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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid