Thursday 27 February 2014

Week Five: Realpolitk and Controversy during the Cold War

“We do disagreeable things, but we are defensive….We do disagreeable things so that ordinary people here and elsewhere can sleep safely in their beds at night….Of course, we occasionally do very wicked things.”
The Spy Who came in from the Cold
John Le CarrĂ© 

What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They're not! They're just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives. Do you think they sit like monks in a cell, balancing right against wrong?
From the film version of The Spy Who came in from the Cold
 “The junior Senator from Wisconsin, by his reckless charges, has so preyed upon the fears and hatred of uninformed and credulous people that he has started a prairie fire, which neither he nor anyone else may be able to control.”
J. William Fulbright, US senator, 1954

“We may be likened to two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life.”
Foreign Affairs, 1953

“I shot them in cold blood and enjoyed every minute of it….They were Commies….They were red sons-of-bitches who should have died long ago.”
Mickey Spillane
One Lonely Night

"I don't want to arrest anyone. I just want to shoot somebody."
Mike Hammer in I, the Jury

"There's no such thing as innocence - innocence touched with guilt is as good a deal as you can get."
Mike Hammer in Kiss Me, Deadly.

For an appreciation of the late Pete Seeger see

For a review of the television series, The Americans

Hannah Arendt reviewed in New York Review of Books

For an interview of the author of a recent book on how Nazi scientists were recruited by the Americans Operation Paperclip

 Advise and Consent is an intriguing period piece political drama based on Allen Drury's novel of the same name. The film like the book raises the threat of Communism, the selfishness of a President and the surprise scandal for an up-and-coming senator. The story revolves around the president's nominee for Secretary of State, Robert A. Leffingwell. While his character is the main catalyst for the film's events, it is the other characters who drive the actions. A southern senator named "Seab" Cooley who begins a witch hunt against Leffingwell when he discovers that perhaps Leffingwell is a Communist, based on the quickly rebutted testimony of a government worker. Heading the committee to question Leffingwell, "Brig" Anderson must wrestle with his convictions about whether to support and pass through Leffingwell's nomination. However, when a scandal raised by a McCarthy-like demagogue from the left threatens to destroy his marriage and his political career, it leads to  an improbable conclusion. The conservative politics of Drury pervades both the novel and the film.

Regarded by many critics as the ultimate film noir and by many more as the finest movie adaptation of a book by Mickey Spillane, Kiss Me Deadly features an amoral private detective Mike Hammer. While driving down a lonely road late one evening, Hammer picks up a beautiful blonde hitchhiker dressed in nothing but a raincoat. At first, Hammer assumes that the incoherent girl is an escaped lunatic; his mind is changed for him when he and the girl are abducted by two thugs. The men torture the girl to death as the semiconscious Hammer watches helplessly. He himself escapes death when the murderers' car topples off a cliff and he is thrown clear. Seeking vengeance, Hammer tries to discover the secret behind the girl's murder. Among those who cross his path in the film's tense, tingling 105 minutes are a slimy gangster, a turncoat scientist, and the dead woman's sexy roommate. All clues lead to a mysterious boxthe "Great Whatsit," as Hammer's secretary Velda describes it. The box is stolen and Velda is kidnapped by the villains, at which point Hammer discovers that the "Whatsit" contains radioactive material of awesome powers. Brazen and bleak, it's a film noir masterpiece and an essential piece of cold war paranoia.

From Kiss Me Deadly
In The Third Man, a Cold War spy classic, Holly Martins, a third-rate American pulp novelist, arrives in postwar Vienna, where he has been promised a job by his old friend Harry Lime. Upon his arrival, Martins discovers that Lime has been killed in a traffic accident, and that his funeral is taking place immediately. At the graveside, Martins meets outwardly affable Major Calloway  and actress Anna Schmidt, who is weeping copiously. When Calloway tells Martins that the late Harry Lime was a thief and murderer, the loyal Martins is at first outraged. Gradually, he discovers not only that Calloway was right but also that the man lying in the coffin in the film's early scenes was not Harry Lime at alland that Lime is still very much alive (he was the mysterious "third man" at the scene of the fatal accident). Thus the stage is set for the movie's famous climactic confrontation in the sewers of Viennaand the even more famous final shot, in which Martins pays emotionally for doing "the right thing."

Based on the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, Fail-Safe is set for the most part at Strategic Air Command headquarters, where a misguided transmission sends a squadron of bombers hurtling towards Russia, fully prepared to drop their atomic weaponry on Moscow. Air Force commander Frank Overton desperately tries to establish radio contact with the bombers, but once the pilots have passed the "fail safe" point, they've been instructed to disregard any reversal of orders. Racing against time, the President, through his interpreter, informs the Russian premiere of the impending nuclear disaster. Working in concert with SAC, the Russians send up interceptors to shoot down the American bombers, while some of the planes run out of fuel and crash. Unfortunately, one aircraft, piloted by Edward Binns, manages to escape destruction and continues on its fatal mission. Realizing that Moscow is doomed, the President must decide how to avert World War III. Fail-Safe is followed by a government-dictated disclaimer insisting that the events leading up to the nuclear disaster depicted in the film could not possibly happen.

George Clooney pays homage to one of the icons of American broadcast journalism, Edward R. Murrow, in this fact-based drama. In 1953, Edward R. Murrow was one of the best-known newsmen on television as host of both the talk show Person to Person and the pioneering investigate series See It Now. Joseph McCarthy, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, was generating heated controversy in the public and private sectors with his allegations that Communists had risen to positions of power and influence in America. Among them was an Air Force pilot, Milo Radulovich, who had been cashiered out of the service due to McCarthy's charges that he was a Communist agent. However, Radulovich had been dismissed without a formal hearing of the charges, and he protested that he was innocent of any wrongdoing. Murrow decided to do a story on Radulovich's case questioning the legitimacy of his dismissal, which was seen by McCarthy and his supporters as an open challenge to his campaign. McCarthy responded by accusing Murrow of being a Communist, leading to a legendary installment of See It Now in which both Murrow and McCarthy presented their sides of the story, which was seen by many as the first step toward McCarthy's downfall. Meanwhile, Murrow had to deal with CBS head William Paley, who was supportive of Murrow but extremely wary of his controversial positions, while Murrow was also trying to support fellow newsman Don Hollenbeck, battling charges against his own political views, and working alongside Fred Friendly

Based on the classic novel of the same name, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre, this international thriller is set at the height of the Cold War years of the mid-20th Century. George Smiley, a disgraced British spy, is rehired in secret by his governmentwhich fears that the British Secret Intelligence Service, a.k.a. MI-6, has been compromised by a double agent working for the Soviets. The movie is riveting as we come to understand what is going on. At MI5, the British “circus” for secret intelligence, there is a Soviet mole. We find out who it is. He is disposed of. A major strength of this sober, cerebral film is that it reflects le Carre’s rather bleak vision of Britain’s spying class. It is the antithesis of ab action-packed Bond or Bourne film.

Jonathan Demme directed this updated 2004 remake of John Frankenheimer's 1962 cult favorite The Manchurian Candidate, a pioneering examination of political conspiracy and psychological reconditioning. Major Bennett Marco and Sergeant Raymond Shaw are two soldiers who served in the same company during Operation Desert Storm, but their paths following their tours of duty have been very different. Shaw, the son of powerful congresswoman Eleanor Shaw, has used his reputation as a war hero to quickly scale the ladder of American politics, and with the help of his mother earns the Vice Presidential nomination. Marco, on the other hand, has been troubled with mental illness, and is convinced that something strange happened to him and his compatriots during the war. As Marco struggles to find the truth behind his nightmares and emotional torment, he unearths some disturbing facts about how his mind and body have been reworked by shadowy forces, as well as those of his fellow soldiersincluding Raymond Shaw. Many critics and film viewers have dismissed this film as decidedly inferior to the original, but I think the film's merit is in dramatizing that although the methods of brain control may be more sophisticated, the original thesisthat war-weary veterans are vulnerable to psychological manipulationremains relevant for our time.

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