Following the end of World War 2, communism took over Nazi Germany as the world’s greatest threat. In American, due mianly to many politicians stoking the flames, communism was seen as a real internal problem, not just an external one.
Joseph McCarthy initiated witch hunts – especially in the film community - in order to root out the communist threat that had supposedly embedded themselves in American society. Politicians knew that Hollywood had a large grip on the American consciousness and so that was the first place they turned in order to sway the mind of the country back to traditional American values.
Anti-Communist Films in the 50s
Some films were blatant propaganda films. Works like Walk East on Beacon! (1952), which J. Edgar Hoover was given a writing credit for, and Big Jim McClain (1952) blared their anti-communist sentiments. In Big Jim McClain John Wayne laments that the Bill of Rights is being corrupted by Stalinist Americans whose eventual goal is to destroy it; but he nevertheless realizes that he has to expose them by following the Constitution.
While most Americans don’t remember these films and have thankfully faded from memory, there are many anti-Communist movies that still stand the test of time.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s very profitable North by Northwest (1959), for example, the main character is mistaken for a spy and falls into an unknown world of deceit and deception, in a film that is thought of a predecessor to the James Bond films to come.
Another Cold War film, released in 1953, arguably the height of McCarthyism, was profitable and complex. Pickup on South Street (1953) didn’t portray Communists as neurotic dolts, but as wealthy and cultured Americans.
Hollywood’s adoption of the anti-communist rhetoric was not wholly due to pressure from Washington. Many of the decision makers in the industry saw the adoption as a necessity in order for Hollywood to survive. Following the Blacklist, anti-communist themes began to appear in films across a multitude of genres. The films varied in the prevalence of their anti-communist rhetoric.
Many different genres incorporated anti-communism into their films. The growing genre of science fiction made the public leery of science experiments. Westerns warn viewers of an encroaching threat that must be stopped. The enormous religious epics, from men like Demille, tapped into the religious aspect of the ideological difference between America and the U.S.S.R.
Science Fiction was a growing genre in the 1950s and was wholly affected by anti-communism. The sci-fi movies being produced in the late 1940s and 1950s were generally B grade films that could be churned out because of low budget costs.
Anti-Communism in Science Fiction
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is a prime example of science fiction making commentary on ideology. It tells the story of a small town doctor who begins to see paranoia running high in his town due to the people of the town being replaced by imposters. Just in the opening scenes one can easily see the similarities to the Red Scare, with paranoia running high and people concerned that their family or friends are communists.
Anti-Communism in Westerns
Westerns became a great voice for Hollywood’s anti-Communist sentiments directed at the public. John Ford was one of the most highly regarded western film directors who included his anti-communist views in his work. Ford was a very accomplished director winning seven out of twelve Academy Awards. His name was often associated with the greatest movie cowboy of all time:
John Wayne. Wayne, who was brought in by the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee during their investigation of Hollywood and was the co-founder of the Anti-Communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, was a cold warrior who did his part by starring in these westerns pregnant with anti-communism.
More anti-communist westerns would arise in the late 1950s and early 1960s including The Magnificent Seven (1960) and John Wayne’s directing debut, The Alamo (1960). These movies celebrated good-old American values.
Over time, as the Cold War cooled down, films became less subtle about their anti-communist sentiments, especially with the rise of action movies in the 1970s and 1980s. Movies like Firefox and Red Dawn pit America directly against the Soviets in more non-traditional settings unlike the direct propaganda movies of the 1940s and 1950s. This history of anti-communism could possibly be blamed for all of the Russian villains in modern cinema. Even today with films like Red Sparrow, Russians are often the fall-back for bad guys.
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