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The Cinema of the Cold War

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

The Cold War dominated the second half of the 20th Century and cinema was at the centre of this great ideological struggle for hearts and minds. The course will explore the cinematic legacy of the Cold War through examination of popular film genres from both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Course Details

Content of Course

The origins in the late 1940s will be studied through such films The Red Menace (1949) and Invasion USA (1951) exemplifying the anti-Communist mania in the US. From there, the course will go on to consider the notion of ‘enemies within’ and the reaction to perceived domestic subversion. The relationship between Church and State in Eastern Europe will also be examined. In addition, as a central location of Cold War cinema the role of Berlin in film will be studied. The main focus of the course, though, will be the examination of the role of popular cinema in the Cold War. Through consideration of popular genres – the Western, Film Noir, Comedy, Thrillers, Animation, Science Fiction and documentary – we shall study the means by which cinema constructs ideological concepts and contributes to the construction of a consensual national identity. In the Cold War context, the course will also examine how the ever present threat of nuclear Armageddon was represented in film. The course will utilise cinematic product from both sides of the Iron Curtain.

The Celluloid Curtain: Cinema of the Cold War:

1. The Curtain Falls: Hollywood Anti-communism.

2. Enemies Within: High Treason / My Son John.

3. Church and State: The Prisoner / Guilty of Treason.

4. Battleground Berlin: The Spy who Came in from the Cold / Night People.

5. The Cold War Espionage Film: For Eyes Only.

6. Film Noir and the Cold War: Pickup on South Street / The Woman on Pier 13.

7. Cold War Westerns: Silver Lode.

8. Watch The Skies - Cold War Science Fiction: The Day the Earth Stood Still / Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

9. Nuclear Angst: On the Beach / Seven Days till Noon.

10. Cold War Comedy: 123 / The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming.

Teaching method(s)

The course will be lecture based with reference to full screenings and relevant extracts, followed by analysis and discussion. Weekly readings will be delivered to students electronically. By the end of the course students will be able to appreciate the cultural aspects of the cold war and understand how ideological messages can be delivered via the conventions of popular genre cinema.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Understand the influence of popular cinema during the Cold War;

  • Appreciate the role of cinema in creating national consensus;

  • Recognise the connections between film makers, censors and the state apparatus;

  • Critically examine ideological issues within popular cinema.


Core Readings


  • Buffet, Cyril, 2016. Cinema in the Cold War. Abingdon, New York

  • Routledge Evans, Joyce, 1998. Celluloid Mushroom Clouds: Hollywood And Atomic Bomb. In: Critical Studies in Communication and in the Cultural Industries. New York: Westview Press

  • Hoberman, J., 2011. An Army of Phantoms. New York London: The New Press

  • Sayre, Nora, 1982. Running Time: Films of the Cold War. New York: The Dial Press

  • Shaw, Tony, 2001. British Cinema and the Cold War. London/New York: I.B. Taurus

  • Shaw, Tony, 2007. Hollywood’s Cold War. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.