The Cold War coincided with the heyday of popular cinema and the golden years of television. The period of the 1940s to the 1980s represented a period of unprecedented distribution of wealth within western nations and the popularisation of electronic forms of communication. These two trends coincided with and contributed to the voracious demand by the mass populace for films and television programs.
Film makers and television houses created visual entertainment across a wide variety of genres. Cold War dramas featured spies, spy-hunters, and military personnel engaged in a wide variety of exploits. Contemporary wars and political tensions provided the backdrop to stories of heroism, romance and intrigue.
Image: Film – ‘Dr Strangelove’
The films listed below include an example of Cold War domestic paranoia (Big Jim McLain) and several films that dramatized the popular fears about nuclear destruction that permeated everyday life during this period.
|Big Jim McLain||Type||Film|
|Overview||John Wayne plays ‘Big Jim McLain’, a seasoned federal investigator who arrives in Hawaii on behalf of the ‘House Un-American Activities Committee’ on the trail of communist agitators. The film dramatizes the contemporary fears of anti-communist Americans, who saw evidence of communist infiltration of American life in everyday life. And of course, the film is packaged with the usual John Wayne charm – tough talking, tough fighting and all-round lady-killer.|
|Sources||Original theatrical trailer (2.47 min)
Video clip – includes a scene in which the local communist party cell leader outlines his strategy for taking over Hawaii, once the unnamed foreign power signals its readiness for action. And of course, an opportunity for Big Jim himself to punch up the commies.
|Overview||Set in the immediate aftermath of (a fictional) WW3 with nuclear mushroom clouds drifting across the earth, killing all human life. As the area of human habitation shrinks into the southern hemisphere, and specifically shrinks to Melbourne (Australia), the movie (based upon a novel) narrates the last months of life of a mixed group of Australians and the sailors of a US submarine. The film captures the conflict of differing emotions evoked by a sense of impending doom.Stanley Kramer won the 1960 BAFTA for best director and Ernest Gold won the 1960 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Score. Ironically, the film recorded a loss of $USD700,000.|
|Sources||Amateur film of the making of the film
|Dr. Strangelove (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)||Type||Film|
|Overview||Black comedy satirising a nuclear war scare. The film centres on a deranged US Air force General who orders a first strike nuclear attack against the USSR. As the US bombers race towards their Soviet targets, viewers are drawn into a number of parallel stories – the growing crisis at the air force base; the crew of the US bomber heading towards its target; and the US President, his advisors and the Joint Chiefs of Staff who vainly try to stop the coming catastrophe.The chilling nature of the film derives not so much from the unspeakable horror of a nuclear war, but how real the personalities and motivations of the characters – from US Air Force General Ripper explaining how he feared a communist plot to pollute Americans’ ‘precious bodily fluids’, which evokes terrifying parallels with modern survivalist and conspiracy proponents; to the US President, the ‘everyman’, who is bewildered by the magnitude of the approaching calamity; to the crew of the B-52 bomber who fail to receive the abort order, who while cognisant of the terror weapons that they are about to release feel that they must follow their training and their duty through to its logical (and necessary) conclusion.Actors:Peter Sellars – Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, Dr. Strangelove
Sterling Hayden – Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper
|Sources||Video clipsDiscussion [external]Discussion [external]
|Overview||The film (based upon a 1962 novel) centres on Cold War tensions between the US and USSR, and the threat of nuclear confrontation between these two countries. During the Cold War, the US maintained constant readiness to launch a nuclear strike or counter-strike against the USSR. These precautions included the practice of the US Air Force keeping nuclear armed bombers constantly in the air, ensuring that in the response to a threat the bombers would immediately proceed to ‘fail safe’ locations pending receipt of a final ‘go code’. In the film, a bomber group is erroneously given a ‘go code’.The film captures the sense of the impending catastrophe as first the US and then the USSR attempt to halt the bombers – including the presidential order for US fighters to shoot down their own bombers. Unable to prevent the destruction of Moscow, the US President orders a counter-strike – against New York – to avert Nuclear War.|
|When the Wind Blows||Type||Film|
|Overview||An animated film following the experiences of James and Hilda Bloggs (a retired couple) leading up to and then following a nuclear attack. The couple draws upon their memories of life in Britain during WW2; a comparison that is shown to be ridiculously inaccurate for understanding nuclear warfare. Despite their precautions, the viewers are forced to watch as James and Hilda suffer through the terminal effects of radiation poisoning.|
|Image – Copyright detailsTitle: Dr._Strangelove_-_Riding_the_Bomb
Subject: Major T. J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickins) riding the bomb in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove.
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