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Top 5 Cold War and Spy Movies

20. April 2010 by Gregg 0 Comments

During the Cold War, Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union were often used in movies, television and other media as a frequent antagonist. Playing off very real political tensions and the overwhelming sense of dread many people had during this time of a Nuclear war, the idea of the “Russian Spy” in the Western world, infiltrating and destroying security and military services became a very powerful one.

Such images and ideas inspired some amazing films; from the Sean Connery-as-James Bond classic “From Russia with Love” to the Frank Sinatra smash “The Manchurian Candidate”, the notion of Russian spies and Western spies in Russia captured the imagination of Hollywood for decades.

5. Spies like Us

Directed by John Landis, who was also at the helm of such comedy classics as “Animal House” and “Three Amigos”, “Spies like Us” features two government underlings (played by Saturday Night Live alumni and comedy legends Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase) sent to act as decoys for a team of DIA agents being posted in Eastern Europe during the height of the Cold War. When the mission goes wrong, it is up to them and the one surviving DIA agent to stop an insidious military plot and help both the United States and Russia avoid a nuclear war. The movie not only stands as a reunion of two of Saturday Night Live’s most influential and funniest performers, but as a classic American comedy of the 1980’s that mixes pure slapstick sight-gags with Chase and Aykroyd’s deadpan wit.

4. The Living Daylights

Until the recent “Bourne Identity”-inspired Daniel Craig films, the short run of Timothy Dalton-led James Bond movies were often lauded as some of the darkest and most realistic in the series, eschewing the humor and gadgetry of the Roger Moore era for political intrigue with a more rebellious renegade portrayal of the character than had been seen before. Centering on Bond’s mission to protect a defecting Soviet General from assassination, the movie contains more twists than most of the series featured, including betrayals and a shadowy arms-dealing plot that crossed both the Russian and American borders. “The Living Daylights” was the last Bond movie that dealt purely with the USSR, as four years after its release the union fell apart.

3. The Manchurian Candidate

A classic, not only for its foreboding plot and inventive story but also for the strength of its cast – including Frank Sinatra, “Psycho”’s Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey. The movie focuses on a popular spy fiction plot device – the sleeper agent. In this case, an Army Staff Sergeant who was captured along with his Platoon during the Korean War and brainwashed by the Soviet Union to become receptive to hypnotic suggestion after viewing a Queen of Diamonds playing card. Playing off the realities of the Cold War and the 50’s and 60’s era Red-Scare McCarthyism, “The Manchurian Candidate” became a cinematic classic that is still referenced and respected to this day.

2. From Russia With Love

Where the Timothy Dalton era of James Bond was acknowledged for producing some of the most down-to-earth and realistic of the series, the earlier movie “From Russia with Love” was quite the opposite, a tour-de-force of explosions, helicopter assaults and the infamous “Q” gadgets that would become a trademark of the “Bond” series. In this movie, James faced up against a Mercenary as dedicated and well-equipped as he is, hired to seek revenge for the killing of the infamous Dr. Julius No in the previous film. With a sub-plot centering on a Soviet code-breaker wishing to defect to the west, the movie takes place among many different countries closely involved with the Cold War, including Turkey, Serbia and Croatia.

1. Dr. Strangelove (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

The classic Stanley Kubrick film “Dr. Strangelove” still stands up to this day and is considered to be one of the greatest, funniest and indeed most bizarre movies of all time. Featuring Peter Sellers in three separate roles (he was set to play a fourth – Major “King” Kong, a Texan aircraft commander – but a sprained ankle caused the production to bring in veteran cowboy actor Slim Pickens to replace him), including the American President, a Royal Air Force Captain and the titular Dr. Strangelove – a former Nazi scientist who defected to the Allies but brought the eccentricities and mindset of the Third Reich with him. The movie was a parody of the futile nature of a nuclear war between the United States and the USSR, where a rogue American General initiates a strike on Russia due to his belief in a Communist plot on American soil to tamper with the water and a comedy of errors that keeps the entire Government and the Pentagon from canceling it. Mixing the legitimate dread that surrounded the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis with the pure satirical comedy that co-writer Terry Southern was famous for (including the oft-quoted line “Gentlemen, you can’t fight here – this is the War Room!” and an alternate ending which featured most of the cast fighting with pies while the Soviet Doomsday machine blew up the world), “Dr. Strangelove” terrified its audiences as much as it made them laugh.