Red Nightmare (1962)

red nightmare

Red Nightmare is an American short film, sometimes titled Freedom and You, first broadcast on the CBS television network in 1962. It was directed by George Waggner and its cast includes Jack Kelly as Jerry Donavan, Jeanne Cooper as Helen Donavan and Jack Webb as the narrator. Red Nightmare is a blunt and confronting example of Cold War propaganda, a frightening depiction of the United States under Soviet occupation. The film begins in what seems an ordinary American town – before the panning camera reveals the presence of Soviet soldiers and barbed wire. According to the narrator, the Soviet Union has constructed mock American towns where they can train spies and infiltrators. This signals their intentions and serves as a warning about what will transpire.

The main character in Red Nightmare, Jerry Donavan, is an average American. He works in a defence plant and has a typical middle-class existence: a comfortable home, a wife and three children. As the film progresses Donovan shows signs of disinterest and complacency, missing community meetings and his army reserve training. One evening he arrives home from work tired and goes to bed early, the narrator explaining that he is about to have a “red nightmare”. On ‘waking’, Donavan finds his hometown has been transformed by Soviet military occupation. His eldest daughter has been forced to work on a state farm, while his other children now attend communist schools. Donavan’s own workplace is now under Soviet control and subject to exhaustive quotas, requiring him to work longer hours. The Soviets have also closed down the local churches and rewritten American history – but for Donavan, worse is to come.

Red Nightmare was produced by Warner Bros studios, using guidelines provided by the US Department of Defence. Its producer, Jack L. Warner, was a conservative who had testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947, where he warned of the dangers of communist infiltration. Red Nightmare’s depiction of a Soviet-occupied American town was supposedly based on the experiences of refugees from the Soviet bloc in eastern Europe. It warned Americans not to take their rights and freedoms for granted or ignore their duties as citizens, for the alternative might be much worse.

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