some of Hollywood’s classic Westerns.
They were firm friends.22
One film in which all four consortium members were immediately
involved, and which epitomises much of their work of the late 1950s, was The
Wings of Eagles (1957). This $2.6 million naval melodrama was a tribute to
Ford’s personal hero, Frank ‘Spig’ Wead, who had died in 1947. Wead had been
a flying ace in the First World War. His aviation career had then been cut short
by a terrible accident, after which he had turned to writing novels and screen-
plays about war and the armed forces. The US Navy considered Wead a
perfect subject for the big screen and granted Ford full access to equipment
and manpower. On request, the Joint Chiefs of Staff provided the director
with assistance ‘in putting Militant Liberty elements’ into the movie, even
despatching an official to work directly with Ford during the location shoot-
ing in Florida.23
The Wings of Eagles comes across as a rousing story of courage in the face
of adversity, not as propaganda. It celebrates duty and derring-do, opportu-
nity and camaraderie, and is sprinkled with raucous humour and daring aerial
sequences. Our first sight of young naval officer Wead (played by Wayne) is
just after the Great War, when he lands a biplane in the middle of an admiral’s
garden party. However, maverick high jinks soon give way to tragedy when
Wead’s infant son dies. Emotionally crippled and already estranged from his
wife (played by fiery redhead Maureen O’Hara, Wayne’s favourite leading
lady), Wead buries his head in work for the navy. Our hero becomes world
famous after breaking seaplane speed records and is made the youngest
squadron commander in naval history, only then to break his spine falling
down stairs at home. Through long and painful years, the paraplegic Wead is
movingly nursed back to health by his old navy mechanic, Carson (Dan
Dailey). Now able to get about with only braces and canes, Wead develops a
second career as an aviation writer for magazines and, after he is hired by a
John Ford lookalike (Ward Bond), the cinema. Following the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor, the indefatigable Wead then wangles active duty. More amaz-
ingly still, he devises the ‘baby carrier’, which makes a major contribution to
Pacific strategy.24
Called a ‘men’s weepie’ by some, and ‘a routine glorification of the United
States Navy Air Force’ by the communist press, the trade papers deemed The
Wings of Eagles a bankable cert. Only one scene, in which Wead makes an
impassioned speech to a Congressional committee warning of the dangers
of disarmament, might have struck some in the audience as unnecessarily
A cowboy in combats 205

Liberty in action: John Ford (seated, with baseball cap) directs Barry Kelley and John Wayne (with walking
sticks) on the set of The Wings of Eagles (1957). The film marked the tenth time Ford and Wayne had
worked together. MGM/The Kobal Collection.

John Wayne’s covert support for the Militant Liberty programme was as pre-
dictable as it was valuable for Washington. No other Hollywood star had the
same power to move audiences, or was so willing to use his influence for
political purposes. Wayne had been making movies since 1927, but it was not
until 1949 that he broke into the exhibitors’ annual list of the nation’s top ten
box office stars. There he remained for all but one of a record-breaking
twenty-six consecutive years.26 In that time, Wayne became for many people
the finest representative of American patriotism. Though he had not served
in the military in the Second World War, because of his roles in numerous
war films made during and after that conflict – most notably Back to Bataan
(Edward Dmytryk, 1945), Sands of Iwo Jima (Allan Dwan, 1949) and The
Longest Day (produced by Darryl Zanuck and released in 1962) – Wayne came
to be regarded as the model American soldier.27 One of America’s most dec-
orated soldiers, General Douglas MacArthur, once told Wayne at an
American Legion convention that he represented the American serviceman
206 Hollywood’s Cold War

The star and stripes: John Wayne aboard the USS Saint Paul in August 1964. Batjac Productions, Inc.

better than the American serviceman himself. The Veterans of Foreign Wars
gave Wayne their gold medal and the Marines gave him their ‘Iron Mike’
In the genre he almost made his own, the Western, Duke Wayne came to
embody the potent myth of the American frontiersman taming the world.
Cultural historians claim the three ‘Seventh Cavalry’ pictures he made with
John Ford and Merian C. Cooper from 1948 to 1950 – Fort Apache, She Wore a
Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande – helped project America’s new post-1945 role as the
world’s protector of freedom, and put Wayne at the centre of a Cold War sen-
sibility favouring social discipline in time of trial.29 Wayne’s labour of love was
The Alamo (1960), his directorial debut and a project financed by $1.5 million
of his own money.30 Ostensibly the film was a story about Texans fighting for
independence from Mexico in the 1830s, but Wayne saw it as a Cold War call
to arms. In his view, many of his fellow Americans were falling prey to ‘the
growing defeatist attitude in the Cold War imposed on us by the Soviet
[Union]’, and consequently needed to ‘appreciate the struggle our ancestors
A cowboy in combats 207

made for the precious freedom we enjoy’. ‘We must sell America to countries
threatened by communist domination’, he told Hollywood gossip columnist
Louella Parsons during filming. The Alamo was also meant as a retort to ‘certain
quarters of Hollywood’ that were ‘splashing garbage’ on the screen and ‘giving
the world a false, nasty impression of us’. Wayne cited Stanley Kramer’s
recently released On the Beach by way of illustration.31
Evidence suggests that Wayne’s image and messages could be extremely
pervasive. Film historian Michael Munn claims that in the early 1950s Stalin
even ordered the KGB to assassinate Wayne because his anti-communist
rhetoric threatened the Soviet Union.32 In the 1960s and 1970s, both friends
and critics of American foreign policy said it was afflicted with a ‘John Wayne
syndrome’. In the mid-seventies, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger drew
explicitly on the Wayne legacy when he attributed his diplomatic achievements
to Americans’ admiration for cowboys who came into town alone.33 In the
1970s and 1980s, Vietnam War veterans were venomous about Wayne’s and
others’ ‘guts and glory’ Second World War films, for making the US military
look unbeatable and combat seem noble. Many claimed they had been encour-
aged to enlist in the hope of re-enacting what they had seen on screen. ‘I gave
my dead dick for John Wayne’, wrote Ron Kovic, who emerged from Vietnam
confined to a wheelchair.34
Wayne’s characters and persona carried such weight partly due to his polit-
ical activism off screen. Many in the audience knew that when Wayne saved
Hawaii from Red fifth-columnists in Big Jim McLain (1952) or helped Chinese
children escape to freedom in Blood Alley (William Wellman, 1955), he was
doing more than playing a movie role.35 Similarly, his outspoken patriotism
and loudly publicised dedication to the anti-communist cause helped lend his
parts in Westerns and other genres larger meaning. Wayne succeeded in
integrating his politics and his profession far more than other film stars of his
era. He actively embraced the attack on Hollywood leftists in the McCarthy
period, serving three consecutive terms as MPA president in the late 1940s
and early 1950s. Thereafter, Wayne openly supported Republican party pol-
icies and candidates, developing a particular soft spot for the resolutely anti-
communist Richard Nixon.36
In 1960, Wayne joined the John Birch Society, a group that suspected the
American government was secretly run by communists, and in 1965 became
a trustee of the Americans for Constitutional Action, which opposed taxation
and ‘big government’. Before the 1968 presidential race, which Nixon
won, the Duke was urged by a right-wing Texas billionaire to serve as vice-
presidential running-mate to the segregationist George Wallace (he declined,
leaving General Curtis LeMay to run instead).37 By this point Wayne had
helped make anti-communist publicity material for numerous branches of the
208 Hollywood’s Cold War

federal government, including the Defence Department, the air force and the
FBI.38 J. Edgar Hoover sent Wayne his condolences when Wayne’s mother
died in March 1970, and his warmest congratulations when Wayne won his
first Oscar for True Grit (Henry Hathaway, 1969) a month later.39 Overseas,
Wayne owned mineral rights in the Congo, and in 1959 had been accused by
the left-wing Panamanian government of financing a coup through his busi-
ness dealings with a former president’s son.40 Just prior to his death in 1979,
Congress struck a medal in the star’s honour. The inscription was simple:
‘John Wayne, American’.41


Wayne’s early campaign to root out communist subversives in the early 1950s
coincided with the Korean War – the only instance during the Cold War when
armies of two major powers (China and the United States) actually fought
each other directly. Hollywood wasted little time in bringing the Cold War’s
first ‘hot’ war to the screen. Though some films reflected the ambivalence
many Americans felt about sending their boys to a remote land to die for a
United Nations ‘police action’, the majority did to international communism
what the film industry had recently done to the Axis powers.42
By contrast, pictures of America’s diplomatic and military intervention in
Vietnam, which began in the late 1940s and ended with the humiliating with-
drawal of US troops in 1973, hardly appeared at all on America’s silver screen.
This might seem surprising given Hollywood’s near-obsession with the
Vietnam War in the late 1970s and 1980s, but it is not too difficult to explain.
Vietnam was after all the world’s first full-scale ‘television war’, and film-
industry moguls reckoned most people wanted to escape from the images they
saw nightly in their living rooms rather than seeing more of them at the
cinema. Vietnam was also not susceptible to conventional Hollywood treat-
ment, with its preference for clearly identifiable heroes and villains. America’s
purposes were too vague, its allies too indistinguishable from its enemies, and
its methods too questionable.43 As early as 1965, the war was already
sufficiently divisive for trade paper Variety to proclaim it ‘too hot for
Hollywood’.44 Left-wing filmmakers working on Hollywood’s fringes did
make anti-war documentaries in the late 1960s, the most prominent being
Emile de Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig (1968).45 At the same time, a small
number of stars, like Bob Hope, actively supported the war by performing
in shows for the troops in Vietnam organised by the United Service
Organisations (USO). A few others joined the peace movement, especially in
the early 1970s once anti-war protest had become safely fashionable. Among
the latter, Jane Fonda, nicknamed ‘Hanoi Jane’ following her visit to the North
A cowboy in combats 209

Vietnamese capital in 1972, created the biggest stir.46 In general, though,

Hollywood recoiled when the war led to massive public protest in the late
1960s, preferring to sit it out until a political consensus re-emerged.
However, Hollywood did play some part from the late 1940s through to
the mid-1960s in educating the public about why Vietnam was important, thus
helping to lay the ground for the subsequent despatch of more than 500,000
troops. Starting with Paramount’s Saigon in 1948, all fourteen feature films
made about Vietnam during this period exhibited a strong anti-communism.
Most echoed John Foster Dulles’ influential Domino Theory and emphasised
the threat posed by Mao Tse Tung’s China to the whole of Southeast Asia. A
few, like Sam Fuller’s romantic adventure China Gate (1957), anticipated The
Green Berets in its use of an innocent boy to connote America’s responsibility
to Asia’s youth. Twentieth Century-Fox’s ‘B’ melodrama Five Gates to Hell
(1959) combined Hollywood’s well-worn ‘yellow peril’ theme with images of
evil mercenaries employed by Red China kidnapping and raping nuns and Red
Cross nurses.47
Only Joseph Mankiewicz’s The Quiet American (1958) and George Englund’s
The Ugly American (1962) hinted at the ambiguities of America’s role in a polit-
ically complex region. Both sanitised best-selling books, the former by the
British spy author Graham Greene, who had been banned from the United
States in 1952 for Communist party connections, the latter by the American
political novelists William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. Greene’s novel
centred on Alden Pyle, a CIA agent in Southeast Asia whose anti-communist
counter-terrorism kills and maims innocent civilians. In the film, Pyle (played
by Second World War hero Audie Murphy) works for a private US aid mission,
and the ending reverses Greene’s critique of American foreign policy into an
anti-communist statement by attributing civilian deaths to the Viet Minh, the
independence league led by Ho Chi Minh. This rewrite can partly be linked to
pre-production contacts between director Joseph Mankiewicz and one of the
CIA’s legendary Cold War operatives, Edward Lansdale. The man widely
believed to be the model for Greene’s Pyle, Lansdale was a former advertis-
ing executive who was credited during the 1950s with almost single-handedly
preventing a communist takeover of the Philippines and with helping to
install Ngo Dinh Diem as president of the American-backed government of
South Vietnam.48
The Quiet American apart, there are no indications of any government
involvement in these movies. But as Washington’s military commitment to
South Vietnam increased in the early 1960s, officials devised a multi-layered
propaganda strategy to defend it. The strategy’s message had three core
themes. First, the war was a case of North Vietnamese aggression, backed
by China, against South Vietnam. In other words, contrary to critics’ pleas,
210 Hollywood’s Cold War

the conflict was not a civil war or a war of national self-determination, and
the American government had every right to help a sovereign nation defend
itself. Second, the war was a test case for all wars of national liberation and
was subject to the Domino Theory. This meant that the primary threat to
Southeast Asian independence came from Beijing, which was using North
Vietnam and principally its terrorist network in the south (the Viet Cong) as
a tool for expansion. Finally, the intentions of America and its allies were
peaceful and the use of force the last resort. Force was necessary, however,
in order to bring an intransigent enemy to the negotiating table and thereby
achieve a lasting solution for Vietnam.49 The Kennedy and Johnson admin-
istrations disseminated their case assiduously. JFK’s press secretary, Pierre
Salinger, laid on all-expenses-paid trips to Vietnam for America’s most influ-
ential correspondents. LBJ was constantly on the phone to television
network executives, complaining, cajoling and threatening to make sure the
images of ‘progress’ in Vietnam he thought the public ought to see actually
In 1965, the government’s Vietnam propaganda campaign was ratcheted
up several notches, as Vietnam switched from being a limited war into a
fullblown military conflict. Johnson ordered an escalating series of air
strikes against North Vietnam (christened Operation Rolling Thunder) and
increased the number of US troops on the ground in the south to 200,000.
The first major anti-war demonstration took place in Washington, DC, in
April that year; October saw protests against the war in forty American
cities.51 To cope with the war’s intensification, the USIA and Defence
Department both produced their first major Vietnam films. Night of the
Dragon was a highly polished, colour USIA documentary, narrated by
Charlton Heston and directed by Richard T. Heffron. It used faked combat
scenes to blame the war squarely on North Vietnam, exposed ‘Viet Cong’
atrocities through horrific images of dead teachers and village elders, and
stressed the endurance of South Vietnamese youngsters, including a 5-year-
old boy who had lost his legs in a minefield.52 The Defence Department’s
Why Vietnam? was modelled on Frank Capra’s celebrated Why We Fight series
from the Second World War. In what was becoming a familiar theme, it too
used South Vietnamese children to evoke an emotional response. The film
showed the North Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, surrounded by children,
as the narrator accused him of duplicitously playing the ‘kindly grandfather’
while ‘planning a reign of terror’. Why Vietnam? was required viewing for all
GIs shipping out to Vietnam, and with 10,000 prints controversially circu-
lated among schools and colleges, it became the first documentary about
Vietnam that a large number of Americans saw. Critics attacked it for its fal-
sifications and ‘brainwashing’ techniques.53
A cowboy in combats 211

Spring 1965 witnessed the birth of a publishing sensation, as Robin Moore’s
novel The Green Berets appeared in America’s bookstores. One of the biggest-
selling books ever about the US engagement in Vietnam (by 1975 it had sold
3.2 million copies),54 The Green Berets was a direct result of the Kennedy admin-
istration’s efforts to reinvigorate the nation’s policy in Vietnam and the public’s
support for it. In 1961, JFK had ordered the expansion of the nation’s Special
Forces in Vietnam, elite units he believed could defeat the enemy by mimick-
ing its unconventional tactics allied to greater firepower. Nicknamed the
Green Berets after their distinctive headgear, the Special Forces enjoyed flat-
tering news coverage in which they were celebrated as a combination of James
Bond and Daniel Boone. One journalist termed them ‘the Harvard PhDs of
warfare’.55 The White House press corps was encouraged to make regular
visits to the unit’s headquarters at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where the
Green Berets performed their self-styled ‘Disneyland shows’ complete with
rocket-propelled backpacks designed to prove their mastery of weapons tech-
nology.56 When, inspired by this publicity, author Robin Moore asked in 1963
for privileged access to Vietnam in order to write a book about the Green
Berets, JFK ordered the unit to cooperate. The upshot was a series of short
stories rolled into one, all extolling the bravery and prowess of Captain Steve
Kornie’s unorthodox combat unit as it, among other things, brilliantly defends
a Special Forces camp and conducts a clandestine mission inside North
Vietnam. Army enlistment centres were temporarily flooded in the weeks fol-
lowing The Green Berets’ publication, and the book soon boasted a 200,000-
member fan club. ‘The Ballad of the Green Berets’, written by Moore and
sung by former Special Forces staff sergeant Barry Sadler, topped the pop
music charts for five consecutive weeks in 1966.57
Several Hollywood production companies, including MGM and Columbia,
showed an early interest in cashing in on the success of Moore’s book, only
to be put off by the increased domestic opposition to the war, a lack of funds
and the Defence Department’s controlling hand.58 This left John Wayne’s
company, Batjac Productions, to put its head above the Vietnam parapet.
Having read The Green Berets, Wayne wrote directly to Lyndon Johnson in late
December 1965. Without mentioning Moore’s book specifically, Wayne told
the president of his desire to make a film about the Special Forces in Vietnam,
one with ‘reason, emotion, characterization and action’ that would inspire ‘a
patriotic spirit’ among fellow Americans and tell the world ‘why it is necessary
for us to be there’. Wayne could take pride in having worked with the military
on such films as The Fighting Seabees (Edward Ludwig, 1944) and The Longest
Day (1962), the actor informed LBJ, but asked the president if he could put
212 Hollywood’s Cold War

in a good word for Wayne at the Defence Department in order to ‘expedite

our project’. For good measure, Wayne appealed to the president’s Texan
roots by quoting a Davy Crockett line from The Alamo warning against
appeasement.59 The White House reacted quickly, its speed reflecting Wayne’s
authority and the government’s desire to get Hollywood’s support for the war.
A week later, in early January 1966, Jack Valenti, Special Assistant to the
President, and a man who six months later would be elected president of the
Motion Picture Association of America, urged Johnson to ‘grant Wayne per-
mission to make the film’ despite the actor’s conservative reputation. Valenti,
a former fighter pilot and advertising agent, calculated that ‘a commercial film
about Vietnam, with popular stars in it’ was bound to be of greater value than
any documentary. It would also have greater licence to depict Viet Cong atroc-
ities, evidence of which the government sorely lacked on film.60
The White House soon learned it need have no worries on this and other
scores. In February, Wayne told Bill Moyers, LBJ’s press secretary, that his film
would show how the ‘Commie guerrillas are ruthless, having killed twenty
thousand civic leaders and their families during these years of slaughter’. In a
letter to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April, Wayne
repeated this figure, adding that it amounted to the South Vietnamese having
proportionately ‘lost twice as many fighting men in their battle for freedom as
we lost in the Second World War’. In Wayne’s opinion, the South Vietnamese
people’s willingness to die for the cause belied reports from journalists and
other ‘overnight visitors’ that America was forcing the war upon them. Wayne
also promised Moyers his movie would depict the American soldiers’ ‘duty of
death’ in Vietnam, together with their role as ‘diplomats in dungarees –
helping small communities, giving them medical attention, toys for their chil-
dren and little things like soap’. There would be a ‘blood bath of two million
souls’ if the Senate was to ‘bow to the irresponsibility of the Berkeley beat-
niks’ and forsake the Vietnamese, the Duke warned. Moreover, defeat or
retreat would completely destroy what was left of the once highly respected
American image. This, in turn, would only bring guerrilla warfare closer to
home, by encouraging communists like Che Guevara in South America.61


Discussions between Batjac and the military about the movie initially went
smoothly. After meeting the company’s president and the Duke’s eldest son,
Michael, who would also be the film’s producer, Donald Baruch informed the
army of his enthusiasm for the enterprise. ‘Not only do we want and need a
feature motion picture on Vietnam’, he wrote in February 1966, ‘but we
believe here is an opportunity to direct and develop a project that will contain
A cowboy in combats 213

story elements that are favourable to the Department of Defence and to the
overall effort as stated by the President.’ In April, the Waynes got the red-
carpet treatment at the Pentagon, where they were briefed by a team led by
Baruch and Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defence, and at the John
F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, where the Green Berets
gave one of their ‘Disneyland’ performances. John Wayne was more than
impressed. ‘From General Stilwell down through his Command, we found the
soldiery of such quality that, if the people of the United States were apprised
of it, it would renew their confidence in the ability, the decency and the dedi-
cation of our present-day fighting men.’62
In June, Wayne made a three-week fact-finding and morale-boosting
mission to Vietnam, sponsored by the Defence Department. Visiting the
Marines near Chu Lai after completing work narrating a Defence Department
documentary on America’s rural rebuilding programme, Wayne reportedly
narrowly escaped Viet Cong sniper fire. In Saigon children ran after him
shouting ‘Number One Cowboy’, while US troops often called him Stryker,
after his marine sergeant role in Sands of Iwo Jima. On his return home, Wayne
publicly likened some aspects of the war to ‘an old cavalry post where men,
women and kids are getting killed’. His own version of the Domino Theory
called for the supply of Russian, Czech and Chinese weapons to the enemy to
be cut off at source: ‘We’re at war with international communism.’63 At the end
of June 1966, Michael Wayne reached an agreement with Universal Pictures
on the financial and distribution arrangements for the film.64
However, trouble soon flared once the Pentagon read the draft scripts.
These were penned by the experienced screenwriter and Vietnam veteran
James Lee Barrett, whose earlier work curiously included On the Beach, with
some input from John Wayne himself. Image-conscious elements within the
armed services had actually bridled at the ‘gung-ho’ nature of Moore’s book.
Worse still from their perspective, the novel depicted the South Vietnamese
army (ARVN) as corrupt and cowardly; mocked ‘do-gooders’ wanting to fight
the war by social work; and showed the Special Forces violating international
agreements, condoning torture, and employing bandits, opium-smugglers and
prostitutes.65 Having paid Moore roughly $75,000 for the rights to his best-
seller, Michael Wayne wanted the movie to follow its dramatic contours as
closely as possible. Baruch, on the other hand, had got the impression early
on from Wayne that the film would be a very loose adaptation, and had passed
this on to the Pentagon in order to allay its initial scepticism.66
In order to write as good a script as possible, James Lee Barrett immersed
himself in the details of operational conditions in Vietnam, even asking the
director of press information at CBS Television about radio communications
in the field.67 In the summer of 1966, Barrett travelled to the Vietnamese front
214 Hollywood’s Cold War

Fatherly fatigues: the Duke signing autographs during his trip to Vietnam in June 1966. Batjac
Productions, Inc.

line under the Defence Department’s auspices. Whilst there, his camp came
under fire, and it was this experience, plus that of John Wayne’s in June and
Moore’s plot, that formed the basis of Barrett’s rough drafts. On reading the
first of these, a panel including the Defence Department, State Department,
army and Green Berets turned it down flat. In the panel’s opinion, the script
A cowboy in combats 215

was riddled with technical and strategic errors, the most obvious being the
portrayal of a covert Green Berets’ mission into North Vietnam to seize a
high-ranking communist official without the South Vietnamese government’s
permission. This gave the politically dangerous impression that the US Special
Forces were a law unto themselves in Vietnam.68
Barrett and Michael Wayne complied with the long list of changes sug-
gested by Baruch, despite the damage they thought this would do to the
movie’s commercial and propagandistic success. Understandably, they
believed they had no choice. For all his father’s political and cultural leverage,
Michael knew that the Defence Department held the whip hand over film-
makers. Unless Baruch officially sanctioned the script, the helicopters, jeeps,
uniformed extras and so on needed to make the film look like ‘the real thing’
would be withheld.69 After examining Barrett’s third draft script, in March
1967, the Defence Department formally agreed to assist the production, pro-
vided further modifications were made. These, again, went beyond technical-
ities, and affected the movie’s political coloration. All references to the
Vietnamese conflict being a civil war were to be cut. Instead, South Vietnam
was to be presented as an independent country under attack from an aggres-
sive neighbour. A scene showing the Green Berets condoning the ARVN’s
brutal treatment of prisoners had to be excised because it was, in the words
of the Defence Department Public Affairs Office, ‘grist for the opponents of
United States policy in Vietnam’.70 In June, just before production was due to
start, the whole project nearly collapsed. Universal withdrew any further
financial support, ostensibly due to perceived weaknesses in the screenplay
but also because of the war’s increased notoriety. A new financial backer,
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, swiftly filled the void, doubtless encouraged by the
full backing the military now promised the film.71
Having spent eighteen months working to ensure that this important movie
would present a polished image of both the military’s actions and the White
House’s Vietnam strategy, the Department of Defence did all it could to add
authenticity to the production. While searching for a location that could double
as Vietnamese jungle country, John Wayne had initially thought of shooting the
movie in Okinawa. Following a suggestion from the army, he eventually settled
on the rugged terrain within the US Infantry’s 285-square-mile base at Fort
Benning in Georgia, where the military’s logistical support would be close to
hand.72 As well as allowing Batjac to film at Fort Benning, Fort Bragg and nearby
airfields, the Pentagon granted the company access to a staggering array of
equipment, including jeeps, captured Viet Cong weapons, armoured personnel
carriers, tanks and helicopters. It supplied Batjac with over 350 army personnel,
and obligingly put on leave a platoon of Hawaiian-Americans training in
Massachusetts to play the Oriental roles. Wayne’s art director Walter Simmonds,
216 Hollywood’s Cold War

Hollywood technicians and the army built a $150,000 mock-up of a Vietnamese

village at Fort Benning, which was turned over to the army for training purposes
after filming was complete. The Defence Department provided almost all of
this military hardware and manpower at taxpayers’ expense.73
Shooting on location took place over thirteen weeks, starting in August
1967, after which the main players and crew moved to the Warner Bros. lot in
Burbank. In keeping with the difficulties experienced in pre-production, the
filming itself was far from straightforward. Under the watchful eye of the
Defence Department’s three ‘technical advisers’, several more script changes
were made on set, in order to help the film strike the right artistic and ideo-
logical notes. David Janssen, who played the dovish journalist Beckworth,
kept insisting on more realistic dialogue lest he come across as an idiot.74
Certain scenes disappeared at the editing stage. One in which Wayne’s lead
character, Lt. Col. Mike Kirby, accuses anti-war protestors of being ‘drenched
in self-pity’ was left on the cutting room floor because, according to Michael
Wayne, it was ‘too political’. A typical John Wayne comic brawl also went by
the wayside, presumably on grounds of taste; at a time when so many
Americans were coming back in body bags, few had the nerve to make
Vietnam the subject of fun.75 Starring and co-directing (with Ray Kellogg)
took its toll on the 60-year-old Duke, who three years earlier had been oper-
ated on to remove a cancerous lung. He caught laryngitis at a rain-drenched
Fort Benning, and when the production looked to be running slightly ragged
Warners-Seven Arts sent the veteran director Mervyn LeRoy to knock it back
into shape.76 At this point, Robin Moore cried foul to the press. The Defence
Department was, he claimed, changing the ‘core’ of his book in order ‘to keep
up an unpopular war’. Michael Wayne countered by stressing that Batjac alone
was responsible for the changes and by arguing he was ‘not making a film
about Vietnam. I’m making a picture about good against bad.’77

Batjac’s The Green Berets is unashamedly old-fashioned, blood-and-guts patri-
otic propaganda. A Second World War film in tone and structure, it focuses
on the brave endeavours of a small group of elite soldiers, thus playing down
the highly bureaucratic nature of America’s war in Vietnam. Characters often
deliver long speeches, thinly disguised as dialogue. The enemy are presented
as racially barbaric terrorists driven by the monolithic communist desire for
expansion. The clients, the South Vietnamese, are portrayed as a childlike
people who need American guidance. The Americans share democratic
and civilised principles, are the underdogs, and fight only to defend. Politics
is reduced to personal soul-searching or tragedy. The movie is filled with
A cowboy in combats 217

characters and motifs self-consciously borrowed from Westerns. Even

Wayne’s character, Kirby, awakened memories of his namesakes in Fort Apache
and Rio Grande. At the same time, technological gadgetry, ‘Namspeak’ and the
demonising of the media give the film a very contemporary feel.
After the credits have rolled to the accompaniment of an all-male choir
belting out ‘The Ballad of the Green Berets’, the action begins at Fort Bragg.
A group of reporters is watching a Special Forces unit go through its paces in
readiness for Vietnam. Highly proficient in unarmed combat, demolition and
foreign languages, the Green Berets look exactly like the ‘new breed of
American soldier’ the Duke had described them as in the press before
filming.78 The men would clearly rather be at the front, fighting the Viet Cong
(or ‘VC’). But in a media age they know they must win the argument at home
first if they are to save the world from communism.
In a question-and-answer session the Green Berets are more than a match
for the cynical reporters. ‘Foreign policy decisions are not made by the mili-
tary,’ says Irish-American master sergeant Muldoon (Aldo Ray), when asked
why Americans are ‘waging this ruthless war’ in Vietnam. It is left to medical
officer McGee, played by the black actor Raymond St Jacques, to elaborate.
The Viet Cong are trying to ‘exterminate’ the civilian leadership in the South
and are torturing innocents, McGee tells a female journalist, parroting
Wayne’s letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. ‘They need us, Miss
Sutton, and they want us’, he declares.79 Yet even when Muldoon brandishes
Russian, Czech and Chinese weapons taken from the Viet Cong, one reporter,
the Chronicle Herald’s George Beckworth (Janssen), still has his doubts. This is
a cue for Lt. Col. Kirby, commander of a Special Forces unit bound for
Vietnam, to invite Beckworth to come see for himself.
Unloading at Da Nang, Kirby and Beckworth learn that the base’s signs are
all posthumously dedicated to the American heroes who have died in what is
a very real, often deadly conflict. Kirby is briefed on his unit’s mission to
respond to a heavy build-up of enemy troops in the highlands by reinforcing
a vulnerable camp ‘in the heart of VC country’. ‘Huey’ helicopters ferry the
men to an outpost on the Cambodian border, designated ‘Dodge City’. A
dashing ARVN ranger Nim (George Takei, aka the stoic Mr Sulu in TV’s Star
Trek)80 tells Kirby they are fighting the war with one hand tied behind their
backs. They don’t even have the right raingear for monsoon conditions. They
are also sitting ducks: ‘Charlie’ lobs in mortars nightly. Kirby orders the ‘killing
area’ to be doubled in size to 300 feet, where pungi sticks, a vicious and
primitive ‘trick learned from Charlie’, are planted. Effective guerrilla warfare
obviously calls for unconventional methods.
That night the fort’s American captain is tragically killed by a mortar, the
result of the VC having ‘eyes’ in the camp. The next day Muldoon catches the
218 Hollywood’s Cold War

The new Cold War enemy within – the media: Lt. Col. Kirby (John Wayne) and journalist George
Beckworth (David Janssen) prepare to lock horns on the set of The Green Berets (1968). Batjac
Productions, Inc.

spy red-handed. When Nim vigorously interrogates him, Beckworth is

appalled by the lack of ‘due process’. The journalist’s naïve assessment of field
procedure is belittled by Kirby, who tells him, ‘Out here due process is a bullet!’
Beckworth begins to get the point when he sees Doc McGee tending to a local
village girl who has lost part of her leg to a land mine. In the meantime,
Sergeant Petersen (Jim Hutton), the unit’s irreverent scrounger, has effectively
adopted the orphan boy ‘Hamchunk’ (Craig Jue). The mischievous but lovable
camp mascot first lost his parents in the war, and then had to cope with the VC
assassinating the missionaries at his orphanage. The message is clear: commu-
nism destroys the family and the church, and is utterly without conscience.
The VC’s gratuitous savagery is further underlined the next day, in a scene
loosely based on a story told to the Duke by the Green Berets’ chief, General
A cowboy in combats 219

Keeping cool in a ‘hot’ Cold War: while the rescued villagers panic and helicopters swarm, Lt. Col. Kirby
(John Wayne) is a model of military fortitude as he calls up the air force to wipe out ‘Charlie’s positions in
‘Dodge City’. Publicity poster for The Green Berets (1968). Batjac Productions, Inc.

Stilwell, at Fort Bragg.81 Kirby’s unit visits a local hamlet, where they find the
chief mutilated and the little girl Beckworth had met the night before raped
and murdered. This is a turning point for the liberal reporter, who has already
exchanged his safari suit for combat fatigues; it finally dawns on him why
America’s defence of South Vietnam is so important. Here, The Green Berets
was reversing the actual experience of many American journalists, like Neil
Sheehan and David Halberstam, who arrived in Vietnam thinking the war was
worthwhile and necessary, but who ended up thinking otherwise.82
Kirby is then summoned to Da Nang, where he learns the South
Vietnamese government wants the Green Berets’ help in a scheme to kidnap
a VC general, using a beautiful South Vietnamese model as bait. While he is
away, the VC launches a full-scale assault on the camp. Like the Texans
besieged at the Alamo, the Green Berets are vastly outnumbered and take hit
after hit as they fight the faceless hordes. This time the Americans can claim
victory, though. Beckworth loads ammunition for the besieged combatants;
Hamchunk’s puppy is killed by a rocket blast and given a proper ‘Christian’
burial; and the Green Berets corral the cowering villagers in a bunker. Just as
220 Hollywood’s Cold War

everything looks lost, Kirby’s platoon comes to the rescue, with the help of
US air force strikes. Kirby orders everyone to ‘fall back’ temporarily, leaving
the air force to mop up the pillaging VC from a safe distance and his troops
to reoccupy ‘Dodge City’. The battle is over. True grit and superior technol-
ogy have beaten fanaticism and brute force.
The Green Berets have served their country and the body bags testify to
the value of their international cause. Beckworth is heading home, having
abandoned both his journalistic detachment and his newspaper’s prejudices.
‘If I say what I feel I may be out of a job’, he tells Kirby, implying a liberal
media conspiracy against the war. ‘We’ll always give you one’, is the reply.
Meanwhile, Kirby’s work is not complete. After comforting the camp
wounded, what remains of his unit daringly parachutes behind enemy lines to
snatch the lascivious VC general from his palatial villa. Living amidst faded
colonial splendour and served champagne and caviar by a bevy of servants,
the general epitomises communist notions of ‘equality’. Things go without a
hitch, as the trussed captive is hoisted spectacularly into the air by balloon and
thence onto an over-flying American aircraft.
But there is a sting in the tail. On the way back, Petersen dies a horrible and
shocking death when he steps into a sloop knot and is impaled on a pungi-
stick-filled wall. When the choppers return to base, Hamchunk is distraught
when his beloved ‘Peter-San’ fails to appear. ‘What will happen to me now?’,
he asks Kirby. ‘You let me worry about that, Green Beret’, Kirby replies,
handing him Petersen’s beret. ‘You’re what this is all about.’ In the final shot,
infamous for depicting the sun setting in the east, the two heroes walk away
hand in hand as the theme tune strikes anew.


Being the first major film about Vietnam and a John Wayne vehicle, The Green
Berets was always going to attract significant interest. However, in the three
years it had taken to make, for Americans the war in Vietnam had grown from
a blip on the map somewhere in Southeast Asia to a reality that might claim
the life of the boy next door. When the movie debuted, in July 1968, there
were half a million American troops in South Vietnam and the war was at the
very top of the US political agenda. Graphic television reports of communist
guerrillas penetrating the inner confines of the US embassy in Saigon during
the Viet Cong’s Tet offensives of January-February 1968 had made the
Johnson administration’s claims of imminent or inevitable victory look ridicu-
lous. At the end of March, partly due to these reports, LBJ had announced a
halt to the bombings of North Vietnam in the hope of sparking peace talks
with the enemy, and declared his withdrawal from the presidential race.83 This
A cowboy in combats 221

came as a blow to John Wayne, who had hoped The Green Berets would help get
LBJ re-elected as the Democratic party candidate.84 By the summer of 1968,
polls indicated the American people were deeply divided over the war. The
violence this caused, plus the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., in
April and Robert Kennedy in June, added to a sense of genuine national
Reaction to The Green Berets reflected this highly charged political atmos-
phere. As might be expected, opponents and supporters of US policy in
Vietnam latched on to the movie for their own propaganda purposes. The
film’s premiere in New York City, for instance, was picketed by protestors
sponsored by the Veterans and Reservists to End the War in Vietnam.86 Wayne
had got used to the drubbing his films received from critics over the years, but
in this instance many were so vitriolic as to be foaming at the mouth. Renata
Adler, chief film critic at the New York Times, led the case for the prosecution,
calling The Green Berets ‘vile, insane’ and ‘dull’. In Glamour magazine, Michael
Korda, influential publisher and son of the famous British film production
designer, Vincent Korda, condemned the movie as a ‘simple-minded tract in
praise of killing, brutality and American superiority over Asians’. ‘I do not
know how it would be possible to produce a more revolting picture’, he con-
tinued, ‘short of giving Martin Bormann several million dollars to make a
Technicolor movie showing that Auschwitz was a wonderful place to live.’87
Richard Schickel, writing in Life, agreed that the film was ‘stupid’ and primi-
tive’, but argued that modern audiences were too sophisticated to find Wayne’s
recycled Second World War and early Cold War propaganda palatable.
‘Peaceniks may safely leave their picket signs at home’, he concluded, ‘The
Green Berets is its own worst enemy.’ The trade papers Hollywood Reporter and
Variety said much the same thing. Variety thought the script ‘so loaded with
corn and cardboard that “hawks” will tend to be embarrassed, while “doves”
will be embarrassed – for the “hawks”.’88
The Green Berets’ flaws stood out a mile to the discerning viewer. It was
clichéd and polemical, much of the acting was wooden, the direction pedes-
trian, the editing lethargic, and at 141 minutes, it would test the patience of a
saint. The Defence Department’s script interventions had not only delayed
production for a critical two years, thus depriving audiences of a clear pro-war
statement before opposition had coalesced. They had also stripped away some
of the more dramatic and entertaining aspects of Moore’s book. The film-
makers’ use of army manpower and hardware came at a price too: Wayne
often got lost on screen amidst the cast of thousands and military gadgetry.
On top of all this, The Green Berets looked dated in an age increasingly domin-
ated by television. Contrary to received opinion then and now, America’s tele-
vision networks largely supported the government throughout the Vietnam
222 Hollywood’s Cold War

Uncle Sam still needs you! Publicity for The Green Berets (1968) made a virtue of the film’s old-
fashioned values. Batjac Productions, Inc./ Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
A cowboy in combats 223

War, albeit in a less strident tone than The Green Berets. However, by mid-1968
many television viewers had seen enough live-action footage of Americans
burning Vietnamese villages and napalming children to realise Wayne’s treat-
ment of the war looked decidedly sanitised and one-sided.89
And yet, despite these weaknesses, The Green Berets did excellent business
at the box office. Having cost roughly $7 million to make, it grossed nearly $11
million domestically in its first year, and roughly $9 million overseas. This
made it one of the ten biggest earners of 1968, and one of the most lucrative
Warner Bros. releases of the 1960s.90 Wayne’s star appeal can partly account
for this, together with Americans’ desire for adventurous war movies. But
could it not also be that critics like Schickel underestimated the appeal of the
movie’s potent mixture of patriotism, anti-communism and courage under
fire? The New York Times published a number of letters challenging Renata
Adler’s negative review. One, written by a former Green Beret, William P.
Farrell, thought Wayne’s film was ‘fast-moving, depicted American Special
Forces accurately and put the Vietnam War in perspective’. Other ex-Green
Berets also publicly approved of the film, while the New Yorker’s Penelope
Gilliatt, who despised the movie’s patronising attitude towards the
Vietnamese, noted how audiences cheered the death of Viet Cong soldiers.91
Perhaps some of these viewers liked The Green Berets’ very unrealism. As Gary
Wills has written, ‘People who did not want to know about the actual Vietnam
War could feel that the national unity and resolve of the Second World War
might turn around this strange new conflict in the far off jungles of the East.’92
Other viewers might have seen the movie just as Michael Wayne did, as a
‘cowboys and Indians’ film in which ‘the Americans are the good guys and the
Viet Cong are the bad guys’.93 The Green Berets’ aims were as limited as its style.
Like most effective propaganda, it sought to reinforce not convert, by tapping
into the public’s deeply ingrained beliefs.
Not surprisingly given the film’s hyper-American flavour, some overseas
viewers berated The Green Berets. The movie’s opening night in Frankfurt in
West Germany, for instance, was marred by rioters chanting ‘Ho Chi Minh’ and
waving ‘America Go Home’ flags. In Amman in Jordan, hundreds of rioters
smashed up a cinema when American fighter planes appeared towards the end
of the movie. The film’s notoriety dented box office takings in some countries.
Denmark, for example, banned its exhibition totally following fights between
riot police and anti-American demonstrators outside theatres. Elsewhere, such
as in France and Japan, demonstrations outside venues showing The Green Berets
against both the Vietnam War and the US military’s presence in their country
helped draw capacity crowds.94 Reports of these anti-American protests prob-
ably assisted the film commercially and politically back in the United States,
where Wayne presented himself as the nation’s standard-bearer. Rumours of
224 Hollywood’s Cold War

bomb threats and demonstrations outside theatres by left-wing groups played

further into the hands of the many Americans who opposed even the right to
hold peaceful demonstrations in wartime, or those, like Wayne, who believed
that the protestors were subversives hiding behind the constitution.95
As for the military itself, having invested heavily in The Green Berets, the
Department of Defence made sure as many GIs as possible got to see it. The
movie soon became a favourite booking of the armed forces entertainment
officers in Vietnam, though not always with the desired effect. Many GIs
reportedly laughed aloud at the movie’s unreal portrait of the war and treated
it as unintentional high camp.96 Apparently unaware of these adverse reac-
tions, in the summer of 1968 the USIA hired Wayne’s old Militant Liberty
associate, John Ford, to make a documentary equivalent of The Green Berets.
Three years in the making, and with appearances by Charlton Heston and the
former movie star turned politician Ronald Reagan, Vietnam! Vietnam! turned
out to be a disastrous white elephant. On completion in 1971, the agency
deemed it too confrontational for general overseas release. With events in
Vietnam, America’s ability to portray itself as a benign force fighting the com-
munist evil had gone – for the time being at least.97

It is fitting that John Wayne made the only major Vietnam War movie to come
out of Hollywood during that most divisive of conflicts. After all, the
Pentagon regarded Wayne as perhaps its single most effective recruiting agent
in the decades after the Second World War, and his mythical warrior status
seems to have left an indelible mark on the generation of American fighting
men that came to maturity in the 1960s. In one respect, in The Green Berets
Wayne was simply doing for the US Special Forces what he had done for the
Marines in The Sands of Iwo Jima two decades earlier. But The Green Berets also
illustrated the sometimes highly personal nature of the cinematic state-private
network during the Cold War. It was Wayne, a powerful actor, who was the
driving force behind the making of The Green Berets, not a studio or a govern-
ment department. As he told LBJ in December 1965, the Duke knew Vietnam
was not a popular war. Because of this, he saw it as his duty, privilege even, to
present the government’s case for global anti-communist vigilance. Other
stars had performed the same task previously, and would continue to do so, in
different ways, until the Cold War came to a close. Others still were ready by
the 1970s to use their power to question what that vigilance was doing to
America, as we shall see in the next chapter.
Even John Wayne, however, would not have been able to make The Green
Berets without the Pentagon’s support. Indeed, this is precisely what some
A cowboy in combats 225

critics and opponents of the Vietnam War said at the time. For a brief moment
after The Green Berets’ release, the public spotlight shone on the relationship
between Hollywood and the military. Democrats in Congress, led by Senator
James Fulbright, complained that Batjac had been vastly undercharged for the
loan of military hardware and manpower during the making of The Green Berets,
and consequently that taxpayers had paid for a movie that many of them con-
sidered illegitimate pro-war Defence Department propaganda. John Wayne
reacted to this in typically combative fashion, by threatening to ‘horsewhip’
those who accused him of swindling the Pentagon and the American people.98
In fact, the golden age of the Hollywood-Pentagon axis had already passed
before this embarrassing episode. Following the lead given by On the Beach in
1959, a handful of military films questioning nuclear deterrence had been
made in the mid-1960s without Defence Department cooperation. The most
powerful of these were Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe (1964) and James Harris’ The
Bedford Incident (1965). John Frankenheimer’s drama Seven Days in May (1964)
had even toyed explicitly with the military-industrial complex theme by
showing a hawkish air force commander (played by Burt Lancaster) plotting
the overthrow of the US government in order to prevent the ratification of a
disarmament treaty.99 Growing public protests against the military’s activities
in Vietnam in the late 1960s led to a further weakening of Hollywood-
Pentagon ties, and as a result the military’s image on screen reached a low point
in the mid-1970s. It was then rehabilitated during the Second Cold War of the
1980s, courtesy of renewed cooperation on prestigious anti-communist
movies like Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge (1986), which celebrated the
1983 Marine invasion of Grenada, and Tony Scott’s Top Gun, which, with Tom
Cruise playing the lead role, glamorised the life of navy fighter pilots and was
the nation’s highest-grossing movie of 1986.100
At the height of the Vietnam War, the US government secretly undertook
all kinds of propaganda activities to blunt the anti-war movement, even
sending pro-war letters to itself to foster the impression of support.101 When
these dubious measures later came to light, they had the effect of making John
Wayne’s The Green Berets look harmlessly naïve: an openly crude attempt to
reassert America’s imperial ethos by a dated film star in the television age. Yet
we should remind ourselves of the critical role played by the US armed ser-
vices in the making of The Green Berets and literally hundreds of other
Hollywood films during the Cold War. These include the scores of Vietnam
War movies produced after the conflict formally ended in 1975, many of
which helped Americans come to grips with its defeat. In different ways, John
Wayne and The Green Berets helped inform a significant number of these
return-to-’Nam movies. Two of a surreal nature – Francis Ford Coppola’s
Apocalypse Now (1979) and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) – played
226 Hollywood’s Cold War

on Wayne’s iconic status in order to present the Vietnam War as a confusing

and pointless experience.102 In contrast, the cartoon-like Rambo series
(1982–8) paid tribute to the bravery of US military elites in Vietnam and sug-
gested that, left unencumbered by bureaucrats and politicians, America’s
armed forces could have won the war. Other films still, like John Irvin’s
Hamburger Hill (1987), lent credence to the myth that the media had stabbed
the US military in the back during the war.103
Appropriately enough, the Duke himself made one of his last public
appearances at the Academy Award ceremonies in April 1979, when he pre-
sented the Oscar for best picture to Michael Cimino for The Deer Hunter,
widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever to have been made about the
Vietnam War.104 A month later, Wayne died of cancer, caused, some claim, by
the fallout from a nuclear bomb test in Nevada, 100 miles downwind from
where he was making The Conquerer in 1954. Tributes paid to the Duke
included this by President Jimmy Carter: ‘In an age of few heroes, he was the
genuine article.’105

1 Document 109 in Suid, Film and Propaganda in America, pp. 390–1.
2 On the historical development of Hollywood’s star system from the 1920s to
the present see Paul McDonald, The Star System: Hollywood’s Production of Popular
Identities (London, 2000).
3 Among the explicitly Cold War movies Andrews starred in were The Iron Curtain
(1948), Assignment Paris (1952) and The Fearmakers (1958); Widmark was in Pickup
on South Street (1953), Hell and High Water (1953) and The Secret Ways (1961). For
brief synopses of these movies see Shain, ‘Hollywood’s Cold War’, pp. 365–72.
It should be noted that the actors’ roles in these and other films did not neces-
sarily accurately reflect their own political viewpoints. Widmark, for instance,
was no conservative Cold Warrior. He was extremely liberal and played a key role
in integrating the black actor Sidney Poitier into the Hollywood system in the
1950s, for example. See Kim Holston, Richard Widmark: A Bio-Bibliography
(Westport, CT, 1990).
4 On Bond’s relationship to the Cold War and détente see James Chapman, Licence
to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films (London, 1999).
5 Stallone starred as John Rambo in three films: First Blood (Ted Kotcheff, 1982),
Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (George Pan Cosmatos, 1985) and Rambo III (Peter
MacDonald, 1988). Norris starred as Colonel James Braddock in Missing in Action
(Joseph Zito, 1984), Missing in Action 2 –The Beginning (Lance Hool, 1985) and
Braddock: Missing in Action III (Aaron Norris, 1988). See Susan Jeffords, Hard
Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era (New Brunswick, NJ, 1994).
6 Bruce Crowther, Charlton Heston: The Epic Presence (London, 1986); Variety, 7
February 1968, p. 6; Filmfax, October 2002, pp. 52–6.
A cowboy in combats 227

7 Michael Munn, Gregory Peck (London, 1998); Film Daily, 27 April 1944; Time,
22 March 1954; Monthly Film Bulletin, March 1988, p. 89. On the efforts made
by the Nixon White House to use federal machinery to ‘screw’ its political
opponents see the records of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force at (24 February
8 Public Papers of the Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960–1961 (Washington, DC,
1961), pp. 1037–40.
9 On the military assistance that was given to William Wellman’s highly successful
Great War aerial epic Wings (1927), for example, see New York Times, 13 August
1927, p. 10; Stars and Stripes, 28 March 1961, pp. 12–13.
10 Variety, 5 September 1928, p. 14; New York Times, 14 September 1929, p. 17;
Variety, 8 April 1931, p. 18; New York Times, 21 July 1934, p. 14; Motion Picture
Daily, 31 January 1935, p. 11.
11 Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New
York, 1975), p. 249.
12 Suid, Guts and Glory, pp. 136–7, passim; Suid, Film and Propaganda in America, esp.
pp. 83–186.
13 Suid, Guts and Glory, pp. 136–87, 210–45.
14 New York Times, 16 April and 27 April 1950; Variety, 12 April 1950, p. 6.
15 Variety, 5 June 1963; Monthly Film Bulletin, August 1963, p. 117.
16 John Whiteclay Chambers and David Culbert (eds), World War II, Film and
History (New York, 1996). Of course, America’s was not the only film industry
to manipulate the Second World War for Cold War purposes. See, for instance,
Christiane Mückenberger, ‘The Anti-Fascist Past in DEFA Films’, in Sean Allan
and John Stanford (eds), DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946–1992 (New York,
1999), pp. 58–76. On the relationship between 1950s American television doc-
umentary series about the Second World War and the Cold War see Bernhard,
Television News, pp. 143–9. Out of interest, 44 per cent of the Americans sur-
veyed in a September 1985 New York Times poll did not know that the Soviet
Union and the United States had fought on the same side in the Second World
War; a smaller number within that group – 28 per cent of the whole sample –
thought that the two countries had actually fought against each other. New York
Times, 10 November 1985, p. 40.
17 Christian Appy, ‘ “We’ll Follow the Old Man”: The Strains of Sentimental
Militarism in Popular Films of the Fifties’, in Kuznick and Gilbert, Rethinking,
pp. 74–105.
18 Militant Liberty Outline Plan, 5 November 1954, OCB Central Files, Box 70,
OCB 091.4 Ideological Programs (File #1): DDEL (8); Proposed Imple-
mentation Plan for Project Action, 15 July 1955, OCB Central Files, Box 71,
OCB 091.4 Ideological Programs (File#3) (4): DDEL. Broger was Deputy
Director of the Armed Forces Information and Education programme between
1956 and 1961. During his tenure, it produced radio programmes and films with
titles such as Freedom and You and Red Nightmare, and developed ties to a number
228 Hollywood’s Cold War

of non-military groups involved in the indoctrination of the American people.

These included HUAC, which in the film Operation Abolition (1960) portrayed the
1960 anti-HUAC student demonstrations in San Francisco as communist-led,
and the National Education Programme, a right-wing patriotic organisation
funded by George S. Benson, president of Harding College, a fundamentalist
(Church of Christ) institution based in Searcy, Arkansas, which made
Communism on the Map (c. 1960), portraying the US in the final phase of com-
munist encirclement. Anne C. Loveland, American Evangelicals and the US Military
1942–1993 (Baton Rouge, LA, 1996), pp. 56–66.
19 Memorandum for JCS Chairman, 5 July 1956, RG 218, JCS Central Files
1954–6, Box 125, sec. 24: DDEL; Militant Liberty Outline Plan, 5 November
1954, OCB Central Files, Box 70, OCB 091.4 Ideological Programs (File #1) (8):
DDEL; Memorandum to Chief of Naval Operations, 16 November 1955, RG
218, JCS Central Files 1954–6, Box 124, sec. 16: DDEL; Saunders, Who Paid the
Piper?, pp. 284–6.
20 Joseph McBride, Searching for John Ford: A Life (New York, 2001), pp. 461–84;
Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, p. 286. Ford’s Cold War movies included This is
Korea! (1951), a Department of Defence orientation film for American soldiers
being stationed on the peninsula, and The Bamboo Cross (1955), a television movie
that portrayed Chinese communists abusing nuns. John Ford Papers, Box 5, f.
29–31, Lilly Library, University of Indiana (hereafter LLUI); Tag Gallagher, John
Ford: The Man and his Films (Berkeley, CA, 1986), pp. 534, 537–40.
21 Mark Costa Vaz, Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of
King Kong (New York, 2005), pp. 321–31; Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, p. 285.
On The Searchers see John Ford Papers, Box 6, f. 19–22, Box 8, f. 22, Box 21, f.
6–7, LLUI, and Edward Buscombe, The Searchers (London, 2000).
22 Ford treated Wayne as if he were his son, and is often credited with having
invented Wayne’s on-screen persona. Bond often played Wayne’s dependable
sidekick in movies. Gary Wills, John Wayne: The Politics of Celebrity (London, 1997),
p. 16; Katz, Encyclopedia, p. 148.
23 Time, 11 March 1957; Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, p. 286; The Wings of Eagles
press book, BFIL.
24 John Ford Papers, Box 6, f. 23–4, Box 22, f. 1–3, LLUI. The ‘baby carrier’ was a
small aircraft carrier whose sole purpose was to re-equip larger carriers with
planes as they were lost in combat.
25 Daily Worker (London), 16 March 1957; Motion Picture Herald, 2 February 1967,
p. 249; Andrew Sinclair, John Ford (London, 1979), p. 180.
26 (6 October 2005); Wayne interview,
Playboy, May 1971, p. 1.
27 A few claim that Wayne did not forgive himself for having escaped military
service in the Second World War, and that the compensatory super-patriotism
of later years was a form of expiation. See Wills, Wayne, p. 110; Ronald Davis,
The Life and Times of John Wayne (Norman, OK, 1998), p. 118. Interestingly,
Wayne did apply for a commission with the Office of Strategic Services. See
A cowboy in combats 229

Modern Military Records, RG 226, E92, Box 32, F. 22087, Jimmy Carter Library
and Museum, Atlanta, Georgia.
28 Wayne interview, Playboy, May 1971, p. 4; Charles John Kieskalt, The Official John
Wayne Reference Book (New York, 1993), p. 176; BoxOffice, 23 August 1971.
29 Wills, Wayne, p. 159
30 Wayne interview, Playboy, May 1971, p. 1.
31 Wayne quoted during filming, in Donald Shepherd, Robert Slatzer and Dave
Grayson, Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne (London, 1985), pp. 203–4, 225;
Wayne to Parsons, cited in Randy Roberts and James S. Olson, John Wayne,
American (Lincoln, NE, 1995), p. 471; FBI press cutting, 9 November 1960: (5 October 2005).
32 Michael Munn, John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth (New York, 2004), pp. 2–6,
125–8. Munn’s sources are not as strong as they might be and include the actor
Orson Welles and Russian filmmaker Sergei Bondarchuk.
33 Wills, Wayne, p. 13; Oriana Fallaci, Interview with History (London, 1976), p. 41.
34 Ron Kovic, Born on the Fourth of July (New York, 1976), pp. 43, 54–5, 72, 98. A
movie version of Kovic’s memoir was released in 1989 under the same title,
directed by Oliver Stone. See also Philip Caputo, A Rumor of War (New York,
1977), p. 6; W. D. Ehrhart, ‘Why I Did It’, Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 56, No.
1, Winter 1980, pp. 19–31, esp. p. 26; Michael Herr, Dispatches (New York, 1977),
pp. 3–4, 188–9, 209. A journalist during the Vietnam War, Herr would later
narrate Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979) and co-write
Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987).
35 Ron Briley, ‘John Wayne and Big Jim McLain (1952): The Duke’s Cold War
Legacy’, Film and History, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2001, pp. 28–33; Steve Zmijewsky, Boris
Zmijewsky and Mark Ricci, The Complete Films of John Wayne (Secaucus, NJ, 1983),
pp. 200–2.
36 Davis, Wayne, p. 26; Los Angeles Times, 5 October 1971.
37 Wills, Wayne, p. 201; Hollywood Reporter, 8 July 1965; Wayne interview, Playboy,
May 1971, pp. 1, 7; Los Angeles Times, 8 May 1969.
38 FBI press cutting report from July 1961on Wayne’s role as a commentator on
the Defence Department film, Challenge of Ideas (1961), and FBI Special Agent
Command to J. Edgar Hoover about a National Geographic Magazine article, 2 June
1960: (5 October 2005).
39 Hoover to Wayne, 19 March and 8 April 1970:
wayne.pdf (5 October 2005).
40 Wayne interview, Playboy, May 1971, p. 2; FBI Special Agent Command, Los
Angeles, to J. Edgar Hoover, 23 April 1959:
(5 October 2005).
41 (6 October 2005).
42 Smith, Looking Away; Doherty, Projections, p. 276.
43 Susan L. Carruthers, The Media at War (Basingstoke, 2000), p. 254. The North
Vietnamese were prolific producers of films about the war while it was being
waged. The French, Canadians, Soviets, East Germans and Cubans also made a
230 Hollywood’s Cold War

variety of films, documentaries especially. Few of these films were distributed

in the United States. See Jean-Jacques Malo and Tony Williams (eds), Vietnam
War Films (Jefferson, NC, 1994); Randolph Lewis, Emile de Antonio: Radical
Filmmaker in Cold War America (Madison, WI, 2000), pp. 79–80.
44 Variety, 18 September 1965, p. 4.
45 Lewis, Emile de Antonio, pp. 76–112; Michael Klein and Peter Wiesner, ‘A
Filmography of Oppositional Politics and Culture in the Vietnam Era,
1963–1974’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1991,
pp. 59–72.
46 Schwarz, Cold War Culture, p. 142; Chris Anderson, Citizen Jane (New York,
1990), pp. 168–93. On Fonda’s Vietnam-related activities, including the movie
Coming Home (1978), see Michael Anderegg, ‘Hollywood and Vietnam: John
Wayne and Jane Fonda as Discourse’, in Michael Anderegg (ed.), Inventing
Vietnam: The War in Film and Television (Philadelphia, PA, 1991), pp. 15–32.
47 Devine, Vietnam, pp. 1–27.
48 Ibid.; Jonathan Nashel, Edward Lansdale’s Cold War (Amherst, MA, 2006),
pp. 163–73.
49 Caroline Page, US Official Propaganda during the Vietnam War, 1965–1973 (London,
1996), pp. 53–61.
50 Aronson, Press, pp. 202–3; Engelhardt, Victory Culture, pp. 242–3.
51 Richard Sobel, The Impact of Public Opinion on US Foreign Policy (Oxford, 2001),
pp. 54–5; Tom Wells, ‘The Anti-Vietnam War Movement’, in Peter Lowe (ed.),
The Vietnam War (Basingstoke, 1998), p. 117.
52 MPSVB, RG 306.05798, Night of the Dragon, USNA. In some countries this film
circulated on the same bill as the year’s hit musical, George Cukor’s Oscar-
winning My Fair Lady. Robert Elder, The Information Machine: The United States
Information Agency and American Foreign Policy (Syracuse, NY, 1968), p. 9.
53 Documents 106–8 in Suid, Film and Propaganda in America, pp. 376–89; Claudia
Springer, ‘Military Propaganda: Defense Department Films from World War II
and Vietnam’, in John Carlos Rowe and Rick Berg (eds), The Vietnam War and
American Culture (New York, 1991), pp. 95–114.
54 Walter Hölbling, ‘US Fiction about Vietnam: The Discourse of Contradiction’,
in Michael Klein (ed.), The Vietnam Era: Media and Popular Culture in the US and
Vietnam (London, 1990), pp. 127–9.
55 Joseph Kraft, ‘Hot Weapon in the Cold War’, Saturday Evening Post, 28 April 1962,
p. 88.
56 Justin Gustainis, American Rhetoric and the Vietnam War (Westport, CT, 1993),
pp. 21–38.
57 Ibid., p. 33; Schwartz, Cold War Culture, p. 132.
58 Hollywood Reporter, 22 June and 14 July 1965.
59 Document 109 in Suid, Film and Propaganda in America, pp. 390–1. The line is cited
at the head of this chapter. Johnson was an avid movie-watcher whilst US pres-
ident, and listed Wayne’s Westerns among his favourites.
Johnson/archives.hom/faqs/favorites/ibtable.asp (4 August 2004).
A cowboy in combats 231

60 Valenti to Johnson, 6 January 1966, in Suid, Film and Propaganda in America,

p. 393.
61 Wayne to Moyers, 18 February 1966, and Wayne to Senator Richard Russell et
al., 15 April 1966, in Suid, Film and Propaganda in America, pp. 395–6, 399–400.
62 Baruch to Office of Chief of Information, Department of Army, 3 March 1966,
and John Wayne to Bill Moyers, 18 April 1966, in Suid, Film and Propaganda in
America, pp. 397–8, 401.
63 Time, 20 and 24 June 1966; Hollywood Citizen-News, 20 June and 6 July 1966; Los
Angeles Times, 21 June and 6 July 1966; Variety, 29 June 1966. Michael Munn
claims the attempt on Wayne’s life was instigated by Mao Tse Tung. Guardian, 1
August 2003, p. 15.
64 Hollywood Reporter, 23 June 1966.
65 Variety, 15 September 1965 and 1 November 1967.
66 Baruch to Office of Chief of Information, Department of Army, 3 March 1966,
in Suid, Film and Propaganda in America, pp. 397–8; Variety, 12 July 1967.
67 James W. Hardman, CBS, to Michael Wayne, 16 March 1966, The Green Berets
Photograph Files, Batjac Productions, Los Angeles.
68 Interview with Michael Wayne, 5 August 1975, in Suid, Film and Propaganda in
America, p. 407. After his visit to Vietnam, Barrett wrote that ‘We are either going
to roll over Communism, or we are going to lie down and let Communism roll
over us.’ See undated published article, ‘Vietnam: The Killing Ground’, Box 301,
f. 3483, George Stevens Collection, AMPAS.
69 Interview with Michael Wayne, 5 August 1975, in Suid, Film and Propaganda in
America, pp. 407–9.
70 Ibid., pp. 409–12; Suid, Guts and Glory, pp. 250–3.
71 Variety, 22 June 1967; Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 18 November 1967. Seven
Arts Productions, a film packager for television, bought Jack Warner’s stake in
Warner Bros. in mid-1967 for $183,942,000. Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging
Bulls: How the Sex ’n’ Drugs ’n’ Rock ’n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (London,
1998), p. 35.
72 Variety, 12 July 1967; production notes, undated, c. June 1968, The Green Berets
Clipping File, AMPAS.
73 Los Angeles Times, 28 January 1968; Hollywood Citizen-News, 26 June 1969;
Commander William Byrns, Pentagon Information Officer, to Michael Wayne,
18 July 1967, The Green Berets Production File, Batjac Productions, Los Angeles;
J. W. Fulbright, The Pentagon Propaganda Machine (New York, 1970), pp. 117–20.
74 Despite the changes, Janssen remained unsatisfied, and expressed disappoint-
ment with his role and the film when The Green Berets opened. Janssen’s taped
interview with Tony Thomas in Atlanta, Georgia, July 1968, Music and
Recorded Sound Files, AMPAS.
75 Variety, 1 November 1967; The Green Berets screenplay (marked ‘Final’) by James
Lee Barrett, 15 May 1967, in The Green Berets, Warner Bros. Archives, USC.
76 Hollywood Reporter, 6 September 1967; Variety, 13 November 1967, p. 3. LeRoy
brushed up on the current state of affairs in Vietnam by reading a pamphlet
232 Hollywood’s Cold War

recently produced by the Defence Department, ‘Know Your Enemy: The Viet
Cong’. For this, and LeRoy’s suggested changes for The Green Berets, see Box 2,
Mervyn LeRoy Collection, AMPAS.
77 Variety, 1 November 1967.
78 Los Angeles Times, 28 January 1966.
79 Wayne hoped that choosing a black actor to play this role would help offset crit-
icisms of the discriminatory use of African-Americans soldiers in menial chores
in Vietnam. Wayne interview, Playboy, May 1971, p. 5. On McGee’s represent-
ation of a dependable ‘ebony saint’ figure see Brian J. Woodman, ‘Represented
in the Margins: Images of African American Soldiers in Vietnam War Combat
Films’, in Robert Eberwein (ed.), The War Film (New Brunswick, NJ, 2005),
pp. 91–4.
80 Star Trek was first broadcast in 1966 on the National Broadcasting Company. On
the programme’s relationship to US foreign policy of the 1960s and Vietnam in
particular see Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, ‘Cold War Pop Culture and the Image
of US Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series’, Journal
of Cold War Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4, Fall 2005, pp. 74–103, and H. Bruce Franklin,
‘Star Trek in the Vietnam Era’, Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1, March 1994,
pp. 24–34.
81 Wayne interview, Playboy, May 1971, p. 8.
82 On the journalists’ war in Vietnam see Knightley, Casualty, pp. 373–426. On the
convention of journalists being won over to the military in Hollywood war films
see Stephen Badsey, ‘The Depiction of War Reporters in Hollywood Feature
Films from the Vietnam War to the Present’, Film History, Vol. 14, No. 3–4, 2002,
pp. 243–60.
83 William Hammond, Reporting Vietnam: Media and the Military at War (Lawrence,
KS, 1998), pp. 109–26.
84 Variety, 13 November 1967.
85 Michael X Delli Carpini, ‘US Media Coverage of the Vietnam Conflict in 1968’,
in Klein (ed.), Vietnam Era, p. 38; Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America
Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (New York, 2000), pp. 221–3.
86 Variety, 26 June 1968.
87 New York Times, 30 June 1968; Glamour, October 1968.
88 Life, 19 July 1968, p. 8; Hollywood Reporter, 17 June 1968; Variety, 17 June 1968.
89 On the long-standing debate about television’s role during the Vietnam War see
Daniel Hallin, The ‘Uncensored’ War: The Media and Vietnam (Berkeley, CA, 1989),
and Carruthers, Media at War, pp. 110–20, 145–53.
90 Wall Street Journal, 3 July 1968; Variety, 2 July 1969; Steinberg, Reel Facts, p. 441.
91 New York Times, 14 July 1968; New Yorker, 29 June 1968, pp. 24–7, and 6 July
1968, pp. 44–6.
92 Wills, Wayne, p. 233.
93 Variety, 1 November 1967.
94 Variety, 11 and 25 September 1968; Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 8 August 1968,
7 May, 3 August and 10 September 1969.
A cowboy in combats 233

95 New York Times, December 1967; Washington Post, 18 December 1967; Wayne
interview, Playboy, May 1971, p. 6.
96 Gustav Hasford, The Short-Timers (London, 1979), p. 38.
97 MPSVB, RG 306.06279, Vietnam! Vietnam!, USNA; John Ford Papers, Box 3,
correspondence between Ford and Bruce Herschenson, September-December
1968, and Box 8, f. 6, LLUI; De Viney, ‘History of USIA Film and Television’,
ch. 3; Fred Kaplan, ‘Vietnam! Vietnam!’, Cineaste, Vol. 7, No. 3, 1976, pp. 20–3.
98 Hollywood Reporter, 26, 27 and 30 June 1969; Los Angeles Times, 27 June 1969;
Variety, 2 July 1969.
99 Suid, Guts and Glory, pp. 235–46; Michael Coyne, ‘Seven Days in May: History,
Prophecy and Propaganda’, in Anthony Aldgate, James Chapman and Arthur
Marwick (eds), Windows on the Sixties: Exploring Key Texts of Media and Culture
(London, 2000), pp. 70–90.
100 Suid, Guts and Glory, pp. 558–70, 494–502.
101 Wells, ‘The Anti-Vietnam War Movement’, pp. 120–1.
102 Peter Lev, American Films of the 70s: Conflicting Visions (Austin, TX, 2000), p. 122;
Thomas Doherty, ‘Full Metal Genre: Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam Combat
Movie’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2, 1988–9, pp. 24–30.
103 Suid, Guts and Glory, pp. 670–3; Badsey, ‘War Reporters’, pp. 249–50.
104 H. Bruce Franklin, Vietnam and Other American Fantasies (Amherst, MA, 2000),
p. 15. On the political multivalence of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter see
Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner, Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of
Contemporary Hollywood Film (Bloomington, IN, 1988), pp. 200–6.
105 Guardian, 1 March 2002, p. 16;
(6 October 2005). The Conquerer was a film about Genghis Khan, directed by
Dick Powell.

Secrets and lies

I will now read a short wire that I have been asked to read by the Vietnamese
people from the delegation for the Viet Cong at the Paris peace talks: ‘Please
transmit to all our friends in America our recognition of all that they have
done on behalf of peace and for the application of the Paris accords in
Vietnam. These actions serve the legitimate interests of the American people
and the Vietnamese people. Greetings of friendship to all American people.’
Bert Schneider, speech at the 47th Annual Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards, Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, 8 April 19741

Film historians differ fundamentally on Hollywood output of the 1970s.

Citing the early sixties-set teen movies American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973)
and Animal House (John Landis, 1978), some see it as essentially nostalgia-
driven and backward-looking. Pointing to the right-wing cop/vigilante movies
Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971) and Death Wish (Michael Winner, 1974), others
pronounce it reactionary, even fascist. Focusing on the phenomenal success
of Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) and Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), other his-
torians see it as a major step on the road towards the present-day dominance
of the international film market by ‘high-concept’, special-effects-based
blockbusters. Still others regard it as the last golden age of cinema in America,
when creative directors held an unprecedented degree of power and were able
to produce such risky, character-driven, high-quality work as Mean Streets
(Martin Scorsese, 1973) and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman,
What unites virtually all of these historians is an almost complete disregard
for the Cold War, either as a background influence on filmmaking during the
1970s or as a subject on the screen. Those that mention the Cold War do so
mainly in order to say that most filmmakers had run out of things to say about
a conflict which was now at least a quarter of a century old, or that the phase
of détente between East and West during the decade made the topic less excit-
ing as a box office draw. Only through revisiting the traumas of Vietnam in
such movies as Coming Home (Hal Ashby, 1978), The Deer Hunter (1978) and
Apocalypse Now (1979) in the very late 1970s,3 and the renewed intensification
Secrets and lies 235

of the Cold War in the early 1980s, did Hollywood, we are told, rekindle its
interest in the conflict.
In fact, a closer look at Hollywood movies of the seventies reveals that the
Cold War remained the subject of entertainment and debate at the cinema
throughout the decade. In some respects Hollywood continued to plough a
familiar furrow. Just as it had done for years, Hollywood presented Soviet mili-
tants as an on-going threat to American national security in such movies as Telefon
(Don Siegel, 1977). Sci-fi movies like A Boy and His Dog (L. Q. Jones, 1975), an
underground cult hit, continued to play with the theme of post-nuclear-war exis-
tence. And politically conservative bodies like the Institute for American
Strategy, an arms lobby directed by former high-ranking military officers and
defence contractors, continued to produce 16mm films for non-theatrical exhi-
bition. The Institute’s Only the Strong (Sheldon Lettich, 1972), for instance, issued
a stern warning against arms limitation agreements with Moscow by represent-
ing Soviet military strength as superior to the Pentagon’s. Only the Strong was dis-
tributed widely among church groups, veteran organisations and schools.4
However, what distinguishes the 1970s from other decades of the Cold
War is the degree to which Hollywood challenged shibboleths about the con-
flict. This shift in approach can be attributed to institutional and economic
changes in Hollywood itself, to wider societal changes in the United States,
and to the pronounced thaw in East-West relations in the late sixties and sev-
enties. Combined, these three developments shifted the centre of gravity
within the state-film network slightly to the left. Conservatism was on the
defensive both inside and outside Hollywood during this period. As a result,
opportunity knocked for a minority of younger, artistically unconventional
and politically liberal filmmakers to make the sort of critical statements about
the Cold War hitherto deemed off-limits.
An earlier chapter in this study examined the dynamics of Hollywood Cold
War deviance in the 1950s. I now want extend that analysis, in particular by
explaining why and how that deviance had developed a sharper edge by the
mid-1970s. As we shall see, during the seventies certain elements within
Hollywood cast a highly sceptical eye on US foreign policy and on a range of
Cold War political institutions. My chief focus, though, will be on two movies
that, in very different ways, expressed deep disillusionment with America’s
Cold War national security state. Each was made by directors with roots
outside Hollywood. Each probed an issue that caused Washington extreme
political embarrassment during the 1970s. And each probably had a negligible
impact on public and political opinion, despite the controversy they provoked
and claims to the contrary since.
The first, Peter Davis’ Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds (1974),
sought to punch holes in America’s whole Cold War mindset, and accused
236 Hollywood’s Cold War

ordinary Americans of racist imperialism. It was one of the few American

movies to point the finger at Hollywood itself for encouraging US adventur-
ism overseas, and for this and other reasons ranks as probably the most frank
and powerful celluloid critique of America’s Cold War strategy throughout the
whole conflict. The second film, Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor
(1975), was a star-studded thriller that emerged more from the Hollywood
mainstream. It suggested that American democracy was under attack, not by
communist saboteurs as in the 1940s and 1950s, but by some of the very
organisations established to protect it during that era. This movie tied in with
several other high-profile conspiracy thrillers of the period which subverted
the conventional Cold War espionage genre, and in their narrative closures
offered a better-than-even possibility of the American government being
taken over by a new enemy within: the state-sponsored security agencies.


As was the case in the 1950s, Hollywood’s taste for dissent in the 1970s can
be linked primarily to structural alterations in the film industry. The collapse
of the classical Hollywood studio system, which had started with the
Paramount Decree of 1948, separating the studios from their theatre chains,
reached its apogee in the late 1960s. Hollywood was by this stage in a precari-
ous state. Cinema attendances had fallen to a quarter of their mid-1940s peak,
and established formulae like musicals and Westerns no longer seemed to
appeal to the now predominantly youthful audience. This helped lead to a
relaxation in censorship, when, in 1968, the outdated Production Code was
replaced by a rating system that ranged from ‘G’ (general audience) to ‘X’ (no
admittance to the under-seventeens). Huge conglomerates whose core finan-
cial interests lay outside the film industry – like the insurance and car rental
giant Transamerica Corporation, which acquired United Artists – also began
buying the vulnerable, temporarily undervalued movie studios. By the end of
the 1960s, a wave of such acquisitions had taken place. With it came renewed
pressure for producers to think more creatively and for studios to get rid of
their dead wood.5
This restructuring provided an opportunity for a new generation of film-
makers to come to the fore, supported by studio executives who believed
younger directors were more likely to deliver the box office hits the industry
so desperately needed. As a result, the late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed
probably the most far-reaching changes in the nature of American movies
since the arrival of the talkies in the late 1920s. The phrase ‘New Hollywood’
soon emerged to incorporate movies that, like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde
(1967) and John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), focused on young adult
Secrets and lies 237

protagonists and their social alienation. These and other films expressed a
profound disaffection with America’s social and political institutions, if not
America’s whole value system (ambition, self-betterment and patriotism).
Stylistically too, these films challenged the tightly structured and goal-oriented
narratives of classical Hollywood. Many eschewed tidy or cheerful endings, or
showed disdain for black-and-white notions of villainy and heroism. Most
purveyed a sense of personal disillusionment or national malaise.6
‘New Hollywood’ was, of course, also linked to the social and political
upheavals the United States experienced in the 1960s and the 1970s. The
violent protests against the American involvement in Vietnam, and the ulti-
mate loss of the war, stand out among these. Yet there were many other issues
and events that helped radicalise filmmakers and audiences, including the
assassination of public figures, the intensification of the civil rights move-
ment, the women’s movement, the Watergate scandal, the oil shock following
the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and revelations of CIA wrongdoings. These all
combined to produce something of a crisis of faith in the American political
system in the 1970s.7 At the same time, concrete evidence of East-West coex-
istence – Nixon’s visits to Moscow and China in 1972, for example, or the
Helsinki Accords of 1975, which saw the superpowers enshrine human
rights – weakened Washington’s hold over many people. Put simply, old-
fashioned calls for anti-communist vigilance failed to have the same resonance
when American and Soviet astronauts were meeting in space, or when the
United States was sending vast shipments of grain to the Soviet Union each
year to prevent the Russian people starving.8
The state-film network underwent changes of its own in the face of these
developments. ‘New Hollywood’ represented something of a generational
shift within the film industry. Many of the old guard of Hollywood Cold
Warriors, like Louis B. Mayer, Cecil B. DeMille, Walt Disney, Ward Bond and
Eric Johnston, had died in the late 1950s and 1960s. Others, like Merion
Cooper and John Ford, had retired. Unlike these men, many of the most pow-
erful players in Hollywood in the 1970s – among them the executives Ned
Tanen and Barry Diller, who ran Universal and Paramount respectively, the
directors Martin Scorsese and William Friedkin, and the actors Robert De
Niro and Warren Beatty – had neither developed personal ties with the gov-
ernment during the Second World War, nor been intimidated by HUAC during
the Second Red Scare. A number of them were liberals, or even radicals,
who were far less deferential to authority. As we shall see, a few, like Peter
Davis, actively opposed aspects of the state-film network, particularly the
Hollywood-Pentagon axis.
The search for new talent during the late 1960s and 1970s also opened up
the film industry to greater outside influence, be it in the shape of television
238 Hollywood’s Cold War

producers like Davis, or unconventional foreign directors such as Chinatown’s

Roman Polanski and Last Tango in Paris’s Bernardo Bertolucci.9 At the same
time, American independent filmmakers, many of whom stood on the polit-
ical left, came of age in the 1970s. This was partly down to the invention of
new, cheaper filmmaking technologies (Super 8 cameras and video, most
notably), and partly due to the maturation of a generation of baby boomers
creating an audience for alternative films. By the late seventies and early eight-
ies a number of independent films had attained national distribution. Among
them was The Atomic Café (1982), a feature-length documentary ridiculing civil
defence information and training films from the 1950s.10 Finally, East-West
détente allowed filmmakers to question Cold War orthodoxy with less fear of
being labelled traitors or subversives. In turn, Washington was apt to submit
Hollywood to less political scrutiny, with propaganda officials often paying
more attention to television – clearly now the prime medium of communica-
tion and attitude-formation – instead.
These factors combined to produce a state-film network that was more
complex and fragmented, looser in structure than in the earlier phases of the
Cold War, and less amenable to official influence.


In March 2003, director Michael Moore used his Oscar acceptance speech for
Bowling for Columbine to attack President George Bush, Jr., just days before the
outbreak of war in Iraq. It was not the first time the Academy Awards had wit-
nessed a controversial anti-war protest from one of its winners.11 Close to
three decades earlier, producer Bert Schneider’s response to receiving an
Oscar for the searing Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds (1974) was to
read out a statement of ‘friendship’ from the Viet Cong delegation then nego-
tiating peace in Paris. Schneider’s words triggered uproar among the tuxedos
and tiaras on the floor; boos and cheers rang out. Back stage, all hell broke
loose. Co-host and pro-war activist Bob Hope ‘pinned’ the show’s producer,
Howard Koch, against the wall and demanded that a rebuttal be read. The
actress and peace campaigner Shirley MacLaine yelled back, ‘Don’t you dare!’
A little while later, prior to making his Best Writer presentation, the singer-
actor Frank Sinatra, a heavy contributor to Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential
re-election campaign, issued a disclaimer denying any responsibility for the
evening’s ‘political references’. Before the ceremony was over, Sinatra, actors
Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda, and director Francis Ford Coppola were
among the glittering stars who had given reporters differing opinions on
whether the Academy’s vote for Hearts and Minds actually amounted to
support for the movie’s message.12
Secrets and lies 239

Bert Schneider was the very symbol of the institutional and political
changes that took place at the higher reaches of Hollywood in the late 1960s
and early 1970s. The son of a high-ranking studio executive at Columbia
Pictures, and ‘the eminence grise of the American New Wave’,13 Schneider
was born in 1933. Having started out working for Columbia’s television arm,
Screen Gems, in New York in the mid-1950s, he moved to California in 1965.
There, he went into partnership with director Bob Rafelson, and the two of
them produced the short-lived but successful television series The Monkees.
Together with Stephen Blauner, Schneider and Rafelson then formed the pro-
duction company BBS (‘Bert, Bob and Steve’), and broke into the big time
when Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, the first and the most profitable of the
youth-oriented ‘road pictures’, was released in 1969.14
On the strength of Easy Rider’s success, BBS concluded a deal with
Columbia that allowed Schneider and his partners to produce six films
without interference, so long as each cost no more than $1 million. Further
hits with Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970) and The Last Picture Show (Peter
Bogdanovich, 1971) followed. In the meantime, Schneider’s maverick lifestyle
increasingly mirrored that of his films’ lead characters. He became a renowned
philanderer and heavy drug user, who was rumoured to pass out joints at
Columbia’s board meetings. Schneider’s strong political convictions were
exhibited inside and beyond Tinsel town. In 1972, when Charlie Chaplin con-
troversially returned to the United States for the first time since being politi-
cally exiled during the McCarthy era to pick up an honorary Oscar, Schneider
orchestrated the old star’s rehabilitation by producing a documentary on him.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Schneider financed a range of dissenting
groups, among them anti-Vietnam War activists and the militant Black
Panther movement.15
In June 1971, the New York Times published The Pentagon Papers, a devastat-
ing internal history of the US government’s conduct of the Vietnam War
leaked by a former Defence Department analyst, Daniel Ellsberg. When
President Nixon decided to prosecute Ellsberg, Schneider became deeply
involved in his defence effort, the Pentagon Papers Peace Project. Inspired by his
work with the Project, Schneider decided the country needed a powerful doc-
umentary on the war, one that would give the opposite viewpoint to that
expressed by The Green Berets. After advice from Bob Rafelson, in mid-1972
Schneider telephoned Peter Davis, a writer and documentary producer for
CBS News.16
The 35-year-old son of a novelist and a screenwriter, Davis had previously
worked for the New York Times and had a reputation for provocative telejour-
nalism in politically sensitive subjects. He was best known for two CBS films:
Hunger in America, which in 1968 had attacked the federal government’s food
240 Hollywood’s Cold War

stamp programme, and the Emmy-winning The Selling of the Pentagon. Broadcast
in primetime in February 1971, this documentary had examined the increasing
utilisation and cost to the taxpayers of public relations activities by the military-
industrial complex. It detailed how the media were ‘managed’ by the Pentagon,
and, among other things, highlighted the role actors John Wayne and Jimmy
Cagney as well as respected journalists Chet Huntley and Walter Cronkite had
played in helping to militarise American society, a process which, the film
argued, had underpinned the escalation of war in Vietnam through the 1960s.
The Selling of the Pentagon caused a stink in Washington. Vice-President Spiro
Agnew and others criticised its ‘reconstructed’ interviews, and a Congressional
subcommittee subpoenaed the CBS president, Frank Stanton, for the film’s out-
takes. His refusal to do so, a decision which was ultimately backed by the House
of Representatives in July 1971, represented, according to media historian
Garth Jowett, ‘a clear, historic statement that the television networks could not
be made to bend to government control in the technological era’.17
Jowett may well be correct, but at the time Davis believed CBS’s run-in with
the government induced greater political caution within the network. In the
summer of 1972 he therefore relinquished his secure job in New York and
took up Schneider’s offer, with the aim of saying something about the
Vietnam War that the confines of a major television institution would not
allow. The $1 million Schneider provided for the project (from Columbia’s
kitty) was then an enormous sum for a documentary, enabling Davis to shoot
effectively what he wanted.18 Initially, Schneider and Davis’ project started off
as a study of the Ellsberg Pentagon Papers trial, but it soon expanded way
beyond this and even beyond the subject of Vietnam itself. Davis ultimately
settled on addressing three questions: why did we go into Vietnam in the first
place? What was it we actually did there? And what did this doing do to us?
In seeking answers to these questions, Davis and his colleagues conducted
months of research that involved reading scholarly and popular literature,
watching footage from the most filmed of all wars, and travelling around the
United States in order to find out how people felt about their country and the
intervention in Vietnam. Starting in July 1972, Davis and his team also carried
out over fifty on-camera interviews with US policy-makers and high-ranking
military officers, as well as American veterans, the relatives of dead combat-
ants, and Vietnamese leaders. This was a punishing schedule – physically and
psychologically. After one particularly heartbreaking interview of the parents
of an American pilot killed in action, the chief cameraman, Richard Pearce,
briefly considered leaving documentary work because of the emotional toll it
was taking.19
In late 1972, Davis spent two months filming in South Vietnam with
Pearce, Hanoi having turned down his requests to visit the North. Despite
Secrets and lies 241

only being in his twenties, Pearce, a naval officer’s son, had already made a
name for himself working on a range of socially conscious films. These
included Emile de Antonio’s documentary about Vietnam, In the Year of the Pig
(1968), and Michael Wadleigh’s countercultural classic Woodstock (1970).
Pearce was able to lend Davis’ film greater intimacy by using lightweight and
less obtrusive cameras in a variety of locations: sports arenas, brothels,
kitchens and funeral parlours, for instance.20 This emphasis on the camera’s
role in the film was crucial to Davis, who stressed the need to capture the
experience of war viscerally and directly. He wanted to make a complete film
about what network executives called the ‘dead air’ of television reporting, the
brief shots that served as a preamble to the correspondent’s commentary. In
Davis’s opinion, the TV correspondent’s mediatory role had the effect of
turning war into an abstraction, thus killing immediacy and emotion. His doc-
umentary would therefore have no narration, it would incorporate pregnant
silences during interviews, and it would eschew the familiar chronological
format of ‘serious’ journalism. Its vérité style was based on that developed by
Frederick Wiseman and D. A. Pennemaker in the 1950s and 1960s.21
Davis amassed over 200 hours of footage shot across the United States
and in South Vietnam between July 1972 and August 1973, plus another 20
hours of stock material incorporating newsreels, telecasts and scenes from
Hollywood movies. The editing process proved particularly stressful. Davis,
Susan Martin and Lynzee Klingman, another veteran of In the Year of the Pig,
each worked on separate sequences, regrouping to view each other’s rough
cuts. This painstaking work took over a year until, by early 1974, they had
boiled the footage down into a palatable 112 minutes. By that stage Davis had
called the documentary Hearts and Minds. Like The Selling of the Pentagon, the title
alluded to Washington’s Cold War propaganda machinery. More pointedly, the
words were lifted from a speech Lyndon Johnson had delivered at the height
of the Vietnam War, in which the president had declared that the ‘ultimate
victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live
out there’. Johnson’s statement had since come back to haunt him. Davis’ film
would show how, in his opinion, the Americans’ war had torn Vietnamese
lives apart.22


As the finishing touches were being put to Hearts and Minds, rumours spread
that it would never be released. In 1973, Columbia faced bankruptcy, having
racked up a pre-tax loss of $72.5 million, the third highest annual loss in the
studio’s history. As a result, a major shareholder, the investment firm Allen
and Co., engineered a coup. While Bert Schneider was on a trip to communist
242 Hollywood’s Cold War

China, his father, Abe, was dumped as Columbia’s president and replaced
by David Begelman, late of the Hollywood agency Creative Management
Associates. Tensions soon arose between the new hierarchy and BBS, with the
latter convinced that Begelman wanted to rid Columbia of the last vestiges of
the Schneider family. Bert had not told the old Columbia regime a thing about
Hearts and Minds. The deal that BBS had secured with the studio back in
1969–70 to make six $1 million films had come with no strings attached, a
highly unusual arrangement that reflected the confidence Columbia then had
in a production company that had turned a $500,000 investment in Easy Rider
into $19 million profit. However, BBS had recently lost its Midas touch, with
A Safe Place (Henry Jaglom, 1971) and The King of Marvin Gardens (Bob
Rafelson, 1972) both failing at the box office. Consequently, when Begelman
and his associates discovered that Schneider was spending their $1 million on
a documentary, rather than a mainstream feature, they were livid. In
December 1973, Columbia sent BBS a letter cancelling the sixth, unnamed
picture, and withheld money due to Schneider from his previous films.23
In early 1974, Begelman agreed to take Hearts and Minds to the Cannes Film
Festival that May and asked Schneider for a rough cut to screen for Columbia’s
board of directors. Schneider refused, calling the request ‘weird’, but in April
an incomplete version of the film was shown to Columbia’s lawyers and front
office personnel. Afterwards, Begelman told Schneider that Columbia was in
a ‘precarious financial condition’ and that he feared the movie would bring
‘reprisals from bankers’, presumably because of its politically controversial
content. Columbia’s general counsel, Burton Marcus, also doubted whether
BBS had obtained all the necessary releases from interviewees in the film, thus
opening up the prospect of Columbia being sued. The next month, over
Begelman’s objections, Schneider screened Hearts and Minds to a wildly recep-
tive Cannes audience. BBS also hit back at Columbia legally and morally. It
acquired an extra $25 million worth of liability insurance coverage, and told
the press that ‘it is hard to imagine a case in which First Amendment rights
are more important . . . we do not believe that the film gives rise to viable
claims of substance for defamation, invasion of privacy, or related matters’.24
However, Columbia was not impressed and due to a combination of factors
– corporate cautiousness, financial prudence and informal political censor-
ship – continued to balk at distributing the movie. Columbia’s greatest fear
seems to have been that Hearts and Minds would lead to the boycotting of the
company’s other films. By this stage, liberal journalists had started to smell a
rat. ‘First an undeclared war – now an unseen film’, protested Stephanie
Harrington in the New York Times.25
Eventually, amidst threats of legal action from BBS, in late 1974 Columbia
sold Hearts and Minds to a new independent company headed by Henry Jaglom
Secrets and lies 243

and Howard Zucker, Rainbow Pictures, for $1 million. Jaglom had made A
Safe Place for BBS, and had been trying for several years to produce his own
Vietnam-themed movie, Tracks, with Dennis Hopper, who had directed and
starred in Easy Rider. Rainbow quickly secured a distribution deal with Warner
Bros., thus enabling Hearts and Minds to have a brief commercial run in
December 1974 in order to be eligible for the Academy Awards.26 Then, just
as the film was about to go into general distribution in early 1975, one-time
LBJ national security adviser Walt Rostow rushed in with a temporary
restraining order claiming that a two-minute sequence featuring him on
camera was an unauthorised exploitation of his likeness. Rostow’s bid for a
permanent injunction was, however, denied by a Californian judge, possibly
due to pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Consequently, on 22 January 1975 Hearts and Minds opened its first run in
Washington, DC, at an event sponsored by Democratic Senator George
McGovern and other anti-war celebrities, including actors Warren Beatty and
Candice Bergen, Schneider’s girlfriend. The movie was released nationwide in

Hearts and Minds is at once starkly frank yet indirect in its propagandistic
approach. Davis studiously avoids hitting home any single point, preferring to
argue his case against America’s right to be in Vietnam through an oblique
accretion of testimony and an almost poetic disregard for narrative cohesion.
The movie alternates between eminent talking heads, stock footage, combat
veterans’ accounts, and clips from Hollywood anti-communist agit-prop.
These all form a dense weave of sound and images that relies on the viewer
to connect the thematic dots.
From its opening scene of Vietnamese villagers watching troops trampling
through their fields, the movie is a cautionary tale against purported saviours
acting as modern-day imperialists. America’s involvement in Southeast Asia is
traced to the post-Second World War belief that, as former Harry Truman
aide Clark Clifford puts it, ‘we could control the future of the world’. This
arrogance, plus a sense of missionary zeal and the emergence of the Domino
Theory, led Washington to see potential enemies everywhere. Concurrently,
anti-Soviet hysteria, engendered by movies like Leo McCarey’s My Son John and
American Legionnaires staging mock communist coups, caused public debate
about the direction foreign policy was taking to shut down.28 Soon, almost
everyone came to think in zero-sum terms, believing that even a minor defeat
anywhere might sow the seeds of America’s eventual surrender to commu-
nism. In one early scene, the ex-French foreign minister, George Bidault,
244 Hollywood’s Cold War

explains how the US in the early 1950s had secretly offered his country two
atom bombs to solve the ‘Indochina problem’.
The clandestine nature of the war on communism eventually led, we see,
to the increasingly professional management of lies. Emanating from the top,
it spawned an intractable monster, one that was far more dangerous than com-
munism – a national cover-up culture. A montage of presidential speeches,
from Eisenhower to Nixon, implies that beyond masking a progressively
hopeless situation, White House rhetoric conspired to prolong the Vietnam
War in a futile effort to bolster national pride and manipulate public opinion.
Nixon’s statement is particularly arresting: ‘Throughout the war in Vietnam,
the United States has exercised a degree of restraint unprecedented in the
annals of war.’ The sheer audacity of this claim in reference to a war in which
more bombs were dropped than in all previous wars combined sets the tone
of US government denial and duplicity that mobilises the viewer for what
Yet, significantly, this is not a movie that heaps all of the blame for the
Vietnam debacle on Washington, in contrast with many later Hollywood
films.29 We do hear Daniel Ellsberg opining that, ‘It’s a tribute to the American
people that their leaders perceived they had to be lied to.’ But Hearts and Minds
also shows the degree to which the American intervention was driven by a
long-standing, nationwide anti-Asian racism. A clip from Norman Panama’s
1962 comedy The Road to Hong Kong shows Bob Hope lounging amid Oriental
beauties. A brothel scene shot by Richard Pearce, which so disgusted Lynzee
Klingman and Susan Martin they initially edited it out, shows a lecherous GI
twisting a Saigon prostitute’s nipples like knobs on a radio.30 The soon-to-be
infamous statement by the former senior military commander of US armed
forces in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, that ‘the Oriental doesn’t
put the same high price on life as does the Westerner’ comes just after har-
rowing footage of a Vietnamese boy crying inconsolably over the death of his
father. Back home in America, when asked by a class of schoolchildren what
Vietnam was like, one ex-POW, navy poster-boy George Coker, replies in
perfect deadpan: ‘If it weren’t for the people, it would be a beautiful country.’
Other scenes show the Vietnamese Other to be human and real and to have
everyday feelings. This was a far cry from most American media coverage of
the war, which had tended to treat the Vietnamese as an undifferentiated mass
and which, in journalist David Halberstam’s words, did ‘not calibrate the
killing in human terms’.31 Two dignified elderly women grieve for the loss of
a sister and a home due to American bombing; a coffin-maker talks about the
hundreds of tiny boxes he has built for child victims; a distraught North
Vietnamese farmer who has lost his two young children in an American air
raid cries ‘Nixon – murderer’.32 Hearts and Minds maximises the impact of
Secrets and lies 245

The white man’s burden: scenes such as this in Hearts and Minds (1974) sought to capture the
unbridgeable divide which had opened up between US soldiers and Vietnamese villagers at the height of the
Vietnam War. In director Peter Davis’ opinion, stripping them of dialogue or commentary enhanced their
effect. Columbia Pictures/BBS Productions, Inc.

iconic war photography, using stock footage of the conflict’s most gruesome
images. Shots of a naked Vietnamese girl, Kim Phuc, running in terror from
a napalm attack helped enshrine Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning pho-
tographs. They also underlined the true barbarity of the naïve belief, uttered
in the film by several combat veterans, that America could wage a so-called
‘technological war’ against people who didn’t have faces. Davis’ decision to
unpack another well-known still image, that taken by the Associated Press’s
Eddie Adams of the point-blank execution of a Viet Cong captive in down-
town Saigon by South Vietnamese police officer Nguyen Ngoc Loan, was part
of his assault on media censorship during the war. The moving image of the
execution had been suppressed by NBC television executives after its initial
showing during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Davis plays out the action in full
colour in what seems like slow motion, showing the victim fall on his side,
blood rushing from his ear.33
Less grisly but equally arresting in Hearts and Minds are the images of
America’s own war victims. As if borrowing from the master Soviet filmmaker
Sergei Eisenstein, Davis’ film makes a number of dramatic or ironic cuts: for
example, from a Vietnamese capitalist flanked by Coca-Cola and Ford signs
outlining his plans for post-war plunder to a busy New York factory turning
out prosthetic limbs for stoical Vietnam veterans. Elsewhere, in a technique
one critic condemned as ‘cinematic hokum’,34 the camera belatedly pulls back
from other interviewees to reveal wheelchairs and empty sleeves. Again,
246 Hollywood’s Cold War

Divine intervention: ex-Navy pilot George Coker preaching victory and righteousness to the school children of
Linden, New Jersey, after his return home from incarceration in Vietnam. One of several references to the
dangerous mixture of religion and politics in Cold War America contained in Hearts and Minds (1974).
Columbia Pictures /BBS Productions, Inc.

however, in contrast with many Hollywood films about the Vietnam War in
the late 1970s and 1980s, the film encourages viewers to question their own
political assumptions rather than merely feel sympathy for these men. For the
movie shows that the Cold War has helped build on a sinister cult of victory
in America, one that permeates every inch of culture, from the kitsch
Revolutionary War re-enactments where it was born, to the football fields
where it is practised and the churches where it is now preached. Thus, a clip
from Michael Curtiz’s This is the Army (1943) features gaily singing soldiers on
their way to a romanticised conflict. Contemporary shots of bloodthirsty
cheerleaders and sanctimonious coaches show how sport has conditioned
America’s youth to win at all costs. A nun hovers behind George Coker as he
delivers his messages of godly patriotism to schoolchildren. The uniformed
kids taking part in the Loyalty Day parade at the movie’s close suggests a new
generation of Americans will continue to perpetrate the same acts and to
make the same mistakes.


Today, Hearts and Minds is an accepted masterpiece of political documentary
filmmaking, and is widely regarded as the definitive American documentary
about the war in Vietnam. Recent international events, most notably America’s
troubled war in Iraq, have brought it renewed attention and plaudits.
Secrets and lies 247

Hollywood’s new enfant terrible, Michael Moore, for one, claims Hearts and
Minds was the inspiration behind his critique of post-Cold War American
imperialism, Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). When Hearts and Minds was re-released on
DVD and at the cinema in 2004, Peter Davis, who had recently reported from
Baghdad for the Nation, suggested his film should be compulsory viewing for
the Bush administration. New York’s alternative weekly, the Village Voice, con-
curred and argued that the movie represented ‘a vital link in a subversive
people’s cinema, clearly realigning history as a never ending series of crimes
perpetrated by the powerful upon the innocent’.35
Quite what the effect was that Hearts and Minds had in America back in the
mid-1970s is open to dispute. In one respect the movie was perfectly timed.
Barely two weeks after it was awarded an Oscar in early April 1975, the last
American was dramatically airlifted by helicopter off the roof of the US
embassy in Saigon, as the city fell to North Vietnamese forces. Hearts and
Minds certainly created a sensation amongst journalists, who, despite the with-
drawal of most American troops from Vietnam in 1973, were still bitterly
divided over the rights and wrongs of US policy in Southeast Asia. Predictably
enough, radical opponents of the war like Andrew Kopkind called it ‘brave
and brilliant’, while liberal commentators such as Frances Fitzgerald, who had
recently written a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the war, Fire in the Lake
(1972), thought the film was ‘the truth of the matter’.
Equally predictably, others on the political right hated it. The National
Review’s Joseph Sobran, for instance, called it ‘disingenuously one-sided’ and
‘a cinematic lie’.36 Some mainstream newspapers and movie critics felt the film
was morbid and manipulative propaganda, with no ‘bad’ Vietnamese in it.37
Interestingly, one of the country’s most influential critics, Stefan Kanfer,
thought Davis’ examination of anti-communist popular culture one of the
movie’s weakest points. ‘The notion that films so easily mold an audience tri-
vializes evil’, he stated.38 However, most commentators declared Hearts and
Minds a profoundly moving and powerfully persuasive movie.39 Vincent
Canby in the New York Times declared it ‘the true film for America’s bicenten-
nial’. Playboy’s critic was more to the point: ‘shame is the only civilised
The media attention Hearts and Minds attracted undoubtedly increased
public interest in the film. The movie’s box office was probably boosted
further by the fact that reviews of the film were read aloud to both houses of
the US Congress. Press reports of American Legionnaires in Connecticut
tearing up theatre seats probably did no harm either.41 Bert Schneider’s pub-
licity stunt at the Academy Awards ceremony might have backfired to some
extent, by adding to the false charge made by some critics that his movie was
didactic and pro-communist. (‘Is Picasso’s Guernica Communist propaganda?’,
248 Hollywood’s Cold War

he retorted.)42 However, in the days immediately afterwards, box office takings

tripled in Los Angeles and almost doubled in New York. Moreover, Hearts and
Minds was the first Vietnam documentary to be released in the US by a major
distributor, Warner Bros. This, plus the Oscar itself, played a vital role in
helping the movie to achieve a breadth of distribution and exhibition rarely
given to documentaries. Even in upscale urban theatres, though, the movie
was probably preaching mainly to the converted, rather than actually sparking
a meaningful debate more widely about America’s Cold War stance. This was
the price Davis paid for moving from the small to the big screen. Had Hearts
and Minds aired on television, its audience would have been more heteroge-
neous, and its societal impact greater.43
Bert Schneider, for one, was convinced his film had had a significant polit-
ical impact. Tellingly however, his only evidence for this were the hundreds of
peace activists who had informed him how Hearts and Minds had shed new
light on the Vietnam War and had consequently rekindled their concern about
the conflict’s roots. If the movie really had stirred Americans into revising
their views on US foreign policy, we might have expected this to translate into
significant interest in Hearts and Minds overseas. (This was one of the explan-
ations for Fahrenheit 9/11’s international success, for instance.)44 Yet when it
was released in one Canadian city – Kingston, Ontario – in 1976, fewer than
400 people went to see Hearts and Minds in the first week (compared with the
4,000 people who had watched the fictional gore and violence of Tobe
Hooper’s low-budget horror The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the city in the same
period). Across the Atlantic, in Britain, the movie was only screened once in
London, as a fundraiser for an avant-garde distributor. Behind the Iron
Curtain, the film was shown at the 1975 Moscow Film Festival. Schneider,
who was there unofficially representing the United States, was asked by Soviet
filmmakers why he had not been shot.45 The pleasure Schneider took from
this masked the fact that, at the end of the day, documentaries were an
acquired taste for even avid cinema-goers.
That such a traditionally conservative body as the Motion Picture Academy
felt it could award an Oscar to a film which questioned the very basis of US
foreign policy is a measure of the political distance Hollywood had travelled
in the twenty years since the McCarthy era. Yet it could equally be said that
Hearts and Minds was something of a fluke, the result of a maverick producer
being given free rein by a major production company that discovered the
nature of the project too late to cancel. Even then, it is highly unlikely a
company such as Warner Bros. – the studio which had backed The Green Berets
– would have touched the film while American troops were actually in combat
in Vietnam or in North Vietnamese prisons. Another critical Vietnam War
documentary made in 1972, Winter Soldier, which was produced and partly
Secrets and lies 249

funded by Jane Fonda, never found a distributor in the United States, prob-
ably because the conflict was on-going.46
As subversive as Hearts and Minds was, therefore, especially in its implication
that motion pictures had been instruments of Cold War behavioural condi-
tioning (though, interestingly, not in association with government), when it was
released the film was already dated. It was a belated reaction to what had gone
wrong in Southeast Asia and could therefore do nothing to change the course
of the Vietnam War. By the mid-1970s, the time was right for Americans and
Hollywood to parade their guilt, or ‘shame’ as Playboy put it, about Vietnam, if
only because it helped bring closure to the whole sorry story of the war. The
recent emergence of a new and more visible threat to American interests –
international terrorism – hastened this process. Due to a series of hijackings
and assassinations in the mid-1970s, some aimed at Western support for Israel,
many Americans’ political radar had shifted away from Southeast Asia to the
Middle East. ‘[T]he name of the fear now is not so much War as Terror’, wrote
well-known critic Andrew Sarris in his perceptive review of Hearts and Minds,
‘not so much strategic bombing as satchel bombs.’ Who needed another film
about Vietnam that raked over old coals, Sarris was saying, when unity was
needed against the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Black September and
other like-minded terrorist organisations.47

Spy films first became popular during and after the First World War, adding a
touch of glamour to an otherwise depressing and frightening subject.48 During
the Cold War they flourished from beginning to end, capitalising on the non-
military, technical and psychological dimensions of the conflict. In the 1940s
and 1950s, as we have seen, dozens of Hollywood movies depicted evil com-
munist agents hard at work in America, trying to steal military and scientific
secrets or sabotaging vital US installations. Others featured handsome State
Department and CIA agents outmanoeuvring their ugly KGB counterparts or
Mata Hari-like villainesses overseas. Some of these movies doubled as windows
onto the grim conditions behind the Iron Curtain, despite being filmed entirely
on studio back lots in California. Henry Hathaway’s ‘fact-based’ Diplomatic
Courier (1952), for example, saw Tyrone Power’s State Department officer Mike
Kells discover plans for a Soviet invasion of Yugoslavia on an action-packed
train journey from Salzburg to Trieste – and make off with a beautiful double
agent in the process.49 The early 1960s saw the birth of the screen spy super-
hero, epitomised by the British secret agent James Bond. Refined, witty, sharply
dressed and armed with high-tech gadgets, Bond and his many American
imitators showcased the virtues of consumer capitalism over communism.50
250 Hollywood’s Cold War

By the end of the sixties, ‘Bondism’ had been spoofed in movies such as
Gordon Douglas’ In Like Flint (1967), which starred James Coburn foiling a
diabolical plot hatched by a group of women to seize control of the world. A
few, more politically oriented comedies sharply satirised what many
Americans were now referring to as the Cold War ‘spying game’. Theodore J.
Flicker’s The President’s Analyst (1967), for instance, centred on a psychiatrist
(Coburn again) who finds out secret information in the process of treating
the US commander-in-chief, and is consequently targeted for kidnapping by
the Soviets and for assassination by paranoid American ‘CEA’ agents. In 1970,
John Huston’s complex drama The Kremlin Letter depicted the CIA’s cynical
readiness to work with the Russians to counter the threat posed by a nuclear-
armed China. Adapted by Huston and Gladys Hill from Noel Behn’s best-
selling novel, this movie seemed to be saying that both Moscow and
Washington were motivated primarily by power, greed and self-interest, not
by truth, justice or ideology.51
In 1967, the New York Times and the New Left California-based magazine
Ramparts revealed how the CIA had infiltrated a range of bodies like the
National Student Association and secretly co-opted the mass media (though
Hollywood was not mentioned) as part of its domestic Cold War cultural
activities. This was in defiance of the CIA’s charter, which banned operations
in the United States. These findings were swiftly picked up in the national and
international media, prompting an orgy of disclosures about the CIA’s nefar-
ious activities. In the early 1970s further press allegations about the dubious
behaviour of America’s intelligence services appeared. In 1970, for instance,
US Army intelligence was charged with employing hundreds of plain-clothes
agents to watch political demonstrations.52
In 1973 and 1974, the public’s confidence in their government’s honesty
and commitment to democracy was dealt a far more serious blow by the
Watergate revelations and President Nixon’s subsequent impeachment hear-
ings. Disclosures not only showed that the highest powers in the land had
abused their authority to spy on their domestic political opponents, often
using former CIA agents. They also proved that Nixon had even eaves-
dropped on his colleagues by surreptitiously bugging the White House’s Oval
Office.53 Further disillusionment caused by the dramatic rise in the price of
oil, urban unrest, the threatened bankruptcy of New York City, and two
attempts by women on the life of Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, led to a full-
blown ‘legitimacy crisis’ in seventies America. By 1980, distrust of govern-
ment among the American public stood at 73 per cent, compared with 24 per
cent in 1958.54
Out of this malaise emerged some of the most powerful liberal conspir-
acy thrillers Hollywood has ever produced. David Miller’s Executive Action
Secrets and lies 251

Sixties Cold War satire: publicity poster for The President’s Analyst (1967). Paramount.
252 Hollywood’s Cold War

(1973), for example, focused on a right-wing plot to kill President John

Kennedy to stop him pulling out of Vietnam. Francis Ford Coppola’s The
Conversation (1974) portrayed a reclusive surveillance expert (Gene Hackman),
whose bugging and wire-tapping work ultimately drive him insane. Alan J.
Pakula’s The Parallax View (1974) alluded to Robert Kennedy’s assassination in
1968 and depicted a society in which brainwashing corporate powers kill with
impunity. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (1976) enacted the work of the
Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in uncovering the con-
spiracy behind the Watergate break-in. Robert Aldrich’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming
(1977) saw the US president being assassinated by his advisers to prevent him
revealing that the nation’s pursuit of the Vietnam War was simply to maintain
the credibility of the political and military establishment. Others – Sidney
Lumet’s Network (1976), Michael Crichton’s Coma (1978) and James Bridges’
Oscar-winning The China Syndrome (1979) – centred on economic or corporate
power elites and their appropriation of the public interest for selfish ends. To
some observers, this golden age of ‘paranoia’ films represented an unprece-
dented liberal assault by Hollywood on the political and economic status quo,
encouraging a short-term national shift to the left. To others, the movies
helped foster the New Right in the United States by attacking big government
and large institutions as conspiratorial and dangerous to a free and libertarian


Just how far Hollywood’s treatment of Cold War subversion and espionage
had changed by the mid-1970s can best be illustrated by reference to Sydney
Pollack’s $5 million Three Days of the Condor (1975). This was the first major
political thriller to be released in the wake of the Watergate scandal, and the
first to rail against the CIA’s lack of accountability. Variously described by
critics at the time as ‘idiotic drivel’ and ‘the most provocative film about the
corruption of American institutions to reach the commercial screen’, the
movie would prove to be an enduring favourite among fans of the espionage
Pollack’s film was based on James Grady’s novel Six Days of the Condor, pub-
lished by W. W. Norton in April 1974. Grady was a precocious freelance writer
in his early twenties, whose imagination was fuelled by a recent stint as a
Congressional journalist intern. His book told the story of CIA bookworm
Ronald Malcolm, who uncovers a renegade cell operating within the CIA that
is killing agency colleagues to cover up a Vietnam-related heroin-smuggling
racket. In late 1973, even before Six Days of the Condor had appeared on the
shelves, independent producers Dino De Laurentiis and Stanley Schneider
Secrets and lies 253

bought the movie rights, and then secured a distribution deal with Paramount.
De Laurentiis and Schneider were motivated by money, not politics. The
former was an experienced Italian filmmaker who had relocated to Hollywood
in the early 1970s, and had since scored hits with the crime dramas Serpico
(1973) and Death Wish (1974).57 Stanley Schneider was Bert’s elder brother,
though an entirely different character, cautious and conservative; according to
one source when he smoked the occasional joint an assistant would put his
palm under the tip to catch the ash. Stanley would die of a heart attack in
January 1975, as Three Days of the Condor neared completion.58
To guide the novel’s conversion to screen, De Laurentiis and Schneider
looked for a young-ish director with a safe track record. The British-born
Peter Yates, whose flair for choreographing action and breathless chases had
been put to its best use in the influential cop thriller Bullitt (1968), was origi-
nally approached, but the job eventually fell to Sydney Pollack.59 Born in 1934
in Lafayette, Indiana, Pollack had begun acting in television plays in the late
1950s. In the early sixties, he directed several teleplays and scores of episodes
for such TV series as Dr Kildare, The Fugitive and Naked City. Pollack arrived as
a major Hollywood director in 1969 with They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, a pow-
erful, downbeat drama that used a Depression-era dance marathon as a micro-
cosm of society’s ills.60 Four years later, in 1973, The Way We Were, a touching
love story set partly in Hollywood during the blacklist era, enhanced his rep-
utation as an effective if conventional filmmaker.61 Pollack was a liberal but
not a political activist. To him, Three Days of the Condor was not meant to be a
profound critique of Cold War America. ‘I don’t think we should abolish the
CIA’, he told one reporter. Instead, he wanted the film to explore ‘the ideas of
trust, suspicion, [and] morality’ in the post-Watergate era. ‘[E]very institution
I grew up believing was sacrosanct is now beginning to crumble’, Pollack
The producers’ choice of the blue-eyed, blond Robert Redford to play
the lead role in Condor was astute. As the top box office star in America in the
mid-1970s, Redford virtually guaranteed a movie’s commercial success.
Furthermore, his off-screen image – a dedicated conservationist and daring
athlete who eschewed Hollywood’s bright lights – fitted the bill perfectly for
the role of Grady’s loner hero, a CIA whistle-blower. Redford had also col-
laborated with Pollack three times already, including on The Way We Were, and
had recently established his own production company, Wildwood Enterprises,
which co-produced Three Days of the Condor.63 Like Pollack, Redford, too,
denied Condor had any real political intent. To him, the film was not meant to
criticise the CIA, but rather was ‘about trust and paranoia . . . about bureau-
cracy run amok’.64 In fact, Redford had a strong commercial and political
interest in the whole issue of government subterfuge during this period. Like
254 Hollywood’s Cold War

other liberals inside and outside Hollywood in the seventies, he took the view
that the Cold War obsession with secrecy and surveillance had spawned a
monster in America: a state security apparatus that acted like a law unto itself.
His belief that the Watergate disclosures proved that America had been
heading for ‘an Orwellian nightmare’ led to him investing $450,000 in the
movie rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s account of the scandal, All the
President’s Men, in 1974. The resulting film, in which Redford portrayed
Woodward, was much admired as a celebration of American journalistic
Two writers adapted James Grady’s book for the screen: Lorenzo Semple,
Jr., who had co-scripted The Parallax View, and David Rayfiel, who had
scripted The Way We Were. Their work took several twists and turns. Semple’s
first draft, submitted in early October 1974, followed the main contours of
the novel. This depicted the CIA having secretly set up an anti-communist
army in Laos at the behest of the Kennedy administration, paid for by the
shipping of locally grown opium to the United States. A greedy unit within
the agency then tries to cash in personally, by smuggling in refined heroin
hidden in book shipments ordered by the CIA’s literary research section.
When this section stumbles across the scam, all of its members (bar Ronald
Malcolm, who is out of the office) are assassinated. Malcolm is no saint – he
hires a prostitute, for instance – but he bravely succeeds in uncovering the
truth. The last scene has the Washington Post printing a front-page exposé of
the whole plot.66 Midway through October, Rayfiel submitted an alternative
script. This changed Malcolm’s name to Joe Turner, shortened the critical time
frame from six to three days, and switched the focus from Southeast Asian
drugs to Middle Eastern oil.67
Then, just before Christmas 1974, the New York Times published further,
shattering revelations about CIA malfeasance. Reporter Seymour Hersh out-
lined the CIA’s role in overthrowing mildly leftist foreign governments and in
plotting to assassinate foreign leaders, as well as conducting massive intelli-
gence operations against the anti-Vietnam War movement and other dissident
groups in the United States during the Nixon administration. The US
Congress soon launched its own investigation of the entire intelligence com-
munity and its possible abuses. In January, the Senate established the Senate
Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to
Intelligence Activities, with Idaho Senator Frank Church as chairman. In
February, the House of Representatives voted to create a House Select
Intelligence Committee (the Nedzi Committee, which was replaced five
months later by a Committee chaired by New York Representative Otis Pike).
As the subsequent rows between committee members and CIA officials would
show, in Congress there was no longer a consensus to support intelligence
Secrets and lies 255

activities blindly. In Congress as in Hollywood, the old seniority system and

its leadership were giving way.68
These latest charges stunned Pollack and prompted further script alter-
ations. The CIA’s Middle East connections were beefed up, and a more
ambiguous ending was proposed. It is unclear how the latter came about.
Pollack had wanted the film to conclude on an optimistic note, one that
affirmed the basic strengths of the American political system. Redford, whose
influence on the script seems to have grown as the project progressed, dis-
cussed the movie’s dénouement with Seymour Hersh over lunch, and seems
to have come away from their meeting determined that the film should
express confidence in the American press’s independence from government.
The final cut did this, but, as we shall see, only to a degree.69
While the movie’s political message was being finessed, filming had got
under way. Location shooting in New York and Washington, DC, began in
November 1974 and was completed by early 1975. Celebrity onlookers
included the former CIA director, Richard Helms, reportedly ‘grinning from
ear to ear’.70 In order to strengthen the movie’s main sub-plot, the producers
commissioned a computer expert to build a machine that looked as though it
translated texts. After a slick editing job by Don Guidice, which reduced the
final version to just under two hours in length (and earned an Oscar nomina-
tion), the movie was released in September 1975.


Three Days of the Condor bears all the trademark features of the seventies ‘para-
noid’ movie: smart, terse dialogue and sparse, haunting music; taut suspense
combined with scenes of entrapment and claustrophobia in telephone booths
and elevators; omniscient technology that erodes privacy and either dehu-
manises or kills; and an intricate plot capped by an ambiguous closure. As a
fast-paced man-on-the-run espionage thriller, it put a modern twist on Alfred
Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (1939). As a
comment on the bleak and cynical world of Cold War espionage, it closely
resembled two British-made films from the mid-1960s, Martin Ritt’s The Spy
Who Came in from the Cold and Sidney J. Furie’s The Ipcress File.71
On an overcast morning Joe Turner (Redford), a bespectacled would-be
writer, arrives for work at the American Literary Historical Society, a staid if
innocuous building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. However, appearances
are deceiving. The ALHS is a CIA front. Turner and his co-workers are
employed to read, analyse and computerise general popular fiction and peri-
odicals as part of the agency’s overall intelligence operation. Turner enters the
building, having first been identified by closed-circuit television.
256 Hollywood’s Cold War

State-licensed hit men: Joubert (Max Von Sydow, centre) and his nameless henchmen (Jay Devlin and Hank
Garrett) slaughter Joe Turner’s associates in the CIA research office at the outset of Three Days of the
Condor (1975). Paramount /The Kobal Collection.

Turner is disappointed as he rushes in to learn that an inquiry he made into

what appeared to be an intriguing irregularity has checked out as being of no
importance at CIA headquarters. Momentarily dashed, he forgets about it and
is sent out to get lunch for everyone in the office. It has started to rain. He
slips out the back door as a short cut to the café, and returns twenty minutes
later to find everyone at the ALHS has been savagely and expediently mur-
dered during his absence.
Horrified, Turner manages to phone the CIA from a phone booth.
Reflections on the booth’s glass make Joe, already tightly confined, look com-
pletely surrounded. Turner identifies himself by his codename (Condor) and
tells his story. The agency moves at once to verify the report and as soon as
the murders are confirmed, Deputy Director Higgins (Cliff Robertson) takes
over the operation. He dispatches a ‘cleaning truck’ to the ALHS building
and instructs Turner to meet another agent in an alleyway behind the Ansonia
hotel. CIA agent Wicks (Michael Kane) will meet him there with Turner’s
friend Sam Barber (Walter McGinn), who will be brought along so that
Turner will recognise them as his contacts. But when Turner shows up, Wicks
fires at him and kills Barber. Turner shoots Wicks in the leg and flees.
Running along the street, Turner abducts a young woman, Kathy Hale
Secrets and lies 257

(Faye Dunaway), at gun point and takes refuge at her apartment. Kathy is a
Diane Arbus-type photographer and a loner. Her sad but beautiful pictures
of empty fields and park benches are an expression of her loneliness and will
act as a metaphor for Turner’s solitary stance against an entire governmental
In Washington, a top-level meeting is convened where Mr Wabash (John
Houseman), Atwood (Addison Powell), Higgins and representatives of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff try to figure out what has happened. Why was such an
insignificant section hit? Why didn’t Turner come in gently from the cold?
However, when the meeting is adjourned, one of the central figures, Atwood,
meets secretly with Joubert (Max Von Sydow), the emotionless assassin who
spearheaded the executions, and instructs him to get Turner now and to
silence Wicks.
Safe for the time being at Kathy’s apartment, Turner binds and gags her so
that he can visit his murdered friend Sam’s widow, but Joubert has anticipated
this move and is waiting for him in the lobby of her apartment building. He
inadvertently arouses Turner’s suspicion, who gets away, but not before
Joubert gets the number of Kathy’s car, which Turner is driving. Turner
returns to his hideout where he and Kathy make love. When she falls asleep
afterwards, he tries to unravel the puzzling events. In the morning he makes
some progress: with Kathy’s help he dispatches an assassin (Hank Garrett),
disguised as a mailman, who has been sent by Joubert to finish Turner off. A
piece of paper from the dead man’s pocket links him to Wicks.
Turner decides to contact Higgins directly. Kathy lures the Deputy
Director into her car where Turner holds a gun on him. Joe asks why his
simple question (‘Why was a certain mystery novel only translated into Dutch
and Arabic?’) should have provoked such violence. Higgins does not know.
He says he will try to find out, but rejects Turner’s suggestion of asking Wicks
because, as Higgins tells him, Wicks is now dead, an inside job. Higgins then
returns to CIA headquarters where he finds a link in the records of Joubert
and Wicks. Turner, meanwhile, traces Joubert’s whereabouts in Manhattan
with a hotel room key he found on the dead ‘mailman’. He manages to tap
Joubert’s phone while Joubert is calling Atwood in Washington, and then
decides to go there to find out exactly who Atwood is.
Turner arrives at Atwood’s expensive suburban home, breaks in and sur-
prises the man, who finally admits that he has set up an unauthorised intelli-
gence system within the CIA that will help the US gain influence in the
oil-producing countries ‘when the time is right’. Turner’s inquiry threatened
to reveal the covert network and for that reason the ALHA had to be wiped
out. Turner is stunned and then further shocked when Joubert appears and
fires a bullet into Atwood’s head. Turner soon comprehends the move.
258 Hollywood’s Cold War

Out in the cold: neither Turner (Robert Redford) nor his boss at the CIA, Higgins (Cliff Robertson), knows
which side to trust any more in the Cold War ‘suspicion business’. Three Days of the Condor (1975).
Paramount /The Kobal Collection.

Joubert is now working for the CIA and was ordered to get rid of Atwood.
Joubert then suggests that Turner join him in his line of work; he senses
Turner has a knack for playing both sides. But Turner repudiates him and
the CIA.
In the final scene, Turner confronts Higgins on the New York streets. A
Salvation Army choir performs ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ in the back-
ground. Higgins is determined to save ‘the Company’ any further embarrass-
ment, and tries to coax Turner back into the fold as an obedient and secretive
agent. However, Turner won’t play the game despite Higgins’ veiled threats.
He tells Higgins that he has already given the whole story to the New York
Times, whose offices they are standing outside. ‘How do you know they’ll print
it?’ asks the Deputy Director. ‘They’ll print it’, Turner says, as he walks away
into the crowd. The film ends on a freeze frame of Turner’s face starkly rem-
iniscent of one of Kathy’s photographs. The soundtrack has abruptly
stopped. We are not to hear any mention of ‘Christ the Saviour’. Joe remains
vulnerable. Neither we nor Turner have been saved from the future possibil-
ity of a similar conspiracy occurring.
Secrets and lies 259

Three Days of the Condor is an exciting, gripping espionage drama. It challenges
its audience to connect fiction with fact. But how accurate an account of the
CIA’s role in the Cold War, and of the US intelligence network’s covert oper-
ations in particular, does the film present? The filmmakers certainly went out
of their way to make the movie seem as real as possible. The notion that a
rogue presence inside the CIA was seeking to maintain Middle Eastern oil
supplies by non-standard methods appeared plausible. Rumours that the CIA
had helped reinstall the Shah of Iran in 1953 in order to protect American
access to Iranian oil fields had been rife for years. More importantly, the
embargo on oil exports to the United States and other supporters of Israel
instigated by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in the wake
of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War had rocked the world economy. That
a clique within ‘the Company’ would exterminate its fellow agents to keep
this a secret also made sense in the light of the revelations of CIA murders
Even the plot’s chief gimmick, the idea that the CIA would employ a unit
like the ALHS to decode novels, was not entirely far-fetched. One of the
former CIA operatives involved in the Watergate affair, E. Howard Hunt, had
been accused of leaking agency plots to book companies as the basis for
mystery novels. Furthermore, the ending could be read in two ways. Either it
offered hope by suggesting the press was American democracy’s salvation, as
the exposure of Watergate had indicated; or it implied the press would sup-
press Turner’s story due to fear of, or collusion with, the nation’s intelligence
network, tying in with rumours of the government’s infiltration of America’s
fourth estate. When Three Days of the Condor opened at cinemas in September
1975, Paramount exploited the film’s topicality further by linking it with the
start of public hearings into CIA wrongdoings by the Church Committee.
Significantly, the movie’s gala West Coast premiere was touted as a benefit
evening for the local branch of the ACLU.72
Looking at the critical reaction to Three Days of the Condor, the degree to
which journalists and politicians treated the film as if it were a documentary,
or at least a serious commentary on contemporary politics, is striking. In this
respect, the movie resembles those dramas of the 1940s and 1950s which, like
Walk East on Beacon, many viewers probably saw as slices of real-life Cold War
subversion. The big difference, of course, was that Three Days of the Condor
suggested that virtuous vigilance had given way to ‘the prospect of a festering,
Big Brotherish take over’, as one magazine put it.73 Some within Paramount
were not entirely comfortable with such negative interpretations. The distrib-
utor cancelled one screening in Washington, DC, because, according to
260 Hollywood’s Cold War

Sydney Pollack, ‘They didn’t think it would be good policy to rub the morality
of government in the legislators’ noses [sic].’74
Working on the basis that ‘serious’ films ought not to resort to clichéd
melodrama, and forgetting presumably that sex often helped pull in the
punters, some reviewers felt Three Days of the Condor’s romantic element was
an unnecessary distraction. Others argued the film would alienate viewers by
having overcooked its conspiracy theory: ‘[C]an we believe that CIA agents
can be murdered in the streets of New York with only a lying item in the press,
planted by presumably compliant police?’, asked the Saturday Review. ‘Too
many people would be implicated in such a cover-up . . . ; we are not yet a
totalitarian country.’ Even some left-wing journalists who felt the film’s cri-
ticism of the CIA had not gone far enough applauded its ‘warnings’ about
CIA machinations in the Middle East, as if Three Days of the Condor was
extending the argument about US imperialism in Southeast Asia set out in
Hearts and Minds.75 Others critics in more mainstream (and hence more influ-
ential) quarters thought the film brave, thought-provoking and entertaining.
Writing in the New York Daily News, for instance, Kathleen Carroll felt the
movie was ‘convincing enough to support our worst fears about CIA activity’.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Arthur Knight ironically, if unwittingly, employed the
very language critics had often used to compliment Hollywood movies about
life behind the Iron Curtain back in the 1950s. Three Days of the Condor ‘shocks
us into a vivid awareness of the inherent dangers of a secret police unchecked
by any representatives of the democratic process’, opined Knight. Comments
like these suggest the movie might have added to the public’s cynicism towards
the Cold War and America’s intelligence services in particular.76
Such praise notwithstanding, Three Days of the Condor’s political vision had
its limits. The movie rather played down the extent to which covert CIA activ-
ities were a natural by-product of America’s Cold War aggression. It also fell
far short of the more extreme indictments of the corporate political power
system found in The Parallax View. In Pakula’s movie, reporter Joe Frady
(Warren Beatty) dies at the end, thus taking the truth about a sinister organ-
isation that recruits ‘patsies’ for assassinations to the grave. In Three Days of the
Condor, by contrast, an individual defeats a bunch of rogue conspirators.
Moreover, the sympathetic portrayal of a ‘good’ CIA man suggested the
redeemability of the institution. This aspect of the film attracted severe
opprobrium from some critics. Both ‘the novel and the film falsify the issue
by postulating a black CIA within a white CIA’, wrote Jack Kroll in Newsweek,
‘when the real issue is the actual, or dangerously gray, CIA’. Patrick
McGilligan, writing in the left-wing magazine Jump Cut, objected to Three Days
of the Condor’s focus on internecine warfare, ‘thus denying or diminishing the
thought of international consequences from CIA actions’. ‘Heaven forbid
Secrets and lies 261

that [Salvatore] Allende should be mentioned’, swiped McGilligan, a barbed

reference to the socialist Chilean president brought down by a US-sponsored
military coup in 1973.77

Kroll and McGilligan had valid points here. The Watergate revelations would
prove, in time, to be a crucial release for much of the American media, helping
to break down permanently many of the barriers to criticism of the Cold War
security state. But Three Days of the Condor and other films like it were made in
the mid-1970s, when the shocks to the system caused by the revelations of
government skulduggery were newsworthy yet still raw and highly politically
sensitive. Three Days of the Condor may in retrospect look somewhat shallow,
but its limited critique of CIA machinations was realistically all that could
expected from the Hollywood mainstream, given its established support for
(and links with) the national security agencies and the film industry’s long-
standing political cautiousness.
An earlier part of this study showed how reluctant the US film industry was
to question Cold War orthodoxy. This was especially the case in the 1940s and
1950s, when America’s Cold War values were not yet fully formed and conse-
quently when cinema probably could have made the biggest difference to the
American people’s outlook on the conflict. This chapter has demonstrated the
degree to which the 1970s marked a shift away from the black-and-white
views of early Cold War American cinema. Yet its analysis has also confirmed
Hollywood’s time-honoured tradition of swimming with, rather than against,
the prevailing political tide. Even at its height, during what was the heyday of
Hollywood liberalism in the 1970s, Cold War cinematic deviance continued to
be heavily circumscribed. Neither Hearts and Minds nor Three Days of the Condor
could be described as anti-capitalist, still less pro-communist. As radical as it
was, Peter Davis’ film eschewed an economic reading of the Vietnam War, for
instance, in favour of a cultural-political one.78 Moreover, by the time Hearts
and Minds appeared in 1974–5, American policy in Vietnam had been sub-
jected to intense criticism from the press and in Congress for more than five
or six years. Combine this with the fact that the Vietnam War ended in 1975,
and Davis’s fine documentary begins to look like an instant period piece.
As a mark of both its artistic and its political boldness, Three Days of the
Condor was the recipient of several awards in 1975–6. The movie also enjoyed
reasonable commercial success. It made $20 million in rentals, making it the
seventeenth highest-grossing film at the US box office in 1975.79 Using films
like Three Days of the Condor as a springboard, Hollywood continued to snipe
at the CIA during the remaining years of the Cold War. Movies like Arthur
262 Hollywood’s Cold War

Hiller’s The In-Laws (1979) merely poked fun at the agency, while others like
John Schlesinger’s The Falcon and the Snowman (1985) depicted the CIA as more
insidious than drug-dealing Soviet agents.80 Whether Hollywood’s CIA-
bashing actually increased public hostility to the US intelligence network is of
course highly debatable. It could be argued that treating the CIA as a scape-
goat for past and on-going American misdemeanours meant wider questions
about US foreign policy were sidestepped. One movie, Missing (1982), did
focus directly on the CIA’s highly contentious role in the 1973 Chilean coup,
to which Patrick McGilligan had referred so caustically when Three Days of the
Condor was released. Constantin Costa-Gavras’ award-winning thriller was
closely based on the disappearance of American expatriate writer Charles
Horman (played by John Shea) after the coup, and went beyond condemning
the CIA to offer a trenchant critique of the whole US Cold War machine. But
Missing was itself based on events nearly ten years out of date, and thus, like
Hearts and Minds, less likely to alter current US foreign policy.81 From one per-
spective at least, therefore, Three Days of the Condor was unusually daring.

1 Mason Wiley and Damien Bona, Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy
Awards (New York, 1986), p. 504.
2 For an overview of American movies and movie-making of the 1970s see Lev,
American Films of the 70s, and Biskind, Easy Riders.
3 Devine, Vietnam, pp. 148–97.
4 Broderick, Nuclear Movies, pp. 134, 137; Shaheen, Nuclear War Films, pp. 157–62.
5 James Chapman, Cinemas of the World (London, 2003), pp. 130–4.
6 Ibid., pp. 135–8; Biskind, Easy Riders. Jim Hillier’s The New Hollywood (New York,
1994) warns against making too much of these changes, particularly in relation
to the industrial context of filmmaking.
7 On America’s sense of crisis in the 1970s see Kim McQuaid, The Anxious Years:
America in the Vietnam-Watergate Era (New York, 1989) and Peter N. Carroll, It
Seemed Like Nothing Happened: The Tragedy and Promise of America in the 1970s (New
York, 1982).
8 On US thinking behind détente see Michael B. Froman, The Development of the Idea
of Détente (Basingstoke, 1992), and Richard Pipes, US-Soviet Relations in the Era of
Détente (Boulder, CO, 1981).
9 Biskind, Easy Riders, pp. 15–16; Lev, American Films of the 70s, pp. 54–9, 77–89.
10 Ryan and Kellner, Camera Politica, pp. 282–3; Broderick, Nuclear Movies,
pp. 152–3. The Atomic Café was produced and directed by Kevin Rafferty, Pierce
Rafferty and Jayne Loader.
11 For Moore’s speech see
html. For other anti-war statements during the awards ceremony see www.wsws.
org/articles/2003/mar2003/osca-m25.shtml (both 25 January 2006).
Secrets and lies 263

12 Wiley and Bona, Inside Oscar, pp. 504–7; Michael Nelson, ‘Ol’ Red, White, and
Blue Eyes: Frank Sinatra and the American Presidency’, Popular Music and Society,
Vol. 24, No. 4, 2000, pp. 79–102. Shirley MacLaine had recently produced The
Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir, an account of a three-week visit to China
in 1973 by a group of American women. New York Times, 23 March 1975, Section
2, p. 1.
13 Biskind, Easy Riders, p. 52.
14 New York Times, 4 May 1975, p. 149. On the tremendous cultural impact of Easy
Rider see Lev, American Films of the 70s, pp. 3–12.
15 Biskind, Easy Riders, pp. 57, 130, 165, 186; Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 19 January
16 Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (New York,
2002); Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 21 October 1974.
17 Garth Jowett, ‘The Selling of the Pentagon’: Television Confronts the First
Amendment’, in John O’Connor (ed.), American History/American Television:
Interpreting the Video Past (New York, 1983), pp. 256–78 (quotation at p. 275).
18 People Magazine, 29 March 1982; Hollywood Reporter, 13 August 1974.
19 Hollywood Reporter, 13 August 1974; Los Angeles Times, 15 November 1974, G1;
Peter Davis, ‘Hearts and Minds Redux’, and commentary by and interview with
Davis, on Hearts and Minds (1974), DVD MTD5206 (released 2005).
20 Devine, Vietnam, pp. 62, 74; Galaxy, April 1983.
21 Commentary by and interview with Davis, Hearts and Minds DVD.
22 Los Angeles Times, 15 November 1974, G1; commentary by and interview with
Davis, Hearts and Minds DVD.
23 Biskind, Easy Riders, pp. 74, 184–8; New York Times, 17 November 1974, Section
2, p. 1.
24 Variety, 29 May 1974; Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 21 October 1974; New York
Times, 17 November 1974, Section 2, p. 1.
25 Los Angeles Times, 15 November 1974, G1; New York Times, 17 November 1974,
Section 2, p. 1; commentary by Davis, Hearts and Minds DVD.
26 Los Angeles Times, 16 December 1974; Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 18 December
1974. Tracks was released in 1976. See Variety, 19 May 1976, p. 27.
27 Variety, 17 December 1974; Variety, 20 January 1975; Los Angeles Herald Examiner,
19 February 1975; Warner Bros. press releases, 23 January and 11 February 1975,
Hearts and Minds Clippings, AMPAS.
28 This clip borrowed footage from the most highly publicised of the early 1950s
communist ‘takeovers’, that which was staged in the small Wisconsin town of
Mosinee, on May Day 1950. On Mosinee’s famous day see Fried, The Russians are
Coming!, pp. 67–86.
29 On the degree to which Vietnam films of the late 1970s and 1980s combined this
stab-in-the-military’s-back theory with stories of the suffering inflicted on
American soldiers serving in Vietnam see Devine, Vietnam, pp. 130–316.
30 New York Times, 17 June 2004.
31 New York Times, 17 November 1974, Section 2, p. 1.
264 Hollywood’s Cold War

32 This last clip used footage shot by a Swedish film crew in North Vietnam.
Commentary by Davis, Hearts and Minds DVD.
33 Commentary by Davis, Hearts and Minds DVD. On the debate surrounding the
effect of the Loan execution on public and political opinion in the United States
in the late 1960s see David Culbert, ‘American Television Coverage of the
Vietnam War: The Loan Execution Footage, the Tet Offensive (1968) and the
Contextualization of Visual Images’, in Mark Connelly and David Welch (eds),
War and the Media: Reportage and Propaganda 1900–2003 (London, 2005),
pp. 202–13.
34 Stanley Kauffman, New Republic, 15 March 1975, p. 22.
35 (25 October 2005);
New York Times, 17 June 2004; interview with Davis, Hearts and Minds DVD; New
York Times, 17 June 2004;,atkinson,57660,20.
html (25 October 2005). On Fahrenheit 9/11 see Vanity Fair, March 2005,
pp. 108–15, and Cineaste, October 2004, pp. 3–7.
36 Ms., March 1975, pp. 35–7; Ramparts, April 1975, pp. 38–44; National Review, 6
June 1975, p. 621.
37 See, for instance, Walter Goodman’s review in the New York Times, 23 March 1975,
Section 2, p. 1.
38 Time, 17 March 1975.
39 Newsweek, 3 March 1975; Wall Street Journal, 3 March 1975.
40 Press book, Hearts and Minds Clippings File, AMPAS; Playboy, December 1974.
41 Commentary by Davis, Hearts and Minds DVD.
42 New Yorker, 28 April 1975, pp. 120–6; New York Times, 4 May 1975, p. 149.
43 New York Times, 4 May 1975, p. 149.
44 On the commercial success and political impact of Fahrenheit 9/11, see Screen
International , 2 July 2004, p. 3; Sight and Sound, July 2004, pp. 14–16; Cineaste,
October 2004, pp. 3–7.
45 BoxOffice, 17 September 1975; Variety, 17 March 1976; Variety, 6 August 1975;
People, 25 August 1975.
46 (22 January 2006).
47 Village Voice, 26 December 1974.
48 Alan R. Booth, ‘The Development of the Espionage Film’, Intelligence and National
Security, Vol. 5, No. 4, October 1990, pp. 136–60.
49 Variety, 11 June 1952, p. 6, and 27 August 1952.
50 Chapman, Licence to Thrill; Christoph Lindner, The James Bond Phenomenon: A
Critical Reader (Manchester, 2003); Edward P. Comentale, Stephen Watt and Skip
Willman (eds), Ian Fleming and James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007 (Bloomington,
IN, 2005).
51 Motion Picture Herald, 29 March 1967, p. 669; Variety, 20 December 1967, p. 14;
Peter Richards, Film Comment, Vol. 33, No. 1, January 1997, pp. 74–81.
52 Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, pp. 381–4, 405–6; William Conrad Gibbons, The US
Government and the Vietnam War: Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships. Part
IV: July 1965-January 1968 (Princeton, NJ, 1995), pp. 853–65.
Secrets and lies 265

53 On Watergate see Fred Emery, Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the
Fall of Richard Nixon (London, 1994), and Stanley I. Kutler, The Wars of Watergate:
The Last Crisis of the Nixon Presidency (New York, 1990).
54 Ryan and Kellner, Camera Politica, p. 49.
55 On this conspiracy cycle and its political significance see Ryan and Kellner,
Camera Politica, pp. 95–8, and Scott, Politics, pp. 119–24.
56 Vogue, November 1975; Saturday Review, 6 September 1975.
57 Publishers Weekly, 3 December 1973.
58 Biskind, Easy Riders, pp. 67, 184, 273; Los Angeles Times, 15 January 1975.
59 Hollywood Reporter, 1 and 5 March 1974.
60 Robert J. Emery, The Directors – Take One: In Their Own Words (New York, 1999),
pp. 81–97.
61 On The Way We Were see Booker, American Left, pp. 258–9. On the sequences
about blacklisting which were cut from the released film see Jump Cut, No. 10/11,
1976, pp. 11–12.
62 Jump Cut, No. 10/11, 1976, pp. 11–12.
63 Three Days of the Condor Pressbook, BFIL. Redford’s mildly anti-establishment
image was exploited by Condor’s publicists. See ‘Handbook of Production
Information’, pp. 20–3, 59, 62–3, Three Days of the Condor Clippings File, AMPAS.
64 ‘Handbook of Production Information’, p. 61.
65 Playboy, interview with Robert Redford, December 1974, p. 92; Minty Clinch,
Robert Redford (London, 1989), p. 123; Scott, Politics, pp. 123–4; James Spada, The
Films of Robert Redford (Secaucus, NJ, 1977), pp. 225–37.
66 Three Days of the Condor, draft script by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., 5 October 1974,
Paramount Script Collection, AMPAS.
67 Three Days of the Condor, draft script by David Rayfiel, 20 October 1974, Collection
073, Box F-883, UCLA AL.
68 Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American
Presidency from Washington to Bush (London, 1995), pp. 401–5. Hersh’s revelations
more than anything else made 1975 the ‘Year of Intelligence’, writes Andrew
(p. 404).
69 Three Days of the Condor, revised screenplay by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., and David
Rayfiel, 20 January 1975, Collection 073, Box F-883, UCLA AL; New Times, 31
October 1975.
70 ‘Handbook of Production Information’, pp. 115–35; Los Angeles Herald-
Examiner, 4 November 1974; Jump Cut, No. 10/11, 1976, pp. 11–12; Emery,
Directors, p. 99. According to William Colby, director of the CIA between 1973
and 1976, Nixon had fired Helms in late 1972 because of his refusal to allow the
CIA to be used in the Watergate cover-up. Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only,
p. 387.
71 These comparisons were made at the time. See Films and Filming, December 1975,
and Los Angeles Times, 28 September 1975. For more on The Spy Who Came in from
the Cold and The Ipcress File see Motion Picture Herald, 3 March 1965, p. 21; Motion
Picture Herald, 22 December 1965, p. 425; and Sight and Sound, Vol. 34, No. 3, July
266 Hollywood’s Cold War

1965, p. 150. On the scriptwriters’ manipulation of tension in Three Days of the

Condor see Gregg Bachman, ‘Three Days of the Condor: Tension’, Creative Writing,
Vol. 3, No. 3, Winter 1996, pp. 76–82.
72 Jump Cut, No. 10/11, 1976, pp. 11–12; ‘Handbook of Production Information’,
p. 11; Andrew, President’s Eyes Only, p. 414.
73 Osceola, 14 November 1975.
74 Los Angeles Times, 10 September 1975.
75 Clinch, Redford, p. 125; Saturday Review, 6 September 1975; Jump Cut, No. 10/11,
1976, pp. 11–12.
76 Clinch, Redford, p. 125; Hollywood Reporter, 17 September 1975.
77 Newsweek, 29 September 1975; Jump Cut, No. 10/11, 1976, pp. 11–12.
78 Although Hearts and Minds includes a speech by President Eisenhower citing
Vietnam’s valuable tin and tungsten resources, Davis discounted ‘revisionist’ the-
orists like Noam Chomsky who argued in the late 1960s and 1970s that America’s
road to Vietnam lay in the quest for economic aggrandisement. Commentary by
Davis, Hearts and Minds DVD.
79 Variety, 3 May 1976; (24 January 2006);
Ryan and Kellner, Camera Politica, p. 100.
80 Variety, 13 June 1979; Photoplay, May 1985, pp. 26–8; Hollywood Reporter, 21 January
1985; Palmer, Eighties, pp. 222–32.
81 For the genesis and development of Missing see scripts in the Core Script
Collection, AMPAS, and in Collection 073, Box F114 and F146, UCLA AL, and
John J. Michalczyk, Costa-Gavras: The Political Action Film (Philadelphia, PA, 1984),
pp. 215–35. On the truth or falsehood of the film’s allegations, and the contro-
versy Missing triggered, see Robert Brent Toplin, History by Hollywood: The Use and
Abuse of the American Past (Chicago, IL, 1996), pp. 104–24.

The empire strikes back

When the United States is politically weak or vulnerable, it needs its muscular
movie heroes, Conan, Rocky, Rambo, to suggest that we have things worth
fighting for, worth preserving, even if those things are not easy to talk about,
or describe anymore. They just are.
Interview with John Milius, film director, June 19881
Ronald Reagan’s sweeping victory in the November 1980 presidential elec-
tions provided spectacular evidence of the uniquely intimate relationship
between politics and film in the United States. To this day, no other country
has chosen a movie star (former or current) as its political leader.2 Reagan’s
entry into the White House consummated the long-standing marriage
between Washington and Hollywood during the Cold War. The Gipper, as he
was known affectionately by the White House press corps, after his break-
through role in Lloyd Bacon’s 1940 sporting biopic Knute Rockne – All American
Hero, had been a prominent anti-communist crusader on and off camera for
decades. When he was president of the Screen Actors Guild during the
McCarthy era, Reagan, who was then something of a liberal, had not only
played a leading part in enforcing the Hollywood blacklist; he had also acted
as an undercover agent for the FBI, fighting, as he put it in his memoirs,
Moscow’s plan to take over the motion picture business.3 Thereafter, Reagan
skilfully exploited his celebrity status and anti-communist credentials for
financial and political gain. His work for the General Electric Theatre on tele-
vision in the 1950s and early 1960s, which included a national speaking tour
of factories, formed the base for his later gubernatorial and presidential cam-
paigns. In 1966, Reagan won the governorship of California, backed by a
roster of Hollywood’s most powerful Cold Warriors; his inaugural ceremony
was designed, appropriately, by Disney Studios. During his eight years in
Sacramento, Reagan achieved a national reputation as a hard-line conservative
by clamping down on student activism and the anti-Vietnam War movement.4
Once in the Oval Office, Reagan launched an impassioned, reinvigorated
assault on the political left at home and overseas. The media lay at the centre
of this attack. Reagan’s experience in film and television gave him a greater
appreciation of popular culture than any previous American president. In his
268 Hollywood’s Cold War

mind, cultural power in America had to be wrested from the ‘liberal elite’
which had led the country astray during the 1960s and 1970s. At the same
time, the White House needed to update its news management apparatus.5
Reagan also invested heavily in US propaganda overseas, and often placed
close associates in key positions. He appointed his trusted friend and former
Hollywood impresario Charles Z. Wick to the directorship of the USIA. Wick
increased the agency’s propaganda to a level recalling the heady days of the
Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, and established Radio Marti, a
radio station aimed at Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Distinguished Americans recruited
to serve on USIA advisory committees in the 1980s included the actors
Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas, while Leo Jaffe, former head of Columbia
Pictures, chaired a Film Acquisition Committee.6
During his eight years in the White House, movie material played a key role
in shaping Reagan’s thoughts, speeches and actions. His rhetoric and policies,
in turn, had a marked influence on Hollywood output. The Great
Communicator, as he became known, peppered his vocabulary with film
references so frequently that many wondered whether he had turned the
White House into a movie set. Reagan gave his personal backing to films, like
the hugely popular Rambo series, which projected his image of the Soviet bloc
as the ‘evil empire’ – a phrase familiar to many fans of George Lucas’s 1977
sci-fi epic Star Wars. Some insiders claim Reagan even borrowed one of his
presidency’s flagship concepts – that of a nuclear-free world founded on
space-based missile defence – straight from Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth
Stood Still (1951). These actions, when allied to a penchant for recounting
movie images as historical facts, indicated Reagan had difficulty distinguish-
ing the real world from that depicted by Hollywood.7
At the heart of the ‘Reagan Revolution’ was the actor-president’s ability to
rewrite the past to suit his upbeat vision of America’s present and future
better. Reagan presented himself as the living embodiment of the role played
by James Stewart in Frank Capra’s 1939 movie Mr Smith Goes to Washington –
the small-town, innocent American whose homespun virtues would restore
common decency to a complex and corrupt government. Reagan’s dreamy,
black-and-white rhetoric extolling two centuries of civilised, democratic
development in the United States played extremely well to an electorate des-
perate to consign Watergate to history.8
Reagan’s perspective on foreign affairs similarly looked back in time, to a
golden, pre-Vietnam era when the American flag was an honoured emblem
and the nation confidently sought to fulfil its Manifest Destiny. Reagan and
his key advisers belonged to an ideological faction whose views had not been
substantially represented in Washington since the 1950s. The New Right
spoke of America being ‘a beacon of hope, a shining city on the hill’, with a
The empire strikes back 269

‘creed’ and a ‘cause’. Above all, these neo-conservatives believed that if

America could ‘renew’ itself at home, it could rediscover a ‘vision’ overseas.
Communism had to be ‘rolled back’, they urged, not ‘contained’. The United
States needed to ‘break out of a future’ that prophesied mutual assured
destruction, and ‘win’ the Cold War by exposing communism’s decaying
Conventional wisdom has it that Hollywood’s elite followed the lead given
by one of its favoured sons and put the film industry’s full weight behind the
New Right’s anti-communist crusade during the Second Cold War.10 This final
chapter examines the degree to which this is true by focusing on three films
that centred on Reagan’s twin themes of national destiny and renewal. It will
argue that Cold War filmmaking polarised to a greater extent during the 1980s
than in any previous period of the conflict. A number of filmmakers on the
political right felt it their duty to put a halt to the nation’s post-Vietnam foreign
policy drift and to spell out clearly to the American people that they now faced
a threat from Soviet communism in their own backyard. Others on the left felt
enraged both by the New Right’s warmongering and by liberals’ weak opposi-
tion to it, and sought to challenge the emerging new Reaganite Cold War ortho-
doxy head on. Some, as we shall see, were prepared to do so even by working
directly with foreign ‘enemy’ governments. Between these two groups lay the
industry’s ‘hard centre’ – filmmakers who followed politically mainstream
views in the first half of the decade, and who reacted positively to the
Gorbachevian changes in the Soviet Union after 1985. Tellingly, even before
the Berlin Wall had been breached in 1989, this centre had already begun to
view Moscow as a valuable ally in a new war – that on drugs and terrorism.


Once the world’s most powerful film studio, the proud producer of Ninotchka
and scores of other prestigious motion pictures in the 1930s and 1940s, MGM
was in dire financial straits by the late 1970s. The victim, like other studios, of
dwindling audiences and wavering production policies, it looked as though it
was going out of business. In the early 1980s, MGM’s principal owner, the
reclusive Las Vegas financier Kirk Kerkorian, gambled. He expanded the
studio’s production system by purchasing United Artists, and appointed the
bullish, egotistical Frank Yablans as CEO. Yablans had earned a reputation as
a miracle worker while serving as Paramount’s president in the seventies, and
set about trying to save MGM/UA by attracting new, creative talent to the
company. One of his first major ‘make-or-break’ projects was Red Dawn, a $17
million anti-communist action-adventure movie that made Hollywood’s
McCarthy-era Red-baiting material look positively restrained.11
270 Hollywood’s Cold War

The original script for Red Dawn was written by Kevin Reynolds, who was
then in his early thirties and would later make his directorial debut in 1988 with
The Beast of War, an anti-war film about Russia’s Vietnam-like experience in
Afghanistan.12 Reynolds’ story – ‘Ten Soldiers’ – was set in the near future and
resembled William Golding’s 1954 novel (adapted for the screen in 1963)
about the brutalisation of innocence, The Lord of the Flies. Reynolds’ script
focused on the horror confronted by a group of teenage boys in New Mexico,
who take to the hills when their town is invaded by Russians and Cubans.
Initially, the boys treat their plight as a lark, as a chance to live off the land, but
they are ultimately taken over by tougher kids who turn the once-benign group
into a determined guerrilla force, striking at the invaders.13
When Yablans saw the script soon after arriving at MGM/UA in late 1982,
he immediately saw the scope for another First Blood (1982), that is another jin-
goistic, hot-action Rambo movie that would capitalise on the recent shift to the
right in the United States. He therefore changed its title to the more menacing
Red Dawn, rejected Reynolds’ plea to direct, and instead offered the job to John
Milius.14 The 39-year-old Milius was one of the more eccentric members of
the film-school-trained ‘movie brat’ generation that had come to the fore in
the 1970s (and included Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma). Renowned for
his fascination with weaponry and his advocacy of right-wing causes, Milius
typified that group of young moviemakers who reacted sharply to seventies
Hollywood liberalism and, emboldened by Reagan’s neo-imperial rhetoric,
believed it had a duty to reinvigorate American anti-communist cinema in the
early 1980s. In his mind, the United States had ‘an overriding sense of moral-
ity’ in foreign affairs, proven by its reluctance to ‘rule the world’ in the late
1940s, before the Soviet Union had developed nuclear capacity. Milius saw Red
Dawn as a warning to Americans not to let their guard down, and to treat seri-
ously the threat of a Soviet-inspired incursion via Central America, partly by
using illegal aliens as agents.15 Buzz Feitshans, Red Dawn’s producer, took the
same view. He and Milius were friends, having co-produced the first of the
Vietnam POW rescue movies, Ted Kotcheff’s Uncommon Valor, in 1983.
Feitshans was also the producer of the Rambo trilogy.16
To help develop a convincing scenario for a Soviet intervention in the
Western Hemisphere, Yablans brought in no less a figure than General
Alexander Haig. Here was proof that the state-film network operated even
during the latter stages of the Cold War. Haig had served as Nixon’s White
House Chief of Staff and the commander of NATO forces in the 1970s, before
being appointed as Reagan’s first Secretary of State. After being eased out of
the State Department in June 1982, mainly because of his opposition to nuclear
talks with the Soviets, Haig had become a member of the MGM/UA board of
directors. Haig was no expert on movies but he appreciated their propaganda
The empire strikes back 271

value. The release of Costa-Gavras’ Missing in early 1982 had, for instance,
forced him to issue an official denial of US complicity in the 1973 Chilean coup.
Red Dawn offered Haig an opportunity to press home to American youngsters
especially the genuine threat to US national security posed by ‘Marxist-Leninist
guerrillas’ in Central America, who, he believed, were being encouraged by
Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista government, Havana and Moscow.17
Haig invited John Milius to the Hudson Institute, a conservative think-tank
in Washington, DC. Surrounded by maps, charts and computer read-outs of
State and Defence Department analyses, the two men evolved an elaborate
back story, detailing the domino-like collapse of Western Europe and disso-
lution of NATO. Haig envisioned ‘the enemy’ consisting not only of Russians
and Cubans, but also of a left-leaning Mexican regime that would permit an
invasion force designed to split the United States in half, invading at Veracruz
and pressing northward.
Slowly, through 1983, numerous facets of the original project changed.
A secondary back story was added about America’s political bankruptcy.
Nicaragua entered the script. The central characters, who were in their early
teens in Reynolds’ story, became high-school seniors and older, thus allowing
for greater on-screen violence. Overall, the movie grew into one that was
more about killing and treachery than about character and relationships, one
that diluted Reynolds’ anti-war message in favour of the glorification of a
paramilitary defence of American territory. Aspects of the rewrite even
alarmed Milius, who had originally intended to say something about the ‘futil-
ity of war’ in the movie. Yablans and Haig urged the director to insert scenes
showing the kids infiltrate back into town to witness the brainwashing of their
parents. Strong scenes showing the invaders shooting resolute citizens in
reprisal for the kids’ resistance were also added. Other provocative features,
especially about collaboration, were filmed but ended up on the cutting room
floor. One scene depicting an American girl flirting with armed Russian sol-
diers in a Sovietised McDonald’s restaurant seems to have been removed due
to a mass murder at a McDonald’s franchise in San Ysidro, California, just
weeks prior to the film’s opening. Respect for the victims’ families probably
accounts for this decision, plus the need to put some distance between the
massacre and a film that, on the one hand, celebrated violence and, on the
other hand, purported to show how civilised Americans were compared with
their enemies.18
Red Dawn was filmed between November 1983 and January 1984, mainly in
and around the small town of Las Vegas, New Mexico. The cast included
Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Grey, members
of the ‘Brat Pack’ generation that frequently appeared together in teen-oriented
films in the 1980s. The snowy conditions in New Mexico increased costs but
272 Hollywood’s Cold War

lent the movie a certain beauty and verisimilitude; cast and crew complained of
frost bite. Despite Haig’s involvement, the Defence Department refused to
cooperate, not even allowing some jets to do an innocent ‘fly-by’. Having read
the script, the Pentagon insisted that a Russian-Cuban infiltration such as that
concocted by Milius, Haig and Yablans could never take place. Lacking the
Defence Department’s logistical support caused serious technical headaches for
Milius. Old, imitation Russian tanks broke down in the cold weather. One stunt-
man parachutist broke his ankle, while another wearing a Russian uniform
landed off course and was taken into custody by vigilant locals. Yablans, for one,
failed to see the funny side of such hitches, especially when he realised the final
budget for the movie had almost doubled from the original $10 million esti-
mate. The CEO accused Milius of having completely lost control of the pro-
duction, complaining, without tongue in cheek, that ‘you’ve got enough people
and equipment down there to start World War Three’.19
Red Dawn begins with a silent, 15-second preamble. Simple, yellow-on-
black titles inform the viewer of recent catastrophic events in the world. A
starving Soviet Union has invaded one of its rebellious satellites, Poland. Cuba
and Nicaragua have amassed 500,000 troops. Central America has fallen to
communism. Anti-nuclear and neutralist regimes have taken power in key
Western European states. Mexico has plunged into revolution. NATO has dis-
solved. The United States stands alone.
Cue Basil Poledouris’ stirring title-sequence music, borrowing heavily from
Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. Fade to Calumet, Colorado, a
lonely town on the plains just at the edge of the Rockies. A black history
teacher is telling his class about Genghis Khan’s barbarian invasion of Europe,
when enemy paratroopers land in the fields nearby. ‘Wow, check it out!’, shout
excited students, who think the men are Americans. Jabbering Spanish and
Russian at one another, the soldiers begin machine-gunning everyone in sight.
Within minutes, rocket fire batters down buildings and tanks block intersec-
tions: Calumet has fallen under occupation by Soviet, Cuban and Nicaraguan
forces. Red banners and pictures of Lenin go up everywhere. Sergei
Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky takes over the local movie house. Suspect books
are ‘cleansed’ by fire, recalling the Nazis’ Burning of the Books in 1933.
Outside town an old drive-in is turned into a ‘re-education centre’, where
potential resistors are forced to watch anti-capitalist slide shows while a
droning voice attacks ‘whorehouse America’.
But some people have escaped. Jed (Swayze), once the high-school quar-
terback, now in his twenties, leads a small group of teenage boys into the
mountains. They hide out for a while, initiating themselves in the ways of the
wild – drinking the blood of a deer they kill, for instance, or urinating into
the radiator of their truck when it runs out of water. Taking the name of their
The empire strikes back 273

football team, the Wolverines, the boys become a crack guerrilla unit, sweep-
ing down on the occupying forces and liberating groups of Americans. A
couple of girls who have been hiding from Red Army rapists join them in the
mountains and soon become hardened, ruthless fighters too. A cynical air-
force pilot (Powers Boothe), shot down earlier in the war, also joins up and
fills them in on the situation. First, Cubans and Nicaraguans, crossing the
border like ordinary illegal aliens, took out America’s missile silos and
command centres. With America’s nuclear capacity snuffed, Soviet intercon-
tinental ballistic missiles destroyed key strategic sites in the United States and
in other countries, including China. Cuban and Nicaraguan forces then swept
through Mexico and joined Soviet battalions passing across the Bering Straits.
The Soviets now control more than half of the country via puppet govern-
ments, and most of the rest of the world too.
But time is running out for the brave, hungry youngsters. Realising that a
grudging respect for the partisans is growing among his disillusioned Cuban
allies, the Russian commander in Calumet dispatches an elite Soviet unit to
wipe out the Wolverines. The unit is assisted by a traitor within the boys’ ranks,
whom the guerrillas reluctantly and emotionally execute. ‘What’s the
difference between them and us?’, the more timid boys ask Jed afterwards. ‘We
live here’, is his stolid reply. Eventually, the Soviet forces trap and kill most of
the rebels using helicopter gun ships. Now resigned to their fate, Jed and his
brother Matt (Sheen) carry out a suicide mission on the commander’s head-
quarters. At the end, just two of the Wolverines are left to make the long hike
into ‘Free America’ territory. A brief voice-over epilogue showing a World
War Three memorial and the American flag flying tells us the United States
will finally survive.
Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985) is justifiably often labelled Hollywood’s
definitive Reaganite Cold War text,20 but Red Dawn provides strong competi-
tion. First of all, Red Dawn was – perhaps remarkably – one of only two
Hollywood films made throughout the Cold War (Alfred E. Green’s Invasion
USA, released in 1952, being the other) that depicted World War Three in
terms of a direct military invasion of the United States, as opposed to those
that used aliens or that focused on Soviet subversion.21 Powers Boothe’s pilot
gives a fairly accurate summary of the Republican right’s nightmare scenario
for a World War Three born of military weakness. The movie also reflected
the Reaganites’ concern with Central America acting as the base for commu-
nist subversion, or even an invasion, of the United States.22 Second, Red Dawn
borrowed heavily from American mythology and folklore. Riding on horse-
back and living rough, the Wolverines act like frontier woodsmen or cowboys.
Symbolically, they receive help from a character played by Ben Johnson,
famous for his supporting roles in Westerns. Their hit-and-run tactics evoke
274 Hollywood’s Cold War

‘It’s World War Three down there’: Jed (Patrick Swayze), Robert, with Star Wars cap (C. Thomas Howell),
and Matt (Charlie Sheen) take their first look at communist-occupied Calumet. Red Dawn (1984).
MGM/United Artists/The Kobal Collection.

popular images of underdog militiamen fighting for freedom against British

colonialists, or fearless Indian braves struggling to preserve their way of life.
When searching for the partisans, even the Soviet soldiers are awe-struck by
the majesty of the American landscape. But whereas the Wolverines belong
to the land, the Russians are like visitors to a theme park.
Third, the Wolverines’ unconventional tactics also chimed with the doctrine
of ‘flexible response’ promulgated by the CIA and neo-conservatives. At the
root of this doctrine was the belief that communism and terrorism had joined
forces against the democratic West, and that the Soviet Union was running a
‘terror network’ in Europe, the Middle East and Central America. This
network had to be challenged directly at source, using the same paramilitary
and maverick tactics terrorists themselves employed.23 Fourth, the Wolverines’
‘hard body’ image conveyed the macho, violent qualities of a great deal of
eighties American Cold War iconography. This tied in with the White House’s
claim that during the 1970s US foreign policy had gone ‘soft’. The nation’s
bureaucratised baby boomers had let down their sons (and daughters, to an
extent), who were more intuitive and independent-minded. Despite being
almost seventy years of age when he entered the White House, Reagan pro-
claimed himself a ‘freedom fighter’ and soon became what political scientist
John Orman termed ‘the quintessential macho president’.24
The empire strikes back 275

Fifth, despite being categorised as the most violent film ever made,25 para-
doxically Red Dawn implied that a nuclear war was survivable and perhaps
therefore winnable by showing World War Three’s aftermath to be essentially
conventional. In this way, the movie countered other films released during the
early 1980s, like Lynne Littman’s Testament (1983) and Nicholas Meyer’s highly
controversial TV drama The Day After (1983), which declared nuclear weapons
suicidal. At the same time, the movie lent a degree of support to Reagan’s
controversial Strategic Defence Initiative (nicknamed ‘Star Wars’ by the
Democrats) by showing that Moscow had perfected its own missile defence
programme, and in so doing had rendered the US nuclear arsenal worthless.26
Finally, Red Dawn was, like many other Cold War film plots of the early
Reagan era, driven above all by the need for revenge, especially for America’s
loss in Vietnam.27 The Wolverines kill partly in order to avenge their elders’
execution by the occupying forces. Yet we see that it is the liberal indecisive-
ness of their parents’ generation that has opened up America to invasion in
the first place. Reagan frequently told the American people that Vietnam had
been ‘a noble cause’ that Washington had lacked the will to win, and that
Americans needed to kick the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ lest communism take
advantage of US passivity. John Milius felt exactly the same.28 The Wolverines
represent just this reaction against America’s sense of guilt and subsequent
loss of purpose overseas. Looked at in another way, in a neat role reversal Jed
and his cohort enact the role of the Viet Cong partisans, while the Cubans and
Russians play the part of the American invaders. The Wolverines themselves
do not, to coin John Rambo’s famous phrase (endlessly recycled by Reagan
himself), ‘get to win this time’, but those who follow the youngsters’ decisive
and gallant lead do so in the end, as evidenced by the epilogue’s triumphant
stars and stripes.
In its opening weekend in mid-August 1984, playing to a huge 1,822
screens nationwide, Red Dawn took a robust $8 million. It was a stroke of mar-
keting genius to release the film during the Los Angeles Olympics. The Soviet
boycott (in retaliation for the Americans’ failure to attend the 1980 Moscow
Olympics) helped turn the Games into a flag-waving flurry of nationalism,
encouraged partly by ABC Television’s coverage.29 As the MGM/UA execu-
tives predicted, most critics were derisive. Comments ranged from those who
declared it ‘fascist’ to others that dampened down liberals’ fears by arguing
that it was simply too ludicrous to be dangerous.30
But there is some, albeit impressionistic, evidence that Red Dawn had a
strong impact on its target audience. When a group of high-school students
from New Jersey were asked about the movie in November 1984, by which
time it had grossed $36 million, virtually all who had seen the film identified
with the Wolverines and enjoyed the idea that a bunch of kids like them ‘could
276 Hollywood’s Cold War

kill a lot of communists’. ‘It kind of made you feel good’, said one boy. ‘You
come out hating the Russians.’ Another boy added: ‘Americans went through
Vietnam and terrorist attacks. People are sick of America always being wrong.’
A teacher found that the film reinforced his students’ image of Russians being
associated with words like ‘Reds’, ‘stubborn’, ‘oppression’, ‘emotionless’,
‘vodka’ and ‘propaganda’.31 Older members of the audience also expressed
solidarity with those who chanted ‘Wolverines’ and ‘U-S-A’ in theatres.
‘Americans have to start waking up and recognise that America is not a social-
ist country’, said one 45-year-old woman after seeing the film. ‘They have to
recognise that freedom isn’t free.’ Alluding to Reagan’s Democratic challenger
in the presidential elections later in the year, one political science major at
UCLA said in August 1984 that, ‘If Mondale gets elected, that [a Russian inva-
sion of the United States] is what’s going to happen.’32
Red Dawn was publicly endorsed by a range of opinion-formers on the
political right. Haig and Reagan used the film as a tool to disparage the
Democrats’ stance on foreign policy in the run-up to the party’s convention
in August 1984. The Gun Owners of America honoured John Milius for ‘dra-
matically depicting the importance in our time of the Second Amendment’.
Soldier of Fortune, a magazine which had a readership of 300,000 and which
stood at the heart of paramilitary culture in post-Vietnam America, printed
stills from Red Dawn that blended seamlessly with photographic accounts of
Mujahidin bravery against the Red Army in Afghanistan.33 Overseas, Red
Dawn fared less well. Left-wing activists threw rotten eggs and paint at screens
showing the movie in some West German theatres. In Moscow, Soviet cultural
officials denounced Red Dawn as virulently anti-Soviet propaganda, despite
recent films like Mikhail Tumanishvili’s Incident in Quadrant 36–80 (1983)
having portrayed Americans as violent anti-Russian psychopaths.34 In the
summer of 1985, Red Dawn was reportedly banned – along with Rambo:
First Blood Part 2 and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV (1985) – in more exotic loca-
tions like Zimbabwe, following complaints from the Russian and Cuban
Red Dawn would prove to have a mixed legacy. At his trial in 1997, Timothy
McVeigh, a pseudo-survivalist and member of an ultra-right militia group
hostile to the US federal government, claimed that Red Dawn was one of his
principal sources of ‘inspiration’ for the Oklahoma City bombing two years
earlier. McVeigh’s act of terrorism killed 168 people. In late 2003, the
Pentagon’s codename for its successful operation to capture the deposed Iraqi
leader, Saddam Hussein, was ‘Red Dawn’. The two huts found at Hussein’s
hideaway outside his home-town of Tikrit were christened ‘Wolverine 1’ and
‘Wolverine 2’, an indication perhaps that, twenty years after it had been made,
Red Dawn had achieved cult status in US military spheres.36
The empire strikes back 277


Insisting that America was once again ‘standing tall’, Ronald Reagan crushed
Walter Mondale at the presidential elections in November 1984, winning every
state in the nation except Minnesota and the District of Columbia. One left-
wing British filmmaker who was then a rising star in Hollywood, Alex Cox,
chose to avoid the Republican celebrations by heading south to visit
Nicaragua during its first democratic elections. Since 1981, Reagan’s efforts to
overthrow the left-wing Sandinista government had made Nicaragua the
focus of his campaign to ‘roll back communism’ in Central America. The CIA
and private American bodies had spent millions of dollars training and sup-
plying the opposition militia, the Contras. Beginning in 1983, the National
Security Council’s Office of Public Diplomacy had conducted a multi-million-
dollar propaganda initiative inside the United States, projecting an image of
the Contras as democratic freedom fighters in the mould of America’s
Founding Fathers and the Sandinistas as evil members of a Soviet outpost.37
The 30-year-old Cox had risen to prominence in 1983 with Repo Man, a
black fantasy about the car repossession business that outrageously satirised
American consumerism and indirectly played on current nuclear war anxieties.
Its follow-up, Sid and Nancy (1986), which recreated the tragic late 1970s love
affair between Sid Vicious of the punk rock group the Sex Pistols and his
American girlfriend Nancy Spungeon, confirmed Cox’s nihilistic reputation.38
Cox travelled to Nicaragua in late 1984 to find out for himself whether there
was any truth in the American news media’s allegations that the Sandinista
government had recently turned the country into ‘a totalitarian dungeon’.
Having quickly concluded that such charges were mere propaganda, in Léon,
Nicaragua’s former capital, Cox was challenged to make a film about the
country’s recent bloody history by two soldiers who had been wounded fight-
ing the Contras. A month later, back in the United States, Cox came across a
tiny reference in the radical Mother Jones magazine to one William Walker, an
enigmatic adventurer from Tennessee who had ruled Nicaragua in the 1850s.
Cox had never heard of Walker, but after a week’s research concluded that he
was ‘a great idea’ for the big screen. Walker’s exploits had made him famous
in the United States in the years before the Civil War, and the object of adu-
lation in a supremely confident nation convinced that its duty was to domi-
nate the Western Hemisphere. With appropriate treatment, Cox believed
Walker’s life could serve as the basis for an original and powerful condemna-
tion of the Reaganite approach towards Central America and of US Cold War
militancy in general.39
In the early-to-mid-1980s, several Hollywood films had focused on the pol-
itics of Central and South America. A few had even highlighted US subterfuge
278 Hollywood’s Cold War

or support for death-squad government-terrorists in the region. Mention has

already been made of Costa-Gavras’ Missing, released in 1982. This was fol-
lowed, in 1983, by Roger Spottiswood’s Under Fire, a drama that focused on
the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution and the assistance given by the CIA to the
death squads of the Somoza regime against the rebel Sandinistas. Two years
later, Haskell Wexler’s Latino (1985) looked at the Nicaraguan War through the
disillusioned eyes of a Chicano Green Beret from Los Angeles sent to train
Contras in the jungles of Honduras. In 1986, Oliver Stone’s Oscar-nominated
Salvador suggested the CIA had been involved in the notorious murder by
rightist military thugs of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980.40
Despite their criticism of recent actions by the US government, movies like
Under Fire irritated Cox intensely. In his opinion, their liberalism ultimately
allowed Americans to blame ‘the system’ rather than themselves and, in the
case of Under Fire, arrogantly even suggested that ‘heroic’ American journal-
ists had won the revolution for the Sandinistas. Cox had the comic-book
style of Red Dawn and the Rambo series in mind for his film about William
Walker – albeit with a darkly humorous, punk-like twist. He believed this
mode would not only help him to reach a broader audience, but would also
compete with Hollywood’s Red-baiters on their own ground.41 To help him
bring an obscure nineteenth-century figure alive for late twentieth-century
cinema-goers ‘beyond the art houses of Wilshire Boulevard’, in early 1985
Cox hired the American scriptwriter and avant-garde novelist Rudy Wurlitzer.
Like Cox, Wurlitzer saw the war being fought by the CIA-backed Contras in
Nicaragua as a direct continuation of the kind of US interventionism in
Central America practised by William Walker a century earlier. He and Cox
believed that Walker’s actions typified Washington’s racist approach to foreign
affairs, one that was still driven by a Puritan fundamentalism and Anglo-Saxon
Cox’s outline and Wurlitzer’s script drew on an unusual range of research
material, including Nicaraguan poetry, correspondence between Franklin
Roosevelt and the Somoza family in the 1930s, and Walker’s own account of
his adventures published just before his death. Wurlitzer’s script painted a por-
trait of Walker as an ideologue of Manifest Destiny whose sublimated sexu-
ality accounted for his will to dominate but who ended up being used as a
semi-witting stalking horse for larger strategic and economic interests.43
Though happy with the bulk of Wurlitzer’s script, Cox felt that the links
between Walker’s antics and modern-day US policies needed to be made more
explicit. He therefore imposed various contemporary images and took the
script into a surreal past-future domain, creating a world in which the present
– Walker’s future – in the form of computers, mass-merchandised cigarettes,
and, most strikingly, helicopters keeps invading Walker’s reality. Wurlitzer
The empire strikes back 279

complained that these touches would only alienate the audience, but his
warnings were ignored.44
As director and screenwriter exchanged draft scripts, progress was made
on the wider production and financial fronts. It is a measure of the greater
space which had opened up for Cold War dissent in the American film indus-
try by the 1980s that Cox got not only the backing of an experienced main-
stream Hollywood producer but also a distribution deal with a major studio.
Edward R. Pressman had been producing in Hollywood for nearly two
decades, during which he had worked on a diverse range of films, including
Terrence Malick’s evocation of aimless anger in 1950s suburbia Badlands
(1973), and John Milius’ violent sword-and-sorcery tale Conan the Barbarian
(1982), which helped make Arnold Schwarzenegger a screen star. While
working on Walker, Pressman also produced Oliver Stone’s exposé of corpo-
rate greed Wall Street (1987). Pressman hoped that Walker would have an
impact comparable to that of Platoon (1986), Stone’s Oscar-winning liberal cri-
tique of Vietnam, and succeeded in securing half of the film’s production
money (roughly $3 million) and a lucrative distribution deal with Universal
Pictures, whose president, Tom Pollock, had once been his attorney. Pollock
and Sean Daniel, Universal’s production chief, saw great commercial poten-
tial in the cult status achieved by Cox’s Repo Man, and hoped Walker could
emulate David Lynch’s recent surreal crossover hit Blue Velvet (1986).45
In December 1985, Cox and co-producer Lorenzo O’Brien made a
location-scouting trip to Nicaragua. The Peruvian-born O’Brien, who had
made a documentary about the military junta in power in his home country
when a student at UCLA in the 1970s, established contact with the Nicaraguan
Film Commission and the Roman Catholic Church, which agreed to provide
unique locations in the capital, Managua, and the historic city of Granada.46
These initial contacts soon blossomed, to the point where the Nicaraguan
government itself adopted the film as a useful propaganda tool. For gener-
ations of Nicaraguans, William Walker had served as a graphic symbol – the
gringo malo – of the many US occupations of their country. To the Sandinistas,
therefore, a movie about Walker provided an opportunity to consolidate its
recent electoral successes (the movement’s leader, Daniel Ortega, was made
president in 1984) and to generate sympathy overseas for its cause in the civil
war. Consequently, members of the government, including Minister of
Culture Ernesto Cardenal and Vice-President Sergio Ramirez, gladly com-
mented on the screenplay. ‘If this penetrates the commercial market in the
United States’, Ramirez told the New York Times in March 1987, ‘it is going to
open some eyes and change some minds.’ When shooting began, Sandinista
troops and officers played native Nicaraguans and other Central Americans.
Official permission was given for the removal of telegraph poles from the
280 Hollywood’s Cold War

streets of Granada to accentuate historical realism, and for the loan of a

(blood-stained) Soviet-built helicopter.47
Filming took place over eight weeks between March and May 1987. The
cast was made up largely of unknown actors, many of whom had collaborated
with Cox on his earlier productions. The exceptions to this were Ed Harris,
who played Walker, Peter Boyle, who played industrial magnate Cornelius
Vanderbilt (‘the “big engine” of American free enterprise’, according to
Wurlitzer), and Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin, who made a brief appearance as
Walker’s deaf fiancée, Ellen Martin. Harris and other members of the cast and
crew agreed to work for a substantially reduced fee partly because they sup-
ported the film’s political viewpoint.48 Walker’s idiosyncratic soundtrack was
the work of Joe Strummer, the former leader of British punk band the Clash.
Like several other British and American rock musicians in the 1980s – includ-
ing Jackson Browne, Billy Bragg and U2’s Bono – Strummer had been cam-
paigning against US interference in Nicaragua for a number of years.49
Walker opens in 1853. William Walker – adventurer, religious zealot and
political visionary – leads an expedition of liberation into Mexico, which ends
in defeat in Sonora. Back in the United States, Walker is tried for violating
Mexico’s neutrality, but exonerates himself with a ringing speech about the
mission of the American people to liberate the Western Hemisphere from
oppression. Now a national celebrity, Walker accepts an invitation from
Cornelius Vanderbilt to lead an expedition to Nicaragua, which is in need of
‘democracy’ and is ideally suited for a canal to open up trade routes to the
Pacific. Walker returns from his meeting with Vanderbilt to find that his
fiancée, Ellen, has died, but despite his anguish begins loading his men – fifty-
eight mercenaries dubbed ‘Walker’s Immortals’ – and supplies for Nicaragua.
On landing in Nicaragua, Walker is met by two collaborators who are gen-
erals of the country’s liberal party. The American then lays down the law about
how liberators should behave, reinforcing this with three executions. An
ambush as they head for the capital, Rivas, leaves many Immortals dead, but
they eventually, if chaotically, triumph over the ‘rebels’. Walker sets up a
puppet government, and becomes romantically involved with Yrena (Blanca
Guerra), who secretly hates him for deposing and executing her lover. Walker
then announces sweeping reforms, but his reign soon degenerates into brutal
dictatorship. He also alienates Vanderbilt by entering into an alliance with
other businessmen. Slavery is instituted and as Walker’s followers fight over
the spoils, an insurrection is fomented by Yrena and other conspirators,
helped by Vanderbilt’s cutting off Walker’s supplies.
After a failed attempt on his life by Yrena, Walker orders the destruction
of Rivas. As the town burns, and his men go on a last rampage of shooting
and killing, US military helicopters arrive to rescue the Americans. However,
The empire strikes back 281

‘Bringing peace, democracy and liberty’: oblivious of the bloodbath his mission has unleashed, a crazed
William Walker (Ed Harris, in suit) leads his Immortals through the streets of Rivas. Walker (1987).
Universal Studios.

Walker, who is now clearly insane, elects to stay and makes himself president.
The closing scene shows Walker being executed by firing squad in 1860 in
Honduras. As the credits roll, television footage juxtaposes pictures of Ronald
Reagan in Congress and US troops on ‘defensive manoeuvres’ on the
Honduras-Nicaragua border with the bodies of Nicaraguan civilians mur-
dered by the Contras.
Walker’s bare outline belies the film’s anarchic tone and politically jarring
style. Three areas stand out in this respect. The first is Walker’s anachronistic
humour. By populating the world of the 1850s with Coca-Cola bottles,
Mercedes-Benz sedans, computers and television journalists, Walker on the
one hand consciously frustrates audience expectations about the historical
film genre, and on the other tells viewers that the doctrine of Manifest Destiny
remains an axiom of modern-day US foreign policy. Cox and Wurlitzer’s orig-
inal ending actually made the connection between past and present US incur-
sions into Nicaragua even more explicit. In this scenario, Walker was to be
whisked out of Rivas by the CIA aboard the US helicopters and then make a
speech in modern-day Florida at a fundraising dinner for the Contras, flanked
by anti-Castro Cubans and pro-Reagan celebrities like the Reverend Jerry
Falwell and Charlton Heston. This ending was dropped on the advice of Ed
Pressman, who argued that it would make Walker look ‘a State Department
asshole’ rather than a Napoleonic figure, and the speech was moved instead
to an earlier cathedral scene.50 Cox later regretted not having sprinkled his film
with even more contemporary objects from the start instead of from half-way
282 Hollywood’s Cold War

through (baseball bats, TV dinners, even plane wreckage all appear in draft
scripts), which would certainly have lent it greater continuity.51
The uneasy marriage of nineteenth- and twentieth-century images is
accompanied by the disjunction between image and sound, in which voice-
over narration, dialogue, and non-diegetic music are contradicted by the mise-
en-scène. This serves to heighten the satirical tone of the movie and to
sharpen its criticism of the Americans’ behaviour. For instance, Walker opens
with upbeat Latin music that is wholly at odds with the images of violent death
and destruction during a battle in Senora. The slow-motion displays of blood-
shed in this and later battle scenes, complete with semi-comical spaghetti-
Western-style sound effects, deliberately ape the work of Sam Peckinpah,
Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa, and are meant to bring home to ‘the
carnage-addicted, Rambo-loving American audiences’ (as Cox labelled them)
the violent nature of US interventionism. (In an early script, one of the
Immortals was called ‘Captain Schwarzenegger’, in honour of the muscle-
bound star of the mid-1980s hits The Terminator and Commando.)52 Throughout
the film, Ed Harris’s lofty voice-over narration is repeatedly undercut by
actions on screen. Thus, when the voice speaks of cultural reforms, we see
natives being flogged. When it proclaims the virtues of regenerating a nation,
we see Walker’s motley crew of mercenaries boozing, brawling, stealing from
natives, and assaulting females of more than one species (‘The colonel says it’s
a democracy’, shouts one Immortal, as he climbs into a sheep pen and lowers
his trousers).
Walker’s obliviousness of the consequences of his dictatorial actions,
together with the Immortals’ depravity, reflected Cox’s penchant for the
bizarre and grotesque. This tied in with his assertions that absurdist humour
was more likely to shock the audience into action, and that Walker ultimately
typified the madness that went hand in hand with notions of cultural and
racial superiority: ‘a guy completely out of touch with reality, who thought he
was acting on Christian principles but who blinded himself to the fact that he
was slaughtering the people he came to regenerate’.53 Cox thought carefully
about how to present Walker and his cohorts for maximum political impact.
Prior to filming, one correspondent warned Cox that his script depicted
Walker as too ‘wacky’ and that it overlooked the Immortals’ misplaced ideal-
ism. Consequently, the script encouraged the audience ‘to dismiss the story as
an aberration rather than to recognise it as a stereotype’. Certain parts of early
versions of the script highlighting Walker’s zany personality were ultimately
cut by Cox – his obsession with insects, for example. At the same time, the
final print further heightened the Immortals’ vulgarity. For instance, immedi-
ately after setting foot in Nicaragua, instead of marching past a number of
bare-breasted women in the river without breaking ranks, the Immortals run
The empire strikes back 283

amok. Doubtless seen as gratuitous by some viewers, such scenes in the film-
makers’ eyes functioned as a commentary on the psychosexual character of
American puritans who subordinated women and peoples of colour, and
ascribed capitalist exploitation of Third World people to institutionalised
racism and sexism.54
Walker opened in the United States in December 1987. Rarely can a polit-
ical film three years in the making have enjoyed such a timely release. In
response to newspaper revelations, in November 1986 Ronald Reagan told
stunned Americans that, unbeknownst to him, elements within his govern-
ment had been selling arms to an avowed enemy, Iran, in exchange for the
release of US hostages held in the Middle East. Worse still, part of the profits
from the arms had been diverted to provide military assistance to the
Nicaraguan Contras during a period when Congress had explicitly outlawed
any such aid. Reagan conducted a damage-limitation exercise by dismissing
the National Security Council Director, John Poindexter, and his aide
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a Vietnam veteran who had run a multi-
million-dollar fundraising campaign for the Contras among conservative
Americans. Despite this, during the summer of 1987, joint Senate and House
special committees conducted nationally televised hearings on the Iran-
Contra affair. These hearings aroused as much public interest as Watergate.
The evidence of official intrigue and deception severely weakened Reagan’s
personal standing, and wholly contradicted Washington’s claim to be running
a morally revitalised foreign policy.55
With the Iran-Contra scandal having put Nicaragua and the dirty underbelly
of US Cold War strategy at the very centre of national affairs for most of 1987,
Walker looked an odds-on box office hit. For one thing, the parallels between
the scandal and the film amounted to a publicist’s dream: the privatisation of
diplomacy and war, the role of soldiers of fortune, and clandestine acts in
exotic locations. However, in the event the Iran-Contra affair probably seri-
ously undermined the film’s takings. Walker had attracted a considerable
amount of interest among American film critics before news of the Iran-
Contra connection surfaced. After November 1986, political journalists then
joined the fray, looking for a novel angle on US-Nicaraguan relations, and
helping to make the film an even greater subject of controversy. During shoot-
ing, liberal newspapers like the Los Angeles Times ran lengthy location reports
on Walker, linking the film to their own long-standing anti-Contra propaganda
campaigns. Other magazines more to the political right, such as Newsweek (an
issue of which appeared in the movie) and Time, noted the Nicaraguan gov-
ernment’s enthusiastic support for the project and consequently condemned
the film as blatant Sandinista propaganda.56 Ever the opportunist, Cox
responded to these barbs in typically aggressive fashion. By openly comparing
284 Hollywood’s Cold War

Walker with the ‘criminals’ Oliver North and Assistant Secretary of State for
Western Hemisphere Affairs Elliott Abrams – ‘all white guys coming down to
small countries thinking they can do anything’ – Cox sought to highlight the
relevance of his movie for the public, and to express his anger at the fact that,
like Walker and Vanderbilt before them, the perpetrators of the Iran-Contra
scandal would most probably get away with a slap on the wrist.57
In an atmosphere of increasing constitutional crisis, one that might even
result in a presidential impeachment, Universal executives regarded such state-
ments as ill-advised and inflammatory. Having allowed the filmmakers a rela-
tively free hand in the early stages of the project, on seeing the rushes the
company’s executives and the marketing agents began to get cold feet. Walker,
they protested, was meant to be a liberal interpretation of nineteenth-century
adventurism. Cox’s version was diagnosed as far too alienating, both politically
and stylistically. If Cox expected any support from Ed Pressman in the face
of these severe criticisms, he was deluded. Pressman had already succeeded in
politically toning down the film’s ending at final scripting stage. During the
shooting phase, he then grew exasperated by what he saw as Cox’s wildly
extravagant approach to moviemaking.58 Consequently, Universal took the
decision to stifle Walker by limiting both publicity and theatrical release. The
film opened in only eight American cities in December 1987. On the west
coast, in Los Angeles, the movie was released on only two screens, where it
played for just three weeks. During this period, the Los Angeles Weekly ran only
one advert for the film. On the east coast, in New York, Walker could be found
on only three screens, where it played for a month. This was a dismal showing
for a film which had cost $6 million. Universal then forbade Cox to take Walker
to the Havana Festival, the foremost film market in Latin America, and the
company’s international subsidiary, UIP, delayed a Central American release.59
Cox reacted angrily to what he saw as blatant political censorship. He even
ventured a comparison between himself and the way dissident filmmakers had
been marginalised in the Soviet Union.60 Whatever truth there was in this, the
fact was that the Englishman had slipped up badly. Walker was never likely to
appeal to a broad cross-section of the film-going public due its nihilistic
format. As a film buff, Cox should have known that its postmodern historical
narrative would be unacceptable to a public brought up on realistic represen-
tations of the past. Wurlitzer had hinted at this when complaining about the
addition of anachronistic touches at the scriptwriting stage. Many people who
saw the film simply did not find it entertaining. With a few exceptions, the
trade press in the United States had nothing positive to say about Walker.
Variety called it a ‘virtual fiasco’, BoxOffice ‘very weird’.61
Walker generated more than its fair share of heat in the political press, but
there is no evidence that the film changed people’s minds about US policy in
The empire strikes back 285

Nicaragua. Predictably, some newspapers on the left sang its praises. ‘If . . .
Walker’s metaphorical message makes a fraction of the eventual audience
think more closely about what their tax dollars are paying for’, said the New
York Village Voice, ‘then Cox’s extraordinary vision of history returning will
have reaped a rich dividend.’ Newspapers on the right, on the other hand, lam-
basted Walker for being gratuitously anti-American and pretentious. More sig-
nificantly perhaps, some who were hostile to the Contras applauded the
movie’s message but were either bewildered by its surrealism or alienated by
its heavy-handedness. The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, for one, witheringly
described the film as ‘a wasted opportunity’ and a ‘bloated excess’. Holly-
wood’s best-known liberal, Robert Redford, announced that he would direct
and star in his own film about Walker, to set the record straight (this never
In Nicaragua itself, once released, Walker played to packed houses in
Managua, but even here pro-government newspapers objected to its exces-
sively violent content and satirical tone. Walker just might have succeeded at
the box office as an ‘alternative’ film, despite Universal’s lack of support, if it
had been more aesthetically accessible to a liberal audience. The fact is it was
not. The movie earned a pitifully small sum – $257,000 – and taught Cox that
the greater freedom which unorthodox foreign filmmakers had to criticise
American Cold War policy during the 1980s came at a price. Walker effectively
finished his Hollywood career.63


Two months after Walker’s premiere, in February 1988, the Soviet state film
agency, Goskino, hosted Moscow’s first major American film festival.
Hollywood celebrities in attendance included Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon
and The Muppets’ creator Jim Henson. Among the movies screened in the
Soviet Union for the first time were The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939),
the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980), and Kings Row
(Sam Wood, 1942), which starred Ronald Reagan. The name of the US body
which sponsored the festival, Film and Theatre Diplomacy, in itself suggested
that at least some figures within Hollywood had shifted from a hardline Cold
War footing.64 A few months later, at the historic Moscow Summit of May 1988,
Ronald Reagan confirmed the political distance he personally had travelled since
issuing his anti-Soviet call to arms in 1981 and inviting John Rambo, né Sylvester
Stallone, to the White House in 1986. Paying his first visit to the Soviet Union,
Reagan sought to set the seal on the burgeoning new era of Russo-American
harmony the best way he knew how. The president presented his host, Mikhail
Gorbachev, with the video-cassette of a film: William Wyler’s story of Quaker
286 Hollywood’s Cold War

pacifism in the American Civil War, Friendly Persuasion (1956). Demonstrating

once again his ability to draw lessons from an imagined, mediated past, Reagan
asked his audience at a State Dinner at the Kremlin to take heed of the film’s
message about ‘holding out for a better way of settling things’.65
Hollywood’s political mainstream tracked fairly accurately the extraordi-
nary change in superpower relations that took place in the mid-to-late 1980s.
The chief instigator of that change, Mikhail Gorbachev, became Soviet leader
in March 1985, but even before this date a couple of American movies had
hinted at the chances for meaningful, lasting East-West détente. In Michael
Apted’s Gorky Park (1983), for instance, William Hurt and Brian Dennehy
played Russian and American police officers teaming up to solve a triple homi-
cide in Moscow.66 Released a year later, Moscow on the Hudson, Paul Mazursky’s
gentle comedy about a Muscovite saxophonist who defects to New York,
appeared at first sight to be an updated Ninotchka. Once again, the Russian
character (played by Robin Williams) is overcome by Western consumerism –
literally in this case: he faints when he sees the choice of goods available in
Bloomingdale’s. However, the film ended up showing that both Russia and the
United States had their problems and attractions, and consequently that the
West and the East had a lot to learn from one another.67
A few years on, and Gorbachev’s dual assault on communist orthodoxy –
glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform) – was in full swing. Alongside a
greater freedom of expression for the Soviet media (including filmmakers)
came conciliatory overtures to the West, and the conclusion of concrete arms-
reductions agreements. These moves were designed by the Kremlin to secure
a stable environment within which the Soviet Union could restructure its
economy and thereby guarantee its survival as a superpower. However,
to many in the outside world Gorbachev’s ‘New Thinking’ (‘Novoye
Myshlenniye’) in international affairs appeared to offer the prospect of a per-
manent breakthrough in East-West tensions.68 Rick Rosenthal’s Russkies
(1987) reflected the new dynamics of the Cold War through a tale about the
friendship between three American boys and a forlorn Soviet sailor washed
up on the coast of Florida. A combination of Steven Spielberg’s mega-hit
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Norman Jewison’s 1966 comedy The
Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, Rosenthal’s Russkies refuted Red
Dawn’s message that all American youngsters wanted to kill the first Russians
they saw. The film treats the boys’ parents’ hysterical fear of the communist
Other as nonsensical and repugnant.69
Red Heat, which made $35 million at the US box office in the summer of
1988,70 continued Hollywood’s revamping of the Soviet-American relation-
ship, but from a quite different perspective. Its rationale was that Moscow
and Washington needed to overlook their rapidly diminishing ideological
The empire strikes back 287

differences in order to join forces against a new, common enemy – narco-

terrorists. A tale of two cities (Moscow and Chicago) masquerading as an apo-
litical conventional buddy/cop movie, Red Heat was in reality a natural
extension of Hollywood’s long-term targeting of communism. Now that the
Soviet Union was becoming more like America and the Cold War seemed to
be coming to an end, the ‘hard centre’ of the American film industry was
turning its sights on what many politicians – especially those on the right –
saw as the more serious threat to the nation’s well-being and security.
Red Heat was financed by Carolco Pictures, a major force among indepen-
dent production companies in the 1980s principally because of the success of
its Rambo series. Red Heat’s director, Walter Hill, was born in 1942 and had
entered the film industry in the late 1960s after a brief stint drilling for oil. By
the 1980s, Hill had become a powerful writer, director and producer, best
known for making visually stylish action movies. Hill had little interest in using
film for overtly political purposes. He had rejected Kevin Reynolds’ ‘Ten
Soldiers’ script in the early 1980s, for example, because it was too controver-
sial.71 Hill’s original story for Red Heat was a cross between Ninotchka and his
1982 white-black, cop-crook blockbuster 48 Hours, which starred Nick Nolte
and comedian Eddie Murphy as a mismatched duo tracking down police
killers in San Francisco. A burly Russian police officer, Ivan Danko, who is
hunting for a cop-killing Georgian drugs lord in Chicago, would substitute for
Greta Garbo’s surly envoy in Paris. Her boyfriend Leon’s part would be taken
by a wise-cracking, slovenly American detective, Art Ridzik. Through the
tetchy relationship between these two characters, the film would have fun
comparing and contrasting Soviet and American attitudes towards crime, sex
and international politics.72
Hill’s co-scriptwriters on Red Heat were themselves an unusual pairing.
Russian-born Harry Kleiner’s writing credits stretched back to the Second
World War, and included an array of fast-paced dramas such as Le Mans (Lee
H. Katzin, 1971). Kleiner, Hill and Carolco had recently collaborated on
Extreme Prejudice (1987), a cop-cum-CIA conspiracy drama that focused on
drug-trafficking across the Texas-Mexico border and was based on an original
story by John Milius.73 Troy Kennedy Martin, on the other hand, had been one
of Britain’s most influential television screenwriters since the 1960s, and stood
on the political left. His most recent drama for the BBC, Edge of Darkness,
broadcast in 1985, had depicted the American and British governments mur-
dering anti-nuclear activists.74 Kennedy Martin’s draft scripts of Red Heat con-
tained more jokes at America’s expense than appeared in the final cut of the
film. His scripts also questioned the benefits American-style political and eco-
nomic liberalisation would bring the Soviet Union more than did the film that
audiences got to see.75
288 Hollywood’s Cold War

Casting the two lead roles was important, politically as well as commer-
cially. If the actors failed to hit it off on screen, Red Heat would die at the box
office. If their personas were insufficiently different, the culture-clashing
element of the film would not work. Choosing James Belushi to play Chicago
detective Art Ridzik, rather than a more slapstick-oriented comedy actor like
Steve Martin or Chevy Chase, paid dividends. Belushi’s rebellious persona,
honed since his breakthrough as a comedian on NBC’s Saturday Night Live,
enhanced Ridzik’s – and America’s – free-spirited image.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was perfect to play the latter-day Ninotchka,
Ivan Danko, a straitlaced but trustworthy and ultimately lovable Russian.
Schwarzenegger was no Mikhail Baryshnikov, the star of White Nights (1985),
a real-life Russian defector-turned-actor, but he was the closest thing to it,
having left Austria (where he was born in 1947) to become a naturalised
American. Schwarzenegger made no secret of the effect the Soviet occupa-
tion of his home country during the early Cold War had had on his childhood,
and about why it had helped turn him into a staunch defender of democracy
and a card-carrying Republican. Moreover, his much-publicised Cinderella-
like rise from humble beginnings to become one of Hollywood’s top money-
making stars embodied the realisation of the American dream. The former
Mr Universe’s moulded physique was ‘harder’ than Greta Garbo’s but no less
striking, and thus would fit the well-established brawn-without-brains Russian
stereotype. In fact, Schwarzenegger had employed his muscles to great patri-
otic effect on the screen in the eighties, meting out summary justice to
America’s domestic and external enemies in films like Raw Deal (John Irvin,
1986) and Predator (John McTiernan, 1986). Schwarzenegger shaved ten
pounds off his bodyweight to look more convincingly ‘Slavic’ in Red Heat.
Russian vocal training for the movie enhanced his famously thick-accented
delivery of American slang phrases.76
Red Heat starts right within the Bear’s cave: a very Russian, unisex, dungeon-
like steambath (or banya) in Moscow. Muscle-men shovel coal and pump iron,
while nude women cavort like prostitutes. The heart of the Soviet empire –
the scene was actually filmed in Budapest – is a picture of medieval debauch-
ery. A scantily clad, beautifully proportioned Captain Ivan Danko, the head of
Moscow’s homicide division, is here for business, not pleasure. His quarry is
Viktor Rosta (Ed O’Ross), a murderous cocaine dealer. Danko is attacked by
a group of bearded Mongolian goliaths, but shows them the meaning of
rough justice with his bare fists. Though Viktor is not to be found, Danko dis-
covers where he will be that evening.
Cut to Red Square. Mock Cyrillic credits begin to roll, accompanied by
harsh, imitation-Prokofiev music scored by James Horner (son of Harry, the
director of Red Planet Mars). As the choir intones and bells clamour, we are
The empire strikes back 289

given a mini-tour of Hollywood’s age-old Soviet stereotypes. Red Army

guardsmen goose-stepping across the cobbles signify an overdisciplined, mil-
itarised society. Statues of Marx and Lenin, shot from below to look more
imposing, represent the communist cult of personality. A one-legged, grey-
suited man hobbles by on crutches, the personification of communist sclero-
sis. However, in contrast with other such scenes in countless previous films,
this footage is not faked. Red Heat was glasnost in action – the first entirely
American-produced movie which incorporated some scenes shot on location
in the Soviet Union.77
Fade to a squalid Moscow café, the Druzhba. As Danko and his state police
colleagues pass through searching for Viktor, the look of terror and hatred on
the customers’ faces is palpable. The traces of the firm hand of repression
cannot easily be erased, it seems, even in Gorby’s new-look Soviet Union.
Danko once again pulverises those who stand in his way, but Viktor escapes,
in the process mercilessly executing Danko’s partner and friend, Yuri, with a
concealed pistol. Yuri’s funeral is a grey, pathetic occasion. His aged relatives –
local extras recruited by the filmmakers for their ‘hard Soviet look’ – are cold
and detached. Their emotions, we assume, have been stripped bare by decades
of communism.78
Six months on and Viktor is at large in Chicago’s downtown jungle. Having
exploited America’s lax immigration laws, he is now allied to a violent black
street gang called the Cleanheads, and about to close a deal that will flood the
Eastern bloc with drugs bought with Russian roubles on the US market.
However, just before he has the chance to purchase the drug haul Viktor is
apprehended by the Windy City’s finest for a minor traffic violation. The
Moscow police get word of the arrest and Danko is sent to the United States to
retrieve the fugitive. Danko’s smuggling of a huge handgun through diplomatic
baggage exposes the flaws in American airport security and, like the United
States’ ‘open borders’, highlights the country’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
Danko’s arrival in Chicago immediately lightens the movie’s hitherto
depressive tone. A mixture of comedy and tension prevails from here on in
rather than sombre drama, suggesting fun is only available in the West. Danko
is partnered with his alter ego, plain-clothes detective Art Ridzik. Initially, the
two cannot stand one another. The Russian is grimly efficient, straight-backed
and humourless; the American likes to cut corners, is overweight and loud-
mouthed. ‘I’m parked in a RED zone. No offence!’, Ridzik cracks, when
picking up Danko at the airport. Like Ninotchka on her arrival in Paris, Danko
is disgusted by Chicago’s seediness. ‘Kapitalism’, he spits, when his hotel TV
set shows a porn movie.
Yet unlike Ninotchka, Danko does not succumb more to Western luxuries
and freedoms the longer he stays. He loosens up somewhat – changing into a
290 Hollywood’s Cold War

suit instead of a military-style uniform, for instance – but he never once con-
siders defecting. There is no need for him to. For one thing, his younger, less
regimented generation is going to benefit from Russia’s Westernisation. And
Danko is a proud Russian nationalist, not, like Ninotchka, a devout commu-
nist who needs to be converted to capitalism. His pursuit of Viktor is fuelled
both by revenge and by the fact that the narcotics kingpin is a Georgian, the
implication being that Russia, like the United States, is awash with criminal
‘foreign’ subversives who don’t belong there. Viktor’s nationality, plus Danko’s
sturdiness and Schwarzenegger’s fame in Russia via black-market videos, help
to explain Moscow’s official support for Red Heat.79
However, from the start Ridzik and Danko have one very important thing
in common – both like to crack sleazebags’ heads. The difference turns out to
be that Danko has more freedom to blast away at bad guys in a closed com-
munist society than Ridzik has in an open democracy that over-protects crim-
inals’ rights. The film shows that (akin to the US Army in Vietnam perhaps)
the streetwise American cop is fighting the enemy with one hand tied behind
his back by weak-kneed bureaucrats. This message echoed President Reagan’s
frequent accusations that liberals in Congress were preventing him from
‘doing his job’. Red Heat strongly hinted that the Russian state’s ruthless tech-
niques would be far more effective in sweeping undesirables from America’s
decadent streets than the West’s namby-pamby, form-filling methods. It would
seem, therefore, that America had something to learn from Soviet authoritar-
ianism after all.80
Ridzik and Danko begin to realise they are on the same side against a new
enemy – international narcotics smugglers – when Viktor escapes their
clutches. The Soviet authorities fail to inform the American police how
important a prisoner they are holding, for fear of airing their dirty laundry in
public. This ingrained secrecy leads to the gun-toting Cleanheads springing
Viktor from his casual handover to Danko, and to the killing of Ridzik’s own
partner, Gallagher (Richard Bright). To add insult to injury, in time-honoured
fashion, Soviet consul officials then berate the hospitalised Danko for failing
in his assignment and humiliating the Russian government. They order him to
return home for suitable punishment.
Taking a lesson from Ridzik’s rule-breaking book, Danko ignores these
orders and uses his own initiative. He and Ridzik travel to Stateville Prison to
speak to Abdul Elijah (Brent Jennings), head of the Elijah Brotherhood, who
controls the Cleanheads and a vast international drug-trafficking racket from
his cell. Danko hopes to win Elijah over by comparing the Soviet Union’s
struggle against American imperialism with that of the black Americans’
struggle for racial equality, but only exposes himself to ridicule by revealing
how ignorant he is of eighties radical black nationalism. When pressed as to
The empire strikes back 291

what political crime he committed, Elijah tells Danko, ‘I robbed a bank.’ Elijah
tells Danko he is fighting the race and class war by selling drugs to every white
man around the world, and as such he and the Brotherhood are ‘the only
Marxists around here’. The fact that Ridzik’s superior, Stobbs (Larry
Fishburne), is black tells us that race is no barrier to an individual’s progress
in contemporary America.
Danko and Ridzik begin to form the perfect renegade team as they delve
ever more deeply into Chicago’s underworld. The Russian breaks stool-
pigeons’ fingers and is incorruptible, while the warm-hearted American thinks
on his feet and knows Russians take their tea in a glass with sugar. The closer
they get to one another and to their target, the more they banter good-
naturedly about the quality of life in their respective societies. Ridzik intro-
duces Danko to America’s ‘four main food groups – hamburgers, French fries,
coffee, and doughnuts’; Danko ribs the American by boasting about the
greater firepower of Soviet-made police handguns. Ticked off by Danko’s crit-
icisms of Chicago’s depravity, Ridzik bites back, encapsulating the pair’s – and
the film’s – attitude towards politics and criminality:

Ridzik: Tell me somethin’, Captain. If you got such a fuckin’ paradise, how
come you’re up the same creek as we are with heroin and cocaine?
Danko: Chinese find way. Right after Revolution, they lined up all drug
dealers, all drug addicts, took them to public square and shot them in
back of head.
Ridzik: Never work here. Fuckin’ politicians wouldn’t go for it.
Danko: Shoot them first.

Like Red Dawn and Walker, Red Heat reaches a suitably spectacular and violent
climax. Viktor strangles his American wife, whom he only married for a green
card, to prevent her going to the authorities. When the drug deal finally goes
down, Viktor then double-crosses the Cleanheads by killing their point man
at an American Liberty Lines bus station, and making off with the merchan-
dise. Danko and Ridzik catch up with Viktor via a tip-off but cannot prevent
him commandeering a bus, which he drives off in. The cops give chase in a bus
of their own, and, after a game of chicken, force Viktor to crash into a speed-
ing train. Finally, Danko despatches Viktor in a Western-style gunslinger’s
At the very end, Ridzik and Danko bid a fond farewell at O’Hare Airport.
Danko tells Ridzik that Russians have started to play baseball, and the two
argue comically over who – America or the Soviet Union – would win an inter-
national World Series. Finally, they exchange watches as a symbol of East-
West friendship. Ridzik gives the Russian his $1,000 Swiss Rolex; Danko
presents the American with his $20 East German wind-up.
292 Hollywood’s Cold War

Time for a fresh start: bearing the scars of their joint war on drugs, Ridzik (James Belushi) and Danko
(Arnold Schwarzenegger) say goodbye at the end of Red Heat (1988). Carolco/The Kobal Collection.

Hollywood’s politico-financial ‘empire’ did indeed strike back during the final
decade of the Cold War. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, America’s film-
making culture had been increasingly dominated by directors. Together with
a wider scope for independent film production, this gave rise to greater cre-
ativity and political unorthodoxy on screen. In the 1980s, however, this culture
was supplanted by one dominated by business-minded executives, agents and
lawyers. With this came a new reliance on advertising and marketing, and new
exhibition patterns that were aimed at a quick profit rather than gradual
returns. In the early eighties, an average Hollywood film cost roughly $11
million to make and another $10 million to market; these sums inevitably mil-
itated against the production of risky material, political or otherwise. Like so
much of the US economy in the Reagan era, the film industry was also dereg-
ulated. In 1985, the 1948 Supreme Court anti-trust ruling was reversed, allow-
ing the major film companies to buy back into cinema chains, thus increasing
their control over which movies could be shown and where. All of this, plus
the shift to the political right caused partly by increased East-West tensions in
the early part of the decade, explains why so much of Hollywood’s output in
the 1980s spoke of reaction and conservative reassurance.81
The empire strikes back 293

The three main films analysed above all fit into this new financial and
political framework. Red Dawn on the one hand represented a return to
McCarthyite anti-communist agit-prop, minus the HUAC factor. On the other
hand, it reflected both the industry’s and the New Right’s appetite for vio-
lence – film executives saw stylised violence as a box office draw, whereas mil-
itary and political hawks like Alexander Haig and Ronald Reagan believed
warlike violence was part of a healthy society, if targeted at the enemy. The
fact that a movie as critical of US Cold War strategy as Alex Cox’s Walker got
made at all in the mid-1980s shows how far Hollywood had travelled politi-
cally since the McCarthy era. Yet Cox’s row with Universal also demonstrated
that, though many of the constraints of the classical studio era had long gone,
filmmakers were often still only as free as their distribution deal let them be.
This lack of autonomy alerts us to the difficulties filmmakers had in making
politically subversive statements even during the latter stages of the Cold War,
when many people had long passed the point of looking at the conflict in sim-
plistic terms and even when, as was the case with the Reagan administration’s
actions in Central America, Congressional and public opinion were bitterly
divided over an issue.
Walter Hill’s Red Heat combined ‘high-concept’, easily marketable film-
making with violence and a huge box office star (Schwarzenegger). Neither its
makers nor its viewers probably regarded Red Heat as a ‘political’ movie. But
it was so, of course, not least in the way in which it projected the political
establishment’s view of the dangers that the United States faced in the new,
post-Cold War world. By the late 1980s, many in Washington believed that
drugs had already replaced communism as terrorism’s twin evil, and Red Heat
pointed the way towards a joint US-Russian policing role to combat that dual
threat. In September 1989, the United States and Soviet Union held a confer-
ence on how the two nations could work together against terrorists.82 In the
same month, US Secretary of Defence Dick Cheney ordered his military com-
manders to devise new plans for a drug war. Three months later, in December
1989, US forces invaded Panama to overthrow President Manuel Noriega, on
the grounds that he engaged in international drug-smuggling. America’s new
enemies had started to fall.83
Hollywood’s last major contribution to the Cold War was John McTiernan’s
$30-million blockbuster The Hunt for Red October. Based on Tom Clancy’s 1984
best-selling novel, which Ronald Reagan publicly called ‘a perfect yarn’, the
movie was about a Soviet naval commander (played by the former James Bond,
Sean Connery) who defects with his country’s new, untraceable nuclear sub-
marine in order to avert a first strike on the United States and thereby hope-
fully establish the grounds for a post-Cold War alliance of Russian and
American peoples. The US Navy gave McTiernan full logistical support after
294 Hollywood’s Cold War

Steering a peaceful path ahead: sharing the helm of the Soviet nuclear super-sub, Captain Marko Ramius
(Sean Connery) and CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) defeat the communist old guard at the climax of
The Hunt for Red October (1990). Paramount/The Kobal Collection.

vetting the script, and Connery’s dialogue was partly written by John Milius.
Back in 1985, when the producers Mace Neufeld and Jerry Sherlock had
acquired the rights to Clancy’s book, Russia’s underwater fleet posed one of the
most critical threats to the United States. By the time The Hunt for Red October
hit the screens in March 1990, however, Moscow’s hold over Eastern Europe
had collapsed, and Mikhail Gorbachev had famously declared, in December
1989, that his country no longer considered the United States its enemy.
Despite being out of date, The Hunt for Red October was a huge commercial
success. Many Americans presumably watched the film with mixed emotions –
with an element of pride that the United States had ‘won’ the Cold War, tinged
with relief that, in the process, they could consign such East-West doomsday
nuclear scenarios to history once and for all.84

1 Cited in Philip John Davies and Paul Wells (eds), American Film and Politics from
Reagan to Bush Jr (Manchester, 2002), p. 8.
2 The partial exception to this is India, where there is a long history of matinee
idols entering politics. Some have served as state chief ministers. See Ram Avtar
Agnihotri, Film Stars in Indian Politics (New Delhi, 1998).
The empire strikes back 295

3 Ronald Reagan, An American Life (London, 1990), pp. 104–25; Gary Wills,
Reagan’s America (New York, 1987), pp. 246–58. Reagan served as Guild president
from 1947 to 1952 and returned for another year in 1959–60.
4 Frances Fitzgerald, Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the
Cold War (New York, 2000), p. 60; Wills, Reagan’s America, p. 300.
5 On Reagan’s relationship with and, some argue, mastery of the media during his
presidency see Mark Hertsgaard, On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency
(New York, 1988) and John Tebbel and Sarah Miles Watts, The Press and the
Presidency: From George Washington to Ronald Reagan (New York, 1985), pp. 531–53.
6 Nicholas J. Cull, ‘Public Diplomacy and the Private Sector: The United States
Information Agency, its Predecessors and the Private Sector’, in Laville and
Wilford (eds), Citizen Groups, p. 220. On Wick’s time at the USIA see Snyder,
Warriors. Reagan also slotted others friends from his Hollywood days into polit-
ical positions. Roy Brewer, for instance, a former head of the film trade union
IATSE, and a life-long anti-communist, was given a high posting in the US
Labour Department. May, Tomorrow, p. 212.
7 Rogin, Reagan, pp. 1–43 especially; James William Gibson, Warrior Dreams:
Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America (New York, 1994), pp. 267, 269;
Jeffords, Hard Bodies, pp. 3–5.
8 Fitzgerald, Way Out There, pp. 34–8.
9 Ibid., pp. 24, 37, 74; Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (New
York, 2000), pp. 289–90.
10 See, for instance, Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (New York,
1986); Chris Jordan, Movies and the Reagan Presidency: Success and Ethics (Westport,
CT, 2003); Belton, American Cinema/American Culture; Ryan and Kellner, Camera
11 Yablans’ efforts to save the company failed. By the end of the 1980s, MGM/UA
had been dismantled and its back lot sold. On this see Peter Bart, Fade Out: The
Calamitous Final Days of MGM (New York, 1990).
12 Variety, 21 September 1988.
13 ‘Ten Soldiers’, revised second draft script by Kevin Reynolds, 27 October 1982,
Collection 073, Box F-741, UCLA AL.
14 Bart, Fade Out, pp. 110–11; Variety, 16 June 1997, p. 34.
15 Marquee, June/July 1984, pp. 24–6.
16 American Film, March 1986, p. 48; Devine, Vietnam, pp. 219–21.
17 Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 10 February 1982 and 9 September 1984; Alexander
Haig, Inner Circles: How America Changed the World: A Memoir (New York, 1992),
p. 550.
18 ‘Red Dawn’ AKA ‘Ten Soldiers’, shooting script by Kevin Reynolds and John
Milius, 19 October 1983, Collection 073, Box F-24, UCLA AL; Bart, Fade Out,
pp. 111–13, 134; BAM, 7 September 1984, pp. 18–19. A still from the
McDonald’s scene – showing four Red Army soldiers posing with a Russian tank
under a Golden Arches sign – remained the most prominent advertisement for
Red Dawn in the press.
296 Hollywood’s Cold War

19 Bart, Fade Out, pp. 133–5, 138–9; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 2 April 1984; Red
Dawn Production notes and Press book, AMPAS; Los Angeles Weekly, 17–23
August 1984, p. 37; Red Dawn budget file, Box 6, Buzz Feitshans Collection,
20 This is partly due to the frequency with which Reagan quoted lines from the
movie. See, for instance, his speech on tax reform at the Santa-Cali-Gon Days
Celebration in Independence, Missouri, in September 1985, at www.reagan. (27 March 2006). Rambo: First
Blood Part 2 made $200 million in the United States alone. On the movie’s cultural
and political impact see Palmer, Eighties, pp. 62–3, 96–9. In early 1986, the New
York Times reported that Rambo video-cassettes were much sought after even on
the Russian black market. In that year, as part of a government-ordered Five Year
Plan of anti-American movies, Soviet film-goers got to see actor Mikhail
Nozhkin play their industry’s equivalent of John Rambo, making short work of
American military terrorists in Mikhail Tumanishvili’s Solo Voyage. See Val
Golovskoy, ‘Art and Propaganda in the Soviet Union 1980–5’, in Anna Lawton
(ed.), The Red Screen: Politics, Society and Art in Soviet Cinema (London, 1992),
pp. 264–74.
21 Green’s ‘invasion’ – which starts with a Soviet nuclear attack on Alaska – is not
as ‘real’ as that depicted in Red Dawn. It turns out to be the result of a hypnotist’s
trick, played on the patrons in a New York bar as a warning against complacency
in the face of the communist threat. Hollywood Reporter, 3 December 1952, p. 3,
and New York Times, 30 April 1953, p. 39.
22 Fitzgerald, Way Out There, pp. 37, 73.
23 Gibson, Warrior Dreams, pp. 270–4.
24 Jeffords, Hard Bodies, p. 12.
25 According to calculations conducted by a group calling itself the National
Coalition on Television Violence, an act of violence occurred in Red Dawn at an
average rate of 134 per hour or 2.23 per minute. This earned the film an entry in
the Guinness Book of World Records for the most acts of violence in a single film up
to that time. New York Times, 16 September 1984, H19, 24.
26 On the strong propaganda component of Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ programme see
Fitzgerald, Way Out There. On Hollywood’s nuclear films of the 1980s, including
Testament and The Day After, see Chapter 5, note 73, and Palmer, Eighties,
pp. 179–205.
27 For a contemporary analysis of the revenge theme see Vincent Canby, New York
Times, 8 December 1985, H21–2.
28 Cannon, President Reagan, p. 11; Marquee, June/July 1984, pp. 25–6.
29 Bart, Fade Out, p. 227–8; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 9 September 1984.
30 David Denby in New York, 20 August 1984, p. 90; Janet Maslin in New York Times,
19 August 1984, H15.
31 Wall Street Journal, 14 November 1984, p. 35; New York Times, 10 November 1984,
pp. 48, 79.
32 Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 15 August and 9 September 1984.
The empire strikes back 297

33 Andrew Britton, ‘Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment’, Movie,

Vol. 31/32, Winter 1986, p. 17; Los Angeles Times, 21 September 1984; Soldier of
Fortune, Vol. 9, No. 9, September 1984, pp. 28–31; Gibson, Warrior Dreams,
pp. 161–2.
34 Variety, 2 and 9 January 1985; New York Times, 4 January 1986, p. 3.
35 Variety, 26 June 1985. In Rocky IV, ageing US boxer Rocky Balboa (played by
Stallone) travels to Moscow, where he defeats a computer-programmed Russian,
Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). On the movie’s iconographic representation of
the man versus machine cliché of American-Soviet relations see Palmer, Eighties,
pp. 218–22.
36 Variety, 16 June 1997, p. 34; Los Angeles Times, 16 December 2003.
37 In June 1986, the OPD congratulated itself on having ‘played a key role in
setting out the parameters and defining the terms of the public discussion on
Central America policy’. Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne (eds), The Iran-
Contra Scandal: The Declassified History (New York, 1993), pp. 2–8. See also David
Thelen, Becoming Citizens in the Age of Television: How Americans Challenged the
Media and Seized Political Initiative during the Iran-Contra Affair, 1985–1990
(Chicago, IL, 1996).
38 Steven Paul Davies, Alex Cox: Film Anarchist (London, 2000), pp. 15–16, 22,
32–45, 61, 79.
39 Walker Production notes, pp. 4–5, AMPAS; New York Times, 4 December 1987,
C10; Mother Jones, December 1987, pp. 31, 38. On William Walker see E. Bradford
Burns, Patriarch and Folk: The Emergence of Nicaragua, 1798–1858 (Cambridge, MA,
1991), pp. 160–210.
40 Palmer, Eighties, pp. 134–48. On the difficulties Wexler had in shooting Latino in
war-torn Nicaragua and in finding a distributor for his movie see ‘Latino:
Cinecom International Press Kit’, AMPAS, and LA Weekly, 21 June 1985.
41 Davies, Cox, p. 95; Mother Jones, December 1987, p. 41.
42 Walker Press book, p. 4, and Production notes, p. 5, AMPAS; Rudy Wurlitzer,
Walker (New York, 1987), pp. 20–1.
43 Walker Production notes, p. 5, AMPAS; Box 2, Folder 4, Alex Cox Papers,
Collection 174, UCLA AL; Wurlitzer, Walker, p. 63ff.
44 Walker Production notes, p. 5, AMPAS; Box 2, Folder 4, Cox Papers, UCLA AL;
Davies, Cox, p. 100.
45 Los Angeles Times, 19 April 1987, pp. 16–23; Interview, December 1987, p. 154; New
York Times, 22 March 1987, pp. 19, 37; Village Voice, 7 July 1987.
46 Walker Press book, pp. 6, 29, AMPAS.
47 Los Angeles Times, 19 April 1987, pp. 16–23; City Limits, 23–30 March 1989, p. 13;
New York Times, 22 March 1987, pp. 19, 37; Wurlitzer, Walker, p. 12.
48 Walker Shooting schedule, Box 5, Folder 1, Cox Papers, UCLA AL; Wurlitzer,
Walker, p. 14; Los Angeles Times, 19 April 1987, pp. 16–23; Walker Production
notes, p. 13, AMPAS; New Musical Express, 5 September 1987, p. 22.
49 Robin Denselow, When the Music’s Over: The Story of Political Pop (London, 1988),
pp. 181–6; Davies, Cox, p. 74.
298 Hollywood’s Cold War

50 Walker script, dated 29 October 1986, Box 2, Folder 5, Cox Papers, UCLA AL;
Wurlitzer, Walker, p. 25.
51 Walker scripts, dated 29 October 1986 and 7 January 1987, Box 2, Folder 5, Cox
Papers, UCLA AL; Cox’s interview with Cork City-based filmmaker Chris Neill,
October 2002, (5
September 2004). For a more detailed analysis of Walker’s unusual take on the his-
torical film genre see Robert A. Rosenstone, ‘Walker: The Dramatic Film as
(Postmodern) History’, and Sumiko Higashi, ‘Walker and Mississippi Burning:
Postmodernism versus Illusionist Narrative’, in Robert A. Rosenstone (ed.),
Revisioning History: Film and the Construction of a New Past (Princeton, NJ, 1995),
pp. 188–213.
52 Sight and Sound, Vol. 56, No. 4, Autumn 1987, pp. 250–1; Walker script, undated
but between 29 October 1986 and 7 January 1987, Box 2, Folder 6, Cox Papers,
UCLA AL. The directors of The Terminator (1984) and Commando (1985) were
James Cameron and Mark L. Lester respectively.
53 Wurlitzer, Walker, p. i.
54 Rob Moore to Alex Cox, 11 March 1987, Box 2, Folder 4; Walker script, dated 29
October 1986, Box 2, Folder 5: Cox Papers, UCLA AL.
55 Kornbluh and Byrne, The Iran-Contra Scandal, pp. xv, xx, 408.
56 Los Angeles Times, 19 April 1987, pp. 16–23; Los Angeles Weekly, 15–21 January,
1988, p. 41; Cineaste, Vol. 16, No. 3, 1988, pp. 12–16, 52–3.
57 Newsweek, 20 April 1987, p. 44. In 1989, Oliver North was sentenced to a three-
year suspended prison term, having been found guilty of three charges in rela-
tion to his activities while at the National Security Council. A year later, his
convictions were overturned on the grounds that his Congressional testimony
prejudiced his right to a fair trial. During the Iran-Contra Affair, Elliott Abrams
was indicted for giving false testimony about his role in the illicit money-raising
schemes by the special prosecutor handling the case, but he pleaded guilty to two
lesser offences of withholding information from Congress in order to avoid a trial
and a possible jail term. President George Bush pardoned Abrams along with a
number of other Iran-Contra defendants shortly before leaving office in 1992.
Lawrence E. Walsh, Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up (New York,
1998), pp. 158–9, 490–510.
58 Los Angeles Times, 19 April 1987, pp. 16–23; City Limits, 23–30 March 1989,
pp. 13–14; Davies, Cox, p. 100.
59 Los Angeles Weekly listings, 10–24 December 1987 – Walker advertisement
4 December 1987, p. 82; Village Voice listings, 10–13 December 1987; City Limits,
23–30 March 1989, pp. 13–14.
60 Wurlitzer, Walker, pp. 24–5; Guardian, 30 March 1989, p. 27; Davies, Cox,
p. 101.
61 Variety’s Film Reviews, Vol. 20, 1987–8 (New York, 1991), 2 December 1987;
BoxOffice, February 1988.
62 Village Voice, cited in Wurlitzer, Walker, p. ii; Commonweal, 29 January 1988; Los
Angeles Herald-Examiner, 4 December 1987, p. 11; Davies, Cox, p. 100.
The empire strikes back 299

63 Los Angeles Times, 5 March 1988, VI, 8; Davies, Cox, p. 104;
title/tt0096409/business (25 March 2006).
64 Los Angeles Times, 10 February 1988; Palmer, Eighties, p. 209.
65 Palmer, Eighties, p. 21; Reagan’s toast, 30 May 1988, in Public Papers of the
Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1988: Book 1: Jan. 1–July 1, 1988
(Washington, DC, 1988), p. 680. Ironically, and probably unbeknownst to
Reagan, the screenplay of Friendly Persuasion was credited to a communist writer,
Michael Stevens. See Joseph Dmohowski, ‘The Friendly Persuasion (1956)
Screenplay Controversy: Michael Wilson, Jessamyn West, and the Hollywood
Blacklist’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2002,
pp. 491–514.
66 Films and Filming, February 1984, p. 36.
67 Hollywood Reporter, 28 March 1984, p. 419.
68 S. J. Ball, The Cold War: An International History, 1947–1991 (London, 1998),
pp. 221–6.
69 Variety, 4 November 1987, p. 11; Hollywood Reporter, 25 May 1982, p. 3; Motion
Picture Herald, 25 May 1966, p. 525.
70 BoxOffice, September 1988; (27 March
71 Katz, Encyclopedia, p. 631; Bart, Fade Out, p. 110.
72 Los Angeles Times, 25 October 1987; Adrian Wright, Arnold Schwarzenegger: A Life
in Film (London, 1994), p. 103.
73 Katz, Encyclopedia, p. 756; Variety, 29 April 1987, p. 16.
74 Movie, January 1989, pp. 34–45.
75 See, for instance, first draft shooting script of Red Heat, undated, by Troy
Kennedy Martin and Walter Hill, Collection 073, Box 741, UCLA AL.
76 US, 17 June 1988; Red Heat Production notes, AMPAS; Laurence Leamer,
Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger (New York, 2005). Schwarzenegger
followed in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps when he was elected Governor of
California in 2003.
77 Red Heat Production Notes, AMPAS; Variety, 17 February 1988; Los Angeles
Herald-Examiner, 10 February 1988.
78 ‘Making of Red Heat’, Red Heat DVD (2001), Momentum Pictures MP024D.
79 Variety, 17 February 1988; Wright, Schwarzenegger, p. 104.
80 Lone citizen-warriors battling against petty functionaries to defeat foreign
robber terrorists or drug-smugglers were a staple theme in mid-to-late
eighties Hollywood movies like Lethal Weapon (1987) and Die Hard (1988).
On this see Jeffords, Hard Bodies, pp. 58–63, and Palmer, Eighties, pp. 110–11,
81 Lev, American Films of the 70s, pp. 181–5; Jeffords, Hard Bodies, p. 16; Thomas
Schatz, ‘The Hollywood Studio System’, in Crowdus (ed.), Companion,
pp. 199–204.
82 Los Angeles Times, 29 September 1989.
83 Gibson, Warrior Dreams, pp. 288–91.
300 Hollywood’s Cold War

84 Lee Pfeiffer and Philip Lisa, The Films of Sean Connery (New York, 1993),
pp. 238–41; Suid, Guts and Glory, pp. 570–9. Another Cold War drama, John
Frankenheimer’s The Fourth War, was also made in 1989 and appeared two weeks
after The Hunt for Red October. This was about two aged, hawkish commanders
(one American, the other Russian) who carry out their own private and outdated
war against each other on the German-Czechoslovakia border. It hardly made a
dent at the box office. Variety, 14 March 1990, p. 21.

I won’t be so bold as to say that American movies are responsible for the
popular uprising in China. But I am willing to bet that for more than a few
Chinese citizens our films served as an inspiration to strike for something
Richard Frank, President of Walt Disney Studios, to the US Congress,
July 19891
Female Soviet apparatchiks spellbound by Parisian lingerie. Emotionally
deranged subversives betraying their wholesome American families for the
communist cause. Giant alien robots espousing nuclear disarmament.
Revamped Old Testament stories of freedom versus dictatorship. Brave black
Americans campaigning for racial progress. GIs forced to play Russian
roulette for the entertainment of their Viet Cong captors. Globe-trotting
Western spies slaying KGB assassins with a hi-tech gizmo in one hand and a
curvaceous blonde in another. Kafkaesque CIA agents murdering their col-
leagues for oil. Muscle-bound Russian cops beating America’s new drug-
dealing enemies to a pulp.
Hollywood made hay with the Cold War, plundering the conflict for profit
and propaganda from beginning to end. Cold War themes appeared in a mul-
titude of genres including musicals, Westerns, biblical epics, romantic come-
dies, science-fiction fantasies, documentaries, detective thrillers and absurdist
biopics. The result was thousands of images – some bland, some compelling
– that helped millions of people worldwide to grasp the ‘real’ meaning of a
conflict that for most of them was peculiarly abstract and, for many
Americans especially, was fought solely on an imaginary level.
In Cold War Russia, as befitted Lenin’s famous post-revolutionary asser-
tion that cinema was the most important of all the arts, film propaganda was
controlled almost entirely from the centre. Film studios were nationalised,
cultural commissars scrutinised the content of movies, and a plethora of
state organisations regulated celluloid imports and exports. The ‘cultural
thaws’ ushered in by Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s and Mikhail
Gorbachev in the 1980s did allow Russian filmmakers a modicum of artistic
freedom. But the need to adhere to the grand master narrative of socialism
302 Hollywood’s Cold War

meant that formal ideology – Marxist-Leninist and often Social Realist –

stubbornly retained its official primacy throughout the duration of the East-
West stand-off.2
By contrast, in Cold War America, official controls over the mass media
were weaker than those not only in the Eastern bloc, but in many parts of the
Western world too. In Britain, for instance, the government appointed the
BBC’s Board of Governors and had the authority to revoke the corporation’s
licence. In France, the state consistently subsidised film production and
restricted imports, partly to counter what it saw as the cultural menace of
Hollywood.3 On the whole, the American mass media supported its govern-
ment’s anti-communist stance during the Cold War chiefly because their
owners and employees shared Washington’s ideological worldview.4 Unlike in
the Soviet Union, therefore, the state had no need to dictate the propaganda
‘line’, say to journalists in New York or to filmmakers in Los Angeles.
American Cold War film propaganda was not simply the expression of official
ideology but involved a range of different ideologies, discourses and institu-
tions, all of which had some influence on the representation of the United
States at war. Accordingly, the Hollywood-state relationship was far more con-
sensual than that between filmmakers and government in the communist
world and, in creative terms, far more of a two-way street. It was in this sense
a real ‘network’, one in which the partners could both feel they had a genuine
stake and room for manoeuvre.
The network’s informality and fluidity meant that, though American films
by and large followed the contours of the Cold War set by the politicians,
Hollywood’s treatment of the Cold War was far less homogeneous than that
of the straitjacketed Eastern bloc film industries. Hollywood’s coverage as a
whole can be divided into four phases. Between 1917 and 1945, with the
exception of a few pro-Russian movies made during the Second World War,
American films cast the Soviet Union as an international pariah and commu-
nism as anathema to American notions of individuality, freedom of choice,
material abundance, cultural vibrancy and political moderation. From this
firm base, Hollywood then declared full-scale war on international commu-
nism from the late 1940s through to the early 1960s. During this second phase,
scores of movies equated left-wing movements with fifth-columnism, pre-
sented the Soviet Union and China as a clear and present danger to US inter-
ests, and impressed on the world the stark choice between freedom and
With an aggressively anti-Soviet, anti-communist consensus having been
established (cinematically and nationally), the East-West conflict then took on
more of an institutionalised appearance. Most American movies of the 1960s
and 1970s still exhibited an intense dislike of Soviet authoritarianism, but
Conclusion 303

other productions registered a growing unease with the spiralling arms race
and with the Big-Brother-like activities of America’s own security agencies.
Finally, this third phase gave way to the schizophrenic, self-reflexive coverage
of the 1980s. During this decade, some filmmakers harked back to the black-
and-white Cold War certainties of the 1950s, while others traded blows over
the New Right’s war on ‘commu-terrorists’ or looked forwards to an end to
East-West hostilities.
If Hollywood was no mere functionary of government during the Cold
War, neither was it as independent as the film industry or the government
would have people believe. Considerable political influence was exerted on the
industry’s Cold War output. In some instances, state propaganda bodies
merely assisted or trimmed movies, often in association with politically
conservative, self-regulating film organisations like the Production Code
Administration. On other occasions, agencies such as the FBI, CIA and USIA
financed, produced and marketed films. Conversely, at other times the state
simply hitched a ride on entirely privately made films, like Ninotchka. As a con-
sequence of all this, American films both reflected and projected official Cold
War ideology, consciously and unconsciously. From the early 1960s onwards,
responding to structural changes within the film industry and political changes
outside, American filmmakers felt more able to defy aspects of that ideology.
However, because the highly capitalised nature of the industry continued to
militate against the production and wide-scale distribution of politically
radical movies, especially those that espoused left-wing or communist views,
these dissenting films largely questioned the means rather than the ends of US
foreign policy.
If the state had a hand in determining how the film industry and the
American people approached the Cold War, it seems highly likely that, in turn,
Hollywood output helped to shape US policy-makers’ own views on the con-
flict. In the 1950s, George Kennan, architect of the US government’s ‘con-
tainment’ strategy, accused the Eisenhower administration of modelling its
xenophobic Cold War ‘frontier mentality’ partly on celluloid Westerns of that
era.5 Twenty years later, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger happily com-
pared himself to John Wayne, implying that the latter’s tough-guy screen
persona had influenced his approach towards negotiations with the commu-
nist world. Several Cold War American presidents were self-confessed film
buffs who had been raised on a strict Hollywood diet and who, when they were
in office, loved to ‘take time out’ by watching old movies or the latest releases.
Richard Nixon, for instance, had well over 500 films screened at the White
House, Camp David, and his various vacation homes during his presidency.6
During the 1980s, Ronald Reagan gave many the strong impression he viewed
the Cold War through a camera lens, but he was surely not the only senior
304 Hollywood’s Cold War

American politician who instinctively fused cinematic images of past and

present conflicts with real life. Memory is important in decision-making and,
as in previous conflicts, American foreign policy-makers consistently made
use of the lessons of the past during the Cold War. But what constitutes indi-
vidual memory in a media-saturated society, especially one in which politicians
overlook ‘public opinion’ at their peril?7
In general, the harmonious relationship between Hollywood and the US
government during the Cold War – one based at root on the need to protect
capitalism – helped provide a platform for consistently high-quality propa-
ganda. Liberal American critics often complained about Hollywood’s crudely
painted pictures of communist evil. Similarly, many overseas critics were
offended by the assumption made in American film