Before those unpopular Hollywood anti-war films (updated)

Alan Fraser writes: Recently AT featured a blog piece that attempted to explain why the recent rash of anti-Iraq War may be bombing at the box office.  A Washington Post article was cited as explaining why.

Film historian Jonathan Kuntz of UCLA points out that most memorable war films appear many years after a conflict ends, when the nation has had time to reflect on the experience and a historical consensus emerges about the war's successes and failures.>> He then cites Vietnam War films. 

Huh...Vietnam?  Will the MSM's fixation on Vietnam ever end?  Not every war is Vietnam.

Two minutes of internet research demonstrates that during the three years immediately following December 7, 1941, i.e., during the war..."when the outcome was still in question"...Hollywood made scores of films that did well at the box office; a number of them still considered classics today.  They were made to engage the public in order to keep this nation's head in the war effort.  This Wikipedia page comprises a partial list, 56 films made during WWII:

Bataan, Casablanca, Destination Tokyo, The Fighting Seabees, The Fighting Sullivans, The First of the Few, Flying Tigers, God Is My Co-Pilot, In Which We Serve, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Long Voyage Home, Mrs. Miniver, Night Train to Munich, Passage to Marseille, Sahara, Since You Went Away, The Story of G.I. Joe, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, This Above All, This Happy Breed, This Is the Army, This Land Is Mine, Wake Island, The Way Ahead, A Yank in the RAF. 

Obviously it's not a question of being "too close to the political arguments and the emotional investment in defending or opposing the war to be able to see the war as a diversion or as entertainment." 

The patriotic generation of producers who made those WWII films understood the price of failure in war.  Many were Jewish immigrants or the sons of Jewish immigrants who didn't take being American for granted.  They understood on a personal level the blessings of living in the country...and the need to defend and preserve it. 

Alas, the specter of Vietnam may be relevant here but not for the reasons that the silly WaPo suggests.  The Vietnam War generation (not those who fought in it) changed the narrative on the U.S. going to war.  Today America is suspect, its motives are presumed dubious.  And the men who put on the uniform to do the dirty and dangerous work are always portrayed as updated caricatures of the Mai Lai participants.  When a nation cannot find within itself a way to publicly honor and celebrated those who voluntarily give so much, it is a sad statement.  And one that does not bode well for its future.

Rick Moran responds:


While I generally agree with you, I might point out that World War II is a bad example to use with regards to "pro war" or "pro troops" films.


All films dealing with the war were subject to an extraordinarily strict censorship regime. A film had to be reviewed by a military board and there were many examples of scenes being excised to satisfy them. There were no "anti-war" films made during that time because the censors wouldn't have allowed it.

With a few exceptions ("Back to Bataan, 30 secs over Tokyo, and Mrs. Miniver") most of those films are virtually unwatchable today except to chuckle at the unrealistic portrayal of soldiers and those on the home front.

I might also point out that John Ford's documentary/action film about the attack on Pearl Harbor was heavily censored by the Navy because the brass thought it showed too much damage to the fleet and Ford's scathing criticism of the brass.

Alan Fraser writes:

Not to quibble but Casablanca and This Happy Breed are hardly unwatchable. 
But that isn't even the point.  The point is that they were not unwatchable IN THEIR DAY; They all did well at the box office. 

As regards censorship, you may be right; however, this discussion clearly argues the opposite of that which you suggest. 

Again, this is after two minutes of internet research but read the whole thing.
   
Rick Moran responds:

Interesting link you provided. I found this near the bottom that seems to confirm my point:

At the time these agencies were founded, OWI (Office of War Information) officials were quite unhappy with Hollywood movies, which they considered "escapist and delusive." The movies, these officials believed, failed to convey what the allies were fighting for, grossly exaggerated the extent of Nazi and Japanese espionage and sabotage, portrayed our allies in an offensive manner, and presented a false picture of the United States as a land of gangsters, labor strife, and racial conflict. A study of films issued in 1942 seemed to confirm the OWI concerns. It found that of the films dealing with the war, roughly two-thirds were spy pictures or comedies or musicals about camp life - conveying a highly distorted picture of the war.

To encourage the industry to provide more acceptable films, the Bureau of Motion Pictures issued "The Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture." This manual suggested that before producing a film, moviemakers consider the question: "Will this picture help to win the war?" It also asked the studios to inject images of "people making small sacrifices for victory - making them voluntarily, cheerfully, and because of the people's own sense of responsibility." During its existence, the Bureau evaluated individual film scripts to assess how they depicted war aims, the American military, the enemy, the allies, and the home front.

Making a pro-war film seemed to be a requisite for making any film at all. Not to say that an anti-war film would have been acceptable given Pearl Harbor and the menace of fascism. But the passage above buttresses my argument that you can't compare the film industry of World War II with the film industry of today when it comes to making war movies.

Hi Rick,


I think quick internet research should always be done with caution. 
That being said, according to the article, the concern of the government was that the films were not realistic enough.  OWI found that the movies were too "escapist and delusive" and "...grossly exaggerated the extent of Nazi and Japanese espionage and sabotage...A study of films issued in 1942...found that of the films dealing with the war, roughly two-thirds were spy pictures or comedies or musicals about camp life - conveying a highly distorted picture of the war."  In other words, the movies were not realistic enough. 

What was Hollywood to have been filming up to that point?  The year 1942 was early in the war; the first U.S. large scale ground combat did not occur until August of that year when the Marines landed on Guadalcanal.  BTW, Lewis Seiler directed Guadalcanal Diary which was released in October, 1943.  (how's that for turn around?)  In other words, there were no ground combat operations to portray during the period Hollywood was making movies about Nazi and Japanese spies and sabotage.  Compared to today, this evidences how bloody patriotic the film industry was back then.  Rick, they were anxious to get in on the war in order to show who the good guys were. 


Furthermore, as you excerpted, the BMP issued a manual to ENCOURAGE (not quite censorship) "the industry to provide more acceptable films...'Will this picture help to win the war?'  It also ASKED the studios to inject images of 'people making small sacrifices for victory - making them voluntarily, cheerfully, and because of the people's own sense of responsibility.'"


Sound like pretty good things for a government to promote at a time when it's asking its sons to go fight battles in foreign lands.  I'd suggest that the idea that today these measures seem like censorship is symptomatic of how far we (or the film industry) have come since the 1940s.  Or how far we've fallen.


You are right when you say that you can't compare the film industry of World War II with the film industry of today when it comes to making war movies.  On that you can rely.  :-)


Alan

Alan Fraser writes: Recently AT featured a blog piece that attempted to explain why the recent rash of anti-Iraq War may be bombing at the box office.  A Washington Post article was cited as explaining why.

Film historian Jonathan Kuntz of UCLA points out that most memorable war films appear many years after a conflict ends, when the nation has had time to reflect on the experience and a historical consensus emerges about the war's successes and failures.>> He then cites Vietnam War films. 

Huh...Vietnam?  Will the MSM's fixation on Vietnam ever end?  Not every war is Vietnam.

Two minutes of internet research demonstrates that during the three years immediately following December 7, 1941, i.e., during the war..."when the outcome was still in question"...Hollywood made scores of films that did well at the box office; a number of them still considered classics today.  They were made to engage the public in order to keep this nation's head in the war effort.  This Wikipedia page comprises a partial list, 56 films made during WWII:

Bataan, Casablanca, Destination Tokyo, The Fighting Seabees, The Fighting Sullivans, The First of the Few, Flying Tigers, God Is My Co-Pilot, In Which We Serve, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Long Voyage Home, Mrs. Miniver, Night Train to Munich, Passage to Marseille, Sahara, Since You Went Away, The Story of G.I. Joe, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, This Above All, This Happy Breed, This Is the Army, This Land Is Mine, Wake Island, The Way Ahead, A Yank in the RAF. 

Obviously it's not a question of being "too close to the political arguments and the emotional investment in defending or opposing the war to be able to see the war as a diversion or as entertainment." 

The patriotic generation of producers who made those WWII films understood the price of failure in war.  Many were Jewish immigrants or the sons of Jewish immigrants who didn't take being American for granted.  They understood on a personal level the blessings of living in the country...and the need to defend and preserve it. 

Alas, the specter of Vietnam may be relevant here but not for the reasons that the silly WaPo suggests.  The Vietnam War generation (not those who fought in it) changed the narrative on the U.S. going to war.  Today America is suspect, its motives are presumed dubious.  And the men who put on the uniform to do the dirty and dangerous work are always portrayed as updated caricatures of the Mai Lai participants.  When a nation cannot find within itself a way to publicly honor and celebrated those who voluntarily give so much, it is a sad statement.  And one that does not bode well for its future.

Rick Moran responds:


While I generally agree with you, I might point out that World War II is a bad example to use with regards to "pro war" or "pro troops" films.


All films dealing with the war were subject to an extraordinarily strict censorship regime. A film had to be reviewed by a military board and there were many examples of scenes being excised to satisfy them. There were no "anti-war" films made during that time because the censors wouldn't have allowed it.

With a few exceptions ("Back to Bataan, 30 secs over Tokyo, and Mrs. Miniver") most of those films are virtually unwatchable today except to chuckle at the unrealistic portrayal of soldiers and those on the home front.

I might also point out that John Ford's documentary/action film about the attack on Pearl Harbor was heavily censored by the Navy because the brass thought it showed too much damage to the fleet and Ford's scathing criticism of the brass.

Alan Fraser writes:

Not to quibble but Casablanca and This Happy Breed are hardly unwatchable. 
But that isn't even the point.  The point is that they were not unwatchable IN THEIR DAY; They all did well at the box office. 

As regards censorship, you may be right; however, this discussion clearly argues the opposite of that which you suggest. 

Again, this is after two minutes of internet research but read the whole thing.
   
Rick Moran responds:

Interesting link you provided. I found this near the bottom that seems to confirm my point:

At the time these agencies were founded, OWI (Office of War Information) officials were quite unhappy with Hollywood movies, which they considered "escapist and delusive." The movies, these officials believed, failed to convey what the allies were fighting for, grossly exaggerated the extent of Nazi and Japanese espionage and sabotage, portrayed our allies in an offensive manner, and presented a false picture of the United States as a land of gangsters, labor strife, and racial conflict. A study of films issued in 1942 seemed to confirm the OWI concerns. It found that of the films dealing with the war, roughly two-thirds were spy pictures or comedies or musicals about camp life - conveying a highly distorted picture of the war.

To encourage the industry to provide more acceptable films, the Bureau of Motion Pictures issued "The Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture." This manual suggested that before producing a film, moviemakers consider the question: "Will this picture help to win the war?" It also asked the studios to inject images of "people making small sacrifices for victory - making them voluntarily, cheerfully, and because of the people's own sense of responsibility." During its existence, the Bureau evaluated individual film scripts to assess how they depicted war aims, the American military, the enemy, the allies, and the home front.

Making a pro-war film seemed to be a requisite for making any film at all. Not to say that an anti-war film would have been acceptable given Pearl Harbor and the menace of fascism. But the passage above buttresses my argument that you can't compare the film industry of World War II with the film industry of today when it comes to making war movies.

Hi Rick,


I think quick internet research should always be done with caution. 
That being said, according to the article, the concern of the government was that the films were not realistic enough.  OWI found that the movies were too "escapist and delusive" and "...grossly exaggerated the extent of Nazi and Japanese espionage and sabotage...A study of films issued in 1942...found that of the films dealing with the war, roughly two-thirds were spy pictures or comedies or musicals about camp life - conveying a highly distorted picture of the war."  In other words, the movies were not realistic enough. 

What was Hollywood to have been filming up to that point?  The year 1942 was early in the war; the first U.S. large scale ground combat did not occur until August of that year when the Marines landed on Guadalcanal.  BTW, Lewis Seiler directed Guadalcanal Diary which was released in October, 1943.  (how's that for turn around?)  In other words, there were no ground combat operations to portray during the period Hollywood was making movies about Nazi and Japanese spies and sabotage.  Compared to today, this evidences how bloody patriotic the film industry was back then.  Rick, they were anxious to get in on the war in order to show who the good guys were. 


Furthermore, as you excerpted, the BMP issued a manual to ENCOURAGE (not quite censorship) "the industry to provide more acceptable films...'Will this picture help to win the war?'  It also ASKED the studios to inject images of 'people making small sacrifices for victory - making them voluntarily, cheerfully, and because of the people's own sense of responsibility.'"


Sound like pretty good things for a government to promote at a time when it's asking its sons to go fight battles in foreign lands.  I'd suggest that the idea that today these measures seem like censorship is symptomatic of how far we (or the film industry) have come since the 1940s.  Or how far we've fallen.


You are right when you say that you can't compare the film industry of World War II with the film industry of today when it comes to making war movies.  On that you can rely.  :-)


Alan