Wk4M1 Hollywood and the Cold War

For Module 1 we will be screening films that in some way deal with Cold War sentiments.

One the Waterfront, Elia, Kazan, 1954

Charlie Wilson’s War, Mike Nichols, 2007

Today’s discussion is brought to you by Group 5: Parrish Colbert

28 thoughts on “Wk4M1 Hollywood and the Cold War

  1. Benjamin Romang

    Do you think On the Waterfront had a strong message towards anti-communism, or was it a more personnel justification for Kazan’s actions with the HUAC?

    In what ways is the character of Terry Malloy similar to Charlie Wilson?

    1. Nick Neal

      Because both Communism and HUAC can be portrayed as anti-individualist and authoritarian, It’s hard to tell whether a movie about an individual standing against some vague power structure is anti-communist or anti-HUAC. An example of this would be Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Are the pod people egalitarians who want to get rid of all wealth distinctions? Or are they conformists who want to get rid of all societal distinctions? On the Water Front appears to have an anticommunist unertone to it, since the bad guys are union bosses and the good guys are the “stool pigeons” (Symbolized by Terry’s taking care of pigeons) who report the union boss’ crime to government authority. The Preaching of the priest can sort of mess up this theory since he keeps on talking about universal brotherhood and standing up for the least of these. However the fact that organized religion is shown as more beneficial to the working class than organized labor, on balance makes the film more anti-communist. So even though it’s not explicit, I think this film has an anti-communist message.

    2. Parrish Colbert

      I think with both films there was anticommunist under-tone like Nick Neal said but I don’t believe the film was pushing the anticommunist approach that hard. The films to me were more about standing up for what is right regardless the threat. Terry Malloy could have kept his mouth shut as well as Charlie Wilson after he witnessed what he did but both characters were put in a situation where they had to zoom out and realize that swallowing the truth is a lot harder than doing something about it.

      1. Christophe Freeman

        I agree there were anticommunist under-tones in the film. I don’t believe they were deliberately trying to be anti communist but these films reflect the times when they were made. The American view at the time was that of anti communism.

      2. Nick Neal

        Well yes any main stream film is going to valorize “standing up for what’s right”, but what’s significant is what the film defines as right and wrong. Who the bad guys are says a lot about the film’s ideology. For example in V for Vendetta the bad guys are the state in collusion with the church and nativists. That’s meant to express not just vague morallity but an ideology of Left-Anarchism. In the same sense, the bad guys in On the Water Front are powerful union members and the good guys are religion. This is obviously meant to express an anti-communist ideology.

        1. Chris O'Malley

          The villains in On the Waterfront are explicitly mob connected but I don’t recall them having any explicit communist ties. Therefore I believe that On the Waterfront is more concerned with showing the struggles of an informer rather than villainizing communism.

          1. Chris O'Malley

            Additionally, the film is based on Arthur Miller’s screenplay “The Hook” which also explored corrupt waterfront unions but was written years before Kazan named names to the HUAC.

        2. Kendrick Branch

          I agree, Neal. These films will almost always have the main character uphold the values they wish to express. Revolution is often either the goal or the worry of the protagonist.
          Charlie Wilson’s goal was to secretly prevent communist revolution, but he then realizes the system he upheld has failed; Making the viewer question their beliefs in such a system. On The Waterfront makes “naming names” a matter of loyalty: where questioning the system being upheld seems immoral.

    3. Shenese Doll

      I think that On the Waterfront was more of a justification for Kazan’s actions with the HUAC. Some of the film was about anti-communism.. but the entire plot was like a remake of what Kazan may have went through with HUAC. Kazan was Terry Malloy, A man who had a responsibility to his own, but also to himself. Terry may not have known why he was talking to Joey, he didn’t mean to be apart of his death, but he was.. Kazan may have been saying the same thing with his supposedly involvement with communism, so to save his career and to be loyal(ish) he named names.. Just as Terry finally agreed to testify and told Edie the truth.

      I think that Charlie and Terry were similar in that they are not the typical good guys… Terry is tough, ex-fighter, brothers with someone connected to the mob. Something bad happens, he tries to keep up the Deaf and Dumb act, but his conscience and love for a woman kicks in, and he tries to do the right thing in a messed up situation.. Charlie is the politician who likes to party and does not take his position seriously, until he sees some misfortunes with Afghan people and decides that helping is the right thing to do and he should use his position to do what he can..also his attention is brought to it by Joanne.. the scenarios are different and similar at the same time.

      1. Shelby Brown

        I believe that the Waterfront does have strong message towards anti-communism. Reasons being, The character Terry Malloy was able to fight for what he believed was right. Deciding to speak upon what he’d witnessed during Joey’s death, was a really big step. You really can’t do anything but notice the anti-commuism connotation. As much as “viewers” probably want to focus on or even connect Terry Malloy’s character to Kazan situation, there is still a more leveled anti-communist presence within the film. But, as for Charlie Wilson and Terry Malloy’s character, both were put in pretty harsh situations but was able to speak up. Their characters were able to show a typical happy ending but as well as a “good” human being at that time.

  2. Renee Schuyten

    Unions were being sold in this country as a communist threat. On the Waterfront showed the need for power and greed of man (Mafia Union Heads) – exposing an inherent flaw in the ideal of communism. In the end of the film, though, the working man came together with each other which could even be seen as pro-Union/communist.

    I think it was more of Kazan trying to make himself look good – as you say, justify his testimony to HUAC. It’s been proposed that he was actually a man of such stature in Hollywood that he could have even ‘broken’ the blacklist. As Kazan says himself, though, it has to be judged from the perspective of 1952.

  3. Andrew Wire

    When Terry Malloy (Brando) testifies against the corrupt union, he does so because they murdered several innocent people and exploited the dockworkers.

    Were screenwriter Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan (both friendly witnesses) used as puppets by the Mafia? Did they give up their ambitions and “take dives for the short end money?” Did their brothers’ get whacked?

    I don’t know that a film like On The Waterfront is successful as a justification for Kazan and Schulberg having named names. It would paint a portrait of HUAC as being all that is honest and truthful and good. It would equate the HUAC hearings with The Waterfront Crime Commission. The latter is clearly justified in the world of the film, and HUAC can’t claim to have had that much moral authority.

    If anything, there is more clarity in the film having an anti-communist message.

    I really only know the surface details, though.

  4. Renee Schuyten

    I found Charlie Wilson’s War interesting as I’ve been reading up on our war films module (since I’m supposed to lead that one) as it relates to ‘propaganda’ films. It made me think of the motives of releasing this film – was it a remnant of the Cold War and anti-communism, or was it more of an attempt to shine up our image for terrorists in Afghanistan?

    1. Levi Brown

      I like your thinking (about the circumstances surrounding the release of the film) that even though the film is historical it still relates to America’s actions in the Middle East today. However, I really couldn’t come up with an answer that satisfied me. At the moment I thought that the film showed a situation in which the past government had done the right thing until the Russians backed out. Once the aid became selfless, America stopped helping. I’m going with the humanist values in the movie. Despite the movie’s ending I’m forcing myself to see it as an optimistic work.

      1. Allison Hudson

        I thought that it came out at a fitting time as well. This happened in 1980 so it could have been made into a film at any time in the last 30 years. It was made when we were in the midst of a war with Iraq and trying to find Bin Laden in Afghanistan. I think it was a good historical story to tell but it does give America shed a certain light on America. There are people here who do want to genuinely help others. However, as Levi said, the ending kind of ruins that appeal. I think it was more of a slap in the face to our government. That we only help people until it’s no longer convenient for us. So maybe you could look at it more as a statement on how our government treats less developed countries. It’s like when Belton talks about how Russia was our ally in WWII until it was over, then we were scared of Communism again. The government does things that are convenient for them until they aren’t anymore. I think we will see more films aimed at government corruption in the future.

  5. Landon Getz

    In On the Waterfront, while I do think it displayed justification for Kazan’s actions with HUAC, I also do think on the outside looking in, it does in a way speak a message towards anti-communism. As an audience, I think it shows a call against communism. Despite the dangerous nature, Malloy (Brando) still testified. I think it really shows the viewers not to be afraid to stand up against communism despite the repercussions.

  6. Alexandra Freda

    Kazan never denied the correlation and sympathetic tone of On The Waterfront in relation to his naming individuals for HUAC. He said he could not and would not deny the parallels between the film and his actions as a means of justification. The state of fear and paranoia that America was in at this time is reflected in this working class drama, which I do think was a means to apologize and perhaps even make himself out to be some sort of hero or at the very least not someone to be villainized or considered wrong in his actions.

  7. Nicholas Mertens

    I also think that On the Water Front was more of a defense for Kazan’s own actions. He was met with criticism on all sides because he pointed out 8 former communists in the film industry, and this film would be a very ample way to show justification for his actions and way to spin him as a hero. The final film was indeed influenced by fear and paranoia of McCarthyism but it is because of a personal connection.

  8. Steven Colonero

    I do have to agree with most saying that On the water Front was more about the justification of Kazan actions, however I can definitely see how some would could see the anti communism. I have always found the film to have a strong message of standing up for what is right no matter the outcome.

  9. Allison Hudson

    I think Belton’s point about On the Waterfront reflecting Kazan’s feelings toward HUAC is valid. He ultimately chose to talk and get himself off the Blacklist. The film clearly shows a character who ultimately chooses to stand up and trial and give information as Kazan chose to do. With Terry’s brother being killed, it tells viewers that not talking can lead to serious consequences. Basically, the law is there to help if you help them.

    I think Terry and Charlie both have similarities in personality because they choose to go against a force bigger than themselves. Charlie is trying to help the Afghans defeat the Soviets and Terry wants to stop the corruption on the docks. Both are strong men with morals and pride that ultimately allow them to achieve their goals.

  10. Angelo Lima

    I was really interested in how Charlie WIlson’s War was played out through the plot line and how Tom Hanks did such a great job acting as a congressman. The plot started very calm without hesitation, but I am used to movies that start without a bang and then get into the movie even though I am speaking of a newer movie. Tom Hanks is always a brilliant actor and really gets into every character that he has done a part for and he was younger in this movie, so I was kind of surprised about that.

  11. Angelo Lima

    I also do enjoy On The Waterfront and I did not realize until i watched the movie again that it had won many awards for its achievement in film history. On the other hand, Marlon Brando was much better in his older films than he is in films these days unfortunately.

  12. Clark Faust

    Anti-communism and anti-HUAC films were made throughout the Cold War, many of those films were personal films about a certain filmmakers actions involving HUAC or communism. On the Waterfront seems to be one of these films. Kazan portrayed his experience testifying and giving names to HUAC into an allegory about communism, McCarthyism, and scape goats. Another film that offers a similar allegory is High Noon (Fred Zinneman,1952). The screenwriter of this film, Carl Foreman, was a former communist and was called before HUAC. Foreman did not “name names” however and was blacklisted. He parlayed that experience into High Noon where the protagonist feels a sense of extreme isolation before he has to meet his “judgement day” of facing an old bandit that the marshal put in jail many years ago.

    Addressing an earlier comment, Charlie Wilson’s War was released in a time when the US was in Afghanistan fighting an unpopular war. The message of the film appears to be look at how we (America) once helped you (Afghanistan). However, I would say it is more like saying look at this mess we have made. It was a reminder that the US was the one who created, trained, and abandoned the monster, not how we “helped” it.

  13. Chris O'Malley

    Terry’s struggles in On the Waterfront reminded me of the legal cases concerning unpaid internships that have recently made news. Terry and other dockworkers were so desperate for work that they simply turned a blind eye to corruption. The average intern is unable to speak out for being manipulated by employers because it would put an end to their career. Only recently have interns begun to step forward to confront the legality of internships.

  14. Savannah Steiner

    Do you think On the Waterfront had a strong message towards anti-communism, or was it a more personnel justification for Kazan’s actions with the HUAC?

    In what ways is the character of Terry Malloy similar to Charlie Wilson?

    To me “On the Waterfront” is more a justification of Kazan’s actions, but the film does seem to written in a way which incorporates themes of anti-communism. The antagonists in the film are union members- a communist threat, portrayed as how the greed of a group can lead to corruption.

    Terry and Charlie are in a similar position where they’re both fighting with groups that have more power than they do. Terry wants to fight the corruption on the docks, while Charlie Wilson is helping Afghans in order to defeat the Soviet Union. Both men were resourceful and looked to do what was right, but both choices made by them had serious repercussions.

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