The film industry responds to
the Cold War, 1945-1955

Monsters, spys, and subversives

by Lawrence L. Murray

from Jump Cut, no. 9, 1975, pp. 14-16
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1975, 2004

The phrase, Hollywood and the cold war, is likely to conjure a variety of diverse images and concepts in the mind of any student of the film industry. A survey of the literature, however, indicates that one response tends to dominate, the investigations in 1947 and 1951 by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the resulting blacklist of writers, directors, and other studio personnel accused of having communist sympathies.(1) Several participant victims and others less involved but equally antagonistic to the witch hunts of the committee have recounted the story in detail. They speak of the parade of friendly witnesses who were quick to point accusing fingers at the famous and not so famous. They remember the antics of the “Hollywood Ten” and others who sought to evade the maced hand of a committee bent on muckraking. And they recall the industry’s self-righteousness in its promulgation of the “Waldorf Statement,” which promised to deny employment to anyone suspected of less than orthodox, one-hundred percent Americanism. Intense focus has been on the blacklist, uniformly condemned, and the struggle of those blacklisted to regain their positions and to rehabilitate their reputations.

I want to approach the theme of Hollywood and the cold war from a perspective noted in the literature and then dismissed. Setting the HUAC committee and the blacklist aside, let us see how the products of the film industry, movies, reflected cold war dynamics and vicissitudes. In a sense, I want to examine not what the film industry said but what it did. In the process, I will look at more than just science fiction films, the most commonly cited illustration of the cold war’s impact on Hollywood productions. Cold war era films are historical documents which can inform us about how Hollywood responded to external pressures and how movies reflected the social milieu in which they were produced.

The element of external pressure is particularly crucial when appraising cold war era films. The cold war was several years old before Hollywood began to acknowledge it in the content of its productions.(2) Because movies are not made in a social vacuum, they were bound eventually to reflect and to re-enforce the garrison state mentality which pervaded most people’s minds here. That timetable, grounded in Hollywood’s predilection to supply the public with films in which the viewing audience’s needs, desires, and interests -- dreams -- are accommodated, was accelerated by extrinsic factors, specifically the 1947 HUAC investigation.

The film industry has traditionally been very responsive to any threat from external forces, especially if the force is government and the threat is some sort of censorship. To stymie interference in the manufacture and sale of its product as well as to protect freedom of choice as to what it shall make, Hollywood’s stock response has been to assume a posture of voluntary self-censorship before something less palatable is imposed from the outside. For example, one cannot appreciate the 1934 formation of the Production Code Administration without considering the establishment of the Legion of Decency and hearings by the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce concerning the need for a federal censoring board. Lawrence Kardish has drawn a comparison between the P.C.A.’s voluntary self-censorship in the 1930s and the institution of the blacklist in the 1940s, viewing both as successful efforts to stifle official intervention in the affairs of the industry.(3) As a business, the film industry has been more successful than most in staving off government regulations by promising to police itself without the imposition of formal strictures, to promise delivery of what the public and its spokesmen in government demand.

I would argue that the phenomenon of voluntary self-censorship illustrated by the blacklist also manifested itself in other ways during the decade from 1945 to 1955. Selection of subject matter and shaping of content are also varieties of self-censorship, and that was never more true than during the height of the cold war.

In the course of the HUAC hearings in late 1947, several Hollywood moguls, notably Jack Warner and Louis B. Mayer, endeavored to apologize for, defend, and excuse the Wartime production of several blatant pro-Russian films. The changing circumstances of the postwar world caused such films as Warner’s MISSION TO MOSCOW (1943) and MGM’s SONG OF RUSSIA (1944) to be interpreted as both pro-Russian and pro-communist, though discussion of communist ideology was studiously avoided.(4) What Warner and Mayer contended was done in a spate of patriotism to inform the United States about its Soviet ally was now being looked upon as part of an insidious plot to undermine the country by infiltrating the public mind with nefarious communist ideas. Warner was questioned closely by a young freshman congressman from nearby Whittier, Richard M. Nixon, a man destined for fame and high office because of his ability to ferret out subversives. In the course of his questioning, Nixon asked Warner what anticommunist films Hollywood had produced. The industry titan lamely answered none as yet, but that his company had one in production, TO THE VICTOR (1948).

Representative Nixon’s query was not lost on the film industry. The logical implication of the question was that if the industry wished to prevent further interferences in the form of more investigations and damaging publicity, then it had better do more than blacklist suspect employees. To prove its patriotism as it had during the war, Hollywood would be well advised to generate a product which was acceptable to the powers that be in Washington. Congressman Nixon’s implied suggestion was soon followed as the major and minor studios began grinding out all types of anti-communist films.

There was also the possibility that producing anticommunist films might well be good business for reasons other than holding the committee at arms length. Assuming the committee reflected widely held attitudes, anticommunist films might attract a substantial number of viewers. And attracting viewers, always a great concern, was never more important than it was in 1947. The previous year had been the zenith of the industry, as gross revenues topped $1.7 billion with a record of 4,127,000,000 admissions. However, the security and self-satisfaction generated by such figures soon evaporated. 1947 was the year in which television began to challenge the industry, and attendance figures, as well as profits, started downward. Something had to be done to entice the prodigal movie fans out of their living rooms and back into theaters.

The film industry also suffered from other maladies in 1947 beside television, making the HUAC Committee’s intrusion that much more threatening. The “Paramount decision,” languishing in the courts since 1938, was handed down in late 1946. Though appeals would not be exhausted until 1950, the decision put the industry on the defensive. The courts directed distributors and producer/distributors to divest themselves of have their theater ownership, a severe financial loss, and to cease some policies such as establishing admission prices and block booking. The first successful intervention by the government into the affairs of the industry, perhaps a precedent, the Paramount decision might well have meant eventual economic disaster.(5)

1947 also witnessed a continuation of labor difficulties begun in mid-1945. A jurisdictional dispute between the Conference of Studio Unions and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees erupted in periodic strikes which caused delays in filming. Runaway production costs occurred. For example, ‘A’ pictures were budgeted at a minimum of $1 million, as average shooting time doubled to ninety days, and wages increased after the wartime moratorium. Escalating costs frightened studio heads and independent producers alike, who were no longer convinced that the star system would assure financial success. A new policy of employing stars on a per-film basis with a salary based upon a percentage of anticipated profits replaced the old system of long-term contracts at stipulated salaries. Problems with foreign markets, variously estimated as providing between one-fifth and one-third of total industry revenues, were also disturbing. In spite of herculean efforts by the Motion Picture Export Association of America and the State Department, every European country instituted some form of a quota system on imported films, increased taxes, and froze distributor assets. The most damaging of these was the British imposition in August, 1947, of a 75% customs duty on the value of each imported film. A seven-month MPEA-sponsored boycott eventually forced a compromise solution but at the cost of several million dollars in lost revenues. The film industry would ultimately remedy its difficulties in foreign markets on terms generally advantageous to Hollywood. But in 1947 it appeared that the protectionist attitude of the Europeans could mean a serious diminution in revenues.(6)

The combination of the challenge of television, the consequences of the Paramount decision, labor difficulties, increasing production costs and the erosion of the star system, plus problems with foreign markets placed the industry in the most hazardous financial position in its history. Hollywood believed that it was imperative that it satisfy its government critics and their sympathizers so it could turn its full efforts toward the vital issue of economic survival.

Movies which expressed the film industry’s recognition of and response to the cold war came in a variety of forms and guises, which can be grouped together under four general headings. Common to all the films regardless of category was intense chauvinism coupled with strident anti-communism, factors which a content analysis of various productions will show.

The first and foremost category includes films which are blatantly anticommunist productions, movies clearly showing all concerned Hollywood’s contempt for that foreign ideology. They could be described as educational/propaganda movies, films of persuasion which informed the public about the goals and techniques of an international conspiracy, directed from Moscow, which intended to undermine the American way of life. Obvious morality plays with the forces of good and evil locked in mortal combat. The messages were simple, straightforward, and readily comprehensible to even the densest viewer.

These films are important to the historian largely because of their educational/propaganda function. They put into visual form what heretofore had only been described verbally. And as they reflected the milieu in which they were made, they also aided in sustaining much of that milieu. Hollywood cannot be blamed for starting the cold war, but it does deserve a share of the credit for its perpetuation. Films included in the first category are: THE IRON CURTAIN (1948), THE RED MENACE (1949), I MARRIED A COMMUNIST (1949), THE CONSPIRATOR (1950), I WAS COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI (1951) WALK EAST ON BEACON (1952), MY SON JOHN (1952), and BIG JIM McCLAIN (1952). The last three will be examined later in the content analysis.

The second category of films reflecting the cold war’s impact on Hollywood are the “hot” war films. These productions show the United States’ battling with an assortment of overt enemies who threaten our national security. This theme reenforces and intensifies the messages of the first group’s morality plays and covert enemies. These hot war films go through three phases, with the enemy changing in each phase. The first phase, beginning in 1948 after nearly a three-year moratorium on war films, includes such productions as COMMAND DECISION (1948), BATTLEGROUND (1949), THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1950), and THE HALLS OF MONTEZUMA (1950). In these our WW2 enemies are resurrected. Accustomed to nationalistic propaganda films during the war, the public readily grasped the new presentation of the heroic U.S. military’s combating enemies who, like the current enemy, were best known for their stealth and deviousness. Phase 2 came in 1951 with the ascendance of Korean War films such as STEEL HELMET (1951), BATTLEZONE (1952), and ONE MINUTE TO ZERO (1952).(7) Because Korea lacked the popularity of World War II, not nearly as many films were produced, and most were “B” grade. However, the enemy now was militant communism, and the viewer did not have to rely on leftover symbolic enemies. On the contrary, our one-time enemies were now our allies, and Hollywood began casting them in a more favorable light: witness the laudatory treatment of Rommel in DESERT FOX (1951) and the resulting outcry by some who objected to the new approach. Phase 3, Russia and China as the hot war enemies, never fully materialized in film, for it had not in real life. The potential did exist, however, and that potential is suggested in HELL AND HIGH WATER (1954).

A sub-grouping of films within the larger category of hot war productions is also relevant. These are the pro-military movies in which Russia is the unspoken enemy for whom we must be prepared. The best preparation, or so the public was informed by the Eisenhower administration, was airpower, and Hollywood bolstered that argument. THE McCONNELL STORY, STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND, and THE COURT MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL, all appearing in 1955, as well as BOMBERS B-52 (1957), JET PILOT. (1957), and THUNDERING JETS (1958) exemplify this group. These films stressed the United States’ need for a strong air force against an enemy which at any time might shift its attack from subversion and infiltration to direct conquest. Like the hot war movies, these paeans to air power were made in cooperation with the Pentagon, thus assuring Hollywood that it would have at least one friend, and a powerful friend at that, in Washington. What better way could Hollywood trumpet its patriotism than by paying homage to the military?

A third category, somewhat more subtle and symbolic but still reflecting a trenchant cold war mentality, are those films labeled as science fiction. The so-called science fiction productions which symbolically mirror the cold war are interesting, as were the blatant morality plays of Group I, because of their educational/propaganda nature. Though the subject matter, an enormous beast or mutated giant ants as in THE BEAST FROM TWENTY FATHOMS (1953) and THEM (1954), might at first seem fantastic. The monster is presented in storylines which are quite plausible to the mind unfamiliar with the intricacies of science in the atomic age. While the public might not perceive the beast or the ants as metaphorical enemies akin to Russia, a common interpretation by film critics and historians, the viewer is clearly taught to be wary of inept scientists and to have faith in the FBI and the military. Further, the public is taught to fear atomic power not only because it can be translated into bombs but because it can affect nature in strange, threatening ways. In a nation already fearful of atomic holocaust, such an argument could only intensify anxieties while spreading fear and uncertainty. As Howard Zinn has noted in a different context,

“Atomic energy was mysterious, almost supernatural; anything connected with it was frightening.”(8)

The fourth category includes those films which, although they appear wholly irrelevant thematically to any facet of the cold war, do include lines or scenes which seem to reflect a cold war mentality. The technique of inserting a line or a scene which expressed a political attitude was the very thing HUAC said the communists had been doing for years but could not document. Illustrative of the insertion technique are such things as the introductory scene of SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949). A standard John Ford-John Wayne western, the opening scene showing all kinds of Indians riding in groups is accompanied by a narration which says that there is a conspiratorial unification of red people everywhere against America, and that if they are not stopped immediately, it will take a century to defeat them. The symbolism is unmistakable. Drawn in broader strokes is Elia Kazan’s VIVA ZAPATA (1952), a film in which the viewer is continually reminded that all revolution is doomed to failure and that “a strong people is the only lasting strength of a nation.” A third illustration comes from SPRINGFIELD RIFLE (1950). Essentially a routine western, SPRINGFIELD RIFLE includes a series of lines arguing for the need of a military counter-espionage service.

One might also include in this category those films which can be interpreted by the skilled critic as articulating some sentiment reflective of the cold war, but which were very likely viewed in entirely different terms by the average viewer. For example, HIGH NOON (1952) was thought by most as simply an outstanding example of an adult western. However, a second impression has been offered, that the film is a statement by Carl Foreman, its writer, criticizing those in Hollywood who failed to come to the aid of their friends during the HUAC investigations. A second is ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), another Academy Award-winning film which most saw as an expose of how labor unions have been infiltrated by organized crime. Others saw it as an effort by its director, Elia Kazan, to justify his friendly testimony before the HUAC committee. Good films, like good literature, are subject to a variety of interpretations on several levels, yet only the most critical viewer, like only the most critical reader, will discern the more subtle nuances. Nevertheless, while most of the audience might miss the analogies in science fiction films, the inserted lines and scenes in others, and the deeper meanings of yet others, that does not mitigate the fact that such things do exist and hence deserve our attention.

With these four categories as a genera’ descriptive framework of Hollywood’s response to and involvement in the cold war, I would like to analyze the techniques, content, and messages of three selected films. The three chosen—WALK EAST ON BEACON, MY SON JOHN, and BIG JIM McCLAIN -- were selected primarily because of their enduring quality.(9) By enduring I mean that they appear regularly on television. MY SON JOHN had the singular distinction of being broadcast two years ago during prime time by ABC, a rare happening for any film of such an age, much less content. A case could be made that science fiction and hot war films also endure, but I have not found specific ones which reappear with the same frequency as the three chosen. The ones which have not endured fail to do so because the subject matter is dated, inappropriate in an age of detente, and because the production quality tends to be poor.

That so many of these cold war response films were rushed into production with inadequate thought and support was bound to affect quality. Critics generally panned them and box office returns were poor. Dalton Trumbo, one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, takes pleasure in the fact that MY SON JOHN, a major effort by Paramount, was a financial disaster. The implication is that he and his colleagues were redeemed because the public saw through these anti-communist diatribes and were unimpressed or turned off by their messages. I prefer to think that it was because the entertainment quality was so inferior that the public rejected the films. Any thought the industry may have had for exploiting a potentially lucrative market here was dashed by its own ineptitude.

The three films in questions were selected for several other reasons besides endurance. They represent efforts by major and minor studios; they run the gamut of quality from excellent to mediocre to poor; and they represent obvious and clear responses to the cold war. Also, because they did not rely on symbolism or interpretation to convey their messages, the likelihood of interpretive error or arguments over interpretation are minimal. That some viewers have construed the science fiction classic INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) as both pro-McCarthy and anti-McCarthy is illustrative of the potential disagreements which I have sought to avoid by selecting films whose messages are straightforward and unequivocal, not metaphorical.

WALK EAST ON BEACON is Louis de Rochemont’s contribution to Columbia Pictures to educate U.S. viewers visually about the existence of Russian spies in their midst. Already familiar with Russian agents (Klaus Fuchs, the Rosenbergs, and others) who had stolen atomic secrets, the audience is informed that an intricate web persists and that the subject in question is high speed calculators and computers.(10) Authenticity is verified by the use of a script drawn from a Reader’s Digest article, “The Crime of the Century,” by J. Edgar Hoover. As one would expect, the story is very appreciative of the talents, techniques, and exploits of the FBI. Filmic veracity in content and message is further enhanced by the use of neorealist, documentary techniques such as high contrast black and white film, little known actors, and natural settings. The film has a narrator, a staple of documentaries such as de Rochemont’s MARCH OF TIME series; the narrator’s script is designed to promote credibility. These are techniques which were also exploited effectively by Henry Hathaway in HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945), a neorealist production which documented FBI destruction of a wartime German espionage ring. Both films were made with FBI cooperation, which among other things permitted filming in FBI headquarters and provided library footage of events at work in FBI laboratories. J. Edgar Hoover’s imprimatur was even more valuable to the industry than that of the Defense Department when it came to blunting criticism.

Neorealist production techniques were also employed in crime films, one of Hollywood’s most successful formula types. The similarity in technique and iconography between an anti-communist movie like WALK EAST ON BEACON and crime films like THE ENFORCER (1951   -- also entitled MURDER, INC.) was likely to lead to an overlap in the public mind between the two types. Russian spies were given identities very similar to gangsters and used comparable techniques, factors which enhanced familiarity and believability. The overlap is so strong that WALK EAST ON BEACON is identified today in T.V. Guide as a “crime drama.”

Eschewing any form of plot summary, I plan to examine some selected factors, salient elements which appear in this film and many like it. First, both friend and foes are personalized, and the amorphous communist conspiracy is given identification. The FBI agent is played by that incipient politician George Murphy, the only readily known member of the cast. Friendly, hardworking and ever vigilant, a veritable Boy Scout grown up, Agent Murphy assures the viewer that the FBI uses the most modern methods and apparatus to ferret out the enemy. The Russian agent, a soldier in disguise and according to U.S. tradition deserving to be shot, is a sinister, ruthless personification of evil. He is willing to kidnap, murder, and commit adultery “to advance the cause” and satiate his carnal desires. In a fashion, he could be described as an unattractive James Bond type with a variety of gimmicks, but 1952 United States as opposed to 1963 United States found his amorality/ immorality distasteful. From another perspective, his characterization and behavior were comparable to film/TV   gangsters. Americans working under him are either dupes who are murdered when they recognize the error of their ways, or they are intelligent individuals, some in positions of trust, who have consciously betrayed their country and deserve to be executed legally.

In these characterizations and others there is more than a hint of anti-intellectualism. Anti-science attitudes and anti-intellectualism   are common in the science fiction genre. Though science and technology might be beneficial and the high speed calculators are explained vaguely as integral to weapons systems, the people in charge, the scientists, lack common sense. The principal scientist, Professor Kafer, is a doddering old Jewish emigré from Germany who is blackmailed because his son is behind the iron curtain. His fumbling, absent-minded demeanor recurs in many films, notably in THEM (1954), the cold war science fiction film. THEM also has James Arness playing George Murphy’s part as the trusted FBI agent. The parallel between the two films continues, to include the same message:

“Trust the FBI and watch out for deadly monsters who (not which) infest America.”(11)

Another element is a direct attack on the scientific and technical capabilities of the Soviet Union. Because there are no men of genius in Russia, it is necessary for them to steal from the minds of free men -- “Enslave a man’s body, you enslave his mind,” Professor Kafer tells us. This was the kind of conditioning which led to the shock and trauma following Sputnik when the U.S. public was confronted with the evidence that Russia was not as scientifically backward as was thought.

MY SON JOHN was Paramount Pictures’ attempt at a first class presentation of the dangers of domestic subversion. Academy Award-winning director Leo McCarey was given a substantial budget, a prominent cast led by Helen Hayes and Robert Walker, and complete freedom in writing and directing to put the message across. Technically, the film is a standard dramatic production with only occasional uses of neorealist technique, such as the scene when John is gunned down on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the classic gangster mode. Instead of trying to convince the audience that it is watching a true story unfold, in documentary fashion, an approach which does not draw the viewer into the film, MY SON JOHN tried to develop a dramatic production about typical people with whom the viewer can identify and for whom the viewer can develop considerable empathy.(12) The goal is to draw the audience into the film, to convince people that what they were watching could happen to them.

While the technical presentation differs markedly, there are certain similarities in content and message between WALK EAST ON BEACON and MY SON JOHN. Again, the FBI agent is cast as friendly, helpful, and unswerving in dedication. Enemy agents are essentially gangsters with foreign accents, but the matter of dupes or traitors is pursued in much more depth. The traitor John, once the pride of the family because of his education and career in government, is a pretentious effete and unfeeling snob who betrayed his family and country. The Alger Hiss imagery is very clear. John is contrasted to his two not-so-bright but athletic brothers who go off to fight and die in Korea. Whereas anti-intellectualism is only suggested in WALK EAST ON BEACON, here it is blatant. The viewer is given the inescapable impression that highly educated people become traitors, possibly homosexuals, whereas lesser educated, virile individuals become patriots.

WALK EAST ON BEACON received critical acclaim because of its effective presentation. MY SON JOHN was severely criticized, primarily because of one character, Dad -- John Jefferson. Whereas Mom, a very identifiable figure, is effectively presented as distraught over the misdeeds of her firstborn, Dad is drawn as a caricature rather than a character. Instead of an identifiable, typical U.S. father, the audience is offered a thickheaded, unloving Archie Bunker type. A staunch member of the American Legion who has been studying communism yet who betrays his ignorance at every turn, John Jefferson stomps about the house, Bible in hand, singing a little ditty: “If you don't like your Uncle Samny, then go back to your home o'er the sea.” (Translation: “America, Love It or Leave It.”) A pathetic portrait of a patriot, John Jefferson’s ludicrous figure is a futile effort at patronizing Legionnaires and Fathers. The picture is significantly weakened if not destroyed by it.

Director McCarey, best known for GOING MY WAY (1944) and THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S (1945), adds a new dimension in this film, an association of Catholicism and anti-communism. The counselor of the family, Father O'Dowd, tries to help in the hour of need, and Dad finds his justification for anticommunism in his Bible. John commits blasphemy by swearing on the family Bible, with which his Father will later strike him. And so the audience is alerted to the fact that communism is a threat to the moral fiber of the country as well as to the national security.

MY SON JOHN shares with WALK EAST ON BEACON that great U.S. film tradition, the happy ending. Though slain on the streets of Washington for his recognition of communism’s evils, the prodigal son lives on in a tape-recorded speech. Lest the audience fail to grasp the menace of communism, McCarey hammers home the message with John’s recorded commencement address for his alma mater. The students sit stunned as the tape plays a Mao-like public confession and a warning to the new generation of “intellectuals” to be aware of communism’s blandishments. The ending is needless overkill, which with the caricature of the Father, undermined the film and helped contribute to its demise at the box office.

Lacking even a pretense at sophistication, BIG JIM McCLAIN endures because it is John Wayne playing John Wayne. A founder of the anticommunist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals with Leo McCarey, John Ford, and others, Wayne produced the film as a personal statement. He expressed his admiration for the valor of the HUAC committee, “undaunted by the vicious campaign of slander launched against them,” as the narrator intones. It is the same type of unrestrained chauvinism Wayne articulated in his best known personal statement, THE ALAMO (1960).

Again we have anti-intellectualism, an untrustworthy college professor, and communists cloaked in the trappings of gangsters. New ground is broken, however, by promoting the HUAC committee and its agents as the heroes, instead of the FBI, and by associating communism with China instead of Russia. Wayne would continue that association later in BLOOD ALLEY (1955), his analysis of the Chinese revolution. Right and justice triumph, aided by Wayne’s willingness to brawl with enemy agents.

Clearly the poorest and most inept production of the three, BIG JIM McCLAIN appears on television more frequently than the others, a tribute to Wayne’s popularity. An effort by Wayne to express his patriotism and faith in HUAC, the film also is a blatant attempt to exploit the commercial possibilities of anti-communism at a time when the producer was in a desperate financial condition. A scathing indictment was offered by Bosley Crowther.

“But the over-all mixing of cheap fiction with a contemporary crisis in American life is irresponsible and unforgivable. No one deserves credit for this film.”(13)

Accurate perhaps, yet BIG JIM McCLAIN is far more representative of the average cold war, anti-communism film than the other two.

With the censure of Joseph McCarthy in 1954 and a more restrained House Committee on Un-American Activities. Hollywood breathed a sign of relief. No longer was it necessary to prove its patriotism, and it discontinued producing overtly anti-communist films. The impact of the cold war would still be seen in some of its products but not with the frequency and intensity that was witnessed during the years 1948 to 1954. In fact, by 1956 Hollywood would begin to challenge the HUAC committee with such productions as STORM CENTER, a direct attack on its former nemesis. Simultaneously, the Cinemascope effect was bolstering sagging revenues as more people were going to movies to see the wonders of the new technology. The industry had survived the challenge of television and the assault of the HUAC committee. No longer under fire, it could sit back and rest on its laurels, safe in the knowledge that it had once again stifled the threat of official intervention in its affairs. The dreaded blacklist would end, and by 1960 its membership would be back working under their own names. It was as if nothing had ever happened. Having survived, the industry conveniently forgot the price of its survival. (14)


1. The HUAC Committee under Rep. Martin Dies (D-Texas) had first visited Hollywood in 1939, spending a year investigating potential communist subversion. The committee at that time drew something of an equation between anti-fascism and pro-communism.

2. As Charles Higham has noted, “In the Atomic Age, audiences wanted even more escapism than they had demanded during the war.” Hollywood at Sunset (New York: Saturday Review Press, 1972), p. 6. Consequently, from 1945 to 1948 and even to a great degree thereafter, Hollywood preferred to ignore political and military issues and to emphasize such staples as musicals and westerns.

3. Reel Plastic Magic: A History of Films and Filmmaking in America (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1972), pp. 177-79.

4. See Melvin Small, “Buffoons and Brave Hearts: Hollywood Portrays the Russians, 1939-1944,” California Rhetorical Quarterly (Winter, 1973), pp. 327-37.

5. Michael Conant, Antitrust in the Motion Picture Industry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960), pp. 84-153, has a thorough discussion of United States vs. Paramount Pictures, 334 US 131 (1948). The decision by the Justice Department to attack the monopolistic practices of the film industry was part of the Roosevelt Administration’s broad anti-trust program instituted in 1937-38.

6. Thomas H. Guback, The International Film Industry, Western Europe and America Since 1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969), pp. 160-86, contains an extended description of the foreign economic difficulties which beset Hollywood in the immediate postwar period.

7. Another interesting film is the propaganda documentary WHY KOREA?, a 1951 production of Twentieth Century Fox and Movietone News distributed free of charge. A classic defense of Truman administration foreign policy, WHY KOREA? “documents” how the United States is engaged with the forces of Soviet communism in far off Korea. For comparative purposes, see WHY VIET NAM? (1965), a Defense Department production which revives all of the Cold War rhetoric and analyses.

8. Postwar America, 1945-1271 (Indianapolis. Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1973), p. 158.

9. All appeared in 1952, the high point of Hollywood’s crusade when over a dozen anti-communist films were made.

10. The theme of Russian spies bent on destruction of the West was first pursued in THE IRON CURTAIN (1948), a ludicrous parody of a Canadian-Russian spy case. The film also deserves a small niche in history as the first movie of the cold war era.

11. Quotation is from an anonymous author in “Focus on THEM,” Twentieth Century (September, 1954), p. 197. The parenthetical statement [not which] was added by me for emphasis.

12. For a discussion of MY SON JOHN which stresses the emphasis on the typical, see “Father and Son -- and the FBI” by Robert Warshow, The Immediate Experience (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1962), pp. 113-20.

13. New York Times, September 18, 1952.

14. For another analysis of the film industry during the cold war, see Russell E. Shain, “Hollywood’s Cold War” and “Cold War Films, 1948-1952: An Annotated Filmography,” Journal of Popular Film (Fall, 1974), pp. 334-50 and 365-72. The thoroughness and seriousness with which Shain approaches the subject is perhaps reflected in his filmography, which includes such movies as AT WAR WITH THE ARMY (1952) starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, BOWERY BATTALION (1952) starring the Bowery Boys, FRANCIS JOINS THE WACS (1953) starring Donald O'Connor and his irrepressible talking mule. Shain also completely ignores science fiction films in both his article and his filmography.