News / USA

Cold War Films Reflected Shifting US Attitudes

US-Soviet antagonism played out in movies

Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin in 1990's "The Hunt for Red October," which did not portray the Soviets as caricatures.
Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin in 1990's "The Hunt for Red October," which did not portray the Soviets as caricatures.
Penelope Poulou

In 1946 speech, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill coined the term “Iron Curtain” to describe the physical and symbolic wall separating East and West across Europe. Churchill's speech signaled the beginning of the Cold War.

It ended 20 years ago, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, during the Cold War, American films reflected the changing mood of the United States towards the USSR.

Few movies have captured the history of early Communist Russia as well as David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago.” The film was an epic love story between Yuri Zhivago and Lara, the wife of a communist leader. But it was also a bleak treatise on communist Russia.

Peter Rollberg, professor of film studies at George Washington University, says David Lean’s human treatment of Russians in "Doctor Zhivago" was the exception rather than the rule in Cold War films. “The Cold War created a field of tension that made for well-motivated good stories."

Some of these films, such as “The Manchurian Candidate,” explored the Communist threat on American soil. In the film, war hero Raymond Shaw is brainwashed into assassinating the president of the United States.

At the time, Rollberg says, the film served as a warning to Americans. “The possibility of brainwashing, of the total manipulation of human beings, who will carry out whatever you charge them with, that was a warning that went beyond just the actual political situation. It meant, ‘society beware.'”

Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove" was released in 1964, two years after the Cuban missile crisis. A demented American Air Force general orders an unwarranted nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. The political satire reflected the nationwide terror of the nuclear holocaust.

The 1966 film “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” makes fun of the uncontrolled panic about the Soviets.

Meanwhile, the James Bond films gave espionage a Hollywood twist. Her majesty’s spy, 007, was a debonair playboy while the enemy was a fearless killing machine.  

In the 1970s, films took a more conciliatory approach towards the Soviet Union, reflecting the era of détente. Two production companies, one American and one Soviet, worked together to produce the 1975 fantasy, “The Blue Bird," starring Elizabeth Taylor.

But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and Ronald Reagan’s election as president the following year marked the end of détente.

Anti-Soviet rhetoric in film made a comeback. In the film "Rocky IV," the US-Soviet antagonism is reduced to the lowest common denominator - blood and brawn.

Rocky, played by Silvester Stalone, delivers the knock-out punch.

Soviet defections were also a popular theme in 1980s American filmography.  In “Moscow on the Hudson,” Vladimir Ivanoff, a Russian  musician played by Robin Williams, arrives in New York with a visiting circus troupe.

He defects in Bloomingdale’s, an icon of capitalism.  

The attitude toward the Soviets changes again in the 1990 action film, “The Hunt for Red October,” made as the Soviet Union was in collapse. Sean Connery, as a Soviet submarine captain, turns his nuclear vessel towards American waters. The Americans need to decide whether he intends to defect or attack.     

The Soviet captain is no longer a caricature; he's an intelligent human being.

Rollberg says the US audience had varied reactions to Cold War films. "On the commercial level, for many audiences, just as entertainment. On a more intellectual level, just looking at the consequences, and in a way at us, at humanity and what we are capable of.”

Robert Altman's film "Ready to Wear," showcases a post-Soviet Moscow as a fashionable place where people live life open to the world and all its possibilities.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil Wari
X
Adam Bailes
December 22, 2014 3:45 PM
In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil War

In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Town of Bentiu

Six months ago, Bentiu was a ghost town. The capital of northern Unity State, near South Sudan’s important oil fields, had changed hands several times in fighting between government forces and rebels. Calm returned in November and since then, residents of Bentiu have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy. Bentiu’s market has reopened there are plans to start school again. But fears of new attacks hang heavy, as Benno Muchler reports from Bentiu.
Video

Video US Business Groups Press for Greater Access to Cuba

President Barack Obama's decision to do all he can to ease restrictions on U.S. trade, travel and financial activities with Cuba has drawn criticism from some conservatives and Republicans. People who bring tourists to the island and farmers who want to sell more food to Cuba, however, think they can do a lot more business with Cuba. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.

All About America

AppleAndroid