“Run! Steve, run! The blob is coming! Jane said
–I am doing what I can, but I am too slow, it is like my feet are stuck in the pavement” he answered, hardly breathing.”
The blob gooped down the street, as big as a mountain, swallowing everything in its path. It was just behind them, approaching. They were almost caught by the blob, it was to eat them in a minute, and they could feel its swallowing noise behind them, closer and closer…
World War II ended as the Allies (Great Britain, The US and The USSR) accepted the surrender of the Nazi Germany and at the same time the end of Hitler’s threat. In order to maintain the recent-born peace, the Allies created the United Nation – which came into existence officially the 24th of October 1945, and adopted the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights in 1948 as a common standard with every nation members.
At that time, I guess that it was a big progress because the previous ideology was not really about the respect of Human Rights. But when considering this fact, I am pretty sure that it took years and years for those countries to really take in account this declaration. People needed time and it was not as easy as it seemed to be:
After several months, the relations between the Western Allies and the Soviet Republic started to deteriorate as the two “Big Blocks” –US and USSR– both wanted to dominate each other.
This conflict led to a political and military competition between them and the Cold War–words first mentioned by George Orwell:
Looking at the world as a whole, the drift for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the reimposition of slavery. We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. James Burnham’s theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications — that is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of “cold war” with its neighbors.
Had the atomic bomb turned out to be something as cheap and easily manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, it might well have plunged us back into barbarism, but it might, on the other hand, have meant the end of national sovereignty and of the highly-centralized police state. If, as seems to be the case, it is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a “peace that is no peace.
– George Orwell, “You and the Atom Bomb” 19 October 1945
Then Bernard Baruch mentioned it during his speech for the South Carolina Legislature in 1947– gave birth to a nuclear weapon race and fear of Communism.
Let us not be deceived — we are today in the midst of a cold war. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success. The peace of the world is the hope and the goal of our political system; it is the despair and defeat of those who stand against us.
–Bernard Baruch, Columbia, SC, 16 April 1947
Like Bernard Baruch said in his speech, the enemies would be found [abroad and] at home: US citizens feared Communism because of its recent extension in Eastern Europe and because of the fear of espionage due to the confession of spying for the Soviet Union among US governmental officials.
I don’t really understand why they needed to find somebody to blame. Why should they be afraid of someone who is not like them, or someone who don’t have the same ideas in terms of politics? After all, each government was free to run their own countries the way they wanted, wasn’t they? But American didn’t have the same point of view, unfortunately.
Joseph McCarthy was the Republican Senator of Wisconsin since 1947 until 1957 (when he died) and he is widely seen as the man who embodied a Communism fight throughout his mandate during the Cold War. His tactics to discover either Communism sympathizer or Soviet spies led to the creation of an ideology named “McCarthyism”.
This fear of Communism named The Red Scare coupled with the McCarthyism –also known as Witch-hunt– deeply modified the American’s opinion, leading to censorship in media, a control over movie makers and actors and gave birth to a huge collection of movies profoundly influenced by the history at that time.
Because at that time the cinema was a way of propaganda, it was one of the medias which suffered the most during this historic period: in October 1947, a number of people working for the Hollywood industry were summoned to appear in front of the House of Committee on Un-American Activities and were asked to prove that they were not involved in any sympathizing behavior to the Soviets which could have led them to diffuse propaganda in US movies.
The Hollywood blacklist was therefore created and there were two different responses, the ones who were in favor of this witch-hunt and the ones who were strongly opposed to this co-operation. The latter –among which Humphrey Bogart– organized the Committee for the First Amendment to protest against the government targeting their industry.
I am a witch hunter if the witches are Communists. I am a Red-baiter. I would like to see them all back in Russia.
–Adolphe Menjou, wanting to co-operate for witch-hunting
They’ll nail anyone who ever scratched his ass during the National Anthem.
–Humphrey Bogart, on the House of Un-American Activities Committee
The science-fiction movies of the 50’s stand for being the ones which depicted the Cold War with it fear of communism, nuclear war and its consequences upon life: one of them, called Superman and the Mole men (1951) is about peculiar people –the Mole men– who came up to the earth through a shaft which has been drilled in their underground home. The fact they have a special appearance and that the things they touch glow in the dark scares people living in the nearby town. We can compare this movie to The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) because of its topic of the way the stranger is seen in these movies.
I’d like to compare this movie to its remake released in 2008 starring Keanu Reeves because it is like the “message” is not the same: in the latter, Klaatu comes to the Earth and warns people about the way they are destroying the Earth and all the natural resources. They are both comparable in that the army reaction is the same: in both films, they try to kill the extraterrestrial and it shows a typical American response: “shooting first and then discussing”.
Both films clearly reflect the unreasoning fear of the Mole men and Klaatu, the peaceful human-like extraterrestrial who come to Earth in order to give the mankind a warning about the danger of atomic bomb. Both films have been seen retrospectively as a product and a reaction to the Red Scare and I guess that at that time, maybe these movies were a kind of exorcism of their fears.
Cold War politics undoubtedly contributed to suspicious anxiety and fear of anything other or un-American. We can clearly see that allegorical science-fiction movies reflected the collective unconscious. Most of the time, these films depicted threats and devils that surrounded us and most of time, alien forces were a metaphor for Communism. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) has been said to be about the fear of losing personal autonomy in the Soviet Union: the main plot is about people replaced by perfect physical doubles without feelings. Two doctors, Bennell and Driscoll wanted to warn humanity but in their attempt to flee, Dr Driscoll was subverted and became in her turn part of the Pod People who were recognizable only by their lack of emotion. Dr Bennell stares at the camera and yells “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next” and the end is left open as we don’t know what happens after the car accident which carried strange pods is discovered by the police.
With this ultimate line, it is like Dr Bennell wants to warn us about a danger which is already there, hidden somewhere, waiting for its prey. Because this film has been released in the Cold War period, we can see it as a metaphor of the Communist paranoia and the aliens (the Communists) who get control over our minds and our territory.
A few films about aliens’ domination over our territory or alien invasion have been released and one of the most famous is The Thing From Another World (1951). The film features a scientific crew in Alaska who discovers a flying craft trapped in the ice. They try to thaw it with dynamite but in their attempt they destroy it. They find a body in it and they bring it back to the base where they want to thaw it in order to study the thing stuck in the ice. Accidentally, a member of the crew warms the ice up, thawing the thing which escapes. The thing can take anybody’s appearance and so, everybody suspects everybody to be infected by the creature.
I think this movie is the perfect example of the paranoia about communism. The alien is in fact the communism which spreads among people and it is invisible as the aspect of the person is not altered. This fear of who is “contaminated” or not is the depiction of the witch-hunt under McCarthyism doctrine. It shows therefore that the threat has no face and that anybody can by a sympathizer of Communism but not only: the movie is also an indictment of science in that it shows the skepticism and negative view of scientists who meddle with things better left alone due to a post-Hiroshima fear.
One of the other important “alien” movie is It Conquered the World (1956) which depicts an embittered scientist who picks up a message from a Venusian alien who wants to come to the Earth and gain control upon humans’ minds. First he helps the alien to gain control over humankind but he discovers with a friend little by little that he was wrong and that he shouldn’t have let the alien carrying out its Machiavelli plan. He finally kills the monster at the end but lose his life too. This movie can be seen as an allegory of Communism too, the Venusian being Stalin who wants to control everybody’s minds as the Soviet power became stronger and stronger, gaining control over Easter European Countries.
Another famous movie, The Blob (1958) is about an amoeba-like alien which is terrorizing a small town. The alien came from a meteor and starts to consume people. Every time the blob eats someone, its size increasing. The blob is defeated at the end of the movie when the survivors kill it with a fire extinguisher as one of them recalled that the blob recoiled from the freezer. The Blob is said to “show the creeping horrors of communism and states that it can only be defeated by freezing it– the Cold war writ small and literal” [Jeff Sharlet, The Family Book].
The fear of Communism was not the only feeling depicted in those 50’s science-fiction movies; the fear of nuclear bomb –and its possible effects– fueled screenwriter’s minds and studios during the whole decade.
One of the first movie based on this fear is Unknown World (1951) in which a scientist is concerned by an imminent nuclear war so that he tries to have other scientists use a machine which could send them in a safer place –such as the center of Earth. Once again, the movie, in its attempt to show what could be the consequences of the nuclear war features the same plot as all movies yet to be released. Several parts of the movie were filmed in the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) is seen as the first “monster movie” in which the movie is about a bomb testing in the Article Circle which thaws a fictional hibernating dinosaur called Rhedosaurus which would later destroy New York City. Chester, the producer at that time had the idea to combine the growing paranoia about nuclear weapons with the concept of a giant monster getting awakened by the atomic bomb detonation and I think that it worked well: it was a success; and this movie was the first of a long list of monster movies which involved atomic testing and big monster unleashing: Them! (1954) which is about the attack of gigantic irradiated ants, ranking it the first “nuclear big bug” movie.
The story takes place in the nearby desert of Alamogordo, NM and it reminds me that around fifty years ago, there was a lot of nuclear testing in the area we are actually living in. Are the radiations gone away or some of them are still remaining? Because of this fear of radiation and nuclear effect upon life, a huge paranoia could have led people to think that the scientists who would “attempt to be God by creating such weapons” could have unleashed a bunch of evil creatures. But, for the first time in the history of science-fiction movies, Tarantula (1955) is the first big bug movie in having a mutation caused by the peaceful research of a well-intentioned scientist contrary to most of the “Atomic Age movie”. Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) is the perfect example of researches that turn into death as scientists are studying about the effects of radiation upon sea life and plants in the island of Bikini. They encounter mutated crabs which try to eat them all.
This movie is a testimony of the history for a person from the early 21th century as it depicts the American atomic bomb testing in the atoll of Bikini on the 1st of March 1954.
In this particularly year of 1954, Godzilla were released in Japan, which proves that the US was not the only one who could produce films based of the nuclear paranoia. But in this case, it was not such paranoia, the Japanese depicted the attack of the monster as the bombarding of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 6, 1945 by the US and it has been also criticized because of it using of the wide destruction these towns suffered in World War II.
These critics clearly show that the attempt was a success because if nobody reacts toward the film, then it is not as political as the director wanted it to be. When the US decided to have a remake done, they simply cut the political aspect. Censorship again?
When watching these movies nowadays, we can wonder why people wanted to make movies based upon their own fear. I think it is because they wanted to relieve them, or at least try to heal them. Yes, these movies were made in order to heal the population because the horrors of the previous wars were still in everyone’s mind, and by projecting their unconscious fears into “real pictures” maybe they could have felt themselves relieved. At that time the cinema was more used in a political way compared to nowadays even if some of the film released this decade remain politically committed.
Most of the science-fiction movies released in the fifties suffered as a result of poor special effects such as Robot Monster (1953) or Teenage Cave Man (1958) which were dubbed as worst film ever made and were not as accurate as the previous mentioned in their depiction of the so-called Red Scare. But some of them such as The Thing From Another World, Them! and The Day the Earth Stood Still were praised by the critics and dubbed as the best science-fiction movies ever made during the 50’s.
I don’t know why I am so passionate by these old-fashioned movies. I guess it is because they look so old. I mean, the special effects were not very accurate and because we can see “the wire of how they did” it gives the movie it particular lovely charm. Because these movies feature big monsters and special effects were rudimentary, I can say that the traditional aspect it gives to the movie is one of the things I prefer when watching an old movie, even more if it is a black and white one. I love these movies with big monsters because most of time they were given life by the genius Ray Harryhausen.
In addition I would say that these movies are a good testimony of the state of mind of people at that time: they were totally paralyzed by paranoia. Maybe they were afraid to lose what they fought for such as liberty of thoughts. In addition, then thinking about it, I guess that these movies were a way to warn “indirectly” European spectators who saw the movies about Communism even if they were “right in the middle of the battlefield”.
Because we know what they would experience at that time, some of the movie appears ridiculous. I wonder what would have happened to the movies if the history would have not been the history we all know.
Does the history serve the film or does the film serve the history? I would respond “both” because some times, a good and accurate movie is better than a two hundred-page book about a particular event. Paper is frozen, paper doesn’t show feelings unless the author knows his readers and who is his target audience.
Because some of these science fiction movie were seen as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” by the National Film Registry, they decided to “increase the awareness for it preservation” such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) preserved in , The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) preserved in , The Thing From Another World (1951) preserved in . They were historically significant maybe not only because of it content but also because of the historic background or the conditions in which the movie were released, trying to pass through censorship.
I would have loved to live at this time. I am fascinated by this history and it seems so far away then considering it. I would like to a time-traveling machine so that I could go back to the past and have a look at what was happening.
Beside their historical or political aspects, I think I like these movies because of what they represent and because of what they meant at that time for producers, directors and actors and maybe because it allows me to feel like I was there at that time. We like these movies because they clearly depict how the history influenced them in a time communists were chased.
All fantasy should have a solid base in reality
–Max Beerbohm (1872-1956)