Tuesday, November 16, 2004

By the end of the Second World War, after the victorious defeat of European fascism, America had a new enemy on the horizon: communism. This time, however, the menace was not contained on some far off land but was already thought to be taking root on American soil as communists were hunted out left and right across the United States. Events came to a head between 1947 and 1950, when The Hollywood Ten were questioned by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) and subsequently blacklisted, imprisoned and/or banished from Hollywood for supposed ties with the Communist Party.

The film studios, anxious to distance themselves from such 'un-American' activities, reacted to the HUAC hearings by producing a succession of films alerting the American people to the danger of the spreading 'red plague'. The themes of these films ranged from the threat of espionage, as in Walk East on Beacon (1952), to the heroism of informing against communist friends and family members , as in I Married a Communist (1949), with the telling tagline: "I can't love a man who is worse than a gangster!" , and often had undertones of anti-intellectualism.

With the expansion of the Soviet Union during the mid-50's, however, Hollywood films shifted their focus from communist conspiracy at home to the spread of communism abroad. This transition was made manifest through both the war film and the science fiction film. The war films, ranging from those set during the Korean war such as The Steel Helmet (1951) to those simply showing off American military technologies, like Bombers B-52 (1957), promoted military strength and preparedness and were often made with direct help from the Pentagon. Another role of the war film was to present the 'switch' in enemies as naturally as possible: America's recent enemy, Germany, was now to be seen as an ally against the new Soviet enemy, who until a few years ago, was our ally against those same Germans.

The science-fiction genre, on the other hand, was more subtle and used alien invasion as a metaphor for communist take-over. Films like The Thing From Another World (1951) or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) presented scary monsters, often mutated due to nuclear mishaps, who would destroy life as we know it were it not for the brave and trustworthy souls of the military and FBI who come to the rescue.

With the polarity of opinion growing over American presence in Vietnam during the 60's and 70's, there was a strong sense in Hollywood that war films were generally bad for business, as we will see in the separate section on the Vietnam War.

By the 1980's, however, a certain nostalgia for previous war eras as well as the perceived need to renew faith in the military after the many disasters in Vietnam prompted a resurgence of cold war films such as Red Dawn (1984) in which Americans are preparing for WWIII against the Soviets.

The Iron Curtain (1948)
Starring: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney
Director: William A. Wellman

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)
Starring: John Wayne
Director: Allan Dwan

My Son John (1952)
Starring: Helen Hayes, Van Heflin
Director: Leo McCarey