Scripting Vietnam Whos in charge here

Discussions between Batjac and the military about the movie initially went smoothly. After meeting the company's president and the Duke's eldest son, Michael, who would also be the film's producer, Donald Baruch informed the army of his enthusiasm for the enterprise. 'Not only do we want and need a feature motion picture on Vietnam', he wrote in February 1966, 'but we believe here is an opportunity to direct and develop a project that will contain story elements that are favourable to the...

First an undeclared war now an unseen film

As the finishing touches were being put to Hearts and Minds, rumours spread that it would never be released. In 1973, Columbia faced bankruptcy, having racked up a pre-tax loss of 72.5 million, the third highest annual loss in the studio's history. As a result, a major shareholder, the investment firm Allen and Co., engineered a coup. While Bert Schneider was on a trip to communist China, his father, Abe, was dumped as Columbia's president and replaced by David Begelman, late of the Hollywood...

Conclusion

The use of religious propaganda in wartime predates the Cold War by at least 2,500 years.88 The Catholic Church had signalled its own awareness of the arts of public persuasion in the seventeenth century, when Pope Gregory V established the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide in 1622.89 Religion as a theme in wartime cinematic propaganda has not been confined to the struggle between communism and capitalism either. During the Second World War, American films constantly linked God with...

The gunslingers accomplice

A second category of celluloid Cold War dissent relates to films which, in allegorical form, condemned those who led or tacitly condoned the witch-hunting of the Red Scare era. The best-known example of this, because it alludes to Hollywood itself, is High Noon, a 1952 Western produced by Stanley Kramer, directed by Fred Zinnemann, and written by Carl Foreman. The movie tells the story of sheriff Will Kane (played by that icon of frontier determination, and friendly HUAC witness, Gary Cooper),...

Americas Achilles heel

As the brouhaha surrounding Stanley Kramer's On the Beach signifies, the doubts Americans expressed about the nation's nuclear weapons programme probably caused Washington's propagandists more headaches over the course of the Cold War than any other issue. However, during the conflict's first two decades no issue challenged the central image the USIA wished to present of the United States overseas more than the nation's persistent problems caused by racial injustice. Many civil rights activists...

A political pas de deux

The world's first stage production of Ninotchka opened in Paris in April 1950, starring Sophie Desmarets and Henri Guisal. Three years later, Billy Wilder, one of Ninotchka's scriptwriters who had since become a respected director, considered making a male version of the story for Paramount. Nothing came of this, much to the relief of Luigi Luraschi, Paramount's head of censorship and a CIA confidant, who suspected Wilder's 'liberal-mindedness' might encourage undue sympathy towards the Soviet...

Hollywood on trial

Hollywood was treated as one of the 'enemies within' by counter-subversives in the United States during the early Cold War years. Once the clash between Washington and Moscow became direct and overt with the articulation of the Truman Doctrine in March 1947, domestic communism was transformed from a matter of political controversy to a subject that dominated national security. If anti-communism had been confined to the relative margins of American politics at the time of Ninotchka's production...

The enemy within

The Communists have developed one of the greatest propaganda machines the world has ever known. They have been able to penetrate and infiltrate many respectable and reputable public opinion mediums . . . Communist activity in Hollywood is effective and is furthered by Communists and sympathizers using the prestige of prominent persons to serve, often unwittingly, the Communist cause . . . What can we do And what should be our course of action The best antidote to Communism is vigorous,...

Political economy censorship and the cinematic cool war

Ninotchka did not appear out of the blue in 1939. The American film industry had effectively been at war with political extremism, and with communism in particular, for two decades. During the Progressive era, a number of silent films were made by small companies that tackled America's social problems head-on. Some even suggested radical solutions. Why , for instance, made in 1913 by the American arm of the French company clair Films, shocked critics with its tale of corrupt elites and visions...

Who guards the guardians

Three Days of the Condor bears all the trademark features of the seventies 'paranoid' movie smart, terse dialogue and sparse, haunting music taut suspense combined with scenes of entrapment and claustrophobia in telephone booths and elevators omniscient technology that erodes privacy and either dehumanises or kills and an intricate plot capped by an ambiguous closure. As a fast-paced man-on-the-run espionage thriller, it put a modern twist on Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) and The...

Pox Americana

Hearts and Minds is at once starkly frank yet indirect in its propagandistic approach. Davis studiously avoids hitting home any single point, preferring to argue his case against America's right to be in Vietnam through an oblique accretion of testimony and an almost poetic disregard for narrative cohesion. The movie alternates between eminent talking heads, stock footage, combat veterans' accounts, and clips from Hollywood anti-communist agit-prop. These all form a dense weave of sound and...

Peter Rathvon the USIA and another happy ending

The desire to capitalise on the tumult surrounding the BBC play seems to have been a major factor in the decision to make a cinematic version of Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1955. The film rights had been acquired from the Orwell estate in 1953 by the former president of RKO, Peter Rathvon. Rathvon enjoyed a close relationship with Washington in the 1950s, helping to finance films for the USIA's Motion Picture Service which, among other things, sponsored hard-hitting anti-communist films calculated...

List of Abbreviations

ACCF American Committee for Cultural Freedom ACLU American Civil Liberties Union ARVN Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) BBC British Broadcasting Corporation CBS Columbia Broadcasting System CCF Congress for Cultural Freedom CIA Central Intelligence Agency CPUSA Communist Party of the United States of America ECA European Cooperation Administration FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation FCDA Federal Civil Defence Administration HUAC House Un-American Activities Committee IRD...

Back to the future

Once the world's most powerful film studio, the proud producer of Ninotchka and scores of other prestigious motion pictures in the 1930s and 1940s, MGM was in dire financial straits by the late 1970s. The victim, like other studios, of dwindling audiences and wavering production policies, it looked as though it was going out of business. In the early 1980s, MGM's principal owner, the reclusive Las Vegas financier Kirk Kerkorian, gambled. He expanded the studio's production system by purchasing...

Watching the detectives

The conventional view shared by observers at the time and film historians since is that this clumsily produced, overtly propagandistic Red-baiting material was deeply unpopular with audiences, and that it may even have hindered rather than helped the anti-communist cause by bluntly depicting fifth-columnists as moronic and easy to spot. In 1953, one notable commentator, Karel Reisz, a leading light in the British New Wave film movement of the early 1960s, warned that such a significant body of...

Full dress rehearsal

In contrast with many of the films mentioned above, and indeed with the majority of case studies in this book, MGM's late 1930s romantic satire Ninotchka was not designed for political purposes, but rather to entertain and make money. Yet this arguably, if somewhat paradoxically, made it a more effective weapon of propaganda than any anti-communist film made in the United States to that date. Work on Ninotchka started in 1937, when Bernie Hyman, chief aide to MGM's head Louis B. Mayer, asked...

Racist and immoral and a box office hit

Being the first major film about Vietnam and a John Wayne vehicle, The Green Berets was always going to attract significant interest. However, in the three years it had taken to make, for Americans the war in Vietnam had grown from a blip on the map somewhere in Southeast Asia to a reality that might claim the life of the boy next door. When the movie debuted, in July 1968, there were half a million American troops in South Vietnam and the war was at the very top of the US political agenda....

Seeing is believing

Transferring Orwell's novel to the screen represented a major logistical challenge to Halas and Batchelor, and the film was a notable artistic achievement. Animal Farm became the first feature-length animation film made in Britain for the entertainment of the general public and the first ever made for politically conscious adults.38 Work by the eighty artists employed was split between Stroud in Gloucestershire and London, where the largest studio in Europe was developed for this kind of...

Mobilising the past

While some movies looked rather uncertainly into the future, others turned to the past. Prior to the Cold War, Hollywood filmmakers had a long tradition of using history for political purposes. Some of the most prestigious propaganda films of the Second World War, for example, had mythologised Great War heroes in order to cast a positive light on the conflict against fascism, among them Howard Hawks' Sergeant York 1941 and Henry King's Wilson 1944 .38 During the 1950s, American filmmakers saw...

The Office of Policy Coordination film and the British

The origins of the animated, feature-length film of Animal Farm lie within the American secret services. In June 1948, the US National Security Council issued a directive establishing a new agency to conduct deniable political, economic, paramilitary and psychological operations to counter the 'vicious covert activities of the USSR, its satellite countries and Communist groups to discredit the aims of the United States and other Western powers'. The Office of Special Projects soon renamed the...

Ocb Of Militarism

It is fitting that John Wayne made the only major Vietnam War movie to come out of Hollywood during that most divisive of conflicts. After all, the Pentagon regarded Wayne as perhaps its single most effective recruiting agent in the decades after the Second World War, and his mythical warrior status seems to have left an indelible mark on the generation of American fighting men that came to maturity in the 1960s. In one respect, in The Green Berets Wayne was simply doing for the US Special...

Propaganda by numbers

Batjac's The Green Berets is unashamedly old-fashioned, blood-and-guts patriotic propaganda. A Second World War film in tone and structure, it focuses on the brave endeavours of a small group of elite soldiers, thus playing down the highly bureaucratic nature of America's war in Vietnam. Characters often deliver long speeches, thinly disguised as dialogue. The enemy are presented as racially barbaric terrorists driven by the monolithic communist desire for expansion. The clients, the South...

Love and defection

If you have something worthwhile to say, dress it in the glittering robes of entertainment and you will find a ready market . . . without entertainment no propaganda film is worth a dime. Darryl Zanuck, Twentieth Century-Fox production chief, 19431 It is the mid-1980s and we are about to be treated to a cinematic tale of male bonding, intrigue and high drama, one inspired by real-life events and illuminated by dazzling dance sequences. The movie is Taylor Hackford's White Nights. The rather...

An Italian job

In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and the subsequent marriage of convenience between the United States, Russia and Britain, such stories were no longer commercially fashionable or politically advisable. Instead, between 1942 and 1945, the Soviet Union gradually underwent a makeover on American cinema screens, transformed from an enemy into a valuable wartime partner. In accordance with Office of War Information OWI guidance, Hollywood movies depicting the USSR...

Louis de Rochement and the art of docudrama

One filmmaker with whom the FBI developed a special relationship during the early Cold War was Louis de Rochement, considered by many to be the father of the American docudrama. Beginning his film career in newsreels in the 1920s, de Rochement had an ambition to develop a comprehensive style of recounting 'real-life' events on screen that led him to launch The March of Time in 1935. In this monthly magazine, sponsored by the Time-Life Company, de Rochement combined authentic footage with...

Info

De Rochement's links with the US government's Cold War propaganda machine extended further. In the early 1950s, his company made a number of films for the USIS and bodies associated with the US State Department and CIA, such as the Ford Foundation.48 In 1951, he drew on the expertise of Harvard political scientists for a documentary requested by the State Department's International Motion Picture Service, provisionally titled 'The History of Communism'. De Rochement intended this production to...

Cultural diplomacy of a celluloid kind The USIAs film machine

The USIA was the largest national propaganda organisation directed overseas in history, and one that dwarfed its rivals during the Cold War.27 The agency's relationship with US private industry, and the media in particular, was extremely close. Theodore Streibert, its first director, was a former board chairman of the Mutual Broadcasting System radio network. His deputy, Abbott Washburn, had handled public relations for the food giant, General Mills, before becoming executive vice-chairman of...

Deviants hypocrites and murderers

Hollywood's depiction of communists as a clear and present danger during the late 1940s and early 1950s made political and commercial sense. In fact, there is currently a fierce debate between scholars about how real that danger was. While the 'traditionalists', bolstered by recently opened files, emphasise the strong links that existed between Moscow-directed espionage and the CPUSA, 'revisionists' tend to argue that the Soviet espionage threat was a spectre manufactured for the bureaucratic...

Revisiting Little Rock

The second major documentary about American race relations that the USIA released in 1964 was Nine from Little Rock. If The March represented agency film 'reportage' at its best, Nine from Little Rock captured the MPS's ability to deliver an emotionally and socially uplifting history lesson, and to turn a propaganda liability into an asset. Ostensibly an update on the nine African-American students who had been at the centre of the Little Rock Central High School integration debacle in 1957,...

Religion politics and Cold War propaganda

There is no clear way to arrive at a precise assessment of the role of religion in the Cold War. It seems safe to conclude that most people, especially in the West, viewed the conflict in diplomatic and political terms. Yet religion was not an insignificant determinant, especially for those who were tempted to see the battle between communism and capitalism as a latter-day morality play, and in those countries, like Pope John Paul II's Poland, where the traditional authority of the church...

Framing race

While many of these films were being made, America's image on race relations was again tarnished. In the early 1960s, the domestic and foreign media reported some of the most harrowing clashes between American whites and blacks yet recorded. Followers of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience imposed increasing pressure on the federal and state governments to bring about real racial equality. At the same time, militant groups like Elijah Muhammad's Black Muslims...

Militant Liberty

The climate of Hollywood-Pentagon cooperation fostered by the threat of communism led to a number of creative projects, designed to sell official Cold War strategy more discreetly. One of the most fascinating of these was the top-secret 'Militant Liberty' programme instigated in the mid-1950s by John C. Broger, an evangelical Christian working as a psychological warfare consultant in the US Defence Department. Broger felt that it was essential to propagate more aggressively through a range of...

George Stevens Jr and the golden age of USIA documentary

The USIA's MPS achieved little of real note during the 1950s. The director of the service during this period, Turner Shelton, had risen through civil service channels and was considered more of a cost accountant than a film expert. The service did produce a few imaginative films. Shelton's best achievement was probably one provided for him by Walt Disney, whose technically brilliant multi-screen Circarama tour of the United States appeared to surround the viewer with beautiful scenery and...