Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies Paperback – 22 Sep 2000
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"Beware of censors bearing high ideals. That's the message of "Hollywood Goes to War, a careful account of America's flirtation with cultural commissarship during World War II. . . . The descriptions of behind-the-scenes fiddling by bureaucrats (particularly with King Vidor's ambitious flop, 'An American Romance, ' which was 'transformed from a paean to rugged individualism into a celebration of management-labor cooperation') are instructive. They expose the political mentality of the time and the mentality of propagandists of all times."--Walter Goodman, "New York Times Book Review --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Clayton R. Koppes is Houck Professor of Humanities and Chairman of the History Department at Oberlin College. Gregory D. Black is Chairman of the Communications Department at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Director of the American Culture program there. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Of course, the demands of propaganda are different than those of mass entertainment, and HGtW offers a few surprising battles. None more so, perhaps, than OWI's strong reaction against Preston Sturges' frothy screwball masterpiece, 1942's Palm Beach Story, a movie HGtW quotes an OWI reviewer characterizing as "a fine example of what should not be made in the way of escape pictures." Palm Beach Story's transgression seems to have been that it didn't take the war quite seriously enough. The idle rich spent money with frivolous abandon, distressed lovers ignored the war and its issues. It seems reasonable enough that OWI would squash movies verging too close to such socially realistic topics as gangsterism, draft dodging, labor unrest, racial conflict, and any number of other ills. It's the inoffensive domestic movies that OWI objected to that make HGtW so fascinating. Still, there was a war to be won and movies were a great medium for getting The Message out. That the heavy, heavy hand of a governmental agency might kill whatever value the messenger had seemed to have been ignored now and then. Another area of burning interest to OWI was the depiction of our allies. Not surprisingly OWI loved the movie `Mission to Moscow' ("...the most notorious example of propaganda in the guise of entertainment ever produced by Hollywood ") and Keys to the Kingdom, a movie which, as Koppes and Black put it, "reflected the Roosevelt administration's propaganda needs, which in turns were based on a blend of ignorance, apathy, and optimism about the real situation." The critics hated them, too. Besides movies about our allies, the home front and combat war movies, OWI worried over the depiction of the enemy. In this case the Germans and the Japanese. With an eye to the post-war world OWI preferred that the typical German was seen as a separate entity from the German ruling elite. The Japanese, the beast in the jungle, were more or less a lost cause. OWI loved Darryl Zanuck's ambitious and expensive `Wilson,' which presented a glowing and humanizing portrait of Woodrow Wilson, the martyr to the dream of the League of Nations. The message in this case was the need for a league of nations in the post-war world. The result was an expensively mounted yawn fest that is practically unwatchable.
As someone who watches a lot of old movies, I enjoyed Hollywood Goes to War quite a bit. Any book about managed information in the form of government propaganda is bound to raise disturbing issues, and to their credit Koppes and Black present their story clearly without undue editorializing. Anyone who's a fan of American movies made during World War II will find this book educational and entertaining.
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