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 fortunes of the FBI or designed by reactionaries to smear the American political left generally.23 However, even one such revisionist, Ellen Schrecker, accepts the plausibility of a communist threat given the CPUSA's open allegiance to Moscow, its secretive nature, and the uncovering of spies in sensitive positions. This is despite the fact that the party, which at its height in the late 1930s had boasted about 88,000 members but in 1952 had a mere 9,000 (1,600 of whom were allegedly either undercover agents or paid informants), was tiny.24
Yet the extent to which movies portrayed this threat accurately is not the issue so much as the way they depicted indigenous communists and those associated with them. In short, 'they' were presented as a mixture of criminals, murderers, social misfits and sexual deviants, who were hypocritical, devious and emotionally detached, and engaged in illegal activities in order to weaken the USA and advance the Soviet cause of world domination. In contrast, 'we' ('ordinary' Americans) were presented as law-abiding, capable and self-sacrificing, as people who, though traditionally peace-loving, were at war with an implacable enemy. To stand by in such circumstances, the films warned, was either an act of dangerous naivety or one of implicit collaboration.
Communists were shown to be undermining the USA in a variety of ways, ranging from acts of sabotage, espionage and drug-smuggling to infiltrating labour unions, university faculties and even churches in order to spread the party line. Communist tentacles reached across the globe: to Western Europe (Assignment- Paris, 1952), Eastern Europe (TheBeast of Budapest, 1956), Africa (Tangier Incident, 1953), Asia (The Shanghai Story, 1954), the Arctic Circle (Arctic Flight, 1952), and even outer space (The Flying Saucer, 1950).25 More seriously, they had penetrated democracy's very heartland, in a host of locations — San Francisco (I Married a Communist, 1949), Pittsburgh (I Was a Communist for the FBI, 1951), Hawaii (Big Jim McLain, 1952), New York (Bowery Battalion, 1951), Alaska (Red Snow, 1952)26 — and in a variety of institutions: the science laboratory (Invaders from Mars, 1953), the military base (The Wac from Walla Walla, 1952), and even a national monument, Mount Rushmore (North by Northwest, 1959).27
No genre proved immune to the politics of the day, though often this politics found only indirect expression. Documentaries included The Bell (1950), which was jointly produced by the Defence Department and the Crusade for Freedom. The CFF was a project of the CIA-sponsored National Committee for Free Europe, and campaigned, among other things, for the expansion of radio broadcasting networks equipped to spread 'the truth' among those living under communism. The Bell was a short educational film which, using the Liberty Bell, America's great symbol of independence and freedom, as its starting point, encouraged movie-goers to purchase savings bonds by spelling out the dangers of Soviet aggression, partly through footage of the 1948—9 Berlin airlift. The Hoaxsters, another documentary, was made by Dore Schary in 1952, and showed 'how the dictators of the world up to and including Joseph Stalin have been much like the hucksters who attempt to fool the people with "snake oil"'. The Hoaxsters was nominated for an Academy Award and released with the endorsement of the State Department and the FBI.28 Thrillers included Jacques Tourneur's The Fearmakers (1958), in which a brainwashed Korean War veteran returns to the US to find his public relations firm taken over by communists, and Edward Dein's Shack Out on 101 (1955), in which an FBI agent thwarts a communist smuggling plot operating out of a Californian hamburger stand. Crime capers included Sam Fuller's Pickup on South Street (1953) and Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which respectively depicted a hard-bitten pickpocket and cynical private investigator (Micky Spillane's Mike Hammer) turning anti-communist and routing atomic
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