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Ahonen, Kimmo:

Science Fiction Film and the Cold War: Red Planet Mars (1952) as an Anticommunist Fantasy

In 1948, Richard Nixon had suggested that Hollywood join the power struggle against Communism by making films with the anticommunist message. Cultural products – and films in particular – were considered as vital tools in the fight against totalitarianism. The Hollywood Film studios rapidly produced and distributed a series of anticommunist films, which were low-budget for the most part.

Harry Horner’s B-budget science fiction film Red Planet Mars (1952), has often been considered as one of the most ludicrous example of the anticommunist film cycle. It was an overtly political film with a pompous ideological and religious message. It is almost impossible to understand the film without considering the political context of the Cold War culture. In anticommunist films Communists often took the place Nazis had previously occupied as villains in wartime propaganda films. Red Planet Mars contained both images: the arrogant, gangster-like Nazi and the cynical, ruthless Soviet Communists.  However, RPM was not really that much about the menace of Communism or Nazism, but about the contradiction between secular, science-oriented society and spiritual faith.

This paper examines the ideological and religious message of the film, particularly its juxtaposition of Marxist materialism and Christianity. My approach in analyzing the ideology of the film is based on the historical contextualization. Thus, I will also look at the critical reception of the film. Why did the critics and audience reject the film? As a historical source, what kind of generalizations can be made on the basis of an ambiguous cultural product like Red Planet Mars? I will argue that even if RPM captured the anticommunist pressures of the time, it would be an exaggeration to claim that it reflected the common attitudes of the era.

Friday 30 Oct 16.15-18.15 SESSION 6
Panel: On the Big Screen: Cinema in the Cold War II