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In Secrecy's Shadow

The OSS and CIA in Hollywood Cinema 1941-1979

Simon Willmetts

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A comprehensive, archivally researched history of the CIA and Hollywood cinema

During the Second World War hundreds of Hollywood filmmakers under the command of the legendary director John Ford enlisted in the OSS to produce training, reconnaissance and propaganda films. This wartime bond continued into the post-war period, when a number of studios produced films advocating the creation of a permanent peacetime successor to the OSS: what became the Central Intelligence Agency. By the 1960s however, Hollywood's increasingly irreverent attitude towards the CIA reflected a growing public anxiety about excessive US government secrecy.

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Chapter 1: The Facts of War: Cinematic Intelligence and the Office of Strategic Services

  • John Ford’s Navy
  • Weaponising Cinema
  • Hollywood’s Intelligence Archive
  • Wild Bill Donovan and the Origins of the OSS Field Photographic Unit
  • December 7th: Scripting an Intelligence Failure
  • Zanuck, Ford and the Filming of the North African Invasion
  • The Authority of Cinema at the Nuremberg Trials

Chapter 2: ‘What is Past is Prologue’: Hollywood’s History of the OSS and the Establishment of the CIA

  • Hollywood Enlists in General Donovan’s Campaign for a Permanent Peacetime Intelligence Agency
  • O.S.S. (1946)
  • Cloak and Dagger (1946)
  • 13 Rue Madeleine (1947)

Chapter 3: Quiet Americans: The CIA and Hollywood in the Early Cold War

  • Cherishing Anonymity: Hollywood and the CIA in the Early Cold War
  • Dangerous Liaisons: The CIA in Hollywood
  • Joseph Mankiewicz’s The Quiet American (1958)
  • Figaro Entertainment’s Unmade CIA Semi-Documentary TV Series

Chapter 4: The Death of the ‘Big Lie’ and the Emergance of Postmodern Incredulity in the Spy Cinema of the 1960s

  • Our Man in Havana and the Origins of Cold War Satire
  • North by Northwest (1959)
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and TV Spy Satire in the 1960s
  • Parody Turns Political in The President’s Analyst (1967)

Chapter 5: Secrecy, Conspiracy, Cinema and the CIA in the 1970s

  • Scorpio (1973) and CIA Public Relations
  • The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
  • Watergate, The Parallax View (1974) and the Emergence of the Conspiracy Thriller
  • Three Days of the Condor (1975)
  • Emile de Antonio and Philip Agee: The Radical CIA Film that Never Was
  • Fighting Back: The Birth of CIA Public Relations

About the Author

Simon Willmetts is a lecturer in American Studies at the University of Hull. His research falls broadly within the fields of film history, cultural theory and US foreign policy.


'In Secrecy’s Shadow provides readers with a comprehensive, nuanced and insightful picture of the CIA both in and on film from the 1940s to the 1970s. Libraries should certainly acquire the text, as its prose is highly readable, its information rich and its subject matter important to understandings of intelligence, propaganda and cinematic history.'

- Tricia Jenkins, LSE Review of Books

'Willmetts advances an overarching interpretation of the interaction between intelligence, secrecy and culture, and in doing so challenges some senior figures in the historiography of his field. Well researched… rigorously organized… In Secrecy’s Shadow is a courageous and substantial contribution to intelligence studies.'

- Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, University of Edinburgh, Intelligence and National Security
'Willmetts is a fine writer who deftly blends archival work, textual analysis, and his larger arguments.'
- Kevin M. Flanagan, Journal of Film and Popular Television

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