By Chris Elliott
November 21 2011
After the end of World War II, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., former allies in the fight against fascism, confronted each other as opponents in a "Cold War." The world was seen to be more and more splitting into two rival camps. Berlin and Germany were divided into "East" and "West." The United States' use of nuclear weapons against Japan ignited the atomic age and began an "arms race" with the Soviet Union.
The apocalyptic power of nuclear weapons precluded their use in a "hot" war. Instead, the Cold War was fought mainly through espionage, proxies, and propaganda. McCarthyism infused American culture with conformity and paranoia. Reds were under every bed and rightwing politicians like Richard Nixon made careers of making a show of smoking them out. Nuclear war with Russia seemed imminent as personal bomb shelters became the rage and "duck and cover" became the catchphrase in schools.
For some filmmakers, the Cold War became a convenient excuse for moronic plotlines, insufferable jingoism, and unapologetically reactionary politics. The U.S. government, typically through the military, produced its own propaganda shockers ("Red Nightmare"). Low-budget "exploitation" filmmakers sought to cash in on the zeitgeist with efforts such as "Rocket Attack U.S.A.," "Beast of Yucca Flats," and "Red Zone Cuba." In the eighties, fear of Reagan's "Evil Empire" inspired American and British movie studios to churn out bigger budgeted (but just as schlocky) Cold War actioners like "The Final Option" and "Red Dawn."
For those nostalgic for the bad old days of Cold War angst, add these cheesy classics to your holiday viewing queue:
Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1961, Barry Mahon, Dir.)
Red Nightmare (1962, George Waggner, Dir.)
Beast of Yucca Flats (1961, Coleman Francis, Dir.)
Red Zone Cuba (aka Night Train to Mundo Fine, 1966, Coleman Francis, Dir.)
Coleman Francis returns, this time starring as well as producing, directing, etc.
Francis plays escaped con Griffin, who, desperate for a few bucks, signs up to join the Bay of Pigs invasion. This fever dream of a film features endless takes, stilted dialogue, and nonsensical voice-overs. Of course the invasion ends in debacle, and the film ends with another touching Coleman Francis signature death scene: "Griffin ran all the way to hell... with a penny, and a broken cigarette."
The Final Option (aka Who Dares Wins, 1982, Ian Sharp, Dir.)
Red Dawn (1984, John Milius, Dir.)