Conspiracies are a common part of history. Technically, anytime two or more people make a plan to rob a bank, murder a rival, or throw a boxing match they are engaging in a conspiracy. Most crime films, however, are not seen as, “conspiracy movies.” That subgenre label is generally reserved for stories that involve political conspiracies.
In some cases, conspiracy movies can help the general public better understand the past and what is, or is not, possible in the real world. More often than not, however, these films feed off public paranoia and misconceptions of the real world, making viewers more inclined to believe false, “conspiracy theories” (e.g. vast, complex, secret plans, run by super powerful puppet masters who have a unity of purpose and a level of control over society that no one actually possesses).
1. The Eternal Jew (1940)
There are many pseudo-documentaries out there, especially on YouTube and other public forums, expounding false “facts” about who runs the world and what “They” are allegedly up to. All of these propaganda pieces are wrong from the outset because no one, “runs the world,” and we need only look at the granddaddy of all these productions, Der Ewige Jude [The Eternal Jew], to understand how wrong and dangerous this thinking can be.
The Eternal Jew was made by history’s most fanatical conspiracy theorists, the Nazis, under the direct supervision of Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. It repeats a string of lies about, “The Jews,” that go back hundreds of years in Western Civilization and form the root of all conspiracist thinking today. The film blames Jews for everything from war and organized crime to homosexuality and Jazz music.
In the most infamous sequence the migration of the Jewish people out of the Middle East, to Europe, Asia, and the Americas, is compared to the spread of another, “creature,” the rat. The message here is very clear, Jews must be stopped from feeding off healthy society in the same way we stop rats, which is exactly what Hitler tried to do in the, “Final Solution,” to the Jewish question; what we now call the Holocaust.
The Eternal Jew ends with a conspiracy rant from Hitler’s January 30, 1939 speech before the outbreak of the war: “Europe cannot find peace before the Jewish question is solved… Should international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe succeed in plunging the nation once more into world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”
The Eternal Jew may seem like a crazy artifact from a long destroyed government, but it is a grave warning from history. Anti-Semitism continues to be stubbornly popular throughout the globe, with Jews being accused of controlling Hollywood, controlling the mainstream media, controlling America, faking the Holocaust, murdering JFK, perpetrating 9-11, and countless other imaginary crimes.
Even conspiracy theorists who do not name Jews as the world’s boogiemen are inclined to speak in terms defined by Jew Haters and to see the world through the same basic framework (e.g. “financiers” are frequently presumed to be evil puppet masters even when those financiers are not presumed to be Jewish).
If someone is telling you that you need to see, JFK to 9/11: Everything Is a Rich Man’s Trick (2014), the Loose Change series (2005-2009), Zeitgeist (2007), The Hidden Hand: Alien Contact and the Government Cover Up (2013), or any similarly wild tales wrapped in a documentary facade, tell them that the only film of this nature anyone needs to see is, The Eternal Jew. After that you will understand why these films are not to be believed.
2. Conspiracy (2001)
The Nazi’s false belief in a conspiracy of worldwide Jewry lead them to commit a monstrous conspiracy of their own. Conspiracy is a HBO remake of the German film, Die Wannseekonferenz [The Wannsee Conference] (1984), which covers the real life meeting were key Nazi bureaucrats were informed of the, “Final Solution.”
It is a very simple production, which takes place in a few rooms of a beautiful mansion, in January of 1942, but it is very riveting. Kenneth Branagh’s calculating portrayal of SS-Obergruppenführer [General] Reinhard Heydrich is chilling. Heydrich directed the logistics for the Holocaust and made sure that the death factories ran at top speed, murdering thousands each say.
Even if the Nazis had won the war it would have been impossible to hide the scale of their crimes but they did try to obscure the reality of what they were doing in many ways. All of the participates at this meeting were told to destroy their notes but one copy was found at the war’s end, along with a great deal of evidence of what they had done. The exact conversations in the film are not accurate in their details but it is substantively true and frightening.
3. Valkyrie (2008)
The German military made a deal early on to support Hitler in exchange for Hitler executing members of the Nazi leadership the military disapproved of. For nearly a decade this proved to be a profitable bargain. By 1944, however, it became clear to many that Germany could not win the war and they were wrong to put their faith in Hitler to begin with.
Carefully and causally, a group of officers began to devise a plan to kill the Führer and take power. Using a one armed combat veteran, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, to get a suitcase bomb next to Hitler was the easy part, rounding up the Nazi Leadership before the conspirators could be rounded up was trickery.
Hitler had a plan in place, Operation Valkyrie, to arrest any internal opposition that might arise and the military plotters tried to use this very plan and the troops dedicated to preserving Hitler’s reign again the Nazi Leadership. Unfortunately, the solid oak table in the room with Hitler when the bomb went off saved his life and the plan unrivalled from there.
Valkyrie is one of several films on this same subject, from It Happened on July 20th (1955) to Die Stunde der Offiziere [The Hour of the Officers] (2004), but Valkyrie is the version with the largest budget and it features Tom Cruise in the von Stauffenberg role. Overall it is accurate to the real events but some parts of the story are simplified. It shows that conspiracies are always illegal but not always wrong. It also shows how hard it is to pull off a successful assassination; let alone an assassination and coup.
4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Communists had been vowing to take over the world since the 1800s but their efforts ramped up dramatically after the Bolshevik victory in Russia and the creating of the first communist state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Soviets actively tried to spread their revolution to the world though propaganda, aid, military might, and covert/conspiratorial means.
By the time China fell to communism nearly three decades later, many in the U.S. feared it was only a matter of time before America succumb as well and they began to imagine that communist agents were everywhere. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a cult classic science fiction/horror film in which aliens infiltrate a small California town and grow replacement copies of the residents in large plant-like pods. The human copies are emotionless slaves of the conspiracy, with one overriding goal, the complete conquest of humanity.
The film is accurate to the mood of the, “Red Scare,” era in the 1950s, when a massive number of Americans became conspiracy theorists and saw the communists as superhuman villains who could magically take over any society, rather than a desperate ideological movement that held particular appeal for impoverished and oppressed people.
There were a few communist spies and conspirators in the U.S. but a communist revolution in America was never a realistic possibility because the living conditions of the average American were too good.
Furthermore, even though the communists talked a good “international” game, national rivalries, like the one between the Russians and the Chinese, ensured that there never really was a global communist conspiracy anything like the conspiracy theorists in America imagined it to be.
Another way to interpret Invasion of the Body Snatchers is to see the aliens as anticommunist witch hunters, irrationally fearful of anything that does not fit into their narrow view of a perfect America and demanding absolute conformity to their singular interpretation of patriotism.
5. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Senator Joseph McCarthy is the most infamous anticommunist witch hunter. He made wild and unfounded accusations about a vast network of conspirators in the government until he was finally shut down by saner voices in the U.S. Senate and his name was turned into a pejorative, “McCarthyism.”
John Frankenheimer made The Manchurian Candidate in the wake of this paranoia, with fictional Senator John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory) paying the McCarthy role. Spoiler: In a wonderful twist on real life, Iselin and his overtly commie-hating wife, turn out to be the highest ranking Soviet Agents in America.
This is a very well-made thriller that has aged well compared to many films younger than it. The Manchurian Candidate is unrealistic in terms of the scale of the conspiracy and the ability of the puppet masters to “brainwash” assassins into mindless robots but it’s also a lot of fun.
Frank Sinatra is perfect as Major Bennett Marco, the man trying to uncover the communists’ plan, and the dream sequences are extremely clever and surprisingly violent at one point, given the artificial restrains on Hollywood films under the Production Code of the time.
6. Seven Days in May (1964)
John Frankenheimer made another great conspiracy thriller on the heels of The Manchurian Candidate. Seven Days in May centers around General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), who hatches a plan to overthrow President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March), because the military believes he is too be weak and incapable of standing up to the Soviet threat.
Spoiler: In the end the plot is stopped by Scott’s faithful subordinate, Col. Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey (Kirk Douglas), who realizes that his real loyalty belongs to the Constitution. In reality, given the history of the American Military and its faithful subordination to civilian leadership, it is hard to imagine that you could get that many conspirators together in the first place but if you accept the faulty premise the rest of the story works well.
This film is particularly interesting because it came out the year after President Kennedy was murdered. Many on the political right believed JFK was a, “weak sister,” and some conspiracy theorists went so far as to accuse him of being a Soviet Agent. This in turn made conspiracy theorists on the political left suspicious that right-wingers had been behind the assassination and maybe they had taken over the government in secret?