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Catching The Cold War: The Culture of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Updated November 28, 2011

The Cold War paranoia that permeates TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY was a focus of a series of fascinating books and films created in post-war Europe and America.

Taking the Temperature of Cold War Culture
The Moral Quagmire: THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD
Potential Fallout: FAIL SAFE
Paranoia Pulp: KISS ME DEADLY
Sex and the Soviet: From Russia with Love
Peace in a Pod: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
Cold War Campaign: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE
At Long Last: POINT OF ORDER
Cold War On The Rocks: TOPAZ
Cold War Meltdown: THE FOURTH PROTOCOL
The Cold War Capsized: THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
Taking the Temperature of Cold War Culture

Taking the Temperature of Cold War Culture

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY is called a masterpiece of Cold War culture. But what was the Cold War? Perilous nuclear standoffs between governments or intricately convoluted dramas involving spies and backroom deals? The Cold War, which spanned the years from the end of World War II until the late 1980s/early-‘90s, was marked by both low-level tensions and Big Ideas. On the ground, the Cold War was fought in a series of proxy wars throughout Eastern Europe and the Far East, fueled by what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.” In ideology, the Cold War was a massive cultural battle, fought in films, television, fashion, comics, etc., a struggle that pitted the Free World against the Red Menace, always with the mushroom cloud of nuclear disaster drifting just over the horizon. The following survey considers the range of cultural artifacts that both represented the Cold War, and as such, the ideological atmosphere that permeates John le Carré’s classic novel. Generally the films, like the Cold War itself, split between deviously plotted thrillers in which career intelligence agents grapple with moral codes that seem to shift by the minute and epics that envision an impending nuclear apocalypse. What follows are ten films about, and made during, the Cold War — films in which actual historical incident, or, simply, the Cold War mindset, inspired the filmmakers to speculate about the nature of good, evil, and all the shades of grey in between.