How Was the Cold War Represented in Cinema  Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Cold War and Film

Generally speaking, the Cold War has been depicted as an era of spy games and paranoia in popular films from the 1960s to the present day, but the reality of the era was much more complex. The Cold War was a period of military and political tension from 1947 to 1991, or from the end of WW2 to the collapse of the Soviet Union, in which the "politics of war" masked the business and social agendas of multinationals and ideologues. The era was marked by myriad issues: East-West mistrust, proxy wars, espionage, the threat of nuclear war, domestic and foreign propaganda, the rise of the military-industrial complex and multinational corporations, assassinations, detente, de-colonization, new nationalism, neo-colonialism, the vying for control of resources, alliances (NATO, Warsaw Pact), and an inculcation of the "deep state." [footnoteRef:1] It can be divided into five basic periods: 1947-53, 1953-62, 1962-79, 1979-85, and 1985-1991, and the films from each period reflect certain preoccupations of the time and people who produced them. This paper will examine each period of the Cold War and show how it was perceived through film by different people at different times in different places and compare these films with what was really happening in socio-geopolitical terms. [1: Peter Dale Scott, The American Deep State (MD: Rowman, Littlefield, 2015), 13.]

Cold War (1947-53)

The first period of the Cold War saw the rise of secret intelligence agencies (CIA, KGB, Mossad) and espionage, which gave inspiration to the popular spy films that would be produced en masse in the 1960s. Yet some filmmakers had already a sense of things to come. Hitchcock had in a way foreseen the coming tension between super powers in Notorious, which debuted in 1946 and pitted the gentleman spy Cary Grant and his attractive counterpart Ingrid Bergman against a nest of Nazis in South America. The success of the film, along with the novels of Ian Fleming, whose James Bond debuted on the big screen in1962 in Dr. No (as well as Hitchcock's own spy thriller North by Northwest, again with Grant in 1959), positioned the public for the warm reception of Bond films, Hitchcockian suspenses, and realist adventures that rolled into American theaters in the '60s and '70s, one after another. The real backdrop of these films was the conflict between the West and the Soviets, which was essentially rooted in a global play for power and influence. Every "spy" was a "prince," as Raviv and Melman described it in their depiction of the creation of Israel's Mossad.[footnoteRef:2] The spy was certainly glamorized by Hollywood -- but the truth was different from the image projected on screen, in many ways. [2: Dan Raviv, Yossi Melman, Every Spy a Prince (MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1990), 1.]

The CIA had been given carte blanche and a bottomless purse thanks to the Marshall Plan -- an economic project of containment "designed" to limit the spread of Soviet influence and to protect Western interests not only in Europe but also in Asia, South and Central America, Africa and the Middle East.[footnoteRef:3] Its members, like Allen Dulles, who had served previously in the OSS, operated largely autonomously -- independent of any oversight in Washington. Like the James Bond films of the 1960s, the agents reported (if at all) to a station head -- a "Q," for example, in the Far East -- and these reports were sent back to headquarters. Typically, "plans" were approved or, more often the case, individuals were put in positions of authority in the field and encouraged to use their imaginations in order to get the job done. Not all agents resembled the "gentleman spy" glorified by Connery's Bond in the '60s and resurrected in 2015 by Colin Firth in Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service (ironic, considering the rise of Cold War 2.0). True, many agents were recruited from Yale and other Ivy League colleges or came from elite backgrounds -- but few possessed the glamorous savoir-faire that the movie-going public associated with the spy ring throughout the Cold War. More typical was the adventurer sort, who mugged with the locals, making contacts and using cash to influence elections. [3: Oliver Stone, Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (NY: Gallery Books, 2012).]

While the CIA was formed in 1947 out of the Office of Strategic Services in order to contend with "threats" abroad, the Red Scare and McCarthyism were foisted on the public at
...The same year that Truman signed the National Security Act, giving the CIA its official mandate, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began rooting out Communists within Hollywood. The eagerness (and shallowness) with which disaffected Americans within the intelligentsia turned to Communism as an economic alternative to "capitalism," holding issues like equality and worker's rights at heart, indicated it to be little more than an ideological fad, the natural evolution of a de-Christianized West still pre-occupied with the principles of Americanism. However, Communism offered the perfect boogeyman for the deep state, and soon the CIA was co-opting the Catholic Church in the state's goal to drum up support for its partners' corporate and political ambitions overseas.[footnoteRef:4] Certainly there were Communist sympathizers in Hollywood -- but the debate between Communism and Capitalism was only the surface of Cold War politics. Were one to strip away the categorical classifications and objectively view the operations of the two foes' intelligence communities, one would not be able to tell a difference: both were engaged in sinister, worldly, underhanded gambits involving bribery, blackmail, murder, espionage, revolution, incarceration, and drug trafficking. The Good War had shuffled the deck and a new dealer (the U.S.) now took to making sure the hands dealt were the ones it wanted dealt -- and the success of that subterfuge depended partly on making sure everyone at home knew the dealer was the "good guy." [4: David Yallop, In God's Name (NY: Carroll, Graf, 2007), 104.]

Israel declared statehood in 1948, prompting a wave of Jewish pride throughout America, at the same time that Jewish liberal Hollywood was being investigated by HUAC. This conflict mirrored a deeper one that existed not only between the Jewish underworld and the rising Catholic political power in America but also between the Jewish intelligence community (the Mossad, whose motto was "make war by way of deception") and the rest of the world. The CIA had its hands full juggling relationships with the KGB, Mossad, MI6, and other intelligence communities, and often the lines between friend and foe as well the extent of one's loyalty became muddled in the increasingly complex world of espionage and covert operations. In any event, the domestic message to the public in the early years of the Cold War consisted of simplistic propaganda, as the 1982 documentary The Atomic Cafe illustrated with chilling effect, quoting one Army informational film as saying, "When not close enough to be killed, the atomic bomb is one of the most beautiful sights in the world."[footnoteRef:5] Beneath the bombastic rhetoric of world leaders gone mad was the Cold War's Strangelovian perversity. The death of Stalin in 1953 would do little to change that in the West, though Khrushchev would offer a bit of light for Russians hoping to throw off the shackle of Stalinism at home.[footnoteRef:6] In reality, the Cold War was just heating up, with the Korean War serving as the first of several proxy wars fought between the "capitalist" West and the "communist" East, and the Warsaw Pact serving as the East's response to NATO's embrace of Germany. NATO and the Warsaw Pact, of course, were simply a macrocosm of the basic struggle inherent in Cold War politics: the need to control the "ebb and flow" of business while maneuvering nations, making threats, and using provocation to achieve effective consolidation.[footnoteRef:7] [5: Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty, dirs, The Atomic Cafe (UK: Journeyman Films, 1982). Film.] [6: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Oak and the Calf (NY: HarperCollins, 1980).] [7: Sidney Lumet, dir, Network (LA: MGM, 1976). Film.]

Cold War (1953-1962)

Allen Dulles, who "believed in the romantic notion of the gentleman spy," and found such spies in various men like Bill Harvey and Tracey Barnes, became the 5th Director of Central Intelligence in 1953, succeeding Walter Bedell Smith and further uniting the goals of the CIA with the aims of big business. Dulles' career at the head of the CIA began with the orchestration of a coup in Guatemala and ended with the Bay of Pigs incident, the failed plot to overthrow Castro in Cuba. With Dulles in Washington, the international law firm Sullivan and Cromwell that had employed him formerly and which represented a host of archetypal multinational corporations like United Fruit, now took advantage of its position and used Dulles and the CIA to further the aims of its clients, as it did for example in Guatemala where the United Fruit Company had big interests and where Arbenz, the democratically elected Guatemalan leader, had opposing aims. [footnoteRef:8] Well-bred…

Sources Used in Documents:


Dominik, Andrew, dir. Killing Them Softly. NY: Weinstein Company, 2012. Film.

Eliot, T.S. "Burnt Norton." The Four Quartets. Web. 10 May 2015.


Frankenheimer, John, dir. Seven Days in May DVD Commentary. LA: Warner Home

Cite This Term Paper:

"How Was The Cold War Represented In Cinema " (2015, May 13) Retrieved February 28, 2021, from

"How Was The Cold War Represented In Cinema " 13 May 2015. Web.28 February. 2021. <>

"How Was The Cold War Represented In Cinema ", 13 May 2015, Accessed.28 February. 2021,