American Politics and Film

American politics and film

What do the movies ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ ‘Fail-Safe,’ and ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ tell you about what Americans feared during the Cold War, and what does the ‘Manchurian Candidate’ remake say about what Americans fear now?

Apart from being viewed as independent pieces of art and entertainment, Cold War films may also be viewed in their historical context. This is because the films highlight how the power struggle that the United States had with the Soviet Union was interpreted and imagined by many Americans. The theme in the films like Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe and the Manchurian Candidate among others resonate with their audiences. A historical interpretation of these films helps in bringing out the culture and values that characterized the Cold War period. There are some fears that Americans had that are expressed in the films like Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe and the Manchurian Candidate.

Dr. Strangelove is a movie that is loosely based on the novel Red Alert authored by Peter George. This British-American black comedy that was produced in 1964 and brings satire to the nuclear scare that Americans had during the 60s. Fail Safe is a movie that was launched in 1964. The movie is based on the Fail Safe book written by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler and published four years earlier in 1962. The movie retained the original theme of the novel; that is the possibility of a nuclear disaster in the United States. The Manchurian Candidate is a 1962 film adapted from the novel the Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon. The movie shows how a son of a political family is brainwashed and becomes an assassin for the Communist conspiracy (Grant, 2008).

The Cold War was a state of military and political tension between the Western nations and the Eastern bloc. The west was led by the United States and comprised other NATO allies in Europe while the east was led by the then Soviet Union. This war also pitted a difference in economic ideology as the west advocated for capitalism while the east advocated mainly for communism. As can be seen from above, Americans feared that a nuclear catastrophe would hit the nation. This would then allow the Soviet Union to take control over the world. This made many Americans nervous (Monteith, 2008). This nervousness made many people to build bomb shelters. During these days, school going children were taught how to protect themselves in case of a disaster.

However, the satire in the films helps to show how the military was prepared in combating any threats that America would face. Specifically, Dr. Strangelove helped in achieving the objective of reducing the fear of a nuclear disaster. Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe were released the same year. However, after many people has watched Dr. Strangelove since it was released first, the threat of nuclear holocaust was diminished and this made Fail Safe very difficult to sell to the public even though it was receiving positive feedback from the people who were watching it.

The nuclear fear can be understood from the Cuban missile crisis that pitted the United States on the one hand and Cuba and the Soviet Union on the other hand. This crisis that happened in October 1962 and almost turned into a nuclear war characterized the deep seated rivalry of the Cold War (Ashby, 2006).

The Manchurian Candidate is futuristic in the sense that it highlights the characteristics of John F. Kennedy’s Presidency and how his democracy was perilous to the stability of America. Kennedy as a president glamorized politics and embraced danger. The theme of the film brings about the fear of betrayal that many Americans had at that time. This fear was confirmed in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated. After his death, many Americans were not feeling safe because they thought he had enough security to protect him from assassins (Bolam, 2011).

The Manchurian Candidate was adapted again in 2004. In this adaptation, Raymond Shaw, “The Manchurian Candidate” is manipulated to become the Vice President. The New York representative is told that he is about to become the first vice president who will be privately owned and operated in the United States. This makes The “Manchurian Candidate” look like a machine that will be operated on and work to meet the interests of the masters.

This remake highlights different fears that Americans currently have. One of them is the fear of big corporations. The fear of the big corporations is that with their domination in the market, they always dictate the prices of goods and services. At times, they may decide to increase the price of goods and services without necessarily considering the market forces. This really affects consumers. The other fear is that they may offer low wages to employees while at the same time make it very difficult for new entrants to enter into the market to create new jobs. This will have an effect on the purchasing power of many Americans. The other fear in this sense is that the government may not be able to offer all basic services that citizens require (Loock & Verevis, 2012).

The other fear is that by the “Manchurian Candidate” being a machine for the corporations, the government may be big enough. With the advent of modern technologies, this government may use the technologies to invade into the private lives of citizens. The characterization of the Manchurian Candidate as a puppet of the corporations also creates some form of loss of identity. This brings a new fear of terrorism (Loock & Verevis, 2012).

In conclusion, American culture from the Cold War period to date can be captured using arts and films. Different films have been produced to try and explain people’s behaviors during different times. The films Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe and the Manchurian Candidate highlight the fear of nuclear war that Americans had during the Cold War. This is a fear that emanated from the Cuba Missile Crisis. Americans believed that the nuclear war would be apocalyptic thereby allowing communism to take root in the world. However, the films managed to deflate this fear by bringing to fore the military prowess of the American military. The Manchurian Candidate had been adapted and remade several times. In the last adaptation, Raymond Shaw the representative from New York is told by corporations that he is going to be the first privately owned vice president of the United States. This statement confirms the fear of big corporations, invasive government and terrorism that Americans have. In some occasions, the government has been held hostage by corporations and they have acted in the whims of the corporation heads.


Ashby, L. (2006). With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

Bolam, S. M. (2011). Fictional Presidential Films: A Comprehensive Filmography of Portrayals from 1930 to 2011. New York: Xlibris Corporation.

Grant, B. K. (2008). American Cinema of the 1960s: Themes and Variations. New York: Rutgers University Press.

Loock K, Verevis C. (2012). Film Remakes, Adaptations and Fan Productions: Remake/Remodel. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Monteith, S. (2008). American Culture in the 1960s. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press.