Thursday, January 19, 2012

World War II Propaganda: "Lambeth Walk-Nazi Style" (1941) ,"A Yank in the RAF" (1941) "Mission to Moscow"(1943)

(above) Official American and British propaganda Posters from World War II.
Right -- A poster from Nazi Germany in 1942, now part of a collection in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

A funny bit of trick editing from a British short made in 1941.  The Nazis in the film ares  hown doing a popular dance tune from a London musical, "Me and My Gal" from 1938. Much of the footage is from Leni Riefenstahl's seminal propaganda film, "Triumph of the Will" (1934).  

Hollywood didn't wait until Pearl Harbor to make use of the war headlines and pro-Allied sentiment in the nation to turn a dollar or two at the local cinema. Although it seems the desperate war against the Nazi Stukas in The Battle of Britain is taking a backseat to The Battle for Betty Grable between Tyrone Power and her British suitor.******************** The most famous (or infamous) case of a big screen pro-Allied feature was the 1943 Warner Brothers spectacular feature, "Mission to Moscow", best on a best-selling book by Ambassador Joseph Davies:

The film later took center stage during the anti-Communist Witch-hunts after World War Two.  The head of Warners latter apologized for making the film, but one can how important it was in 1943 to show a film that depicted the Russian people in a a positive light given its enormous contribution to the war effort.  The inaccuracies of the Stalin Purge Trials are it's chief defect.  Seen today, it hardly seems more or less biased than the average war film of its time.  In any case, the film itself was a flop at the box office, losing $600,000 dollars.   

According to a latter-day review of the film in the New York Post: "The Roosevelt administration also viewed the film, which was widely shown in the Soviet Union (depicted as a worker's paradise), as ardent pro-capitalist propaganda. The film's brave hero is Ambassador Joseph E. Davies, a wealthy corporate lawyer who was married to Marjorie Merryweather Post, the richest woman in the United States (not that the film actually spells out the latter, which was well known to at least U.S. audiences of the time). "Mission to Moscow'' was among two dozen Hollywood features shown in the U.S.S.R. during the war -- not only pro-Soviet propaganda flicks like "The North Star'' and "Song of Russia,'' but the likes of "Charley's Aunt'' and "Sun Valley Serenade.'' They were so popular that the Commisars fretted Russians were acquiring a taste for Hollywood, and quickly turned off the spigot before the upscale likes of Deanna Durbin corrupted socialists and endangered the native film industry.

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  1. Interesting overview of propaganda Doug. It is now highly collectible, a fact I think we should bear in mind when collecting and evaluating the various products of the PR/advertising/propaganda industry. Psychological warfare I think they call it, the opinion forming industry and all that has of late actually been a bit of a flop.

    The role of cinema is of course a massive subject in itself, as you yourself knows much better than me Doug .

    I think Leni Riefenstahl was an amazing film maker, one of the all time greats I think, a really amazing chronicler not only of history but also of the development of propaganda and that I think is her true genius..

  2. Fascinating, Doug!! Watching it, I kept thinking "Look at all those nice boots."

  3. It's psychological warfare for sure, AA, and I think you are correct that the audience is evolving throughout the world too fast for most of the modern propagandists to keep up.

    Thanks for your compliment there, AA. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface on what cinematic film alone has done to the arts of conveying ideas and emotions in past eras. The excellent "montage" sequences--rapid changes of scenes and sounds-- that you see in Hollywood films of the 1940's (like "Mission to Moscow") owe a lot to film-makers like Fritz Lang and Billie Wilder who came to America fleeing nazi tyranny.

    Add to that all the writers and musicians and editors, et al, and it was devastating "brain-drain" for Hitler, helping both Britain and America in that department. Sir Alfred Hitchcock, to cite one famous example, cut his teeth as a film-maker from the "tricks" he learned as a young man working with German film-makers at Ufa studios in the 1920's. Russian films of the 1920's, also, had a major effect on studio films in America, just by being shown in this country.

    Leni Riesenstahl was a amazing artist. Even she came to Hollywood in the late 1930's, but her politics precluded her getting an assignments. Too bad in my view she couldn't have ditched her political views, or had the good sense to be from Bournemouth or Topeka, Kansas. ;-)

  4. LOL! Well said Christy. Anybody who could make those frightening images of goose-stepping legions into a "dance party" mode is a bit of a genius of film in my view. Don't know if it's true or not but some on have said that little British film caused a good deal of anger among the top brass in Berlin at the time.

  5. Too bad they weren't nice people...

  6. Alas. I guess a good pair of boots don't really "make the man", after all ;-)

  7. Ah, I've seen the first two. Jolly good show!
    The first poster must have sent shivers up the spines of legitimate Japanese, Chinese and Korean Americans back in the day. It must have seemed a bit like being a German Jew.

  8. Yes, both good films for their day. I gather from comments on You Tube that "The Lambeth Walk" spoof was a memorable "hoot" in the memories of older British film-goers.

    Betty Grable was the main pin-up girl of US soldiers. She was a much sexier entity to fight for then, say, The Panama Canal.

    You raise an excellent point, Oakie. Asian-Americans after December, 1941, had it very hard, thanks in part to propaganda posters and, also, the fear and racism that spared German and Italian-Americans because they were white.

    Chinese and Korean-Americans wore buttons--voluntarily, but for expediency--stating that they were "Not Japanese, " or in the vulgarity of the time "Not a Jap!"

    And of course 110,000 Japanese-Amercians on the West Coast were placed in concentration camps, involuntary. Most lost their businesses, jobs and homes. It was an exercise in hysteria and not a proud chapter in American history.

  9. It was just such a hoot.

    Hmmm! Panama has a few curves of it's own though.
    I remember seeing pictures of a few fighter planes adorned with Miss Grable.

    War does seem to bring out the evil bigot in a lot of people. I think it has always been so. The Romans were as racist as anybody, seeing all but themselves and the Greeks as inferior beings.

    I didn't know about the "Not a Jap" buttons, but I'd hve signed up for one at a shot to protect my own ass and family.
    I was aware of the concentration camps that the Japanese Americans were sent too. At least they weren't gassed or eaten, so the US can claim a little bit of moral superiority compared to the truly awful German and Japanese camps.
    Even so, not nice!

  10. That's true about the canal in Panama, Oakie, a country that the USA "borrowed" from Columbia with the help of a few Panama-nationalists in 1903.

    The Canal, like many a Hollywood starlet, has its own share of beautiful "locks".

    The Romans I gather were equal opportunity en-slavers, so it has always been so with parts of humanity, no matter what the most enlightened teachings of the Great Religions and any philosophy worth its salt try to teach us.

    Saying that and, despite some recent set-backs, I believe in human progress, however glacial it seems at times, and, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, " The arc of justice over time is ever upwards."

    Yes, I agree. Self-defense of the country when a great empire is coming your way calls for a militant response. The problem becomes when some people pick on "easy targets" like first and second generation Americans who happen to be Arabian Muslim for instance.

    i suppose the American camps were better than the Nazi camps, which is setting the bar low. I don't know how the Germans were treated as a whole in British territories during the war, but I'll bet they did a better job sorting out the refugee from the possible "fifth columnists".

    The amazing thing I find is that, having met a couple Japanese-Americans who lived in these camps, and seen many interviewed, how they maintain a bearing about recalling the internment years. It makes it seem even more of an injustice, especially since so many young Japanese-Americans fought courageously in Europe against the Axis armies.

  11. At least you gave it back. That's the generous thing about empires. We gave a third of the globe back to the world. Which was nice.

    Hehe! Locks! Very good.

    I think the Roman/Greek religion, like the Vikings, was rather brutal and unforgiving. Not too much compassion or humanism. Which makes them seem less misused than today's successful faiths.

    Maybe justice increases. Or maybe things just get better and bigger organisation, giving the impression of greater justice. Personally I don't feel that we have progressed morally one jot. There were always just people and exploiters, power and the powerless. It seems no different today, just a much bigger process.

    Attacks on easy-targets in the name of good is the ultimate cowardly-hypocrisy and there should be no forgiving it. Just as those who carried out the Holocaust should always be sought, so should those on the Allied side who committed atrocities whilst drunk on the new found power to kill that their state had given them. Serial killing always dips during war time. So does violent crime. War doesn't justify the indulgences of the least moral of those we call our comrades.
    Yes, Arab/Muslim people in the US and UK have been denied all rights on occassions as well as facing the most cowardly attacks by "patriotic" thugs.

    German P.O.Ws were treated well. Indeed one particular POW stayed on and became a famous soccer player for one of our top teams such was his liking for the country. British POWs were also largely treated well by the German authorities unless they attempted escape from prison camps. Amongst the regular soldiery I think there was often a mutual respect on both sides. And I believe that there were many occassions when ordinary German soldiers were commanded to do things that went against their own morality. The mass shootings of civilians being the most obvious.

    Never be a minority in war-time. The Japanese-American's experiences must have been shared with so many people throughout history. Not least the Jews. And everytime Syria or Iran start to flex their muscles in the Middle-East, Muslims in the West must worry about the next backlash against them.

  12. Yes, the Panama Canal was one of the great engineering wonders of its time, built from American know-how and back-breaking labor of men coming from all over the Americas. It took a while over here to disengage it from politics in the USA and do the right thing.

    I agree. Historians cite a lot of "honor/shame" thinking built in the Greco-Roman culture. Slavery was not questioned the way it should have been. The bottom-up teachings of Gospel and Pauline Christianity--"There is neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, etc." --was a challenge to that, and one of the reasons early Christians were persecuted.

    Could be we just know more about injustice thanks to the media. But I've seen in my own lifetime the end of codified racism in America and a considerable thaw toward gay rights here. But as far as power and powerless in economics that seems to be the hardest place to make progress.

    In terms of Geneva Convention war crimes like torture American opinions on these matters has actually gone backwards since World War II.

    Interesting information about the German POWs in Britain. In a technologically-advanced world, a few people can get more people to to outsource their consciences and commit horrible deeds, sometimes at the touch of the button.

    No, if there's one thing this last century has taught us, it is that being a Armenian or a Jew or Japanese or Muslim in the wrong place is that things beyond your control can make you an "enemy" of cowards in the "majority."

  13. During the height of the British Empire, Britain ruled over 68 nations, 1.7 billion people, and ¾ of the world’s population. From 1945-1965 the number of foreign people under British rule dropped from 700 million to 3 million, largely due of course to violent and savagely waged national liberation struggles across almost every continent.
    I don't think Britain gave anything back it wasn't compelled to by political struggle and/or force of arms...except of course the strategic planning and military dominance function it has given to Washington, in order to remain the junior partner in the Anglo-American empire of today.

    I love the idea of a generous empire spreading civilisation and largess around just because it can and asking nothing in return except peace and love.... wouldn't that be lovely? :-)