THE RISE OF THE RED MENACE
Amid anti-communist witchhunts, films and novels offered contrasting portrayals 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