When the United States is politically weak or vulnerable, it needs its muscular movie heroes, Conan, Rocky, Rambo, to suggest that we have things worth fighting for, worth preserving, even if those things are not easy to talk about, or describe anymore. They just are.
Interview with John Milius, film director, June 1988 (1)
Ronald Reagan's sweeping victory in the November 1980 presidential elections provided spectacular evidence of the uniquely intimate relationship between politics and him in the United States. To this day, no other country has chosen a movie star (former or current) as its political leader. (2)
Reagan's entry into the White House consummated the long-standing marriage between Washington and Hollywood during the Cold War. The Gipper, as he was known affectionately by the White House press corps, after his breakthrough role in Lloyd Bacon's 1940 sporting biopic Knute Rockne - All American Hero, had been a prominent anti-communist crusader on and off camera for decades.
When he was president of the Screen Actors Guild during the McCarthy era, Reagan, who was then something of a liberal, had not only played a leading part in enforcing the Hollywood blacklist; he had also acted as an undercover agent for the FBI, fighting, as he put it in his memoirs, Moscow's plan to take over the motion picture business. (3) Thereafter, Reagan skilfully exploited his celebrity status and anti-communist credentials for financial and political gain.
His work for the General Electric Theatre on television in the 1950s and early 1960s, which included a national speaking tour of factories, formed the base for his later gubernatorial and presidential campaigns. In 1966, Reagan won the governorship of California, backed by a roster of Hollywood's most powerful Cold Warriors; his inaugural cerimony was designed, appropriatley, by Disney Studios.
During his eight years in Sacramento, Reagan achieved a national reputation as a hard-line conservative by clamping down on student activism and the anti-Vietnam War movement. (4)
Once in the Oval Office, Reagan launched an impassioned, reinvigorated assault on the political left at home and overseas. The media lay at the centre of this attack. Reagan's experience in film and television gave him a greater appreciation of popular culture than any previous American president.
In his mind, cultural power in America had to be wrested from the 'liberal elite' which had led the country astray during the 1960s and 1970s.
Wick to the directorship of the USIA. Wick increased the agency's propaganda to a level recalling the heady days of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, and established Radio Marti, a radio station aimed at Fidel Castro's Cuba. Distinguished Americans recruited to serve on USIA advisory committees in the 1980s included the actors Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas, while Leo Jaffe, former head of Columbia Pictures, chaired a Film Acquisition Committee. (6)
During his eight years in the White House, movie material played a key role in shaping Reagan's thoughts, speeches and actions. His rhetoric and policies, in turn, had a marked influence on Hollywood output. The Great Communicator, as he became known, peppered his vocabulary with film references so frequently that many wondered whether he had turned the White House into a movie set.
Reagan gave his personal backing to films, like the hugely popular Rambo series, which projected his image of the Soviet bloc as the 'evil empire' — a phrase familiar to many fans of George Lucas's 1977 sci-fi epic Star Wars. Some insiders claim Reagan even borrowed one of his presidency's flagship concepts — that of a nuclear-free world founded on space-based missile defence - straight from Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). These actions, when allied to a penchant for recounting movie images as historical facts, indicated Reagan had difficulty distinguishing the real world from that depicted by Hollywood. (7)
At the heart of the 'Reagan Revolution' was the actor-president's ability to rewrite the past to suit his upbeat vision of America's present and future better. Reagan presented himself as the living embodiment of the role played by James Stewart in Frank Capra's 1939 movie Mr Smith Goes to Washington — the small-town, innocent American whose homespun virtues would restore common decency to a complex and corrupt government. Reagan's dreamy, black-and-white rhetoric extolling two centuries of civilised, democratic development in the United States played extremely well to an electorate desperate to consign Watergate to history. (8)
Reagan's perspective on foreign affairs similarly looked back in time, to a golden, pre-Vietnam era when the American flag was an honoured emblem and the nation confidentiy sought to fulfil its Manifest Destiny. Reagan and his key advisers belonged to an ideological faction whose views had not been substantially represented in Washington since the 1950s.
The New Right spoke of America being 'a beacon of hope, a shining city on the hill', with 'creed' and a 'cause'. Above all, these neo-conservatives believed that if America could 'renew' itself at home, it could rediscover a 'vision' overseas. Communism had to be 'rolled back', they urged, not 'contained'. The United States needed to 'break out of a future' that prophesied mutual assured destruction, and 'win' the Cold War by exposing communism's decaying edifice. (9)
Conventional wisdom has it that Hollywood's elite followed the lead given by one of its favoured sons and put the film industry's full weight behind the New Right's anti-communist crusade during the Second Cold War. (10)
This final chapter examines the degree to which this is true by focusing on three films that centred on Reagan's twin themes of national destiny and renewal. It will argue that Cold War filmmaking polarised to a greater extent during the 1980s than in any previous period of the conflict. A number of filmmakers on the political right felt it their duty to put a halt to the nation's post-Vietnam foreign policy drift and to spell out clearly to the American people that they now faced a threat from Soviet communism in their own backyard. Others on the left felt enraged both by the New Right's warmongering and by liberals' weak opposition to it, and sought to challenge the emerging new Reaganite Cold War orthodoxy head on. Some, as we shall see, were prepared to do so even by working directly with foreign 'enemy' governments. Between these two groups lay the industry's Tiard centre' — filmmakers who followed politically mainstream views in the first half of the decade, and who reacted positively to the Gorbachevian changes in the Soviet Union, after 1985. Tellingly, even before the Berlin Wall had been breached in 1989, this centre had already begun to view Moscow as a valuable ally in a new war — that on drugs and terrorism.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Once the world's most powerful film studio, the proud producer of Ninotchka and scores of other prestigious motion pictures in the 1930s and 1940s, MGM was in dire financial straits by the late 1970s. The victim, like other studios, of dwindling audiences and wavering production policies, it looked as though it was going out of business. In the early 1980s, MGM's principal owner, the reclusive Las Vegas financier Kirk Kerkorian, gambled. He expanded the studio's production system by purchasing United Artists, and appointed the bullish, egotistical Frank Yablans as CEO. Yablans had earned a reputation as a miracle worker while serving as Paramount's president in the seventies, and set about trying to save MGM/UA by attracting new, creative talent to the company. One of his first major 'make-or-break' projects was Red Dawn, a $ 17 million anti-communist action-adventure movie that made Hollywood's McCarthy-era Red-baiting material look positively restrained. (11)
The original script for Red Dawn was written by Kevin Reynolds, who was then in his early thirties and would later make his directorial debut in 1988 with The Beast of War, an anti-war film about Russia's Vietnam-like experience in Afghanistan. (12) Reynolds' story — `Ten Soldiers'—was set in the near future and resembled William Golding's 1954 novel (adapted for the screen in 1963) about the brutalisation of innocence, The Lord of the Flies. Reynolds' script focused on the horror confronted by a group of teenage boys in New Mexico, who take to the hills when their town is invaded by Russians and Cubans. Initially, the boys treat their plight as a lark, as a chance to live off the land, but they are ultimately taken over by tougher kids who turn the once-benign group into a determined guerrilla force, striking at the invaders. (13)
When Yablans saw the script soon after arriving at MGM/UA in late 1982, he immediately saw the scope for another First Blood (1982), that is another jingoistic, hot-action Rambo movie that would capitalise on the recent shift to the right in the United States. He therefore changed its tide to the more menacing Red Dawn, rejected Reynolds' plea to direct, and instead offered the job to John Milius. (14) The 39-year-old Milius was one of the more eccentric members of the film-school-trained 'movie brat' generation that had come to the fore in the 1970s (and included Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma).
Buzz Feitshans, Red Dawn's producer, took the same view. He and Milius were friends, having co-produced the first of the Vietnam POW rescue movies, Ted Kotcheff`s Uncommon Valor, in 1983. Feitshans was also the producer of the Rambo trilogy. (16)
To help develop a convincing scenario for a Soviet intervention in the Western Hemisphere, Yablans brought in no less a figure than General Alexander Haig. Here was proof that the state-film network operated even during the latter stages of the Cold War. Haig had served as Nixon's White House Chief of Staff and the commander of NATO forces in the 1970s, before being appointed as Reagan's first Secretary of State. After being eased out of the State Department in June 1982, mainly because of his opposition to nuclear talks with the Soviets, Haig had become a member of the MGM/UA board of directors.
Haig invited John Milius to the Hudson Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington, DC. Surrounded by maps, charts and computer read-outs of State and Defence Department analyses, the two men evolved an elaborate back story, detailing the domino-like collapse of Western Europe and dissolution of NATO. Haig envisioned 'the enemy' consisting not only of Russians and Cubans, but also of a left-leaning Mexican regime that would permit an invasion force designed to split the United States in half, invading at Veracruz and pressing northward.
Slowly, through 1983, numerous facets of the original project changed. A secondary back story was added about America's political bankruptcy. Nicaragua entered the script. The central characters, who were in their early teens in Reynolds' story, became high-school seniors and older, thus allowing for greater on-screen violence.
Overall, the movie grew into one that was more about killing and treachery than about character and relationships, one that diluted Reynolds' anti-war message in favour of the glorification of a paramilitary defence of American territory. Aspects of the rewrite even alarmed Milius, who had originally intended to say something about the 'futility of war' in the movie. Yablans and Haig urged the director to insert scenes showing the kids infiltrate back into town to witness the brainwashing of their parents.
Strong scenes showing the invaders shooting resolute citizens in reprisal for the kids' resistance were also added. Other provocative features, especially about collaboration, were filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.
One scene depicting an American girl flirting with armed Russian soldiers in a Sovietised McDonald's restaurant seems to have been removed due to a mass murder at a McDonald's franchise in San Ysidro, California, just weeks prior to the film's opening. Respect for the victims' families probably accounts for this decision, plus the need to put some distance between the massacre and a film that, on the one hand, celebrated violence and, on the other hand, purported to show how civilised Americans were compared with their enemies. (18)
Red Dawn was filmed between November 1983 and January 1984, mainly in and around the small town of Las Vegas, New Mexico. The cast included Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Grey, members of the 'Brat Pack' generation that frequently appeared together in teen-oriented films in the 1980s. The snowy conditions in New Mexico increased costs but lent the movie a certain beauty and verisimilitude; cast and crew complained of frost bite. Despite Haig's involvement, the Defence Department refused to cooperate, not even allowing some jets to do an innocent 'fly-by'.
Having read the script, the Pentagon insisted that a Russian-Cuban infiltration such as that concocted by Milius, Haig and Yablans could never take place. Lacking the Defence Department's logistical support caused serious technical headaches for Milius. Old, imitation Russian tanks broke down in the cold weather. One stunt-man parachutist broke his ankle, while another wearing a Russian uniform landed off course and was taken into custody by vigilant locals. Yablans, for one, failed to see the funny side of such hitches, especially when he realised the final budget for the movie had almost doubled from the original $10 million estimate. The CEO accused Milius of having completely lost control of the production, complaining, without tongue in cheek, that 'you've got enough people and equipment down there to start World War Three'. (19)
Red Dawn begins with a silent, 15-second preamble. Simple, yellow-on-black tides inform the viewer of recent catastrophic events in the world. A starving Soviet Union has invaded one of its rebellious satellites, Poland. Cuba and Nicaragua have amassed 500,000 troops. Central America has fallen to communism. Anti-nuclear and neutralist regimes have taken power in key Western European states. Mexico has plunged into revolution. NATO has dissolved. The United States stands alone.
Cue Basil Poledouris' stirring tide-sequence music, borrowing heavily from Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Fade to Calumet, Colorado, a lonely town on the plains just at the edge of the Rockies. A black history teacher is telling his class about Genghis Khan's barbarian invasion of Europe, when enemy paratroopers land in the fields nearby. 'Wow, check it out!', shout excited students, who think the men are Americans. Jabbering Spanish and Russian at one another, the soldiers begin machine-gunning everyone in sight. Within minutes, rocket fire batters down buildings and tanks block intersections:
Calumet has fallen under occupation by Soviet, Cuban and Nicaraguan forces. Red banners and pictures of Lenin go up everywhere. Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky takes over the local movie house. Suspect books are 'cleansed' by fire, recalling the Nazis' Burning of the Books in 1933. Outside town an old drive-in is turned into a 're-education centre', where potential resistors are forced to watch anti-capitalist slide shows while a droning voice attacks 'whorehouse America'.
But some people have escaped. Jed (Swayze), once the high-school quarterback, now in his twenties, leads a small group of teenage boys into the mountains. hide out for a while, initiating themselves in the ways of the wild — drinking the blood of a deer they kill, for instance, or urinating into the radiator of their truck when it runs out of water. Taking the name of their football team, the Wolverines, the boys become a crack guerrilla unit, sweeping down on the occupying forces and liberating groups of Americans.
A couple of girls who have been hiding from Red Army rapists join them in the mountains and soon become hardened, ruthless fighters too. A cynical air-force pilot (Powers Boothe), shot down earlier in the war, also joins up and fills them in on the situation. First, Cubans and Nicaraguans, crossing the border like ordinary illegal aliens, took out America's missile silos and command centres. With America's nuclear capacity snuffed, Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles destroyed key strategic sites in the United States and in other countries, including China. Cuban and Nicaraguan forces then swept through Mexico and joined Soviet battalions passing across the Bering Straits. The Soviets now control more than half of the country via puppet governments, and most of the rest of the world too.
But time is running out for the brave, hungry youngsters. Realising that a grudging respect for the partisans is growing among his disillusioned Cuban allies, the Russian commander in Calumet dispatches an elite Soviet unit to wipe out the Wolverines. The unit is assisted by a traitor within the boys' ranks, whom the guerrillas reluctantly and emotionally execute.
'What's the difference between them and us?', the more timid boys ask Jed afterwards. We live here', is his stolid reply. Eventually, the Soviet forces trap and kill most of the rebels using helicopter gun ships. Now resigned to their fate, Jed and his brother Matt (Sheen) carry out a suicide mission on the commander's head¬quarters. At the end, just two of the Wolverines are left to make the long hike into 'Free America' territory. A brief voice-over epilogue showing a World War Three memorial and the American flag flying tells us the United States will finally survive.
Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985) is justifiably often labelled Hollywood's definitive Reaganite Cold War text, (20) but Red Dawn provides strong competition. First of all, Red Dawn was - perhaps remarkably - one of only two Hollywood films made throughout the Cold War (Alfred E. Green's Invasion USA, released in 1952, being the other) that depicted World War Three in terms of a direct military invasion of the United States, as opposed to those that used aliens or that focused on Soviet subversion. (21) Powers Boothe's pilot gives a fairly accurate summary of the Republican right's nightmare scenario for a World War Three born of military weakness.
The movie also reflected the Reaganites' concern with Central America acting as the base for communist subversion, or even an invasion, of the United States. (22) Second, Red Dawn borrowed heavily from American mythology and folklore. Riding on horseback and living rough, the Wolverines act like frontier woodsmen or cowboys. Symbolically, they receive help from a character played by Ben Johnson, famous for his supporting roles in Westerns. Their hit-and-run tactics evoke popular images of underdog militiamen fighting for freedom against British colonialists, or fearless Indian braves struggling to preserve their way of life. When searching for the partisans, even the Soviet soldiers are awe-struck by the majesty of the American landscape. But whereas the Wolverines belong to the land, the Russians are like visitors to a theme park.
Third, the Wolverines' unconventional tactics also chimed with the doctrine of 'flexible response' promulgated by the CIA and neo-conservatives. At the root of this doctrine was the belief that communism and terrorism had joined forces against the democratic West, and that the Soviet Union was running a 'terror network' in Europe, the Middle East and Central America.
This network had to be challenged directiy at source, using the same paramilitary and maverick tactics terrorists themselves employed. (23) Fourth, the Wolverines' 'hard body' image conveyed the macho, violent qualities of a great deal of eighties American Cold War iconography. This tied in with the White House's claim that during the 1970s US foreign policy had gone 'soft'. The nation's bureaucratised baby boomers had let down their sons (and daughters, to an extent), who were more intuitive and independent-minded. Despite being almost seventy years of age when he entered the White House, Reagan pro¬claimed himself a 'freedom fighter' and soon bectime what political scientist John Orman termed 'the quintessential macho president'. (24)
Fifth, despite being categorised as the most violent film ever made, (25) paradoxically Red Dawn implied that a nuclear war was survivable and perhaps therefore winnable by showing World War Three's aftermath to be essentially conventional. In this way, the movie countered other films released during the early 1980s, like Lynne Littman's Testament (1983) and Nicholas Meyer's highly controversial TV drama The Day After (1983), which declared nuclear weapons suicidal. At the same time, the movie lent a degree of support to Reagan's controversial Strategic Defence Initiative (nicknamed 'Star Wars' by the Democrats) by showing that Moscow had perfected its own missile defence programme, and in so doing had rendered the US nuclear arsenal worthless. (26)
Finally, Red Dawn was, like many other Cold War film plots of the early Reagan era, driven above all by the need for revenge, especially for America's loss in Vietnam. (27)
The Wolverines kill partly in order to avenge their elders' execution by the occupying forces. Yet we see that it: is the liberal indecisiveness of their parents' generation that has opened up America to invasion in the first place. Reagan frequently told the American people that Vietnam had been 'a noble cause' that Washington had lacked the will to win, and that Americans needed to lack the 'Vietnam Syndrome' lest communism take advantage of US passivity. John Milius felt exactly the same. (28) The Wolverines represent just this reaction against America's sense of guilt and subsequent loss of purpose overseas. Looked at in another way, in a neat role reversal Jed and his cohort enact the role of the Viet Cong partisans, while the Cubans and Russians play-the part of the American invaders. The Wolverines themselves do not, to coin John Rambo's famous phrase (endlessly recycled by Reagan himself), 'get to win this time', but those who follow the youngsters' decisive and gallant lead do so in the end, as evidenced by the epilogue's triumphant stars and stripes.
In its opening weekend in mid-August 1984, playing to a huge 1,822 screens nationwide, Red Dawn took a robust $8 million. It was a stroke of marketing genius to release the film during the Los Angeles Olympics. The Soviet boycott (in retaliation for the Americans' failure to attend the 1980 Moscow Olympics) helped turn the Games into a flag-waving flurry of nationalism, encouraged partly by ABC Television's coverage. (29) As the MGM/UA executives predicted, most critics were derisive. Comments ranged from those who declared it 'fascist' to others that dampened down liberals' fears by arguing that it was simply too ludicrous to be dangerous. (30)
But there is some, albeit impressionistic, evidence that Red Dawn had a strong impact on its target audience. When a group of high-school students from New Jersey were asked about the movie in November 1984, by which time it had grossed $ 36 million, virtually all who had seen the film identified with the Wolverines and enjoyed the idea that a bunch of kids like them `could kill a lot of communists'. 'It kind of made you feel good', said one boy. 'You come out hating the Russians.' Another boy added: 'Americans went through Vietnam and terrorist attacks. People are sick of America always being wrong.' A teacher found that the film reinforced his students' image of Russians being associated with words like 'Reds', 'stubborn', 'oppression', 'emotionless', 'vodka' and 'propaganda'. (31) Older members of the audience also expressed solidarity with those who chanted 'Wolverines' and 'U-S-A' in theatres.
'Americans have to start waking up and recognise that America is not a socialist country', said one 45-year-old woman after seeing the film. 'They have to recognise that freedom isn't free.' Alluding to Reagan's Democratic challenger in the presidential elections later in the year, one political science major at UCLA said in August 1984 that, 'If Mondale gets elected, that [a Russian invasion of the United States] is what's going to happen.' (32)
Red Dawn was publicly endorsed by a range of opinion-formers on the political right. Haig and Reagan used the film as a tool to disparage the Democrats' stance on foreign policy in the run-up to the party's convention in August 1984. The Gun Owners of America honoured John Milius for 'dramatically depicting the importance in our time of the Second Amendment'. Soldier of Fortune, a magazine which had a readership of 300,000 and which stood at the heart of paramilitary culture in post-Vietnam America, printed stills from Red Dawn that blended seamlessly with photographic accounts of Mujahidin bravery against the Red Army in Afghanistan.
Overseas, Red Dawn fared less well. Left-wing activists threw rotten eggs and paint at screens showing the movie in some West German theatres. In Moscow, Soviet cultural officials denounced Red Dawn as virulently anti-Soviet propaganda, despite recent films like Mikhail Tumanishvili's Incident in Quadrant 36-80 (1983) having portrayed Americans as violent anti-Russian psychopaths. (34) In the summer of 1985, Red Dawn was reportedly banned — along with Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and Sylvester Stallone's Rocky IV (1985) - in more exotic locations like Zimbabwe, following complaints from the Russian and Cuban embassies. (35)
Red Dawn would prove to have a mixed legacy. At his trial in 1997, Timothy McVeigh, a pseudo-survivalist and member of an ultra-right militia group hostile to the US federal government, claimed that Red Dawn was one of his principal sources of 'inspiration' for the Oklahoma City bombing two years earlier. McVeigh's act of terrorism killed 168 people.
In late 2003, the Pentagon's codename for its successful operation to capture the deposed Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was `Red Dawn'. The two huts found at Hussein's hideaway outside his home-town of Tikrit were christened 'Wolverine 1' and 'Wolverine 2', an indication perhaps that, twenty years after it had been made, Red Dawn had achieved cult status in US military spheres. (36)
ANARCHISTS AND ADVENTURERS
" It is God-given right of the American people to dominate the Western Hemisphere. It is our moral duty to protect our neighbors from oppression and exploitation. That is [our] manifest destiny." Walker
Insisting that America was once again 'standing tall', Ronald Reagan crushed Walter Mondale at the presidential elections in November 1984, winning every state in the nation except Minnesota and the District of Columbia. One left-wing British filmmaker who was then a rising star in Hollywood, Alex Cox, chose to avoid the Republican celebrations by heading south to visit Nicaragua during its first democratic elections. Since 1981, Reagan's efforts to overthrow the left-wing Sandinista government had made Nicaragua the focus of his campaign to 'roll back communism' in Central America.
The CIA and private American bodies had spent millions of dollars training and supplying the opposition militia, the Contras. Beginning in 1983, the National Security Council's Office of Public Diplomacy had conducted a multi-million-dollar propaganda initiative inside die Linked States, projecting an image of the Contras as democratic freedom fighters in the mould of America's Founding Fathers and the Sandinistas as evil members of a Soviet outpost. (37)
The 30-year-old Cox had risen to prominence in 1983 with Repo Man, a black fantasy about the car repossession business that outrageously satirised American consumerism and indirectly played on current nuclear war anxieties. Its follow-up, Sid and Nancy (1986), which recreated the tragic late 1970s love affair between Sid Vicious of the punk rock group the Sex Pistols and his American girlfriend Nancy Spungeon, confirmed Cox's nihilistic reputation. (38) Cox travelled to Nicaragua in late 1984 to find out for himself whether there was any truth in the American news media's allegations that the Sandinista government had recently turned the country into 'a totalitarian dungeon'.
In the early-to-mid-1980s, several Hollywood films had focused on the politics of Central and South America. A few had even highlighted US subterfuge
or support for death-squad government-terrorists in the region. Mention has already been made of Costa-Gavras' Missing, released in 1982. This was followed, in 1983, by Roger Spottiswood's Under Fire, a drama that focused on the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution and the assistance given by the CIA to the death squads of the Somoza regime against the rebel Sandinistas. Two years later, Haskell Wexler's Latino (1985) looked at the Nicaraguan War through the disillusioned eyes of a Chicano Green Beret from Los Angeles sent to train Contras in the jungles of Honduras. In 1986, Oliver Stone's Oscar-nominated Salvador suggested the CIA had been involved in the notorious murder by rightist military thugs of El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980. (40)
Despite their criticism of recent actions by the US government, movies like Under Fire irritated Cox intensely. In his opinion, their liberalism ultimately allowed Americans to blame 'the system' rather than themselves and, in the case of Under Fire, arrogantly even suggested that 'heroic' American journalists had won the revolution for the Sandinistas. Cox had the comic-book style of Red Dawn and the Rambo series in mind for his film about William Walker - albeit with a darkly humorous, punk-like twist. He believed this mode would not only help him to reach a broader audience, but would also compete with Hollywood's Red-baiters on their own ground. (41)
Cox's outline and Wurlitzer's script drew on an unusual range of research material, including Nicaraguan poetry, correspondence between Franklin Roosevelt and the Somoza family in the 1930s, and Walker's own account of his adventures published just before his death. Wurlitzer's script painted a portrait of Walker as an ideologue of Manifest Destiny whose sublimated sexuality accounted for his will to dominate but who ended up being used as a semi-witting stalking horse for larger strategic and economic interests. (43)
Though happy with the bulk of Wurlitzer's script, Cox felt that the links between Walker's antics and modern-day US policies needed to be made more explicit. He therefore imposed various contemporary images and took the script into a surreal past-future domain, creating a world in which the present — Walker's future — in the form of computers, mass-merchandised cigarettes, and, most strikingly, helicopters keeps invading Walker's reality. Wurlitzer complained that these touches would only alienate the audience, but his warnings were ignored. (44)
As director and screenwriter exchanged draft scripts, progress was made on the wider production and financial fronts. It is a measure of the greater space which had opened up for Cold War dissent in the American film industry by the 1980s that Cox got not only the backing of an experienced mainstream Hollywood producer but also a distribution deal with a major studio.
Pressman hoped that Walker would have an impact comparable to that of Platoon (1986), Stone's Oscar-winning liberal critique of Vietnam, and succeeded in securing half of the film's production money (roughly $3 million) and a lucrative distribution deal with Universal Pictures, whose president, Tom Pollock, had once been his attorney. Pollock and Sean Daniel, Universal's production chief, saw great commercial potential in the cult status achieved by Cox's Repo Man, and hoped Walker could emulate David Lynch's recent surreal crossover hit Blue Velvet (1986). (45)
In December 1985, Cox and co-producer Lorenzo O'Brien made a location-scouting trip to Nicaragua. The Peruvian-born O'Brien, who had made a documentary about the military junta in power in his home country when a student at UCLA in the 1970s, established contact with the Nicaraguan Film Commission and the Roman Catholic Church, which agreed to provide unique locations in the capital, Managua, and the historic city of Granada. (46)
These initial contacts soon blossomed, to the point where the Nicaraguan government itself adopted the film as a useful propaganda tool. For generations of Nicaraguans, William Walker had served as a graphic symbol - the gringo malo - of the many US occupations of their country. To the Sandinistas, therefore, a movie about Walker provided an opportunity to consolidate its recent electoral successes (the movement's leader, Daniel Ortega, was made president in 1984) and to generate sympathy overseas for its cause in the civil war.
Filming took place over eight weeks between March and May 1987. The cast was made up largely of unknown actors, many of whom had collaborated with Cox on his earlier productions. The exceptions to this were Ed Harris, who played Walker, Peter Boyle, who played industrial magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt ('the "big engine" of American free enterprise', according to Wurlitzer), and Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin, who made a brief appearance as Walker's deaf fiancee, Ellen Martin. Harris and other members of the cast and crew agreed to work for a substantially reduced fee partly because they supported the film's political viewpoint. (48) Walker's idiosyncratic soundtrack was the work of Joe Strummer, the former leader of British punk band the Clash. Like several other British and American rock musicians in the 1980s — including Jackson Browne, Billy Bragg and U2's Bono — Strummer had been campaigning against US interference in Nicaragua for a number of years. (49)
Walker opens in 1853. William Walker — adventurer, religious zealot and political visionary—leads an expedition of liberation into Mexico, which ends in defeat in Sonora. Back in the United States, Walker is tried for violating Mexico's neutrality, but exonerates himself with a ringing speech about the mission of the American people to liberate the Western Hemisphere from oppression. Now a national celebrity, Walker accepts an invitation from Cornelius Vanderbilt to lead an expedition to Nicaragua, which is in need of 'democracy' and is ideally suited for a canal to open up trade routes to the Pacific.
On landing in Nicaragua, Walker is met by two collaborators who are gen¬erals of the country's liberal party. The American then lays down the law about how liberators should behave, reinforcing this with three executions. An ambush as they head for the capital, Rivas, leaves many Immortals dead, but they eventually, if chaotically, triumph over the 'rebels'.
Walker sets up a puppet government, and becomes romantically involved with Yrena (Blanca Guerra), who secretly hates him for deposing and executing her lover. Walker then announces sweeping reforms, but his reign soon degenerates into brutal dictatorship. He also alienates Vanderbilt by entering into an alliance with other businessmen. Slavery is instituted and as Walker's followers fight over the spoils, an insurrection is fomented by Yrena and other conspirators, helped by Vanderbilt's cutting off Walker's supplies.
After a failed attempt on his life by Yrena, Walker orders the destruction of Rivas. As the town burns, and his men go on a last rampage of shooting and killing, US military helicopters arrive to rescue die Americans. However,
Walker, who is now clearly insane, elects to stay and makes himself president.
The closing scene shows Walker being executed by firing squad in 1860 in Honduras. As the credits roll, television footage juxtaposes pictures of Ronald Reagan in Congress and US troops on 'defensive manoeuvres' on the Honduras-Nicaragua border with the bodies of Nicaraguan civilians murdered by the Contras.
Walker's bare outline belies the film's anarchic tone and politically jarring style. Three areas stand out in this respect. The first is Walker's anachronistic humour. By populating the world of the 1850s with Coca-Cola bottles, Mercedes-Benz sedans, computers and television journalists, Walker on the one hand consciously frustrates audience expectations about the historical film genre, and on the other tells viewers that the doctrine of Manifest Destiny remains an axiom of modern-day US foreign policy. Cox and Wurlitzer's original ending actually made the connection between past and present US incursions into Nicaragua even more explicit.
In this scenario, Walker was to be whisked out of Rivas by the CIA aboard the US helicopters and then make a speech in modern-day Florida at a fundraising dinner for the Contras, flanked by anti-Castro Cubans and pro-Reagan celebrities like the Reverend Jerry Falwell and Charlton Heston. This ending was dropped on the advice of Ed Pressman, who argued that it would make Walker look 'a State Department asshole' rather than a Napoleonic figure, and the speech was moved instead to an earlier cathedral scene. (50) Cox later regretted not having sprinkled his film with even more contemporary objects from the start instead of from half-way through (baseball bats, TV dinners, even plane wreckage all appear in draft scripts), which would certainly have lent it greater continuity. (51)
The uneasy marriage of nineteenth- and twentieth-century images is accompanied by the disjunction between image and sound, in which voice-over narration, dialogue, and non-diegetic music are contradicted by the mise-en-scene. This serves to heighten the satirical tone of the movie and to sharpen its criticism of the Americans' behaviour. For instance, Walker opens with upbeat Latin music that is wholly at odds with the images of violent death and destruction during a battle in Senora.
The slow-motion displays of bloodshed in this and later batttle scenes, complete with semi-comical spaghetti-Western-style sound effects, deliberately ape the work of Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa, and are meant to bring home to 'the carnage-addicted, Rambo-loving American audiences' (as Cox labelled them) the violent nature of US interventionism. (In an early script, one of the Immortals was called 'Captain Schwarzenegger', in honour of the muscle-bound star of the mid-1980s hits The Terminator and Commando) (52)
Throughout the film, Ed Harris's lofty voice-over narration is repeatedly undercut by actions on screen. Thus, when the voice speaks of cultural reforms, we see natives being flogged. When it proclaims the virtues of regenerating a nation, we see Walker's motley crew of mercenaries boozing, brawling, stealing from natives, and assaulting females of more than one species ('The colonel says it's a democracy', shouts one Immortal, as he climbs into a sheep pen and lowers his trousers).
Walker's obliviousness of the consequences of his dictatorial actions, together with the Immortals' depravity, reflected Cox's penchant for the bizarre and grotesque. This tied in with his assertions that absurdist humour was more likely to shock the audience into action, and that Walker ultimately typified the madness that went hand in hand with notions of cultural and racial superiority: 'a guy completely out of touch with reality, who thought he was acting on Christian principles but who blinded himself to the fact that he was slaughtering the people he came to regenerate'. (53) Cox thought carefully about how to present Walker and his cohorts for maximum political impact.
Prior to filming, one correspondent warned Cox that his script depicted Walker as too 'wacky' and that it overlooked the Immortals' misplaced idealism. Consequently, the script encouraged the audience 'to dismiss the story as an aberration rather than to recognise it as a stereotype'. Certain parts of early versions of the script highlighting Walker's zany personality were ultimately cut by Cox - his obsession with insects, for example. At the same time, the final print further heightened the Immortals' vulgarity. For instance, immediately after setting foot in Nicaragua, instead of marching past a number of bare-breasted women in the river without breaking ranks, the Immortals run amok. Doubtless seen as gratuitous by some viewers, such scenes in the filmmakers' eyes functioned as a commentary on the psychosexual character of American puritans who subordinated women and peoples of colour, and ascribed capitalist exploitation of Third World people to institutionalised racism and sexism. (54)
Worse still, part of the profits from the arms had been diverted to provide military assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras during a period when Congress had explicitly outlawed any such aid. Reagan conducted a damage-limitation exercise by dismissing the National Security Council Director, John Poindexter, and his aide Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a Vietnam veteran who had run a multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign for the Contras among conservative Americans. Despite this, during the summer of 1987, joint Senate and House special committees conducted nationally televised hearings on the Iran-Contra affair. These hearings aroused as much public interest as Watergate. The evidence of official intrigue and deception severely weakened Reagan 's
personal standing, and wholly contradicted Washington's claim to be running
a morally revitalised foreign policy. (55)
Walker had attracted a considerable amount of interest among American film critics before news of the Iran-Contra connection surfaced. After November 1986, political journalists then joined the fray, looking for a novel angle on US-Nicaraguan relations, and helping to make the film an even greater subject of controversy. During shooting, liberal newspapers like the Los Angeles Times ran lengthy location reports on Walker, linking the film to their own long-standing anti-Contra propaganda campaigns. Other magazines more to the political right,
such as Newsweek (an issue of which appeared in the movie) and Time, noted the Nicaraguan government's enthusiastic support for the project and consequently condemned the film as blatant Sandinista propaganda. (56) Ever the opportunist, Cox responded to these barbs in typically aggressive fashion.
In an atmosphere of increasing constitutional crisis, one that might even result in a presidential impeachment, Universal executives regarded such statements as ill-advised and inflammatory. Having allowed the filmmakers a relatively free hand in the early stages of the project, on seeing the rushes the company's executives and the marketing agents began to get cold feet. Walker, they protested, was meant to be a liberal interpretation of nineteenth-century adventurism.
Cox's version was diagnosed as far too alienating, both politically and stylistically. If Cox expected any support from Ed Pressman in the face of these severe criticisms, he was deluded. Pressman had already succeeded in politically toning down the film's ending at final scripting stage. During the shooting phase, he then grew exasperated by what he saw as Cox's wildly extravagant approach to moviemaking. (58) Consequently, Universal took the decision to stifle Walker by limiting both publicity and theatrical release.
The film opened in only eight American cities in December 1987. On the west coast, in Los Angeles, the movie was released on only two screens, where it played for just three weeks. During this period, the The Angeles Weekly ran only one advert for the film. On the east coast, in New York, Walker could be found on only three screens, where it played for a month. This was a dismal showing for a film which had cost $6 million. Universal then forbade Cox to take Walker to the Havana Festival, the foremost film market in Latin America, and the company's international subsidiary, UIP, delayed a Central American release. (59)
Cox reacted angrily to what he saw as blatant political censorship. He even ventured a comparison between himself and the way dissident filmmakers had been marginalised in the Soviet Union. (60) Whatever truth there was in this, the fact was that the Englishman had slipped up badly. Walker was never likely to appeal to a broad cross-section of the film-going public due its nihilistic format. As a film buff, Cox should have known that its postmodern historical narrative would be unacceptable to a public brought up on realistic representations of the past.
Wurlitzer had hinted at this when complaining about the addition of anachronistic touches at the scriptwriting stage. Many people who saw the film simply did not find it entertaining. With a few exceptions, the trade press in the United States had nothing positive to say about Walker. Variety called it a 'virtual fiasco', BoxOffice 'very weird'. (61)
Walker generated more than its fair share of heat in the political press, but there is no evidence that the film changed people's minds about US policy in
Nicaragua. Predictably, some newspapers on the left sang its praises. 'If . . . Walker's metaphorical message makes a fraction of the eventual audience think more closely about what their tax dollars are paying for', said the New York Village Voice, 'then Cox's extraordinary vision of history returning will have reaped a rich dividend.' Newspapers on the right, on the other hand, lambasted Walker for being gratuitously anti-American and pretentious.
More significantly perhaps, some who were hostile to the Contras applauded the movie's message but were either bewildered by its surrealism or alienated by its heavy-handedness. The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, for one, witheringly described the film as 'a wasted opportunity' and a 'bloated excess'. Hollywood's best-known liberal, Robert Redford, announced that he would direct and star in his own film about Walker, to set the record straight (this never materialised). (62)
In Nicaragua itself, once released, Walker played to packed houses in Managua, but even here pro-government newspapers objected to its excessively violent content and satirical tone. Walker just might have succeeded at the box office as an 'alternative' film, despite Universal's lack of support, if it-had been more aesthetically accessible to a liberal audience. The fact is it was not. The movie earned a pitifully small sum — $257,000 — and taught Cox that the greater freedom which unorthodox foreign filmmakers had to criticise American Cold War policy during the 1980s came at a price. Walker effectively finished his Hollywood career. (63)
BUDDIES ON A NEW BEAT
pacifism in the American Civil War, Friendly Persuasion (1956). Demonstrating once again his ability to draw lessons from an imagined, mediated past, Reagan asked his audience at a State Dinner at the Kremlin to take heed of the film's message about 'holding out for a better way of settling things'. (65)
A few years on, and Gorbachev's dual assault on communist orthodoxy -glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform) - was in full swing. Alongside a greater freedom of expression for the Soviet media (including filmmakers) came conciliatory overtures to the West, and the conclusion of concrete arms-reductions agreements. These moves were designed by the Kremlin to secure a stable environment within which the Soviet Union could restructure its economy and thereby guarantee its survival as a superpower. However, to many in the outside world Gorbachev's 'New Thinking' ('Novoye Myshlenniye') in international affairs appeared to offer the prospect of a permanent breakthrough in East-West tensions. (68) Rick Rosenthal's Russkies (1987) reflected the new dynamics of the Cold War through a tale about the friendship between three American boys and a forlorn Soviet sailor washed up on the coast of Florida. A combination of Steven Spielberg's mega-hit E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Norman Jewison's 1966 comedy The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, Rosenthal's Russkies refuted Red Dawn's message that all American youngsters wanted to kill the first Russians they saw. The film treats the boys' parents' hysterical fear of the communist Other as nonsensical and repugnant. (69)
Red Heat was financed by Carolco Pictures, a major force among independent production companies in the 1980s principally because of the success of its Rambo series. Red Heat`s director, Walter Hill, was born in 1942 and had entered the film industry in the late 1960s after a brief stint drilling for oil. By the 1980s, Hill had become a powerful writer, director and producer, best known for making visually stylish action movies. Hill had little interest in using film for overtly political purposes. He had rejected Kevin Reynolds' 'Ten Soldiers' script in the early 1980s, for example, because it was too controversial. (71) Hill's original story for Red Heat was a cross between Ninotchka and his 1982 white-black, cop-crook blockbuster 48 Hours, which starred Nick Nolte and comedian Eddie Murphy as a mismatched duo tracking down police killers in San Francisco. A burly Russian police officer, Ivan Danko, who is hunting for a cop-killing Georgian drugs lord in Chicago, would substitute for Greta Garbo's surly envoy in Paris. Her boyfriend Leon's part would be taken by a wise-cracking, slovenly American detective, Art Ridzik. Through the tetchy relationship between these two characters, the film would have fun comparing and contrasting Soviet and American attitudes towards crime, sex and international politics. (72)
Hill's co-scriptwriters on Red Heat were themselves an unusual pairing. Russian-born Harry Kleiner's writing credits stretched back to the Second World War, and included an array of fast-paced dramas such as Le Mans (Lee H. Katzin, 1971). Kleiner, Hill and Carolco had recently collaborated on Extreme Prejudice (1987), a cop-cum-CIA conspiracy drama that focused on drug-trafficking across the Texas-Mexico border and was based on an original story by John Milius. (73) Troy Kennedy Martin, on the other hand, had been one of Britain's most influential television screenwriters since the 1960s, and stood on the political left. His most recent drama for the BBC, Edge of Darkness, broadcast in 1985, had depicted the American and British governments murdering anti-nuclear activists. (74) Kennedy Martin's draft scripts of Red Heat contained more jokes at America's expense than appeared in the final cut of the film. His scripts also questioned the benefits American-style political and economic liberalisation would bring the Soviet Union more than did the film that audiences got to see. (75)
Casting the two lead roles was important, politically as well as commercially. If the actors failed to hit it off on screen, Red Heat could die at the box office. If their personas were insufficiently different, the culture-clashing element of the film would not work. Choosing James Belushi to play Chicago detective Art Ridzik, rather than a more slapstick-oriented comedy actor like Steve Martin or Chevy Chase, paid dividends. Belushi's rebellious persona, honed since his breakthrough as a comedian on NBC's Saturday Night Live, enhanced Ridzik's - and America's - free-spirited image.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was perfect to play the latter-day Ninotchka, Ivan Danko, a straitlaced but trustworthy and ultimately lovable Russian. Schwarzenegger was no Mikhail Baryshnikov, the star of White Nights (1985), a real-life Russian defector-turned-actor, but he was the closest thing to it, having left Austria (where he was born in 1947) to become a naturalised American. Schwarzenegger made no secret of the effect the Soviet occupation of his home country during the early Cold War had had on his childhood, and about why it had helped turn him into a staunch defender of democracy and a card-carrying Republican. Moreover, his much-publicised Cinderella-like rise from humble beginnings to become one of Hollywood's top money-making stars embodied the realisation of the American dream. The former Mr Universe's moulded physique was 'harder' than Greta Garbo's but no less striking, and thus would fit the well-established brawn-without-brains Russian stereotype. In fact, Schwarzenegger had employed his muscles to great patriotic effect on the screen in the eighties, meting out summary justice to America's domestic and external enemies in films like Raw Deal (John Irvin, 1986) and Predator (John McTiernan, 1986). Schwarzenegger shaved ten pounds off his bodyweight to look more convincingly 'Slavic´ in Red Heat. Russian vocal training for the movie enhanced his famously thick-accented delivery of American slang phrases. (76)
Red Heat starts right within the Bear's cave: a very Russian, unisex, dungeon-like steambath (or banya) in Moscow. Muscle-men shovel coal and pump iron, while nude women cavort like prostitutes. The heart of the Soviet empire — the scene was actually filmed in Budapest - is a picture of medieval debauchery. A scantily clad, beautifully proportioned Captain Ivan Danko, the head of Moscow's homicide division, is here for business, not pleasure. His quarry is Viktor Rosta (Ed O'Ross), a murderous cocaine dealer. Danko is attacked by a group of bearded Mongolian goliaths, but shows them the meaning of rough justice with his bare fists. Though Viktor is not to be found, Danko discovers where he will be that evening.
Cut to Red Square. Mock Cyrillic credits begin to roll, accompanied by harsh, imitation-Prokofiev music scored by James Horner (son of Harry, the director of Red Planet Mars), As the choir intones and bells clamour, we are given a mini-tour of Hollywood's age-old Soviet stereotypes. Red Army guardsmen goose-stepping across the cobbles signify an overdisciplined, militarised society. Statues of Marx and Lenin, shot from below to look more imposing, represent the communist cult of personality. A one-legged, grey-suited man hobbles by on crutches, the personification of communist sclerosis. However, in contrast with other such scenes in countless previous films, this footage is not faked. Red Heat was glasnost in action - the first entirely American-produced movie which incorporated some scenes shot on location
Fade to a squalid Moscow café, the Druzhba. As Danko and his state police colleagues pass through searching for Viktor, the look of terror and hatred on the customers' faces is palpable. The traces of the firm hand of repression cannot easily be erased, it seems, even in Gorby's new-look Soviet Union. Danko once again pulverises those who stand in his way, but Viktor escapes, in the process mercilessly executing Danko's partner and friend, Yuri, with a concealed pistol. Yuri's funeral is a grey, pathetic occasion. His aged relatives -local extras recruited by the filmmakers for their 'hard Soviet look' — arc cold and detached. Their emotions, we assume, have been stripped bare by decades of communism. (78)
Six months on and Viktor is at large in Chicago's downtown jungle. Having exploited America's lax immigration laws, he is now allied to a violent black street gang called the Cleanheads, and about to close a deal that will flood thl Eastern bloc with drugs bought with Russian roubles on the US mafktfe However, just before he has the chance to purchase the drug haul Viktor is apprehended by the Windy City's finest for a minor traffic violation. The Moscow police get word of the arrest and Danko is sent to the United States CO retrieve the fugitive. Danko's smuggling of a huge handgun through diplomatic baggage exposes the flaws in American airport security and, like the United States' 'open borders', highlights the country's vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
Danko's arrival in Chicago immediately lightens the movie's hitherto depressive tone. A mixture of comedy and tension prevails from here on in rather than sombre drama, suggesting fun is only available in the West. Danko is partnered with his alter ego, plain-clothes detective Art Ridzik. Initially, the two cannot stand one another. The Russian is grimly efficient, straight-backed and humourless; the American likes to cut corners, is overweight and loud-mouthed. 'I'm parked in a RED zone. No offence!', Ridzik cracks, when picking up Danko at the airport. Like Ninotchka on her arrival in Paris, Danko is disgusted by Chicago's seediness. 'Kapitalism', he spits, when his hotel TV set shows a porn movie.
Yet unlike Ninotchka, Danko does not succumb more to Western luxuries and freedoms the longer he stays. He loosens up somewhat - changing into a
suit instead of a military-style uniform, for instance — but he never once considers defecting. There is no need for him to. For one thing, his younger, less regimented generation is going to benefit from Russia's Westernisation. And Danko is a proud Russian nationalist, not, like Ninotchka, a devout communist who needs to be converted to capitalism. His pursuit of Viktor is fuelled both by revenge and by the fact that the narcotics kingpin is a Georgian, the implication being that Russia, like the United States, is awash with criminal 'foreign' subversives who don't belong there. Viktor's nationality, plus Danko's sturdiness and Schwarzenegger's fame in Russia via black-market videos, help to explain Moscow's official support for Red Heat. (79)
However, from the start Ridzik and Danko have one very important thing in common - both like to crack sleazebags' heads. The difference turns out to be that Danko has more freedom to blast away at bad guys in a closed communist society than Ridzik has in an open democracy that over-protects criminals' rights. The film shows that (akin to the US Army in Vietnam perhaps) the streetwise American cop is fighting the enemy with one hand tied behind his back by weak-kneed bureaucrats. This message echoed President Reagan's frequent accusations that liberals in Congress were preventing him from 'doing his job'. Red Heat strongly hinted that the Russian state's ruthless techniques would be far more effective in sweeping undesirables from America's decadent streets than the West's namby-pamby, form-filling methods. It would seem, therefore, that America had something to learn from Soviet authoritarianism after all. (80)
Ridzik and Danko begin to realise they are on the same side against a new enemy - international narcotics smugglers - when Viktor escapes their clutches. The Soviet authorities fail to inform the American police how important a prisoner they are holding, for fear of airing their dirty laundry in public. This ingrained secrecy leads to the gun-toting Cleanheads springing Viktor from his casual handover to Danko, and to the killing of Ridzik's own partner, Gallagher (Richard Bright). To add insult to injury, in time-honoured fashion, Soviet consul officials then berate the hospitalised Danko for failing in his assignment and humiliating the Russian government. They order him to return home for suitable punishment.
Taking a lesson from Ridzik's rule-breaking book, Danko ignores these orders and uses his own initiative. He and Ridzik travel to Stateville Prison to speak to Abdul Elijah (Brent Jennings), head of the Elijah Brotherhood, who controls the Cleanheads and a vast international drug-trafficking racket from his cell. Danko hopes to win Elijah over by comparing the Soviet Union's struggle against American imperialism with that of the black Americans' struggle for racial equality, but only exposes himself to ridicule by revealing how ignorant he is of eighties radical black nationalism. When pressed as to what political crime he committed, Elijah tells Danko, '1 robbed a bank.' Elijah tells Danko he is fighting the race and class war by selling drugs to every white man around the world, and as such he and the Brotherhood are 'the only Marxists around here'. The fact that Ridzik's superior, Stobbs (Larry Fishburne), is black tells us that race is no barrier to an individual's progress in contemporary America.
Danko and Ridzik begin to form the perfect renegade team as they delve ever more deeply into Chicago's underworld. The Russian breaks stool-pigeons' fingers and is incorruptible, while the warm-hearted American thinks on his feet and knows Russians take their tea in a glass with sugar. The closer they get to one another and to their target, the more they banter good-naturedly about the quality of life in their respective societies. Ridzik introduces Danko to America's 'four main food groups - hamburgers, French fries, coffee, and doughnuts'; Danko ribs the American by boasting about the greater firepower of Soviet-made police handguns. Ticked off by Danko's criticisms of Chicago's depravity, Ridzik bites back, encapsulating the pair's - and the film's - attitude towards politics and criminality:
Ridzik: Tell me somethin', Captain. If you got such a fuckin' paradise, how come you're up the same creek as we are with heroin and cocaine?
Danko: Chinese find way. Right after Revolution, they lined up all drug dealers, all drug addicts, took them to public square and shot them in back of head.
Ridzik: Never work here. Fuckin' politicians wouldn't go for it.
Danko: Shoot them first.
Like Red Dawn and Walker, Red Heat reaches a suitably spectacular and violent climax. Viktor strangles his American wife, whom he only married for a green card, to prevent her going to the authorities. When the drug deal finally goes down, Viktor then double-crosses the Cleanheads by killing their point man at an American Liberty Lines bus station, and making off with the merchandise. Danko and Ridzik catch up with Viktor via a tip-off but cannot prevent him commandeering a bus, which he drives off in. The cops give chase in a bus of their own, and, after a game of chicken, force Viktor to crash into a speeding train. Finally, Danko despatches Viktor in a Western-style gunslinger's shoot-out.
At the very end, Ridzik and Danko bid a fond farewell at O'Hare Airport. Danko tells Ridzik that Russians have started to play baseball, and the two argue comically over who - America or the Soviet Union - would win an international World Series. Finally, they exchange watches as a symbol of East-West friendship. Ridzik gives the Russian his $1,000 Swiss Rolex; Danko presents the American with his $20 East German wind-up.
Hollywood's politico-financial 'empire' did indeed strike back during the final decade of the Cold War. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, America's film¬making culture had been increasingly dominated by directors. Together with a wider scope for independent film production, this gave rise to greater cre¬ativity and political unorthodoxy on screen. In the 1980s, however, this culture was supplanted by one dominated by business-minded executives, agents and lawyers. With this came a new reliance on advertising and marketing, and new exhibition patterns that were aimed at a quick profit rather than gradual returns. In the early eighties, an average Hollywood film cost roughly $11 million to make and another $10 million to market; these sums inevitably militated against the production of risky material, political or otherwise. Like so much of the US economy in the Reagan era, the film industry was also deregulated. In 1985, the 1948 Supreme Court anti-trust ruling was reversed, allowing the major film companies to buy back into cinema chains, thus increasing their control over which movies could be shown and where. All of this, plus the shift to the political right caused partly by increased East-West tensions in the early part of the decade, explains why so much of Hollywood's output in the 1980s spoke of reaction and conservative reassurance. (81)
The three main films analysed above all fit into this new financial and political framework. Red Dawn on the one hand represented a return to McCarthyite anti-communist agit-prop, minus the HUAC factor. On the other hand, it reflected both the industry's and the New Right's appetite for violence - film executives saw stylised violence as a box office draw, whereas military and political hawks like Alexander Haig and Ronald Reagan believed warlike violence was part of a healthy society, if targeted at the enemy. The fact that a movie as critical of US Cold War strategy as Alex Cox's Walker got made at all in the mid-1980s shows how far Hollywood had travelled politically since the McCarthy era. Yet Cox's row with Universal also demonstrated that, though many of the constraints of the classical studio era had long gone, filmmakers were often still only as free as their distribution deal let them be. This lack of autonomy alerts us to the difficulties filmmakers had in making politically subversive statements even during the latter stages of the Cold War, when many people had long passed the point of looking at the conflict in simplistic terms and even when, as was the case with the Reagan administration's actions in Central America, Congressional and public opinion were bitterly divided over an issue.
Walter Hill's Red Heat combined 'high-concept', easily marketable film-making with violence and a huge box office star (Schwarzenegger). Neither its makers nor its viewers probably regarded Red Heat as a 'political' movie. But it was so, of course, not least in the way in which it projected the political establishment's view of the dangers that the United States faced in the new, post-Cold' War world. By the late 1980s, many in Washington believed that drugs had already replaced communism as terrorism's twin evil, and Red Heat pointed the way towards a joint US-Russian policing role to combat that dual threat. In September 1989, the United States and Soviet Union held a conference on how the two nations could work together against terrorists. (82) In the same month, US Secretary of Defence Dick Cheney ordered his military commanders to devise new plans for a drug war. Three months later, in December 1989, US forces invaded Panama to overthrow President Manuel Noriega, on the grounds that he engaged in international drug-smuggling. America's new enemies had started to fall. (83)
Hollywood's last major contribution to the Cold War was John McTiernan's $30-million blockbuster The Hunt for Red October. Based on Tom Clancy's 1984 best-selling novel, which Ronald Reagan publicly called 'a perfect yarn', the movie was about a Soviet naval commander (played by the former James Bond, Sean Connery) who defects with his country's new, untraceable nuclear submarine in order to avert a first strike on the United States and thereby hopefully establish the grounds for a post-Cold War alliance of Russian and American peoples. The US Navy gave McTiernan full logistical support after
vetting the script, and Connery's dialogue was partly written by John Milius. Back in 1985, when the producers Mace Neufeld and Jerry Sherlock had acquired the rights to Clancy's book, Russia's underwater fleet posed one of the most critical threats to the United States.
1 Cited in Philip John Davies and Paul Wells (eds), American Film and Politics from Reagan to Bush Jr (Manchester, 2002), p. 8.
2 The partial exception to this is India, where there is a long history of matinefc idols entering politics. Some have HC1 red M Htittc < hie I ministers. See Ham Aviar Agiiihotri, Film Stars in lndian Politics (New Delhi, 1998).
3 Ronald Reagan, An American Life (London, 1990), pp. 104-25; Gary Wills, Reagan's America (New York, 1987), pp. 246-58. Reagan served as Guild president from 1947 to 1952 and returned for another year in 1959-60.
4 Frances Fitzgerald, Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the Find of the Cold War (New York, 2000), p. 60; Wills, Reagan's America, p. 300.
5 On Reagan's relationship with and, some argue, mastery of the media during his presidency see Mark Hertsgaard, On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency (New York, 1988) and John Tebbel and Sarah Miles Watts, The Press and the Presidency: From George Washington to Ronald Reagan (New York, 1985), pp. 531-53.
6 Nicholas J. Cull, 'Public Diplomacy and the Private Sector: The United States Information Agency, its Predecessors and the Private Sector', in Laville and Wilford (eds), Citizen Groups, p. 220. On Wick's time at the US1A see Snyder, Warriors. Reagan also slotted others friends from his Hollywood days into political positions. Roy Brewer, for instance, a former head of the film trade union 1ATSE, and a life-long anti-communist, was given a high posting in the US Labour Department. May, Tomorrow, p. 212.
7 Rogin, Reagan, pp. 1-43 especially; James William Gibson, Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America (New York, 1994), pp. 267, 269; Jeffords, Hard Bodies, pp. 3-5.
8 Fitzgerald, Way Out There, pp. 34-8.
9 Ibid., pp. 24, 37, 74; Lou Cannon, President Reagan: 'The Rote of a IJfetime (New York, 2000), pp. 289-90.
10 See, for instance, Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (New York, 1986); Chris Jordan, Movies and the Reagan Presidency: Success and Ethics (Westport, CT, 2003); Belton, American Cinema/American Culture; Ryan and Kellner, Camera Politico.
11 Yablans' efforts to save the company failed. By the end of the 1980s, MGM/UA had been dismantled and its back lot sold. On this see Peter Bart, Fade Out: The Calamitous Final Days of MGM (New York, 1990).
12 Variety, 21 September 1988.
13 'Ten Soldiers', revised second draft script by Kevin Reynolds, 27 October 1982, Collection 073, Box F-741, UCLA AL.
14 Bart, Fade Out, pp. 110-11; Variety, 16 June 1997, p. 34.
15 Marquee, June/July 1984, pp. 24-6.
16 American Film, March 1986, p. 48; Devine, Vietnam, pp. 219-21.
17 Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 10 February 1982 and 9 September 1984; Alexander Haig, Inner Circles: How America Changed the World: A Memoir (New York, 1992), p. 550.
18 'Red Dawn' AKA 'Ten Soldiers', shooting script by Kevin Reynolds and John Milius, 19 October 1983, Collection 073, Box F-24, UCLA AL; Ban, Fade Out, pp. 111-13, 134; BAM, 7 September 1984, pp. 18-19. A still from the McDonald's scene showing four Red Army soldiers posing with a Russian tank
under a Golden Arches sign remained the most prominent advertisement for
Red Dawn in the press.
19 Bart, Fade Out, pp. 133-5,138-9; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 2 April 1984; Red Daivn Production notes and Press book, AMPAS; Los Angeles Weekly, 17-23 August 1984, p. 37; Red Dawn budget file, Box 6, Buzz Feitshans Collection, AMPAS.
20 This is partly due to the frequency with which Reagan quoted lines from the movie. See, for instance, his speech on tax reform at the Santa-Cali-Gon Days Celebration in Independence, Missouri, in September 1985, at www.reagan. utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1985/90285a.htm (27 March 2006). Rambo: First Blood Part 2 made $200 million in the United States alone. On the movie's cultural and political impact see Palmer, Eighties, pp. 62-3, 96-9. In early 1986, the New York Times reported that Rambo video-cassettes were much sought after even on the Russian black market. In that year, as part of a government-ordered Five Year Plan of anti-American movies, Soviet film-goers got to see actor Mikhail Nozhkin play their industry's equivalent of John Rambo, making short work of; American military terrorists in Mikhail Tumanishvili's Solo Voyage. See Val Golovskoy, Art and Propaganda in the Soviet Union 1980-5', in Anna Lawton (ed.), The Red Screen: Politics, Society and Art in Soviet Cinema (London, 1992), pp. 264-74.
21 Green's 'invasion' - which starts with a Soviet nuclear attack on Alaska - is not as 'real' as that depicted in Red Dawn. It turns out to be the result of a hypnotist's trick, played on the patrons in a New York bar as a warning against complacency in the face of the communist threat. Hollywood Reporter, 3 December 1952, p. 3, and New York Times, 30 April 1953, p. 39.
22 Fitzgerald, Way Out There, pp. 37,73.
23 Gibson, Warrior Dreams, pp. 270-4.
24 Jeffords, Hard Bodies, p. 12.
25 According to calculations conducted by a group calling itself the National Coalition on Television Violence, an act of violence occurred in Red Dawn at an average rate of 134 per hour or 2.23 per minute. This earned the film an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most acts of violence in a single film up to that time. New York Times, 16 September 1984, HI9, 24.
26 On the strong propaganda component of Reagan's 'Star Wars' programme see Fitzgerald, Way Out There. On Hollywood's nuclear films of the 1980s, including Testament and The Day After, see Chapter 5, note 73, and Palmer, Eighties, pp. 179-205.
27 For a contemporary analysis of the revenge theme see Vincent Canby, New York Times, 8 December 1985, H21-2.
28 Cannon, President Reagan, p. 11; Marquee, June/July 1984, pp. 25-6.
29 Bart, Fade Out, p. 227-8; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 9 September 1984.
30 David Denby in New York, 20 August 1984, p. 90; Janet Maslin in New York Times, 19 August 1984, HI 5.
31 Wall Street Journal, 14 November 1984, p. 35; New York Times, 10 November 1984, pp. 48, 79.
32 Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 15 August and 9 September 1984.
33 Andrew Britton, 'Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment', Movie, Vol. 31/32, Winter 1986, p. 17; Los Angeles Times, 21 September 1984; Soldier of Fortune, Vol. 9, No. 9, September 1984, pp. 28-31; Gibson, Warrior Dreams, pp. 161-2.
34 Variety, 2 and 9 January 1985; New York Times, 4 January 1986, p. 3.
35 Variety, 26 June 1985. In Rocky IV, ageing US boxer Rocky Balboa (played by Stallone) travels to Moscow, where he defeats a computer-programmed Russian, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). On the movie's iconographic representation of the man versus machine cliche of American-Soviet relations see Palmer, Eighties, pp. 218-22.
36 Variety, 16 June 1997, p. 34; Los Angeles Times, 16 December 2003.
37 In June 1986, the OPD congratulated itself on having 'played a key role in setting out the parameters and defining the terms of the public discussion on Central America policy'. Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne (eds), The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History (New York, 1993), pp. 2-8. See also David Thelen, Becoming Citizens in the Age of Television: How Americans Challenged the Media and Seized Political Initiative during the Iran-Contra Affair, 1985-1990 (Chicago, IL, 1996).
38 Steven Paul Davies, Alex Cox: Film Anarchist (London, 2000), pp. 15-16, 22, 32-45,61,79.
39 Walker Production notes, pp. 4-5, AMPAS; New York Times, 4 December 1987, C10; Mother Jones, December 1987, pp. 31,38. On William Walker see E. Bradford Burns, Patriarch and Folk The Emergence of Nicaragua, 1798-1858 (Cambridge, MA, 1991), pp. 160-210.
40 Palmer, Eighties, pp. 134-48. On the difficulties Wexler had in shooting Latino in war-torn Nicaragua and in finding a distributor for his movie see 'Latino: Cinecom International Press Kit', AMPAS, and LA Weekly, 21 June 1985.
41 Davies, Cox, p. 95; Mother Jones, December 1987, p. 41.
42 Walker Press book, p. 4, and Production notes, p. 5, AMPAS; Rudy Wurlitzer, Walker (New York, 1987), pp. 20-1.
43 Walker Production notes, p. 5, AMPAS; Box 2, Folder 4, Alex Cox Papers, Collection 174, UCLA AL; Wurlitzer, Walker, p. 63ff..
44 Walker Production notes, p. 5, AMPAS; Box 2, Folder 4, Cox Papers, UCLA AL; Davies, Cox, p. 100.
45 Los Angeles Times, 19 April 1987, pp. 16-23; Interview, December 1987, p. 154; New York Times, 22 March 1987, pp. 19,37; Village Voice, 7 July 1987.
46 Walker Press book, pp. 6, 29, AMPAS.
47 Los Angeles Times, 19 April 1987, pp. 16-23; City Limits, 23-30 March 1989, p. 13; New York Times, 22 March 1987, pp. 19, 37; Wurlitzer, Walker, p. 12.
48 Walker Shooting schedule, Box 5, Folder 1, Cox Papers, UCLA AL; Wurlitzer, Walker, p.14; Us Amies limes, 19 April 1987, pp. 16-23; Walker Production notes, p. 13, AMPAS; New Musical Express, 5 September 1987, p. 22.
49 Robin Desenlow, When the Music`s over (The Story of Political Pop )London, 1988),
pp. 181-6, Davies, Cox, p. 74.
50 Walker script, dated 29 October 1986, Box 2, Folder 5, Cox Papers, UCLA Km Wurlitzer, Walker, p. 25.
51 Walker scripts, dated 29 October 1986 and 7 January 1987, Box 2, Folder 5, Cox Papers, UCLA AL; Cox's interview with Cork City-based filmmaker Chris Null, October 2002, www.senseofcinema.com/contents/03/24/walker.html (I September 2004). For a more detailed analysis of Walker's unusual take on the hil torical film genre see Robert A. Rosenstone, 'Walker. The Dramatic Film al (Postmodern) History', and Sumiko Higashi, 'Walker and Mississippi Burning Postmodernism versus Illusionist Narrative', in Robert A. Rosenstone (ed.l Revisioning History: Film and the Construction of a New Past (Princeton, NJ, 1995) pp. 188-213.
52 Sight and Sound, Vol. 56, No. 4, Autumn 1987, pp. 250-1; Walker script, undated but between 29 October 1986 and 7 January 1987, Box 2, Folder 6, Cox Pap. i UCLA AL. The directors of The Terminator (1984) and Commando (1985) wen James Cameron and Mark L. Lester respectively.
53 Wurlitzer, Walker, p. i.
54 Rob Moore to Alex Cox, 11 March 1987, Box 2, Folder 4; Walker script, dated 29 October 1986, Box 2, Folder 5: Cox Papers, UCLA AL.
55 Kornbluh and Byrne, The Iran-Contra Scandal, pp. xv, xx, 408.
56 Los Angeles limes, 19 April 1987, pp. 16-23; Los Angeles Weekly, 15-21 January, 1988, p. 41; Cineaste, Vol. 16, No. 3,1988, pp. 12-16,'52-3.
57 Newsweek, 20 April 1987, p. 44. In 1989, Oliver North was sentenced to a three-year suspended prison term, having been found guilty of three charges in relation to his activities while at the National Security Council. A year later, \w. convictions were overturned on the grounds that his Congressional testimony prejudiced his right to a fair trial. During the Iran-Contra Affair, Elliott Abrams was indicted for giving false testimony about his role in the illicit money-raising schemes by the special prosecutor handling the case, but he pleaded guilty to two lesser offences of withholding information from Congress in order to avoid a trial and a possible jail term. President George Bush pardoned Abrams along with a number of other Iran-Contra defendants shortly before leaving office in 1992. Lawrence E. Walsh, Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up (New York, 1998), pp. 158-9, 490-510.
58 Us Angeles Times, 19 April 1987, pp. 16-23; City Limits, 23-30 March 1989, pp. 13-14; Davies, Cox, p. 100.
59 Los Angeles Weekly listings, 10-24 December 1987 - Walker advertisement 4 December 1987, p. 82; Village Voice listings, 10-13 December 1987; City Limits, 23-30 March 1989, pp. 13-14.
60 Wurlitzer, Walker, pp. 24-5; Guardian, 30 March 1989, p. 27; Davies, Cox, p. 101.
61 Variety's Film Reviews, Vol. 20, 1987-8 (New York, 1991), 2 December 1987; Box-Office, February 1988.
62 Village Voice, cited in Wurlitzer, Walker, p, ii; Commonweal, 29 January 1988; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 4 December 1987, p. 11; Davies, Cox, p. 100.
63 Los Angeles Times, 5 March 1988, VI, 8; Davies, Cox, p. 104; www.imdb.com/ tide/tt0096409/business (25 March 2006).
64 Us Angeles Times, 10 February 1988; Palmer, Eighties, p. 209.
65 Palmer, Eighties, p. 21; Reagan's toast, 30 May 1988, in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1988: Book 1: Jan. 1-July 1, 1988 (Washington, DC, 1988), p. 680. Ironically, and probably unbeknownst to Reagan, the screenplay of Friendly Persuasion was credited to a communist writer, Michael Stevens. See Joseph Dmohowski, 'The Friendly Persuasion (1956) Screenplay Controversy: Michael Wilson, Jessamyn West, and the Hollywood Blacklist', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2002, pp. 491-514.
66 Films and Filming, February 1984, p. 36.
67 Hollywood Reporter, 28 March 19 84, p. 419.
68 S. ). Ball, The Cold War: An International Plistory, 1947-1991 (London, 1998), pp. 221-6.
69 Variety, 4 November 1987, p. 11; Hollywood Reporter, 25 May 1982, p. 3; Motion Picture Herald, 25 May 1966, p. 525.
70 BoxOffice, September 1988; www.imdb.com/tide/tt0095963/business (27 March
71 Katz, Encyclopedia, p. 631; Bart, Fade Out, p. 110.
72 Los Angeles Times, 25 ()ctober 1987; Adrian Wright, Arnold Schwarzenegger: A Life in Film (London, 1994), p. 103.
73 Katz, Encyclopedia, p. 756; Variety, 29 April 1987, p. 16.
74 Movie, January 1989, pp. 34-45.
75 See, for instance, first draft shooting script of Red Heat, undated, by Troy Kennedy Martin and Walter Hill, Collection 073, Box 741, UCLA AL.
76 US, 17 June 1988; Red Heat Production notes, AMPAS; Laurence Learner, Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger (New York, 2005). Schwarzenegger followed in Ronald Reagan's footsteps when he was elected Governor of California in 2003.
77 Red Heat Production Notes, AMPAS; Variety, 17 February 1988; Us Angeles Herald-Examiner, 10 February 1988.
78 'Making of Red Heat, Red Heat DVD (2001), Momentum Pictures MP024D.
79 Variety, 17 February 1988; Wright, Schwarzenegger, p. 104.
80 Lone citizen-warriors battling against petty functionaries to defeat foreign robber terrorists or drug-smugglers were a staple theme in mid-to-late eighties Hollywood movies like Lethal Weapon (1987) and Die Hard (1988). On this see Jeffords, Hard Bodies, pp. 58-63, and Palmer, Eighties, pp. 110-11, 130-2.
81 Lev, American Films of the 70s, pp. 181-5; Jeffords, Hard Bodies, p. 16; Thomas Schalz, "Hie Hollywood Studio System', in Crowdus (ed.), Companion, pp. 199-204.
82 I.os Angeles Times. . 29 September l989.
83 Gibion, Warrior Drums, pp. 288 91.
In: Hollywood`s Cold War. Edinburgh Edinburgh University Press, 2007, pp. 267-300.