Amid anti-com­mu­nist witch­hunts, films and nov­els of­fered con­trast­ing por­tray­als of Mars

BBC History Magazine - - The Power Of Mars -

As Nazism was con­signed to his­tory in 1945, so too – for a short while at least – was film-mak­ers’ fas­ci­na­tion with Mars. Hol­ly­wood now turned in­ward, look­ing for re­lief and es­cape af­ter the hor­rors of war and eco­nomic tur­moil. Mars was no longer deemed in­ter­est­ing sub­ject mat­ter and no theatri­cal films be­tween 1945 and 1950 used Mars in their ti­tles.

But by the start of the fifties a new en­emy had emerged, strik­ing fear into Amer­i­cans: com­mu­nism and the USSR. For years the two su­per­pow­ers leapfrogged in an arms race that saw the US pro­duce atomic and hy­dro­gen bombs and the USSR launch a man into space. Po­lit­i­cally, they fought by proxy in the Korean War (1950– 53); do­mes­ti­cally, they traded spies and speeches.

The trial and ex­e­cu­tion of Julius and Ethel Rosen­berg, Amer­i­cans con­victed of pass­ing top-se­cret in­for­ma­tion about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union, only served to fan an­ti­com­mu­nist feel­ings. The pair were in­ves­ti­gated as part of Se­na­tor Joseph McCarthy’s ‘Red Hunt’. Any­one dis­cov­ered to be a ‘Red’ – named for the colour of the USSR’s flag and that of in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nism – could be im­pris­oned or black-listed for em­ploy­ment.

From 1950 un­til McCarthy was cen­sured as a dem­a­gogue by the Se­nate in 1954, Mars, as the red planet, was only ever filmed in a sin­is­ter light. In­vaders from Mars (1953) and Devil Girl from Mars (1954) are just two of the films that cast it as the cra­dle of malev­o­lent forces.

While cin­ema tended to por­tray Mars as a source of evil, in nov­els the planet of­ten of­fered hu­man­ity re­demp­tion. Ray Brad­bury’s 1950 linked-story col­lec­tion, The Mar­tian Chron­i­cles, is an out­stand­ing ex­am­ple of a tra­di­tion go­ing back at least to the turn of the cen­tury in which Mars, in prose, of­fers mankind the chance to oc­cupy a new Eden. One story, ‘The Green Morn­ing’, sees the pro­tag­o­nist, Ben­jamin Driscoll, plant seeds that grow mag­i­cally overnight into lush trees that oxy­genate the Mar­tian at­mos­phere.

“It rained steadily for two hours and then stopped. The stars came out, freshly washed and cleaner than ever…”

New York­ers heckle the city’s 1951 com­mu­nist May Day pa­rade TOP: A poster for 1954’s sci-fi film Devil Girl from Mars

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