Film at War “Ninety million Americans went to the movies every week during World War II. The shows began with a newsreel. The audience might see Hitler dancing a jig. Or a battleship engulfed in flames. Or Roosevelt meeting with Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, or some other national leader. A cartoon followed, perhaps Bugs Bunny...” (Mintz and Roberts 129). World War II combat films “helped shape our very conceptions of courage, patriotism, and teamwork” (128). “Employing an almost documentary style, these films helped bring the war home. But these war films did much more: they helped educate viewers in the reasons why Americans fought by depicting ‘democracy in action.’ Apart from offering a sense of wartime crisis, these films are allegories of a democratic nation at war” (130).
Hollywood and War Information “Hollywood cinema is less a window on the past than a screen reflecting the preoccupations of the beholder” (Doherty 3), a site for interpretation. From Hollywood films as entertainment and escapism to promoting the “war effort” December 18, 1941, President Roosevelt “officially called Hollywood to war and formally recognized the wartime role of cinema” (Doherty 42) with appointment of Lowell Mellett as Coordinator of Government Films June 1942 created the Office of War Information (OWI) under directorship of former CBS news analyst Elmer Davis OWI established Bureau of Motion Pictures (BMP) to oversee film industry— producing pictures to “help win the war” (Roberts 139) BMP reviewed every film made during the war, evaluating contributions and lack of contribution to the war effort (139)
Changing Culture “Shocked and enlightened by the motion picture propaganda of the Nazis, obliged to obey new codes of conduct and send out life-and-death messages, the motion picture industry became the preeminent transmitter of wartime policy and a lightning rod for public discourse. The unique, unprecedented alliance between Washington and Hollywood generated not only new kinds of movies but a new attitude toward them. Hereafter, popular art and cultural meaning, mass communications and national politics, would be intimately aligned and commonly acknowledged in American culture.” (Doherty 5)
The Uses of Film “For an America remade by war, Hollywood served as a guide to the new order. The movies were not the main vehicles for change, but they carried the news and softened the shock of the new” (Doherty 5-6). American culture’s (re)interpretations of the war—from propaganda for the war effort to later questions about its meaning, particularly in the contexts of American and world history Revisionist works in the twenty-first century
Narrative as Propaganda Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) Sacrificing personal happiness for a higher cause; triumph of duty over cynicism (Roberts 133) Educate and entertain Aid America’s war effort (Roberts 134) December 8, 1941, day after Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and US entry into WWII, play Everyone Comes to Rick’s reached Warner Bros.’ story analyst Steven Karnot Warner Bros.’ producer Hal Wallis interested, purchased rights and renamed story Setting of Casablanca: early December 1941
Reception Premiered on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942, 19 days after US had landed at Casablanca in Morocco and in Algeria—first “American blow against the Nazis” (Roberts 136) US President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin met to plan against Germany—Roosevelt’s headquarters called “Rick’s Place” (Roberts 136) Character Rick as “symbol of America, and his transition from isolationism to involvement underscored America’s similar transition” (Roberts 137) In Bureau of Motion Pictures report, Casablanca presents US as “haven of the oppressed and homeless,” defender of democracy and freedom (Roberts 139) Roberts, Randy. “You Must Remember This: The Case of Hal Willis’ Casablanca.” Hollywood’s America: Twentieth-Century America Through Film. 4 th ed. Ed. Steven Mintz and Randy W. Roberts. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 133-143. Print.
Why We Fight Prelude to War (1942) Documentary Commissioned by the Office of War Information (OWI) to explain the war to the soldiers and later the general public “Training films told how; orientation films explained why” (Doherty 70) Training film for indoctrinating soldiers, with mandatory screenings for soldiers, before theatre release Release to general public to support the war cause, rallying behind country, troops, and president
Contextualizing Why We Fight Frank Capra, director and executive producer It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)—hope for American public during Great Depression, recovery “As always in a Capra film, democracy’s best defense is its not-so-secret weapon, the common people” (75). First documentary he directed Casablanca’s writers Philip and Julius Epstein wrote Prelude to War Comparison/contrast Light/dark Cinematography
Adapting Sources in Why We Fight Capra’s technique “To hijack the Nazis’ own images” (Doherty 74) Capra said, “One of Hitler’s chief secret weapons has been the films... We will now turn that weapon against him” (qtd. in Doherty 74). Leni Riefenstahl, the “Third Reich’s ‘golden girl,’” director of Triumph of the Will (1935) Capra had screened the film to an American mass audience in 1942 when planning the Why We Fight series In Why We Fight, Capra uses footage from Triumph of the Will (1935) but recasts it to support the Allied cause— “filtered through Capra’s lens, Riefenstahl’s paean to Nazism becomes a real-life horror show. The images are left untouched, but the context projects another picture” (&4).
Influence Capra wins Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on March 4, 1943 as Best Documentary film of 1942 The Nazi Strike (1943) as follow-up in the series, focused on Hitler’s political and military achievements, “who we fight” (Doherty 75) Newsreel footage, Hollywood stock shots, captured German films and material provided by Allied governments, and footage shot by Lt. Col. Anatole Litvak at the Twentieth Century Fox studio and footage from Triumph of the Will First public showing on May 4, 1943 at the inaugural meeting of the Cinema Lodge of B’nia B’rith in New York (Doherty 72-78)