The Hollywood Political Thriller During the Cold War, 1945-1962
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis investigates a corpus of films identifiable as Hollywood political thrillers during the Cold War spanning a period of seventeen years, between 1945 and 1962. It aims to dispel the assertion by critics and scholars that the political thriller originates with the release of The Manchurian Candidate (Frankenheimer, 1962). Moreover, it is my intent to engage an interdisciplinary approach given that the relationship between contemporary American cinema, ideology and propaganda has often been overlooked (see Shaw, 2007). Utilizing textual and contextual analysis, I shall argue that The Manchurian Candidate is a transitional film with respect to the political thriller. I shall also offer an explanation for the frequent mislabeling of Hollywood political thrillers as film noir, of which generic hybridity or overlap is a contributing factor. The first part of this thesis shall establish a political and historical context, which includes a discussion of Hollywood’s early entry into the Cold War, U.S. strategies of containment and the threat women posed to U.S. national security vis à vis Ethel Rosenberg. Given that the political thriller emerged as a distinct subgenre during the Cold War, the first part of this thesis shall include a chapter on technology and innovation (e.g. lighting, format, film stock) as a means of supporting prime generic theme of authenticity. Five exemplary mini-case studies shall be presented to demonstrate the way in which the Hollywood political thriller delivered distinct narrative and visual style that both projected and reflected Cold War discourses. Philip Wylie’s “momism” shall be considered within the context of the political thriller and Cold War discourses surrounding gender, U.S. national security and the atomic bomb. I shall expand upon current discussions of momism, approaching it through distinct representations evident within the political thriller. Given the pervasiveness of the nuclear threat during the Cold War, I shall discuss the thematic elements of fear and the unknowability of the atomic bomb in relation to the political thriller. In the second part of this thesis, I identify three distinct cycles of atomic political thrillers, in which issues of vulnerability of the physical locale, the nuclear family and the mind are addressed.
PhD in Film