Hollywood's Anti-Communist Movies
For years, this reviewer has been hearing complaints that “Hollywood never produces anti-Communist movies,” only liberal or anti-Nazi or anti-American ones. And people, it just isn’t true. Hollywood has produced dozens of anti-Communist movies and continues to do so to this day. While it could have been more, Hollywood does produce them.
The purpose of this article is to provide as comprehensive a listing of all the movies that Hollywood has ever produced that can fairly be called anti-Communist, as this reviewer can come up with. And what are the criteria for a movie to make this list? In at least one of the following three criteria, the movie must:
- have been produced in whole or in part by an American studio (which excludes such excellent films as Poland’s Man of Iron and Germany’s The Lives of Others), or;
- use a large contingent of well-known American actors, or;
- receive Oscars, which constitutes a Hollywood endorsement.
This reviewer has identified sixty-one movies that satisfy one or more of these criteria. In this article, the reviewer will provide:
- the title of the movie;
- the year of its release;
- a synopsis of the plot or an explanation of why it is anti-Communist;
- a partial list of the more well-known actors in the movie, where appropriate.
That last criterion is to furnish evidence that these movies are in the “Hollywood” mainstream.
The movies are listed chronologically, by year of release. With that said, here goes:
A Tale of Two Cities (1935): An early film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel of the French Revolution. It can fairly be considered anti-Communist, because the French Revolution was the Mother of all the Communist revolutions, with all their horrors, that it spawned.
Ninotchka (1939): The NKVD sends a female agent (played by Greta Garbo!) to Paris, to defend against a lawsuit over stolen and confiscated Imperial Russian treasures being peddled there by the Soviets to fund the Revolution.
The Woman on Pier 13 (1949): The Communist Party USA blackmails a shipping executive and former Party member into sabotaging the shipping industry in the Port of San Francisco, by resisting union demands in a labor dispute. Originally titled “I Married a Communist.” AT’s Editor Thomas Lifson lauded this movie a few years ago, when Turner Classic Movies broadcast it. Starring Robert Ryan.
The Red Danube (1949): In postwar Vienna (which had been divided into four zones of occupation like Berlin), the theme is forcible repatriation of Russian displaced persons back to Soviet control, with some of the DPs committing suicide to prevent it. The title is an obvious wordplay on the Strauss waltz “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.” With Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh, and (future Kennedy brother-in-law and Rat Pack member) Peter Lawford.
The Red Menace (1949): Communists use lies and a woman instructor to lure a disgruntled, bitter ex-GI into the Communist Party USA. During the indoctrination phase, he falls in love with the instructor and she with him. They realize their mistake and become disillusioned when they witness Party leaders murder a member for questioning the Party’s principles. When they try to leave the Party, the leadership marks them for murder as well and sends assassins to hunt them down.
I was a Communist for the FBI (1951): ‘Nuff said.
My Son John (1952): A mother realizes that her son is a Communist, with an FBI agent on his tail. Admittedly an awful movie. Starring Helen Hayes and Van Heflin.
Big Jim McClain (1952): Investigators for the House Committee on Un-American Activities John Wayne and James Arness (later of Gunsmoke fame) hunt down Communists in Hawai’i. The Communists are depicted the way they actually were: middle-class, well-educated, not downtrodden at all.
Assignment: Paris (1952): Cold War thriller in which New York Herald Tribune reporter Jimmy Race is sent to Budapest on a story. While there, he is framed for espionage. Filmed on location in Paris and, weirdly, Budapest. Starring Dana Andrews and George Sanders.
Pickup on South Street (1953): A pickpocket steals an envelope of microfilmed secrets from a woman, intended for delivery to her Communist boyfriend. Starring Richard Widmark and (Howard Hughes’ ex-wife) Jean Peters.
Man on a Tightrope (1953): Directed by Elia Kazan. Czech circus owner (and starring clown) employs a daring stratagem to escape en masse from behind the Iron Curtain. Based on the actual escape of the Circus Brumbach from East Germany in 1950, some of whose members appeared in this movie as characters and extras. Starring Frederic March and Richard Boone (later of Have Gun Will Travel and Hec Ramsey).
I Led Three Lives (1953-1956): A three-year TV series loosely based on the exploits of Herbert Philbrick and based on his book I Led Three Lives: Citizen, ‘Communist,’ Counterspy. The “three lives” refers to his open life as an advertising executive, his secret life in the Communist Party USA, and his even more secret life as a double agent reporting to the FBI. Perfect TV series for the Joseph McCarthy years. No connection to the 1951 movie I Was a Communist for the FBI, reviewed above. Gene Roddenberry, later of Star Trek, wrote for this series.
Animal Farm (1954): Early cartoon version of the Orwell classic. Production costs paid for by the CIA (!) and was the first cartoon ever released for commercial distribution in Britain. See below for the 1999 version, which used talking animals with cgi.
Night People (1954): Soviet agents abduct an American soldier in West Berlin, triggering a recovery effort commanded by Colonel Steve van Dyke (played by Gregory Peck). Also stars Buddy Ebsen and Broderick Crawford. This movie contains sneering references to the New York Times sucking up to Communists.
Silk Stockings (1957): Remake of 1939’s Ninotchka (see above), as a musical, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Musical score by Cole Porter.
Man on a String (1960): A “government intelligence agency” (CIA?) turns Boris Mitrov, a Hollywood film producer who appears to be a Soviet spy, into a double agent. Mitrov agrees to go to East Berlin, on the pretext of making a movie there. Later, he agrees to go to Moscow for further assignment, but then has to escape to West Berlin when he hears a code word. Earnest Borgnine as Mitrov; also stars Colleen Dewhurst. Not to be confused with Man on a Tightrope.
One, Two, Three (1961): Comedy directed by Billy Wilder and co-written by him, and “partly based on Ninotchka,” which Wilder had also co-written. Set in pre-Wall West Berlin. A Coca-Cola executive (which is based in Atlanta) is given the duty of chaperoning his boss’s dimwitted daughter, who is coming to town for a visit (and who is named Scarlett). It turns out that Scarlett is coming to Berlin because she is already secretly married to an East German Communist and wants to move to Moscow with him, so that must be broken up by any means necessary. Which the executive decides to do by trying to frame the East German husband with the Stasi… Starring James Cagney, in his final role prior to Ragtime, twenty years later; also has Arlene Francis and Horst Buchholz.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962): John Frankenheimer’s Cold War thriller about a Korean War POW brainwashed by the Chinese during his captivity to become a sleeper agent, eventually called upon to assassinate a nominee for President at the behest of his power-hungry Communist mother so that her Communist husband can succeed to the nomination and win the Presidency, to take over the USA. With Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury.
Escape from East Berlin (1962): Taken straight from the headlines of the day and based on a true story, this movie was produced the year after the Berlin Wall went up. During the early weeks of the Wall, escape was still possible, and in this movie the method was by tunnel. Of the would-be escapees in this movie, some were reluctant, and all were terrified of widening the scope of would-be escapees, for fear that someone would turn them all in. This group escapes just ahead of the Stasi. After the Wall went up, various studios were in a race to see who would get out the first movie about it; MGM won this race. Filming the movie on location in West Berlin and within sight of the Wall, MGM was even able to turn real Vopos (Volkspolizei, or the People’s Police) into unpaid screen extras! Werner Klemperer, later Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes, is in this one.
The Ugly American (1963): Film adaptation of the 1950s Cold War novel by Lederer & Burdick. It explores the authors’ analysis of why the United States was losing the Cold War in the Third World: the United States government was sending the wrong kinds of Americans to represent it there. Instead of idealistic Americans trying to live up to the ideals of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the United States government was sending political hacks to be ambassadors and careerist hacks as the professional State Department bureaucracy. The term “Ugly American” should be taken on two levels: the physical and the metaphorical. One of the characters is a genuinely physically ugly American -- but is especially effective in winning the admiration of the local population. But metaphorically, the term “Ugly American” means the inept hacks who all too often were sent to represent America and who alienated the local populations through their arrogance, their boorish manners, their condescending treatment of the locals, and their failure to care enough even to bother learning the local language. This creates a niche that the Communists could exploit. President Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in large part to address the problems raised by this novel and movie. Starring Marlon Brando and Arthur Hill.
Dr. Zhivago (1965): The Perfect Storm of films. Everything came together for this one: a proven plotline that had won its author, Boris Pasternak, a Nobel Prize for Literature; a historical background of epic, world-shaking events consisting of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War; a love story for the ages; haunting music; gorgeous scenery; an all-star cast including Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Tom Courtenay, Alec Guinness, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger. This movie had it all. But was it anti-Communist? The Soviet Politburo thought so. They considered it so anti-Communist, they denied Pasternak permission to travel to Stockholm to pick up his well-deserved Nobel Prize. Evidently, they objected to the novel’s implied theme that Revolutions themselves cause a lot of human misery and that human problems continue even after Revolutions. Although this was a British-Italian production, I’ll call it “Hollywood” because MGM was the producer, Hollywood awarded five Oscars to it, and some of the actors were American.
The Green Berets (1968): An exception to my rule of not including war movies on this list, because of the blatant anti-Communist theme of this movie, reflecting the politics of its producer and leading star, John Wayne. Filmed at the height of the Vietnam War, in part to answer the anti-war protesters, it was consciously filmed to be anti-Communist, by depicting Communists as innately evil and depraved. Also starring David Janssen (of the original The Fugitive TV series); and George Takei of Star Trek (whose delayed return from the set of The Green Berets -- on location in the Philippines on the Sulu Sea, of all places! -- forced Star Trek producer Gene Roddenberry to temporarily replace the Sulu character with the new character Ensign Pavel Chekhov).
The Chairman (1969): Gregory Peck goes to Red China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, with a microchip in his skull to enable the CIA to keep track of him (and to kill him if “necessary,” although he doesn’t know that), in order to steal the secrets of a new Chinese hybrid grain. He is assisted in this by a friendly Soviet Union, which also covets the secret grain. Along the way he plays ping-pong with Chairman Mao. Includes scenes of Red Guards forcing hapless victims of their torments to wear dunce caps.
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1970): Made-for-TV dramatization of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s first novel. It depicts the course of a better-than-average single day in a better-than-average Siberian forced-labor camp, from reveille to lights out. At the end of the day, Ivan Denisovich goes to bed “almost happy.” Solzhenitsyn himself liked the movie, although, being Solzhenitsyn, he couldn’t help quibbling that it “lacks Russian flavor.” Tom Courtenay stars.
The First Circle (1973): An exception to my rule of excluding ant-Communist films having no Hollywood connection, because this one was followed by a second version, which did. This version is a horrible adaptation of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s second-greatest novel, which he rightly disavowed and slammed as “inferior trash.” For one thing, it included a coarse rape scene in Lefortovo Prison that he never wrote into his novel. He was unable to do anything about it, because the USSR hadn’t signed the International Copyright Convention.
The Defection of Simas Kudirka (1978): Made-for-TV account of the true story of Simas Kudirka (played by Alan Arkin). He was a Lithuanian sailor who, in 1970, literally jumped ship from his Soviet fishing trawler onto the Coast Guard cutter USCGS Vigilant, which had halted it off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts for an inspection. Owing to confusion as to the proper procedure for handling defectors, the craven Coast Guard captain allowed KGB officers from the trawler to board his cutter, beat and tie up Kudirka, and carry him back to the trawler. The scandal was so great that President Nixon cashiered the captain and the admiral commanding Coast Guard District 1 in Boston for this disgrace. In 1974, the Ford Administration was able to get Kudirka released, by asserting a claim for his U.S. citizenship through his mother, who was living in Brooklyn. Also starring Richard Jordan and Donald Pleasance.
Coming out of the Ice (1982): Made-for-TV account of an American (played by John Savage) held in the Gulag. This is based on the autobiography of Victor Herman. As a teenager during the early 1930s, Herman was taken by his parents to the Soviet Union, they having given up on Depression-era America. While there, he took up sky-diving and set the world altitude record in 1934, earning him the title of “the Lindbergh of Russia.” He was sent to the Gulag for objecting to being listed in the record books as a Soviet citizen. The movie covers only Herman’s years in the Gulag. Also stars Willie Nelson, of all people.
Rambo: First Blood (1982): John Rambo, an ex-Green Beret returned from Vietnam and a Medal of Honor bearer, is now back in the USA, and gets into a mini-war with a corrupt county sheriff in Washington State. All four Rambo movies were anti-Communist, to varying degrees, although this one only peripherally, in the form of flashbacks that Rambo experiences from his time as a Vietcong POW. Sylvester Stallone starred in all of them, and Richard Crenna in the first three (he died before the fourth one) as Rambo’s former commanding officer. It is easy to dismiss Rambo movies as simplistic, jingoistic, cartoonish, and buffoonish. But they were immensely popular with the American public and struck a chord with them. That’s why there were so many of them. A fifth one is in production now, although in this one Rambo’s enemies are Mexican druglords, not Commies.
1984 (1984): George Orwell's signature work, about the ultimate totalitarian state. Everything in it was patterned after one aspect of the Soviet Union or another, to wit: an impersonal, all-powerful dictator who is never seen publicly but around whom a personality cult amounting to deification is created; a personal enemy of said dictator who is blamed for all evils (Goldstein); confessions coerced by torture; instantaneous switching of the state's enemies ("Eastasia has always been our enemy"); consignment of inconvenient persons down into the "memory hole" and their conversion into "unpersons" who not only do not exist, they never existed; revisions of past history to fit the current Party line; public pep rallies; the labeling of the official State ideology by calling it "INGSOC," which stands for "English Socialism." While it was not true that Stalin was never seen publicly (the way Big Brother never is), it was only at May Day or Revolution Day parades that he was seen. The Goldstein character of 1984 was consciously patterned after Leon Trotsky, down to Orwell's physical description of Goldstein: bespectacled, goatee beard, "faintly Jewish-looking." This fits Trotsky to a T. The instantaneous switching of the State's official enemy can be seen in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Past history was revised under Soviet Power, and embarrassing persons in the USSR were turned into unpersons, just like in 1984. David King's book The Commissar Vanishes details how this was done. This movie stars Suzanna Hamilton, John Hurt, and Sir Richard Burton in his final role.
Red Dawn (1984): Soviets and their allies conquer the United States, establishing concentration camps, executing hostages, and introducing full-blown Communist propaganda. They seize Americans’ firearms by identifying their owners from the BATF’s Form 4473, which records firearms purchases and which the stupid outgoing American government hadn’t ordered destroyed. Soviet and Cuban and Nicaraguan paratroopers (!) from Communist Mexico (!) literally fall from the sky to swarm over a Colorado town. A local high school student (played by Patrick Swayze) organizes his fellow students into a guerrilla army calling itself the “Wolverines” after their school’s mascot. They take to the hills to resist the invaders, using guerrilla warfare. In addition to Swayze, this movie pairs him with Jennifer Grey (before their all-time hit Dirty Dancing). It also stars Ron O’Neal, previously of the blaxploitation film Superfly, this time as in a poignant role as a Cuban colonel who realizes he’s on the wrong side; also has Powers Boothe and Charlie Sheen.
The Killing Fields (1984): The Cambodian Holocaust was the worst incidence of Communist savagery that ever happened. In just three years, the Khmer Rouge massacred about 30% of their country’s population. Even Stalin and Mao never ran up their percentages that high, and even they took a lot longer to reach the lower proportions of their countries’ populations that they did reach. Even the very title of this movie, The Killing Fields, has come to mean a nickname for the Cambodian Holocaust. In this movie, a New York Times reporter stationed in Cambodia before the war befriends a Cambodian journalist and interpreter. When Cambodia falls to the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian interpreter stays behind to help his friend escape and then falls into the clutches of the Khmer Rouge himself. For the next three years he barely remains alive. until he can escape and make it to Thailand for a reunion with his friend and with his own family, whom his NYTimes friend had been able to spirit out of the country. This movie received three Oscars and seven nominations. Starring Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich, Craig T. Nelson.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985): Rambo fights both North Vietnamese Commies and corrupt American officials to rescue American POWs still being held by North Vietnam after the Vietnam War ended.
Rocky IV (1985): Starring Sylvester Stallone as boxer Rocky Balboa. After the Soviet Union decides to enter the world of heavyweight boxing, Rocky’s friend, Apollo Creed, is killed in an exhibition match in the USA by Ivan Drago, the Soviet champion, who shows no remorse. Enraged, Rocky travels to the Soviet Union himself, to avenge his friend by defeating Drago and to redeem the honor of the USA, and does it in a match attended by Politburo members. Although the other Rocky movies are not anti-Communist, this one is, because Rocky’s foil this time is a robot-like Soviet automaton Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren.
Eleni (1985): During the Greek Civil War, a Greek mother (played by Kate Nelligan) is executed by the Communists for refusing to allow them to evacuate her children to Albania for “re-education.” Decades later, her son (played by John Malkovich), whom she had sent to America, returns to Greece to confront her Communist murderer. Very strong Christian messages throughout, particularly in the hour of Eleni’s execution. Possibly the greatest story of a mother’s love for her children ever filmed. Based on a true story, the account of Eleni’s son, the Greek-American journalist Nicholas Gage (not to be confused with the actor Nicholas Cage).
Amerika (1987): Four-part TV miniseries, based on an idea by Ben Stein, about the aftermath and consequences of a Soviet takeover and the end of the United States of America. Most of the action takes place in a small Nebraska town considered typical of America. There are some delicious scenes depicting the Soviets’ preference for running the former USA through the auspices of… the United Nations. In this miniseries, the UN’s black helicopters are for real! This series has powerful themes about how the work of the Founding Fathers of the United States isn’t necessarily permanent, that it won’t be maintained by itself, and that it can be undone and lost for all time without every generation of Americans doing its part to uphold it. It is up to us to preserve what the Founding Fathers bequeathed to us and to be worthy of their legacy. Star-studded cast including Sam Neill, Kris Kristofferson, Mariel Hemingway, Robert Urich, Christine Lahti, Cindy Pickett, Dorian Harewood, Wendy Hughes, and Lara Flynn Boyle in her first role.
The Hanoi Hilton (1987): Another exception to my rule of not including war movies on this list, because of its depiction of the brutality that American POWs in North Vietnam endured at the hands of their Communist captors, meaning the North Vietnamese and their Cuban assistants. With Michael Moriarty and Jeffrey Jones.
Rambo III (1988): Rambo fights Russian Commies in Afghanistan and to rescue his old CO, who had been captured by them.
The Hunt for Red October (1990): The first of Tom Clancy’s techno-military-thrillers. Captain First Rank Marko Ramius, Soviet Navy, and of Lithuanian -- not Russian -- descent, is disgusted with Soviet Communism. He recruits a wardroom of like-minded officers for his real mission, which is to mutiny and donate his Typhoon-class nuclear submarine Red October to the United States. But before departing Murmansk, he can’t help sending a taunting note informing Moscow of his intent, so now the Soviet Navy, aware of his intent, mobilizes with the mission of sinking Red October. The U.S. Navy, naturally, wants to shepherd Red October to safety. This story was based on an incident that actually happened: the 1975 attempted defection of the Soviet destroyer Storozhevoy from Latvia to Sweden. Starring Sean Connery as Captain Ramius, Alec Baldwin as CIA analyst Jack Ryan, with James Earl Jones, Sam Neill, and (future U.S. Senator and candidate for President) Fred Thompson.
The Inner Circle (1991): The career of Ivan Sanchin, who for eighteen years until Stalin’s death was Stalin’s personal film projectionist for Stalin’s nightly movies, and who saw the Soviet senior leadership in all its depravities. Excellent movie. Starring Tom Hulce (who played Mozart in Amadeus) as Sanchin, Lolita Davidovich as his wife, Bob Hoskins as Beria.
Stalin (1992): Produced-for-HBO TV biopic movie about the career and personal life of Stalin. Starring Robert Duvall as Stalin, who delivers his usual stellar work acting, and Julia Ormond as Stalin’s wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva.
The First Circle (1992): Much-improved remake of the film version of Solzhenitsyn’s second-greatest novel. This time, Solzhenitsyn had editorial control over the production. Autobiographical like all of Solzhenitsyn’s fiction, it depicts life in a Gulag scientific labor compound near Moscow in late 1949 that is dedicated to technological research on secret state projects. F. Murray Abraham (who played Salieri in Amadeus) plays the role of Stalin and Christopher Plummer that of the head of the MGB (predecessor organization to the KGB) Viktor Semyonovich Abakumov. The title The First Circle is an allusion to Danté Alighieri’s Il Inferno section of The Divine Comedy, wherein Danté invented the First Circle of Hell as a comfortable place to consign virtuous pagans who had never known Christ. Solzhenitsyn uses that metaphor for his scientific prison. It’s the best part of Hell, but it’s still Hell.
Citizen X (1995): During the 1980s, the local police in Rostov-na-Donu, Russia, have to track down a serial murderer of dozens of children and women, who has also cannibalized them. Anti-Communist movie, because the Communist Party had put hurdles in the path of the investigation, on the specious grounds that serial murders “can’t happen under Communism because they are a symptom of Capitalism,” and because the chief suspect (and actual murderer), Andrei Chikatilo, was a Party member. (It later turned out that while Chikatilo was a boy, he had nearly starved to death during Stalin’s Ukrainian famine during the early 1930s and had had to survive by committing cannibalism on already dead people. But evidently, this caused him to develop a cannibalism fetish, driving him to commit the murders years later. So not only can serial murders occur under Communism, they can be caused by it.) Donald Sutherland played the role of the local chief of police, Stephen Rea the forensic detective Viktor Burakov, Max von Sydow a psychiatrist.
Animal Farm (1999): George Orwell’s allegory of the 1930s Soviet Union and European international politics, replete with talking farm animals. Patrick Stewart provides the voice-over for the Stalin stand-in, the pig Napoleon. Other voice-overs provided by Julia Ormond, Peter Ustinov, Kelsey Grammer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Paul Scofield.
Tomorrow: the anti-communist films of the 21st century.
The author is an Iowa truck driver known to some AT readers as Kzintosh.