Remembering the Cold War | EW.com

Movies

Remembering the Cold War

A rundown of some flicks that offer a thrilling look back at the 40 year period

Ceausescu is out, Solidarity is in, and in Russia, the Communist party will, at last, have some healthy competition. It looks as if the Cold war is finally over. We say, good riddance. But some people feel oddly nostalgic for those 40 years of superpower tension. Hollywood does: witness this week’s big theatrical release The Hunt for Red October. For those who agree, we offer a few other movies guaranteed to return you to those thrilling days of Eternal Vigilance Against Godless Totalitarianism — in the safety of your own living room.

Red Dawn (1984) The soviet army launches a sneak attack on…a high school in Colorado? That’s how writer-director John Milius begins this reprehensible valentine to the survivalist set, and it gets even crazier from there. Unlike most right-wing screeds, however, Red dawn does have flashes of genius wit — a local theater in a Russian-occupied town showing Alexander Nevsky, for example. It is, er, interesting to see the future stars of Dirty Dancing (Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey)cast as gun-toting partisans. C-

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Here the Cold War serves as a metaphor. Director Don Siegal’s ‘50’s science-fiction classic stars Kevin McCarthy as a guy out to warn his hometown about the aliens taking over the bodies of normal humans. Siegal insists this is a parable about his experiences with the Hollywood studio bosses. But most movie historians have seen the picture as an artful critique of Commie-under-the-bed hysteria, and in 1990, that’s exactly the way it looks. A

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) A farce about a Soviet submarine stranded off a New England island peopled with Yankee eccentrics seemed like the ‘60’s legitimate heir to the Preston Sturges tradition, but today this sweet-but-dated Cold War antique plays like a glorified TV sitcom, albeit one exceptionally well cast. (This was, among other things, Alan Arkin’s film debut.) Still, the picture remains the only ”feel good” movie of the entire Cold War corpus. Its message: The Soviets are people, too. It’s worth a rental for a hilarious bit by Jonathan Winters. B

Dr. Strangelove (1964) Stanley Kubrick’s doomsday comedy is still the funniest (and most radical) assault on the assumptions behind the Cold War to be found in a mass entertainment medium. Interestingly enough, a more conventional and melodramatic take on the same basic story — Fail-Safe — was released on practically the same day back in 1964, but Dr. Strangelove remains the champ. With Sterling Hayden in his only great performance and Peter Sellers in three, including one as President Merkin Muffly. A

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) John Frankenheeimer’s version of a novel by Richard Condon is a convoluted black comedy masquerading as a thriller. With Red Chinese moles and a pre-JFK assassination plot uncannily like the real thing, this is probably the most sophisticated political picture ever to come out of Hollywood. Its theme — that the Commie witch-hunts of the ‘50’s did more damage to America than anything the real Commies imagined — is laid out explicitly. A

The Experts (1989) Helmed by SCTV graduate Dave Thomas, this released-directly-to-video movie stars pre-Look Who’s Talking John Travolta. He’s a down-at-the-heels Manhattan disco impresario offered a chance to open a club in the American heartland. Little does he know, he’s actually working in a KGB-built town in Russia. Is that sounds unbelievable, wait til you see the rest of this absurd mélange of John Le Carré and Dance Fever. D-

The Front (1976) Woody Allen stretched here as an apolitical nebbish with a lucrative job: passing as the author of TV scripts done by blacklisted writers. It’s worth noting, by the way, that nowadays there are those (including former Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan) who claim blacklisting never happened. Fortunately, Walter Bernstein — the real-life blacklist victim who wrote this very funny piece of agitprop — knows better. And so do Front stars Herschel Bernardi (blacklisted 1957), Zero Mostel (blacklisted 1950), and Lloyd Gough (blacklisted 1950). A-

Bamboo Saucer (1968) A flying saucer is hidden in a deserted monastery in Red China. (Why? Because ”normally a Commie shuns a Catholic church!”) A crack American team parachutes in ahead of its Soviet counterpart to find it. (Why? Because ”otherwise the Free World is obsolete!”) Eventually, a handsome American pilot (John Ericson) and a beautiful Soviet scientist (Lois Nettleton) fall in love, and as a consequence both sides learn a valuable lesson. Charmingly naive pre-Glasnost science fiction, featuring pretty good special effects by John P. Fulton of Invisible Man fame. C+