Communist Infiltration and Donald Trump: The Movies meet Reality
In the movie, Red Sparrow (2018), when Dominika Egorova (played by Jennifer Lawrence) goes to Sparrow School (a Russia school which trains its students in using sex to get information out of potential informants), she meets Matron (played by Charlotte Rampling). During the course of her time at the school, Matron states, “the Cold War never ended, it just broke into a thousand pieces.” The movie portrays the current government in Russia in much the same way that the former Soviet Union was seen by many Americans.
Whether, or to what extent Donald Trump or individuals associated with him had ties to Russia and whether Russia played a significant role in the 2016 Presidential election supporting Trump, are still unfolding stories. Despite that, Americans have had a long hatred and suspicion of the former Soviet Union and now Russia. The Red Scare which came in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917, lead to an enormous number of arrests of foreigners considered subversives bent on spreading communism or socialism within the United States. Much of this hysteria was an outgrowth of anxiety over labor unrest with union organizing and labor protests. Despite the reasons for the hysteria, America did not react well to the emergence of a Communist government under Lenin. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson sent an American force in 1918 to help restore the previous government to power. This force was part of an Allied force consisting of British, French, and American troops. While the aim was to secure supplies that the allies feared might fall into German hands, the fear of Communism also played a role in this expedition. In this period, even Al Capone felt the need to express his view, “Communism is knocking at our gates–we can’t afford to let it in! We must keep the American worker away from Red literature.” 1
While the Red Scare seemed to have faded as we entered the 1920s, it was simply dormant and would rise again, first in the 1930s, and then again after the Second World War ended in 1945. The House Un-American Activities Commission (HUAC) formed in 1938 (within the House of Representatives) is often remembered as the most prominent committee hunting for Communists within the United States but the Overman Committee in 1919, followed by the Fish Committee and the McCormack-Dickstein Committee all did the same prior to HUAC. In fact, during the 1930s there was a group known as the Ware Group located in Washington, D.C. in which later on members confirmed they had ties to the Communist Party. In this group were Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, two individuals who became prominent in the hunt for Communists working within the government during the late 1940s and into the 1950s. Chambers testified in 1948 before the House Un-American Activities Committee, revealing the existence of the Ware Group, that he was a member, and that the group folded in the late 1930s. Hiss was accused of being a Soviet spy, convicted of perjury and sent to jail. Whether Hiss gave government secrets to the Soviets is still one of those smoke and mirrors issues today. In 2001 a reporter for the New York Times wrote, although with some reservation that, “ [there is a] growing consensus that Hiss, indeed, had most likely been a Soviet agent..” 2 Not exactly the stuff of absolute certainty. In other words, there is a distinction between being a member of the Communist Party and being a Soviet agent with the intention of stealing and passing on government secrets.
In late 1939, Leon Trotsky agreed to testify before the committee but then he was assassinated in Mexico City. What he was going to say before the committee is pure speculation. 3 Later on other famous names would testify before the committee, Ronald Reagan, when he was President of the Screen Actors Guild, and Walt Disney, who testified that Communists were infiltrating his organization. Disney seemed to carry a grudge against any union organizing in his operation and ran Communism together with union organization—shades of the 1917 Red Scare. 4
After the Second World War ended, President Harry Truman in March 1947 created a “loyalty order” which was designed to root out any Communist subversives within the United States Government. Some 300 employees were eventually dismissed as risks to national security. One of the reasons for this program was because Truman was aware that his Administration was being accused by domestic critics of being “soft on Communism”—an expression that could be heard frequently during the 1950s and 1960s.
Joseph McCarthy, the senator from Wisconsin is always seen as the one name that many Americans can associate with Communism infiltration, but, as readers can see, there is a long history of hunting for Communist infiltration before McCarthy and what later became known as McCarthyism. Perhaps the highpoint of McCarthy’s irresponsibility and shamelessness came in 1951 when he accused General George Marshall of Communist ties. Marshall served as Army Chief of Staff during the Second World War and then Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense in the Truman Administration and his name is associated with the “Marshall Plan.” McCarthy accused Marshall of “having made common cause with [Joseph] Stalin” regarding Eastern Europe becoming under the control of the Soviet Union. 5
Use of McCarthy’s name and McCarthyism and accusing individual or organizations of ties to Communism, have resurfaced frequently after McCarthy’s demise. In more recent times Donald Trump Jr., in fact, referred to McCarthyism and the Democrats as “left of commie” in a Fox News interview. 6 But Trump, Jr. is not alone is attempting to focus on the Democratic Party as having ties to Russia. 7 Another columnist accused the Democrats of going “full commie.” 8 During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton was accused of support from Communism, with a columnist stating “the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) is all in for her candidacy.” 9 Earlier Barrack Obama was accused of ties to Communism. An editorial in one publication described Obama as “The Last Communist Sympathizer.” 10 Allen West, a former Republican Congressman from Florida, accused the Democrats in the House of Representatives of being infiltrated by Communists. 11 West said this back in 2012, at a point when Donald Trump was barely on the political radar. The point is that fear of Communism or the political uses for accusing individuals and organizations of Communist ties, is still very much alive and well, 27 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Communism Goes to the Movies
It is somewhat ironic that while the House Un-American Activities Committee spent some of its time searching for Communists in Hollywood, certainly the reason Reagan was testifying before the committee, despite that Hollywood saw Capitalist dollar signs in this wave of sentiment that was sweeping the country in the 1950s and well after, to make movies that focused on what many Americans came to believe was aggressive Communist infiltration of the United States. There were Communists within the United States and secrets were passed along to the Soviet Union, but movies painted a more embellished picture. It is interesting to examine some of these movies in the context of the current Federal government investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. The May 2017 order from the Deputy Attorney General states, “Appointment of Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters.” A real investigation into Russian interference within an American Presidential election can be seen as a contrast to how American movie goers saw any interference on the Big Screen.
Big Jim McLain (1952) had John Wayne and James Arness (later of Gunsmoke fame) as investigators for the House Un-American Activities Committee. The two investigators go to Hawaii to track down a Communist spy ring that in some vague way wants to cause labor unrest which will in an equally vague way lead to what can only be described as an economic standstill of the economy allowing Communism or, perhaps, the Soviet Union to take control of the sandy beaches of Hawaii. The grandiose plan that movie watchers must have walked away with from this movie was their concern that there was some validity to the movie’s premise. Not content to steal a few secrets here and there, but a plan well beyond that takes Communist infiltration to another level.
Prior to Big Jim McLain there was a film that was an outgrowth of articles that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951). After the movie was released, Dana Andrews starred in a radio show based on the movie that ran for 78 episodes in 1952 and 1953. Frank Lovejoy, a popular actor during the 1950s, played Matt Cvetic in the movie who was, in fact, asked by the FBI to infiltrate a Communist organization in Pittsburgh and report back to them. The Saturday Evening Post articles are his story about his years (1941-1950) of undercover activity. Exactly how valuable he was to the FBI might be questioned. Cvetic was outed as a potential FBI mole in 1946 by a Hearst reporter and in 1947, when he was arrested on drunk and disorderly charges he supposedly yelled in his cell, “you can’t do this to me, I work for the FBI.” The movie does not portray Cvetic as anything but a true American patriot. Why ruin a perfectly good story? In an odd twist, the movie was nominated for an Oscar—as a documentary. If audiences could distinguish between fact, fiction and outright embellishment well, good luck. Again, as with Big Jim McLain, there was the theme of Communists causing labor unrest and racial tension, all with the aim of seizing power for the Soviet Union.
I Was a Communist for the FBI, did not just lead to a radio series spin-off, but also a TV series that lasted from 1953 to 1956 with Richard Carlson starring in 117 episodes. Whatever semblance of realism existed eventually had to be abandoned in order for the series to last over more than a hundred shows.
In 1952, The Hoaxers was released which was, in fact, a documentary and was nominated for an Oscar. The selling point of the movie was the tag line that it was “Narrated by 8 Great Personalities.” Among those personalities were, Howard Keel, George Murphy, Walter Pidgeon, and Robert Taylor, all well-known actors. The theme that the audience got was that the Soviet Union was hell-bent on world domination—a point that emerges in other films.
1952, continued to be a good year for movies on Communist infiltration. My Son John was released that year starring Helen Hayes. The movie was nominated for an Oscar in Best Writing. Spending long periods of time with one of his college professors is never a good sign in movies about Communism in America. It is usually a given in these movies that teachers are suspected of disloyalty or Communist ties. This movie pits a devout Catholic mother and strong American Legion father against an atheist son. In the end the son wants to repent and “name names” but Communists kill him before he has the chance to do so.
By the mid-1950s, the Communist infiltration theme had, more or less, run its course. In 1966, the John Birch Society, a rather extreme anti-Communist organization, released Anarchy, U.S.A. which saw the Civil Rights movement as part of a Communist conspiracy with the goal to turn the United States into a Communist government. The theme was that Cuba and China served as models for how to bring about a change in government here at home. The film is available for sale on Amazon and some of the reviews (if they can be called that) by people who bought the film indicate it resonates with some people today. One buyer wrote, “it fits so closely with what is happening today,” while another wrote, “Good history and educational” and still another wrote, “Great documentary.” 12
In 1987, Kevin Costner starred in No Way Out which involves sex, infidelity, the Pentagon, CIA assassins, and a KGB sleeper agent named Yuri. In the end it turns out that the character Costner was playing was the infamous Yuri and somehow he was supposed to get information (secrets?) from the lover of the Secretary of Defense who was having an affair on the side. While Communist infiltration is an overlay of this movie, the grandiose plans of world domination or just overthrowing the existing United States government are never present.
The notion that KGB sleeper agents could live among us to someday be activated to do nefarious deeds was a theme in Telefon (1977). The Cold War by the 1970s was not the way it might have been seen by the public in the 1950s but Communists or more specifically Soviet infiltration was seen as alive and well. In the case of this movie a rogue KGB agent decides to activate agents in the United States by calling them up saying the few words that trigger their willingness to act and off they go killing targets for some reason not always clearly apparent. Again, the broader issue of wanting to take over America is not presence. Also, unlike the 1950s movies where individuals know they are willing to join a Communist organization, in the case of this movie, people might have been recruited in some underhanded way without their knowledge.
In the movie Invasion, U.S.A. (1985) Chuck Norris seemed to single-handedly take down every Communist in America when they all run into the same multi-story building because it takes multitudes of Communists to take-down one karate-kicking Chuck. Unlike Communist infiltration movies, in the case of this movie everything is out in the open, with Communists driving through residential neighborhoods shooting everything in sight. The basic premise has Latin American Communist guerrillas led by a Soviet agent, Mikhail, out to set up a base of operations in the Southeastern part of the United States and then aim to conquer the rest of the country. It has something in common with Red Dawn (1984) starring Patrick Swayze, where an invasion is not all in the shadows, which is where the action in 1950s movies took place. As an American colonel states in the movie, however, the invasion came as a surprise, “[The] first wave of the attack came in disguised as commercial charter flights.”
Movies influence our imagination of what can seem real and that carries a degree of being plausible. Studies show that movies addressing the role of government in operations can influence how people think about their government, and not just in the short-term but for years to come. 13 The movie Zero Dark Thirty (2012) has Jessica Chasteen playing fictional CIA agent Maya, and the dedication she shows in the movie to getting Osama bin Laden had an impact on movie viewers. The author of one study stated that after seeing a movie such as this where a government agent shows such a strong desire to her cause, about 25 percent of the movie watchers changed their views on how they saw their government. 14 The movie The Day After Tomorrow (2004) was shown to increase audience awareness to concerns about global climate change. 15 The premise of the movie has the United States (well about half of it) ending up in a New Ice Age and Americans being forced to move to Mexico (reverse immigration, no doubt). In an odd way there was speculation that since it was a Presidential election year, the movie might influence some voters, seeing then President George W. Bush as unwilling to address climate change and Democratic Presidential candidate, John Kerry as more receptive. In another study, two researchers concluded that, “[There was] significant evidence that popular films possess the capability to change attitudes on political issues. In an age where the biases of network news and talk radio programs are accepted facts, the movie theater may prove to be one of the last sources of cross-cutting exposure to political messages.” 16
The wave of Communist infiltration movies that were made in the 1950s have long since faded from memory, except to appear on a channel running old movies every now and then, but the broader message of Communist infiltration still exists, but how it resonates is quite different from anything associated with the probe undertaken to look into the 2016 Presidential election. Herbert W. Armstrong, a popular radio evangelist heard from the 1930s to the late 1960s, made a statement in 1956, which can be found on websites supporting his thinking today:
[We are in] a kind of warfare we don’t understand, or know how to cope with. It uses every diabolical means to weaken us from within, sapping our strength, perverting our morals, sabotaging our educational system, wrecking our social structure, destroying our spiritual and religious life, weakening our industrial and economic power, demoralizing our armed forces, and finally, after such infiltration, overthrowing our government by force and violence! 17
One website refers to 45 goals Communism has to destroy America. The goals were popularized by a Florida Congressman in 1963, but receive attention today. This particular website was posting in July 2016 and refers to goal number 15 where the aim is to control of one or both political parties in the United States and then goes on to claim the Democratic Party is under the control of Communists or Communist sympathizers. 18 The Democratic Party is not only seen as open to Communist infiltration, the Catholic Church has been cited by another website, “It is a well-known and documented fact that the agents of Communism began entering our Catholic seminaries as far back as the 30s for the purpose of destroying the Church from within. Over a thousand such agents had infiltrated the seminaries prior to 1940.” How anyone exactly knows there were over a “thousand such agents” or any at all, is not clear or spelled out. 19 Hollywood, naturally, is a favorite target. One more recent piece claims that Hollywood played a role in bringing about the end of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1975. This piece says there was a Communist influence in Hollywood that declined (obviously leading to the wave of anti-Communist movies of the 1950s), but then it resurfaced. 20 Another website goes after “pop” or “abstract” art stating, “’Pop’ art has no place in Western Civilization, and is an enemy which must be opposed. Few…know that it’s origins are directly Marxist, and…it plays a clever political role by undermining our culture.” 21 Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign manager (well one of them) and former White House Chief Strategist (for a while) had an oil painting of himself dressed as Napoleon during the 2016 campaign, one wonders if that might be pop art. 22 Another website refers to documents apparently revealed in the Soviet archives showing that the aim of Soviet money coming to America was to infiltrate American education, referring to “the flooding of college campuses with Marxist literature.” 23 It is not clear how much of this Marxist literature was supposed to end up on college campuses and whether students were going to buy it as part of course required readings or whether it was just being handed out free by people walking around a campus. In addition, it is not clear which academic disciplines this literature was being written to be used in. The specifics are missing from this particular piece. Vague statements about Communist goals are rarely followed up with detailed discussions of implementing those goals. In some vague way, things are just going to happen.
It might be possible to simply say that many of these websites are the work of fringe elements and receive little attention from broader society, but that is the problem with the web—everything can look like it is on an equal footing. One recent article summarized the 1950s anti-Communist movies as, “although there were some specimens of hysteria, by and large the anti-Communist films of the ’50s were reasonably restrained.” 24 Ignored in this piece was any reference to the films addressing racial, ethnic, or labor unrest in unsavory ways and assuming they had ties to Communist activity. Ignored also was that many of these films painted American education in an unflattering way. Higher education has always been an easy target for many supposed Conservatives. Ironically, if we examine where many state legislators received their college degrees, while they rail against the “liberal tendencies” of universities, it turns out many received their degrees from the same universities they easily criticize. In the case of Missouri, one study noted that of the current 191 legislators in the Missouri General Assembly (both the House and Senate), 124 hold degrees from a Missouri university. 25 Oddly, there has been an increase in Republican concerns about higher education. In 2015, 37 percent of Republicans believed universities were having an adverse effect on the country, that figure had risen to 58 percent by 2017. 26 The movies and their views of higher education, may still matter and influence the thinking and attitudes of many Americans.
Alex Jones who ran Infowars, a site often devoted to promoting conspiracies, and now has been banned or suspended by Apple, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, often focused on Communist infiltration. In a law suit again Jones brought by Nikolas Cruz, who Jones wrongly accused of being the gunman who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in February 2018, Jones’s obsession with Communism was addressed. The suit states, “Over the past year alone, Infowars has featured hundreds of sensationalist articles and videos focusing on the threat of communist agitation and conspiracies.” 27 Ironically, President Trump, during the period when he was making his run at the Presidency, appeared on Infowars and said of Jones, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”
Behind the Curtain
In October 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, issued a joint statement that Russians had hacked emails with the intention of interferring in the 2016 Presidential election. 28 Included in this short statement was the following, “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” Within two weeks, then President Obama said he spoke with Vladimir Putin and told him to stop interfering. In December, after the election and Donald Trump’s victory, Obama said he directed the intelligence community to do a report. The report was released (a public version) in January 2017. 29 One statement from this report essentially says it all:
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.
In order words, put aside anything that appears on television, particularly specific shows on Fox News, where the focus is on the FBI and whether it is a reliable government organization, the text messages between two FBI agents as lovers and their opinions on Trump, James Comey as the former FBI director, his firing by President Trump, Comey’s actions and whether they were professional or not, the supposed “bias” of FBI agents toward whatever, the Deep State (whatever that is, exactly), the Steele dossier which raised allegations about Trump and his campaign team working with the Russians, and that this dossier has a financial relationship to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the release of the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s report on the FBI handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails, and Trump’s tweets on basically anything, and focus on nothing more than the joint October 2016 statement and the January 2017 intelligence community report, both referred to above.
The Senate Intelligence Committee examined the intelligence community report and the Republican chairman of this committee (Richard Burr, R-N.C.) said, “Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions [of this report].” 30 Furthermore, Burr added, “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.” 31 The House Intelligence Committee issued a report in March 2018. This report was heavily partisan, with the Democrats issuing a minority report challenging the Republican conclusion that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The Republican report, however, said there was Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential campaign and even said Hillary Clinton was the target of most of their activity, “[Russia Today] was critical of presidential candidates for both major parties but consistently critical of candidate Clinton throughout the election.” 32 Russian Today is an international news channel which, the report notes, is under editorial control by the Russian government. The Senate Intelligence Committee, again, endorsed the findings of the January 2017 intelligence community report in July 2018 stating, “Moscow sought to denigrate Secretary Clinton.” 33 Regardless of how you look at it: The Russians interfered in the 2016 Presidential election and for whatever reason or reasons they had, they favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton as President.
Imagine if Hillary Clinton were President and any intelligence community reports just suggested, forgot stating outright, that the Russians interfered in the election and favored Clinton over Trump. All the influence of Communist infiltration movies and website activity continuing to see Communists under every rock, but the one in front of them, would shift into overdrive and never let up. The basics of why there is an investigation in the first place into Russian interference in our Presidential election, have been replaced by all sorts of other overlaying stories. In some ways this is the Wizard of Oz, where when Dorothy and her compatriots arrive to speak with the wizard and Toto, her dog, pulls back a curtain, they are told to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
It may be understandable for Trump to discount Russian interference, vanity alone would encourage anyone to deny that outside forces influenced the course of an election in one’s favor. The fortunes of every election turn on a number of events and Russian interference is just one of any number that could influence the outcome of the most recent Presidential election. There is a reason or reasons, however, why the Russians favored Trump. Whatever the reason or reasons, we do not know why: Speculation is one thing, knowing is another. Just that issue alone deserves a great deal of attention.
- http://gangsterreport.com/al-capone-quotes/ ↩
- https://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/16/technology/online-the-hiss-defense-doesn-t-rest.html?scp=1&sq=The%20Hiss%20defense%20doesn%27t%20rest&st=cse ↩
- http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/archive/trotsky.htm ↩
- https://explorethearchive.com/on-this-day-walt-disney-huac ↩
- https://www.shmoop.com/mccarthyism-red-scare/george-c-marshall.html ↩
- http://www.newsweek.com/trump-jr-mccarthyism-twitter-799385 ↩
- https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/06/donald-trump-joseph-mccarthy-comparison-bogus/ ↩
- https://townhall.com/columnists/arthurschaper/2017/05/17/the-democratic-party-corruption-communism-with-crashing-and-burning-n2327872 ↩
- https://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/politics/item/23834-communist-party-goes-all-in-for-hillary ↩
- https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/barack-obama-the-last-communist-sympathizer/ ↩
- http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2012/apr/11/allen-west/allen-west-says-about-80-house-democrats-are-membe/ ↩
- https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Agenda-Vol-Anarchy-Rights/dp/6304953003 ↩
- https://op-talk.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/how-movies-can-change-our-minds/ ↩
- https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics/article/argo-and-zero-dark-thirty-film-government-and-audiences/889B13ED0B53B2DF7C09372D4ACCECE5 ↩
- http://environment.yale.edu/leiserowitz/climatechange/TDAT_assets/LeiserowitzTDAT2.pdf ↩
- https://al.nd.edu/news/latest-news/graduate-students-show-how-popular-movies-influence-political-views/ ↩
- https://www.thetrumpet.com/12385-has-america-been-influenced-by-communism ↩
- http://www.tldm.org/news7/communisminamerica.htm ↩
- https://catholicismpure.wordpress.com/2016/09/22/communist-infiltration-of-the-catholic-church/ ↩
- https://www.aim.org/aim-column/americas-enemies-in-hollywood-then-and-now/ ↩
- http://www.faem.com/western/cominfil.htm ↩
- https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2017/07/11/steve-bannon-napoleon-painting/466516001/ ↩
- https://prophecyinthenews.com/world_news/the-communist-infiltration-of-america-was-prophesied/ ↩
- https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/08/best-anti-communist-movies-50s/ ↩
- Mary Painter, “MO Legislator College Dataset,” Scholar Strategy Network(March 22, 2018) ↩
- https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinesimon/2017/09/12/conservatives-contempt-for-college-on-the-rise/#7ce66c94b0b1 ↩
- Matthew Haag, “Alex Jones and Infowars Are Sued for Defamation after Misidentifying Parkland Gunman,” New York Times, April 3, 2018 ↩
- https://www.dhs.gov/news/2016/10/07/joint-statement-department-homeland-security-and-office-director-national ↩
- https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf ↩
- http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/05/16/senate-panel-backs-intel-report-on-russian-meddling-after-interviewing-obama-officials.html ↩
- https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/5/16/17361650/russia-election-trump-putin-intelligence-committee ↩
- https://www.cbsnews.com/news/house-intelligence-committee-finds-no-evidence-trump-campaign-collusion/. The report is in this article, the relevant quote is on page 32 ↩
- thehill.com/homenews/senate/395408-senate-intel-committee-no-reason-to-dispute-ic-assessment-of-russian-election?userid=62877 ↩
What do you think? Leave a comment.
It’s interesting and difficult to assess films with extremist viewpoints that were made at times when their viewpoints were considered perfectly acceptable.
BIRTH OF A NATION is one such flick, with its heroic Ku Klux Klansmen saving the day.
Films from different era can provide an interesting insight on the present. The contrast or even sometimes similar sentiments are useful. In studying classics in, say, political philosophy we look for similarities or contrasts with political thinking in the present, so films from different era can help the same way.
A good reason to see movies from different eras, since they provide a window on the times.
Very interesting article. I do not profess to be an expert on communism, but I do understand that the Red Scare of the late 1940’s and 1950’s was an era in Hollywood that destroyed many innocent people, and films like “Big Jim McLain”, “The Red Menace” and “I Was a Communist For the FBI” are just as manipulative as the dangers they are preaching against.
Woody Allen’s The Front (1976) addresses actors hurt by Communist fear. Thanks for reading my article.
Regardless of your politics, you’ve got to get a copy of Big Jim McLain and watch for its comedy value.
Big Jim McLain seen as comic or even odd and strange now, but not necessarily at the time. I wonder how many seeing the movie then believed it to be, say, credible where Hawaii could fall to Communists.
Gordon Douglas’s movie is so anti-communism that at times you are feeling you are watching a parody.
It may be difficult to watch this film nowadays and think lots of people believed the message of this movie, but it’s even more difficult that this movie was nominated for an Oscar in 1952.
Looking at the movie now and stopping to understand the times when it was produced. Thinking of movie goers watching it and not necessarily seeing it as funny or odd but relevant and credible, maybe that helps to provide perspective on how we understand change in examining relations between countries or a climate of the times within the United States.
I Was A Communist For The FBI. There are so very few films where just the title tells you all you need to know about the film.
The really interesting thing about this film is how in heaven’s name did this get nominated for an Oscar in the documentary category? It is not a documentary in any sense of the word, it’s not even in that hybrid category of docudrama.
A true mystery regarding an Oscar nomination. I guess being aware of the climate of the times helps to understand why it was nominated.
Another example would be I Married A Monster From Outer Space.
“I Married a Monster From Outer Space,” after I saw it several years ago on TV I wondered if that could be updated. Imagine a modern version.
Communism = bad. Well, that’s the message this film tries to deliver. It’s not very subtle at all. Nowadays, it all seems very simplistic and one-sided and the ending is very moralizing.
I think Donald Trump is trying that now by throwing the word Socialism around. It’s thrown out there to cause fear and it might be working. Realistically, whatever Socialism imagery is out there is pure fantasy but, unfortunately, there are those who believe somehow major transformation can just happen.
It would certainly not go over well with movie goers or TV viewers today but it had a popularity then.
Thank you for the fantastic article. I actually owned a bootleg 16mm copy of “My Son John” about 35 years ago and showed it as part of a “Sex, Drugs and Treason” festival on college campuses, along with “Pecker Island” and “Reefer Madness.”
This is probably the most communist film I’ve ever seen. Yes, you read correctly: “communist” not “anti-communist”! The communists must not be allowed to speak – that is the point of this movie and with this point it declares that the communists are right, since obviously their arguments are so strong and full of convincing virtue that it will beat the weak plea of the capitalists any day.
I’m glad you enjoyed my article. I tend to believe that movies and certain TV shows can provide an interesting perspective on the present.
I’m glad you enjoyed my article. “Reefer Madness” I remember watching that with friends and while we never took it seriously, reading about it when it came out was interesting. The film actually had an impact on segments of the public and policymakers.
Invasion USA is the greatest movie ever made. After this one, filmmakers should have just given up. It has everything. Explosions, gunfire, and Chuck Norris!
Chuckism; “If you come back in here, I’m gonna hit you with so many rights you’re gonna be beggin’ for a left.”.
Wow. It takes a lot of willpower to endure Invasion USA from start to finish in one sitting, but it would take even more of an effort to track down a film with a more brainless plot.
When I first saw the Chuck Norris movie I kept wondering if Chuck and those associated with making the movie were taking it as nothing more than light-hearted entertainment. I certainly hope none of them saw anything serious in what they were doing.
Fun to watch that movie. I still wonder how many viewers took any of it seriously.
I like how to appeal to mass audiences, the producers conceived of “Big Jim McLain” as “a gangster-action” film.
An interesting movie to understand the climate of the times within the United States. I saw the movie as a window into how many were thinking at the time.
I like Big Jim McLain, but must admit it’s rather cheesy. It’s not that I disliked the plot of having John Wayne playing an FBI man bent on smashing communism–it certainly is unique and very much like the real life Wayne.
The 50’s fear of Communism was seen, in that era, as being informed by the experience of the attack at Pearl Harbor 11 years before.
This is one of my favorite John Wayne films of all time, and for all the wrong reasons: This film is a cold-war camp classic that has to be seen to be believed. Imagine Alfred the Butler from the 1960’s TV show Batman as the head commie and you have some idea what you are in for.
Seeing Big Jim McLain now or, perhaps, anytime beginning in the 1970s made this movie look like camp, but then I doubt it was seen that way.
I found the scene with the “reformed” communist nurse who now worked in a leper colony (nice symbolism there — that working with lepers, the lowest of the low, is still a step up from Commies) to be a good microcosm of the entire film. The woman explained that she reformed when she realized that communism was nothing more than a vast conspiracy to enslave the working man.
It’s one thing to critique a philosophy because you believe it is unjust, or unworkable, or otherwise flawed. But to find yourself so threatened by someone else’s beliefs that you’ll put such ridiculous words into the mouths of your characters is insulting to the intelligence of your audience. It’s also lousy propoganda. There was plenty wrong with communism (still is), but to suggest that it’s a “conspiracy” trying to make slaves of the working class is downright crazy.
When Communists are seen, they are as obvious as the stereotypical Nazi’s of those propaganda filled World War II movies.
There were some things in the movie that was obviously over-the-top but at the same time the film was very honest about the threat of Communisum that the USA and the Free World faced at that time.
No matter what your politics, this is one of those jaw dropping bad movies that is so bad it’s mesmerizing.
Regarding “Big Jim McLain” we can understand it from the period when it was made and we can view it from the present, well removed from that period.
In these days if Political Correctness being hammered down our respective throats, it’s nostalgia to know it used to be vice versa.
Anyone who doesn’t believe that the US engages in propaganda needs to see these films.
Propaganda done commercially as opposed to propagated by the government.
Enjoyed the read. And Big Jim McLain is terrible. There is no actual discussion of what communism IS, only that it is pure evil and must be stopped at all costs.
This was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, due to the theme. It was a propaganda tool for the House Un-American Activities Committee and glorified the denial of basic civil rights. I was really shocked to see how biased the content was.
You need to see it from the time period when it was done. We can see it differently now, well removed from that era.
It was made during the height of McCarthyism and shows it. The film glorifies the work of the Un-American Activities agents who went around looking for communists behind every tree and under every rock. I seriously doubt that the story line has any real validity, but instead was an excuse for making a film in Hawaii that was in keeping with the paranoia of the times.
This is another Wayne film you must look at in the context of the times in which it was made.
“My Son John” is so fervent in its anti-Communist message that it becomes somewhat fascinating as a piece of social history.
“My Son John”–a very odd movie to see now and to think about how it was seen at the time as, perhaps, reasonable and normal. Why when watching some old movies, we need to see them from the period when they were produced.
Wow what a bizarre period of time in history and cinema! Thanks for sharing a really interesting read.
Very engaging piece. Thanks for sharing.
People used to complain about Kevin Costner making self-indulgent films, but Chuck Norris hitted an all time low portraying himself as the ultimate bad-ass one-man army in Invasion U.S.A.
If you look at it as a comedy its great, but if you’re looking for a good plot/storyline its one of the worst films of all time, with absolutely no story value, character background and logic at all.
A good storyline I think was never the basis for many of these movies. The goal was to hammer home a particular point of view.
agreed with you @Sarita!
An anti-Communist film it makes My Son John look like Citizen Kane.
While Big Jim McLain will hardly rank with the greatest of John Wayne’s films, it expresses the conflict between loyal American citizens and law enforcement officials and the threat posed by Soviet agents. This film needs to be viewed in the context of the times.
When I watch many old movies, I need to try to understand the climate of the times when they were produced.
The context is the reason why I think movies like Red Sparrow will fall flat over time: Russian society even of the 50s and 60s is different to the Russia of today.
Time will tell😀
With the drastic change in world politics today, and with someone as disastrous as Donald Trump at the helm of it all, so many subject matters and politically relevant platforms like films, echo the sentiments of what reality has showcased itself to be in the last 2-3 years. While it’s sad and unfortunate that such an immense wave of unpleasant change is currently the talk of the town, it is far more shocking and scary to see how relentless the influence of such leaders, is making its voice heard.
Some of these movies almost seem to reflect the hysteria that Donald Trump tries to create.
Interesting article. I suppose the only thing they got right was the fact that Real Socialism is an internationalist ideology. Coming from a state with a ruling Communist government most commercial films are thinly disguised wadding for the egos of the current dispensation.It is enlightening to see it turned on its head.
I thought it was interesting how Republican party supporters want to see Communism linked to the Democrats and so many go out of their way to deny any connection, in odd ways, to Trump being elected. As I pointed out–imagine if there were some credible information that the Russians went out of their way to help get Hillary Clinton elected President, we would never hear the end of it.