Kevin Brianton, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, La Trobe University
A hideous monster armed with massive powers lies frozen in the earth for centuries. An accident or something else causes it to thaw allowing for the creature to awaken and wreak havoc. The idea has been a staple for several films, TV shows and books. The most recent example is The Tomorrow War (2021), released through the streaming service Amazon/Prime. Many centuries previously, an alien spaceship carrying genetically engineered killer beasts crashed into the frozen Russian north. The beasts are bred to kill everything in their path and are virtually unstoppable. Even though the alien spaceship smashed into earth hundreds of years ago, the creatures have remained frozen but still alive. The alien monsters are released as global warming melts the ground around their frozen spaceship. As temperatures increase, the alien beasts come to life and threaten to destroy all of humanity.
Due to the discovery of time travel in the near future, soldiers can return to the present day to warn that civilization has 30 years to deal with the creatures or humanity will be extinct. In response to the threat, a rag-tag group of soldiers are sent to the future to fight the ‘Tomorrow War.’ The underlying fear is that global warming will destroy us all in the future if we do not do something about it now.
It is surprising how long it has taken for filmmakers to address climate change. Given the amount of coverage and concern for global warming, it seems that Hollywood is reluctant to address climate change issues. In 2020, critic Nicholas Barber pointed out that Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow (2004) was one of few popular films to deal with the issue.  Barber is correct that few films contain the theme, but it could be that climate change is just too fearful a topic for filmmakers to tackle at the moment.
This reluctance for filmmakers to wrestle with pressing topics has certainly been the case in previous decades. In the 1950s, direct treatments of communism proved to be highly unpopular, but allegorical treatments in science fiction, biblical epics, and even westerns could deal with this pressing issue. The famous horror author Stephen King recalled seeing Earth versus Flying Saucers when the Sputnik scare was in full flight. King wrote that the monsters flying the alien craft were a depiction of the feared Russians. The destruction of the American Capital brought to the surface fears of nuclear oblivion. King saw the destruction of the flyers saucers as a mental respite for those self-same cold war tensions.
The Tomorrow War contains a nod to another science fiction film of the 1950s. The Thing from Another World (1951) has another monster being released from the frozen depths of the polar regions. The 1951 film depicted an Antarctic expedition discovering an alien frozen beneath the ice. The alien in The Thingfrom Another World (1951) was a popular depiction of communism controlling American society by stealth. The ‘thing’ was a mobile vegetable, and its seeds were planted in soil at the laboratory, and they quickly grew. If the alien escaped to more fertile ground, such as the United States – it could threaten the world. This alien must be contained and stopped from going any further. In other words, if the alien was not stopped at an early stage, then the threat would grow until it became impossible to resist. This argument contains the logic of Cold War containment, which would drive the United States into a myriad of proxy wars. To reinforce the point, after the alien had been destroyed, newspaperman Scotty warned people to remain vigilant: ‘Keep watching the skies. Keep watching the skies.’
Stephen King believed The Thing from Another World (1951) was the first movie of the 1950s to show the scientist in the role of the misguided appeaser. He wrote that for average America, the scientists were vilified in American cinema in the 1950s. This group had developed the atomic bomb and ushered in the nuclear age. According to King, when Dr Carrington faced the alien, the image that would have come into the minds of the American audience was Hitler and Chamberlain. Appeasement by the United Kingdom had led to a dreadful war with Nazi Germany, which had almost been lost. It was better to fight than to appease. When the alien pushed Carrington aside, an American audience could only see it in political terms. Enemies had to be dealt with using a firm hand from the military.
Of course, fears are not always political. The same message of thawed horror is contained in the first season of Fortitude (2012), a British TV show about a community living well within the arctic circle, but in this case, the horror is decidedly different. A frozen carcass of a long-dead animal is left to thaw, releasing some insects that could rip apart the small community. The insects turn people into psychopaths, and the community begins to disintegrate as blame shifts from one person to another. The fears raised in Fortitude deal with the idea that each individual can turn into a psychopath given the right circumstances. The Tomorrow War (2020), made in today’s environment, deals with another set of fears about global warming. For The Thing From Another Planet (1951), it was the threat of communism. These works have the same basic plot of a frozen terror being thawed and then released. The story has stayed the same, but the fears have changed.
Cold War II: Hollywood’s Renewed Obsession with Russia
Edited by Tatiana Prorokova-Konrad, University of Mississippi Press, 2020.
Kevin Brianton, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow
La Trobe University
By the time Joe Biden was elected President, diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia had deteriorated for more than a decade. The media repeatedly used the term ‘a new Cold War” to describe the relationship between the United States and Russia. The first Cold War was a term developed in 1947 by the American writer, journalist and political commentator Walter Lippman. The Cold War was the conflict between the USSR and the West from the end of the Second World War to the collapse of the Soviet Union around 1990. The Cold War was depicted as the clear ideological conflict between communism and liberal democracies across the world – a claim open to debate. Of course, the current state of US – Russian relations has little or nothing to do with communism. This new “Cold War” appears to have been running from 2012 to today when Russia became more aggressive, particularly in the Ukraine. The iciness of world diplomacy has widespread implications, including a renewed interest in Russians as villains in American cinema. The editor of Cold War II: Hollywood’s Renewed Obsession with Russia, Tatiana Prorokova-Konrad, “examines the recent growth in Russia-related films as well as the effectiveness of understanding the current US-Russia political crisis; through the lens of recent Cold War films and T.V. shows.” (4) A clear influence to many of the writers in the book is Edward Lucas’s The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West, which maps out the recent menace of the re-emergence of Russian hostility. The book hopes to enrich the conventional understandings of the Cold War during both the Trump and Obama administrations.
This collection of articles does not have a uniform methodological or theoretical approach. Still, the editor Prorokova-Konrad attempts to draw the essays together with an introductory discussion about Hollywood’s previous cold war spasms in the late 1910s and 1950s. Prorokova-Konrad only makes a faint mention of silent films with anti-communist sympathies, and she dates anti-communist films as far back as Ninotchka (1939). However, anti-Soviet films have had a much longer pedigree than the late 1930s. A mention of the film A Bolshevism on Trial (1919) showed that anti-communism had a long lineage, dating back to the Russian Revolution. Some of the 1950s anti-communist films are referenced, but it is an incomplete listing. Even key films in the 1950s, such as Leo McCarey’s anti-communist film My Son John (1952), are only mentioned in passing. If the book’s title is a “renewed obsession,” the reader might be expected to be introduced to what exactly Hollywood was revisiting more thoroughly.
The opening section, called “Enduring Clichés,” begins with the article: The Warm Glow of Cold War Nostalgia by Vesta Silva & Jon Wiebel. It is difficult to see how the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis could create a warm glow in any sensible person. Still, the authors argue that “the second decade of the twenty-first century has seen an explosion of Cold War stories in American films and television series that highlight a nostalgic desire for a return to the more certain.” Looking at the issue through the lens of The Bridge of Spies (2015) and Atomic Blonde (2017), they examine how the Cold War has been depicted through the actions of cinematic heroes. The films promote a sense of certainty that is lacking in the present-day War on Terror and the rise of Russia. The idea of nostalgia is also present in Big Rewards for the Small Screen by Helena Goscilo, and it is the best paper of the opening section. The essay looks at how The Man from U.N.C.L.E was depicted in TV series in the 1960s and a later film version directed by Guy Ritchie in 2015. As well as mentioning some films from the early stages of the Cold War, Grocilo uses the programs as an opportunity to look at the cultural responses within their cultural settings.
With any disparate collection of articles, some essays are better than others. There is a mixture of heavy-handed theoretical works, and others are free of such concerns. One of the more impressive articles is Ian Scott’s examination of the various films that have used Berlin as its setting, such as The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965). It is an interesting and perceptive survey of the topic, and it is refreshing to see a writer who sees this recent crop of films as part of a tradition. The same comment can be made about The Shape of Water and the Cold War Revisited by Cyndy Hendershot. This essay is a highly observant one looking at how The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) was reworked in the 21st century. Another good essay is “Your Body Belongs to the State by Dan Ward, which concentrates on the depiction of heroines in Atomic Blonde and Red Sparrow. Perhaps the most successful essay is Laughing at the Early Cold War by Lori Maguire, where she provides a good introduction to these films. Again, she shows that films such as Hail Caesar (2016) and Death of Stalin (2017) have many predecessors. By referencing films such as the British comedy Our Man in Havana (1959), Maguire demonstrates a sound grasp of cinema history and the long lineage of these films.
Yet in presenting a case for a ‘Hollywood obsession,’ some selections are quite dubious. Many of the films are not even American – and cannot be considered part of Hollywood’s cinema – for example, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) was a British, French and German co-production. The Death of Stalin (2017) was a British, French and Belgium co-production, and both films are repeatedly referenced. However, it is not just the film industry. To place TV shows as part of a ‘Hollywood obsession’ is stretching the boundaries a little. One of the essays: Of Mothers and Motherlands by David LaRocca, focuses on the American TV show The Americans (2013 – 2018). The Americans was a popular program that told the story of two agents who passed as the heads of an all-American family. LaRocca provides an excellent survey of the show. Astonishingly for an American program, audiences supported the two Russian spies as they killed and attempted to destroy American democracy. It is a complex program with multi-levels showing how spies had to balance their family lives with their intelligence work.
Each of the essays has various strengths and weaknesses, but what is generally missing from the book is any discussion of the long-running diplomatic rifts between the West and Russia. This group of papers barely looks beyond the Second World War. The end of the Cold War meant that the USSR was no longer a superpower, and Soviet Communism was a spent force in world affairs. Russia imploded but was always going to reassert itself in some form as a regional power. One exception was Lori Maguire, who connected Putin’s rule back to Stalin, but there are other possible historical resonances. Putin represented another version of Russian authoritarianism that has impacted the country’s history for centuries.
Indeed, since the rise of the nation-states in the nineteenth century, tensions and conflicts between countries have ebbed and flowed. Russia has always been a player in the world and European politics. Britain and Russia wrestled for control of Afghanistan for many decades. “Cold War II” is a great title for the marketing department, and it makes for racy headlines for newspapers – but it is just not the case. The world is simply facing the same geographical dilemmas that have faced diplomats for centuries – albeit with nuclear weapons. Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography certainly outlined the continuities of Russian history. The essayists could have also looked further afield at books such as Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Stalin: The Court of Red Czar, and Steven Lee Myers, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin, which links communism and Putin’s rule as back to the Romanovs. Of these writers, Myers is mentioned once and crudely dismissed. These books highlight that authoritarian rulers or Tsars have existed throughout Russian history, and both Stalin and Putin are part of that tradition – there is no new Cold War. The essayists could even have looked back to the reign of Catherine the Great for inspiration to explain some of the depictions. Interestingly, she was also the subject of two TV series: Catherine the Great (2019) and The Great (2020) and, but these were released after the book was written.
What is also missing is any discussion of the box office success of these films, which might indicate the acceptance or take-up rate of ideas contained in the film. Few of the films examined were highly successful, which raises the question of what impact, if any, they made. It is one thing to say the films contained these ideas, but if the films were not watched, their impact is minimal. Look for the term ‘box office,’ and it is confined to one footnote in an essay discussing representations of US – Russia foreign policy by Thomas J. Cobb as represented in the film Black Panther, which did resonate with United States audiences in a way that Red Sparrow did not. Yet, it is the less successful Red Sparrow that is the focus of several writers.
The timing of the book is also a little unfortunate. The Queen’s Gambit (2020) did not make the cut for these essays due to its launch after publication. It is a highly popular TV series with an interesting depiction of the Soviet Union. The central character Beth Harmon is based on Bobby Fischer, a United States chess genius who broke the Soviet Union’s stranglehold in a cold war showdown in 1972. The TV show cuts against the book’s central premise that most television and film depictions of Russia are menacing. While the Soviet Union is depicted as a harsh regime, the people in it are human. The American Beth Harmon goes up against Russians who are ruthlessly competitive, but they are also courteous and dignified. While her opponent Bogrov can destroy any opponent, he is polite, respectful in defeat and triumph, and appears to be a dedicated family man. He even seems genuinely happy at Harmon’s triumph. The show then depicts Harmon’s friends rallying to her assistance to meet the Soviet team on equal terms. They eventually adopt the Soviet collegiate system, where players support each other. If the book had been issued a little later, the success of The Queens Gambit (2020) might have made the book’s tone more optimistic. It is not the only example, as The Courier (2020) also highlighted a positive relationship between a London businessman and a Russian spy that may have helped defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. Aside from a few exceptions, the papers have little or no optimism about the relationship. It is both an interesting and pessimistic book.
 Edward Lucas, The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West. Rev. ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
 Tim Marshall, Prisoners of Geography, London: Scribner, 2016
 Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin : The Court of the Red Tsar. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003.
 Steven Lee, Myers, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin. First Vintage Books ed. 2016.
Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
The anti-communist crusade of the movie moguls began when they signed the Waldorf Declaration on 24 November 1947 which was the same day that Congress met to approve the HUAC contempt citations. The declaration was supported by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Association of Motion Picture Producers – the studio heads – and was signed at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. They voted to sack any employee who would not say under oath that he or she was not a communist. This meant that the Hollywood 10 were sacked without compensation. The studio heads also voted to refuse to employ any person with communist beliefs.
Waldorf declaration was the action of men who were quite prepared to sacrifice
their political independence of financial gain.
Attacking the communists did not appear to be a high price to pay; after
all it was only a small group of writers who were being sacked. Moverover, the spirited resistance against
the HUAC-style investigation in 1941 was done at a time when Roosevelt was
firmly entrenched in power. The
political pendulum had swung to the right and the studios were attempting to
appease their new political masters.
Hollywood 10 soon lost most of its support when many in the Committee for the
First Amendment dropped their backing for the group. Some believed that they also could also lose
their jobs and others thought the Hollywood’s 10’s behavior before the
committee as unforgivable, and support for the group began to fade quickly in
the film industry. In subsequent HUAC investigations, there was
little or no effective organised opposition.
HUAC investigations were, in part, a reaction to the Roosevelt years and the
close relationship of the film industry with its administration. But there were other links between the HUAC
investigators and Hollywood. The film
industry had encouraged the myth that America was the unblemished ‘good guy’ of
world politics, it now had to reap some of the bitter fruits of that wartime
propaganda. The myth helped give
Americans a feeling of infallibility which assisted in their massive war
effort. In fostering the belief that to
fight America was to do wrong, the films of the Second World War helped create
the mental framework for the cold war.
The adjustment from Nazi Germany to communist Russia as the Untied States
central enemy was surprisingly swift. But it did raise some nagging problems. If America was always right, and Russia was
wrong, why was the United States allied to the country in the first place?
answer for the American right – and in particular the HUAC investigators – was
a vast conspiracy stretching from Russia, to the White House, onto communist
screenwriters in Hollywood. Historian
Richard Hofstadter has written about the attractiveness of the conspiracy
theory to Americans and its frequent explosions in American life. A common theme of these theorists was that
small groups with outside backing were seeking to control the United States by
nefarious means. Conspiracy theories
were a well established part of American political culture and they flourished
during the uncertain post-war period.
According to the conspiracy theorists, the Roosevelt administration had
a long term plan to undermine capitalism in order to bring the economy under
the control of the Federal Government and to pave the way for socialism or
communism. HUAC Investigator Robert E.
Stripling believed that Hollywood was in danger of falling under the control of
communists, just as other industries had already done.
scapegoats for the conspiracy theorists were the communist and left-wing
writers who worked on the ‘praise Russia’ films of the Second World War. Screenwriter Howard Koch had been ordered by
Warner to make Mission to Moscow and is efforts had been praised by Warner. Koch was subpoenaed but did not testify, he
placed full page ads in the Hollywood trade papers saying that he was not and
had never been a communist, but reserved the right not to say it to HUAC. Koch’s strong liberalism had shown out in
films such as In This Our Life (1942)
and his talent in Sergeant York
(1941) Casablanca (1943), and Letter From an Unknown Woman (1947). His efforts counted for nothing and his
refusal to answer HUAC’s questions, on the principle of his constitutional
rights meant that he did not work in Hollywood for another 12 years. The studio heads were not interested in
Justice, they were interested in scapegoats and Koch was one of those
blacklisted as a result.
other members of the Hollywood 10, there were more sinister motives for their
blacklisting. Action in the North
Atlantic screenwriter John Howard Lawson was a central figure in the formation
of the Screenwriters Guild. Eradicating
him would also relieve the studio heads of a radical and determined union
leader. Ring Lardner Jr had always been
a thorn in the side of the ultra-conservative Hollywood leaders. In November 1945, Lardner wrote a long,
highly critical and funny article for Screenwriter on the ultra-conservative
Cecil B. DeMille where he relentlessly attacked and satirized the director and
his politics. He focused sharply on the
Cecil B. DeMille Foundation for Political Freedom writing:
All policy and action
are determined by the self perpetuating board of directors, yet every rank and
file member is assured his political freedom to read and listen to whatever
pronouncement Mr DeMille is moved to make.
described the foundation as essentially a right-wing organisation which had
attacked the rights of unionists to make a united stand. The editor of Screenwriter was Dalton Trumbo and the managing editor was Gordon
Kahn. All three became member of the
Hollywood 19. The article was specially
transcribed the DeMille and left in his papers in a file on background
information on communists for his autobiography. DeMille was often accused by his political
opponents of providing names to HUAC and it seems clear that the selection of
Lardner, Trumbo and Kahn was no accident: Hollywood’s right-wing was exacting
have argued that it was the economic decline of Hollywood which forced the
studio heads to retreat so vigorously. However, he moguls had opposed intervention
strongly before the war. It was not
economic pressures which drove them to make the Waldorf declaration. The year 1947 was the second most successful
year for the cinema in its history. There was a slight dip from the figures for
1946 which had been a record year for the industry, but they were not under
savage pressure. Anti-trust legislation
and television were on the horizon, but in general the motion picture industry
was sound. The Waldorf declaration and
the consequent blacklisting was a personal failure of nerve by the studio heads
to fight the HUAC investigations.
studio heads did not realize that the declaration opened the way for constant
sackings and suspicion. In trying to get
a quick fix to a complex problem, the studios had allowed themselves to be held
hostage by any patriotic organisation which called any actor, director or
writer a communist and promised to picket a film carrying their name. These organisations were extremely demanding. When a person was named as a communist by a
patriotic organisation of some description, the studio heads either had to get
the person concerned cleared through certain channels or have them blacklisted. Red Channels was one example of the
publications circulating at the time which itemized the various offences of
actors and writers supposedly in communist from organisations. The evidence was often wafer thin, but as the
introduction to Red Channels showed the editors were not interested in
The information set
forth in the following report is taken for records available to the
public. The purpose of this
complications is threefold. One, to show
how communists have been able to carry out their plan of infiltration of the
radio and television industry. Two to
indicate the extent to which many prominent actors and artists have been
inveigled to lend their names, according
to these public records, to organisations espousing Communist causes. This, regardless of whether they actually
believe in, sympathize with, or even encourage actors or artists from naively
lending their names to Communist organizations or causes in the future.
Waldorf Declaration and the acquiescence of the studio heads to the HUAC
investigators opened the way for chaos in the filmmaking industry. Blacklisting could occur for being a member
of a political group, attending a meeting or signing a petition. The Blacklisting of an actor was not a one
way street. His or her name could be
cleared by approaches to the various agencies concerned. Certain shadowy figures during the blacklist
era made a living attempting to clear people so that they could return to
work. Indeed some groups would cast
aspersions on a person’s character and then offer to redress the balance. This led to a continuing round of clearances
of actors and writers through various organisations. Blacklisted writers could also still write
for the studios using fronts to submit their scripts. People were told to avoid blacklisted people
or at least not to meet them in public.
third phase of the crusade against communism was the release of a series of
anti-communist films. Actor Adolphe
Menjou, one of the friendly witnesses before the HUAC hearings, demanded that
the studios produce anti-communist films.
I believe it would be
an incredible success… I think it would be a very wonderful thing to see one
made. I would like to see a picture of
the Bulgarian situation; … I would like that shown to the American public to see
communism as it actually is. I would
like to see the brutal beatings, the stabbings and killings that go on through
Europe… We showed many anti-Nazi pictures.
I see no reason why we do not show anti-communist pictures.
studios responded quickly to Menjou’s call.
The first anti-communist film to roll out of the studios was Ninotchka which was re-released by MGM
in November 1947. Earlier the State
Department had been so impressed with the film’s anti-communist message that it
helped release it in Italy to help undermine the Italian communists in 1946
Ninotchka was quickly followed
by The Iron Curtain which was
released by RKO in May 1948. The title of the film was the image for
Churchill’s famous speech of an iron curtain descending across Europe which he
made on 5 March 1946. This film was similar in style to the
successful Confessions of a Nazi Spy
released before the war, and it also shared the same writer in Martin
Krims. The film concentrated on the
defection of a Russian clerk Igor Gouzenko, played by Dana Andrews, who
defected in Canada. Even with its
novelty value, and the huge publicity of the HUAC hearings, the film was ranked
64th in the year’s rentals.
 Otto Friedrich, City of Nets, Headline, London, 1986, p.
 Phillip French, The Movie Moguls, Penguin, Harmonsworth,
1969, p. 154. Producers Sam Goldwyn,
Walter Wagner and liberal Dore Schary opposed the declaration.
 Barry Norman, Talking Pictures: The Story of Hollywood,
Hooder and Stoughton, London, 1987, p. 205.
 Les K. Alder and Thomas G.
Paterson, ‘Red Fasciasm: The Merger of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in the
American Image of Totalitarianism, 1930s-1950s, ‘American Historical Journal,
vol. 75, no. 4, April 1970, pp. 1059 – 1061. Alder and Paterson discuss how
easily the substitution from Germany to Russia occurred as a totalitarian
 Richard Hofstadter The Paranoid Style In American Politics and
Other Essays, Jonathan Cape, London, 1966, pp. 3 – 40.
 Robert E. Stripling, The Red Plot Against America, Bell,
 Jack Warner to Howard Koch,
November 24, 1942, Howard Koch Collection, Wisconsin Center for Film and
Theatre Research in David Culbert (ed.). Mission
to Moscow, Wisconsin Warner Bros Screenplay Series, University of Wisconsin
Press, Wisconsin, 1980, pp. 264 – 265.
 Ring Lardner Jr., ‘The Sign of the Boss’, The Screen Writer,
November 1945, pp. 1 – 12. Transcript in
Box 29, Folder 7, Cecil B. DeMille Archives, Brigham Young University, Provo,
Utah, USA. The Cecil B. DeMille
Foundation for Political Freedom was formed to campaign for right-to-work laws
and against communist infiltration.
DeMille set up the foundation when he refused to pay one dollar to the
American Federation of Radio Artists to fight right-to-work legislation on the
California state ballot in 1944. The
foundation was closed soon after his death in 1959.
 Other names in the files include
writers Albert Maltz, Sidney Buchman, and John Howard Lawson who were all
blacklisted. Edward G. Robinson and
Elmer Bernstein were described as not communist. Actor Howard Da Silva was also described a
‘commie’ out to get DeMille. All
appeared before HUAC. Box 29, Folder 7, Cecil B. DeMille Archives.
 Dorothy Jones, ‘Communism and the Movies’ in John Cogley,
Report on Blacklisting, The Fund For The Republic, New York, 1956, p. 300.
 For a complete discussion of the
film see Daniel J Leab, ‘The Iron Curtain
(1948): Hollywood’s First Cold War Movie’,
Historical Journal of Film, Radio and
Television, Vol 8, No. 2, 1988, pp. 153 – 188.
 Rhode, Robert James (ed.), Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches
1879 – 1963, Chelsea, London, 1974, p. 7285.
Variety, 5 January 1950 estimated that the film made $2 million in
rentals. No other 1949 anti-communist
made the lists.