The Screen Is Red: Hollywood, Communism, and the Cold War
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
The Screen Is Red portrays Hollywood’s ambivalence toward the former Soviet Union before, during, and after the Cold War. In the 1930s, communism combated its alter ego, fascism, yet both threatened to undermine the capitalist system, the movie industry’s foundational core value. Hollywood portrayed fascism as the greater threat and communism as an aberration embraced by young idealists unaware of its dark side. In Ninotchka, all a female commissar needs is a trip to Paris to convert her to capitalism and the luxuries it can offer.
The scenario changed when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, making Russia a short-lived ally. The Soviets were quickly glorified in such films as Song of Russia, The North Star, Mission to Moscow, Days of Glory, and Counter-Attack. But once the Iron Curtain fell on Eastern Europe, the scenario changed again. America was now swarming with Soviet agents attempting to steal some crucial piece of microfilm. On screen, the atomic detonations in the Southwest produced mutations in ants, locusts, and spiders, and revived long-dead monsters from their watery tombs. The movies did not blame the atom bomb specifically but showed what horrors might result in addition to the iconic mushroom cloud.
Through the lens of Hollywood, a nuclear war might leave a handful of survivors (Five), none (On the Beach, Dr. Strangelove), or cities in ruins (Fail-Safe). Today the threat is no longer the Soviet Union, but international terrorism. Author Bernard F. Dick argues, however, that the Soviet Union has not lost its appeal, as evident from the popular and critically acclaimed television series The Americans. More than eighty years later, the screen is still red.
Depression—especially in the early and mid-1930s—it seemed that capitalism’s potential had been exhausted. There were the one per centers and the rest, the victors and the victims: stars like Claudette Colbert, who could command $50,000 a picture, and the masses that had diﬃculty shelling out a quarter to see the ﬁlm. William Manchester began his popular history The Glory and the Dream with a bleak picture of 1932, “the cruelest year of the Depression,” with its failing banks, burgeoning welfare
bombing of Los Angeles were a lesser form of the devastation the Martins were wreaking on the city. But in 1953, the bomb was the answer to anything imperiling America. Lyndon’s script had its loopholes, but the production was so spectacular—and has remained so—that one is inclined to invoke the laws of verisimilitude and echo Aristotle’s response (Poetics 4, 5) to a representation that is uncannily lifelike: “That’s it.” Pal got it right. That is the way the world ends: with a bang, a whimper,
unnerving nor reﬂective. The survivors—a pregnant woman; a Dartmouth MA with mechanical skills made for such a crisis; a bank manager and one of his employees; and an explorer who has climbed Mt. Everest and espouses a Darwinian philosophy of survival of the ﬁttest—may not enjoy life’s creature comforts, but with empty stores and homes, they live in nuclear style. The Dartmouth grad has taken over a hilltop house (Oboler’s own in Santa Barbara, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), which he makes
in It Happened One Night). The couple arrive in Washington, DC, in time for May Day and the agitator’s rabble-rousing speech about the need to replace the old order with an import from abroad (country unspeciﬁed). Uncle Sam counters with his own speech, addressing everyone as “comrade.” His intentionally provocative oﬀer to tear down the American ﬂag leads to a melee. Capitalism has triumphed, the student radical is deported, and Red and Uncle Sam spend their honeymoon in the trailer, a more
series, “Confessions of a Nazi Spy,” which concerned German espionage in the United States. What could have been an explosive revelation was defused by a jittery White House, which had already been inﬁltrated and preferred that the public not know as much. The studio feared a libel suit if the spies’ names were used, even though they had been indicted, and death threats caused producer Robert Lord to arm himself with a revolver. The project also aroused the ire of the German consul, Georg