He Watched It Sober.

Trust us. We won't let this happen to you.


Red Nightmare

a/k/a The Commies are Coming

ATOMIC Wedgies Part IV:

Better Dead than Red




Gonzoid Cinema




"Any last words, comrade?"


Watch it!


Best Bet:

Sights &
 U.S. Department
 of Defense IED /
 Warner Bros.
Same Big Stink.
Smaller Package.

Our latest short opens on the main street of Anytown, USA. But there's something not quite right with this picture, though. I mean, What are all the armed soldiers, sandbag barricades, and concertina wire for? This puzzle deepens when a citizen approaches a soldier guarding the perimeter, whose wearing a familiar, but definitely un-American, uniform. Our suspicions are soon confirmed when the citizen asks, in Russian, for a cigarette. After a quick scolding for not speaking English, over a smoke, these two bemoan that Americans have way too many freedoms, and it's up to Citizens like them to take it all away and bring those "happy" Capitalists to their knees.

Whoa -- What the heck goes on here?

We get our answer PDQ when Jack Webb magically appears, who explains that what appears to be an American town is really a Soviet spy training ground, hidden somewhere behind the Iron Curtain. Here, espionage is their business, sabotage their art, and treachery and conspiracy their modus operandi. Serving as our narrator and anti-Commie muse, Webb shifts scenes to a real American town and a genuine American, Jerry Donavan (Jack Kelly). Webb warns that Jerry is an OK guy but takes his freedoms for granted, and when it comes time to ante up and protect them, Jerry has grown complacent to just let somebody else take care of it.

Following Jerry into his home, we meet his domestic engineer wife, Helen (Jeanne Cooper), and their three children. Before supper, Jerry's wife rides him for skipping his Union and Reservists meetings -- and Jerry won't even consider going to a PTA conference. All he wants to do is bowl and watch his favorite TV show. During supper, his oldest daughter, Linda (Pat Woodell), announces that she and her boyfriend, Bill (Peter Brown), would like to get married. Though Jerry has no real objection to a wedding, per se, he won't consent unless they wait five years or so, feeling they're both too young for such a commitment. When both leave in a huff, Jerry tries to go after them, but Helen steps in and says to leave them alone to cool off. 

Later, as the Donovans turn in for the night, outside the bedroom window, Webb (-- a moralistic peeping Tom? --) says Jerry's domestic problems will probably work themselves out and wishes him pleasant dreams. However, that's not important right now. What's important is keeping those...

  • Lying

  • Dirty

  • Shrewd

  • Godless

  • Murderous

  • Determined

  • International Criminal Conspiring

  • And if you attended B-Fest this would make more sense.

...Commie bastards in check.

With that, Webb changes his mind, so instead of pleasant dreams, he decides to give Jerry a Red Nightmare ... Tinkering with Jerry's dream, our narrator plucks him from his home and drops him in the middle of that Soviet training camp, where the action picks up when Jerry, who's a little confused, hears a klaxon and follows the noise and the crowd to the square for the daily lecture. Once gathered, the Kommissar praises their efforts and reveals they're almost ready to infiltrate America, help bring down their Capitalist regime, and then purge it so they may be assimilated into the collective Proletariat. (Resistance is futile!)

Now even more confused, Jerry heads home, only to find his family has changed, too. His eldest daughter is off to join a farm collective, to rid herself of her parent's bourgeoisie influence. When Bill shows up in a Russian uniform to escort her away, Jerry protests that he can't just bust in without a warrant. Not so fast, the boyfriend smartly replies, as a member of the Party, he can and will. And he also promises to report Jerry's puckish behavior to the dreaded Kommissar. After they leave, Helen accuses Jerry of hiding the fact that he was on the speech team in high school, which is why she also ratted him out to the dread Kommissar. As punishment, Jerry must now speak before the PTA on the glories of Bolshevism. When Jerry says he'll do no such thing, the wife says he has no choice in the matter. Then, Jerry's nightmare continues when he goes to work, where he has trouble producing his impossible quota for the day. Soon so far behind, a co-worker (Robert Conrad!) warns Jerry that he'd better work through his lunch hour to catch up; the quota must be met because the dread Kommissar accepts no excuses.

The next morning -- Sunday morning, Jerry asks Helen if his two youngest kids are off to Sunday School, yet. Of course they're not, and due to Jerry's erratic behavior, the toddlers are to be packed up and shipped off to a State sponsored school to become good little Communists. That's the last straw for Jerry, who drags his two kids, kicking and screaming, to the town church; but it's no longer a house of worship but a museum, dedicated to Great Russian Inventions, where Jerry finds displays that claim the Rooskies invented everything from the telephone to the light-bulb. Then, losing it completely, Jerry starts tearing the place apart. He's arrested and soon faces trial, where the prosecution presents no case but asks if Jerry would like to confess his crimes before sentence is carried out. When Jerry protests, demanding to know what he's charged with, the prosecutor (Race Bannon himself, Mike Road) scoffs, saying, in their system, the accused have no rights and are guilty. Period. Accused of "treason and deviation" for speaking against the Party and spreading Capitalist propaganda, the final, devious blow comes when Jerry's own wife testifies against him. Over before it began, the trial ends with Jerry convicted as an enemy of the state and sentenced to death.

Jerry has lost everything; his ideals and beliefs have been taken away; his family has turned against him; and now his life is forfeit. Chained to a chair, and awaiting the executioner's bullet, the warden asks one last time if Jerry would like to confess. Instead, with a gun pointed at his head, Jerry makes one final statement, a warning that, someday, the Soviet people will get wise and revolt in the name of freedom; they can't be fooled forever because we all know that Communism is just another word for slavery. Those prove to be Jerry's last words as the gun discharges and his sentence is committed, and with those cheap Russian bullets, there's a lot of smoke. When it clears, we find Webb standing back outside Jerry's house, where he assures us that the bullet never reached our boy. Warning that the brutality Jerry went through is going on in Russia all the time, his rant is put on hold for a bit because his patsy is finally waking up from his Red Nightmare. Rejoicing that everything is back to normal, Jerry vows to never take his freedoms and family for granted again. He even consents to the wedding, but the lovebirds announce they're postponing it until Bill finishes his hitch in the service. 

Jerry's nightmare may be over, Webb chimes back in, but the war against Communism rages on. And with some patriotic music backing him up, he reminds us that responsibilities are a privilege, and freedom must be earned. For the price of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is eternal vigilance.

So who must pay this price?

The answer, my fellow Americans, is you ... And you ... And you too!

Me? Heck, no. It's bowling night.

The End

Behind Burt the Turtle's catchy Duck and Cover safety procedurals, and Lyndon Johnson's political ad against Barry Goldwater, featuring a little girl picking flowers while the narrator counts down to atomic oblivion, Red Nightmare is probably the best piece of Cold-War paranoia left over from the 1950's and '60s.

You see, for awhile after World War II, the Soviets were a threat, but we had the hammer (-- the Bomb! --) that we hoped would keep them at bay. Unfortunately, that didn't last very long, and soon they had the bomb, too. Fear of total annihilation isn't very productive, but fear of being invaded from the inside out and forcibly assimilated into a new way of living was, and many quickly moved to cash in on those fears. Sen. Joe McCarthy, the idiot behind the House Un-American Activities Commission, and others fueled this fire, threatening to turn America into a paranoid mess. A lot of these accusers turned a stink-eye toward Hollywood as a hot bed of subversive Communist actions. To this, the Studios responded with films like John Wayne's Big Jim McLain, and smaller B-pictures like I Was A Communist for the FBI and I Married a Communist. Renown Commie-hater, Ronald Reagan, narrated the short The Truth About Communism, while What is Communism? spelled out how to spot a commie in seven easy steps, and then warned that the invasion wasn't coming but was already here!  

Made by Warner Bros. for the U.S. Department of Defense, Red Nightmare's working title was Freedom and You, and also goes by the less than subtle, The Commies are Coming, The Commies are Coming. After a lackluster performances in front of the House Un-American Activities committee by several of his stars and staff, Jack Warner himself supervised the production and instructed writer Vincent Forte to damn the subtlety, hit the public over the head, and pull no punches to show them what Communism is really about. Forte did just that, and the results speak for themselves.

As the Cold War dragged on, the anti-Communist shorts got stranger and stranger. None more stranger than If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, where former exploitation filmmaker Ron Ormond, who became a born again Christian after surviving a plane crash, teamed up with Baptist minister, Estus Perkle, for a bizarre mash-up of perverted paranoia and religious zealotry, where Perkle narrates over scenes of murderous Communists raping, pillaging, and poking bamboo shoots through children's skulls after Jesus refuses to send them candy. This invasion is inevitable, Ormond and Perkle contend, and Jesus is the only one who can prevent it -- if, and only if, we maintain a pious way of life.

At the dawn of the '80s, Jayne Loader and Kevin and Pierce Rafferty cobbled together all of these types of films together for the documentary, Atomic Cafe. In between laughable spots featuring Burt ducking and covering, are truly depressing scenes of soldiers getting briefed on how radiation poses absolutely no danger, and some congressman clamoring to use the bomb on China during the Korean War. Hindsight is always 20/20, and though the Soviet Union eventually collapsed, I don't think these educational shorts had a whole lot to do with it. Watching them so far removed from when brinkmanship was the norm -- and it was US against THEM -- it's easy to laugh at these films as being outdated and overly paranoid. But we should all consider ourselves lucky that it turned out the way it did, and not the asinine way they predicted.

Red Nightmare (1962) Warner Bros. Pictures :: U.S. Department of Defense, Information and Education Division / P: William L. Hendricks, Jack Webb / D: George Waggner / W: Vincent Fotre / C: Robert Hoffman / E: Folmar Blangsted / M: Howard Jackson, William Lava / S: Jack Webb, Jack Kelly, Jeanne Cooper, Peter Brown, Pat Woodell, Peter Breck, Mike Road
More ATOMIC Wedgies
(And other Soiled Shorts)

Originally Posted: 08/14/03 :: Rehashed: 11/25/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
How our Rating System works. Our Philosophy.