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Friday, January 18, 2013


Over the next year or so I will include short reviews of substantial Cold War films films and links to resources here. 

Update: 29 October 2015

This new release is an excellent contemporary Cold War film. It stars Tom Hanks who plays an insurance lawyer James B. Donovan who is recruited by the Federal Court to represent a Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) to tokenly show the communists that unlike the U.S.S.R.'s justice system, America's is fair. When Donovan starts to do too good a job at representing the commie his family is targeted and strangers frown at him on the train. The film is set in 1957 and includes the dramatisation of key moments of the era, including the building of the Berlin Wall (1961) and the U2 Crisis (1960). Segments of the 'Duck and Cover' films are also shown (1951). Feel good and optimistically patriotic, the evils of the brutish communists is sharply contrasted with the Americans who surely would never resort to torture to reveal the truth. Nonetheless, this is a highly polished film and certainly worth watching.

Update: 3 February 2015

Monsters, spys and subversives: The film industry responds to the Cold War, 1945-1955 by Lawrence L. Murray.

This is a valuable eight page essay which provides a valuable overview as to how Hollywood made sense of the political pressures and paranoia of the early Cold War. Murray puts into context and briefly explains the most important films of the era.

Aired - 25 May 2013 on SBS ONE Expires - 8 June 2013, 4:00pm
This is an important documentary which provides an overview of the iconic Science Fiction films, particularly from the 1950s, which helped shape the perceptions of film makers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron and Roland Emmerich. The contexts of the films, such as, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Them!, War of the Worlds, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers & many others are discussed, as well as their underlying metaphoric meaning. Find the doco for a short time on SBS On Demand here:
Blurb: ‘From the Cold War and onwards, American cinema has told stories which identify a collective fear of invasion, nuclear destruction and invasive political ideologies. From War of the Worlds through to Alien and Independence Day, directors have reflected this paranoia back to a receptive public. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron and Roland Emmerich provide some of their personal experiences, while the program puts the films in historical, social and political context’. (From the US) (Documentary) (Rpt) PG
Watch the Skies!: SciFithe 1950s and Us
This doco of Cold War B Grade films is also worth considering. It focuses mostly on the 1950s and features some of the same footage of the Spielberg interviews in ‘Between Paranoia and Science Fiction’.
‘Watch the Skies’ on YouTube here:
Recommended sites about 50s B-Grade films:

A useful summary of ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956):

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (2006)

This is an outstanding Cold War film which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2007. The film is set in East Germany in 1984 and dramatizes the impact the secret police, the Stasi, has on the daily lives of two artists, George Dreyman, a playwright and his painter wife Christa-Maria Sieland. To maintain their status & privileges Dreyman pays lip service to the state and Sieland sleeps with the dodgy Minister Hempf.  In the hope of finding something on Dreyman so he can throw him in prison,  Hempf orders the Stasi to plant a listening device in the couple’s apartment.
Captain Wiesler is the officer in charge of finding evidence of Dreyman’s subversion. He is an isolated and cold individual who gradually develops an affection for the couple. As Wiesler’s sympathies gradually change, he begins to turn a blind eye to their real activities and falsifies his  reports to protect them.

Overall, this is a complex and excellently crafted thriller. As an additional text for After the Bomb it is rarely used and smartly complements Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold as Wiesler's moral regeneration strongly parallels that of Alec Leamas's.

Read more film reviews on Rotten Tomatoes like this one from the Guardian:

(1) Movie Review Query Machine (MRQE)

This is one the best sites to find out information about the best Cold War films as rated by viewers. A brief synopsis of each film is provided together with dozens of links to professional reviews. It is the substance of these reviews which makes this site significant.

There are 47 films listed. Many were released long after the Cold War ended and do not substantially reflect the values of the time. There are some serious omissions. The excellent Frankenheimer film Seven Days in May, for example, isn’t even listed.

The top 10 MRQU Cold War films are:

1.      Dr Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
2.       The Third Man (1949)
3.      The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
4.      Lives of Others (2006)
5.      Apocalypse Now (1979)
6.      Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
7.      The Iron Giant (1999)
8.      Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
9.      The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
10.  Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

      Dr Srangelove is definitely the best & a few of the others are up there, including The Manchurian Candidate, but many others are questionable to rate in the top 10. I'll rewatch many Cold War films over the next year, & with your help, try to create a more definitive list- say for the Best 25 films for After the Bomb.

(2) Red Scare: A Filmography

Here is a great site for Cold War films, especially for films with an anti-communist bent. There is a brief summary for each film to help you decide whether you wish to follow it up. Not many are widely available, but if you speak to Mr Torrents, perhaps he can help you:

(3) Philip J. Landon Films of the Cold War 1948-1990

This is a useful concise overview of some of the most important Cold War films, particularly during the 1950s. Landon clearly establishes the historical context of the various genres of films related to the paradigm of nuclear madness. His referencing of films related to the Vietnam War appear inadequate.