Extreme Propaganda

Produced between 1929 and 1945, these extreme examples of cinematic propaganda were designed to inspire action: from "Kill" to "Vote" to "buy-buy-buy." They demonstrate persuasive techniques that continue to impact us today. The subjects of these 12 motion picture shorts range from a Republican party diatribe against taxes to a Democratic party pitch to reelect FDR for a fourth term; from an anti-Nazi newsreel produced by Americans to an anti-American newsreel produced by the Germans.


Baptism of Fire BAPTISM OF FIRE
(1943) 35:00 min

This violent war training film is a psychological study of a soldier going into combat for the first time. A Best Documentary 1944 Academy Award nominee, it showed war industry workers the brutal realities of Blitzkrieg warfare through the eyes of a soldier who contemplates whether or not he'll have the guts to perform under fire. Featuring familiar Hollywood character actors (such as Elisha Cook, Jr.) as distribution was restricted to prevent the enemy from getting their hands on a film where American soldiers were shown as hesitant or even potentially cowardly. As such, it features some salty language (though nothing like the overkill you hear in most contemporary war films). The violence is quite strong, featuring intense and graphic hand-to-hand fighting that was never seen in a commercial Hollywood movie of the period. It is an intense, penetrating study that is as relevant to contemporary soldiers as it was for men serving in WWII.

Divide and Conquer DIVIDE AND CONQUER
(1943) 14:27 min

This Warner Brothers short subject is one of the more strident examples of the American propaganda film as produced by a major Hollywood studio. Pulling out all the stops, this dramatic and fast-paced film relentlessly assails Hitler for his treachery and madness. The film argues that Germany, through a myriad of propaganda techniques, was able to sow the seeds of defeat in France; it builds to a patriotic frenzy to forestall similar German propaganda in the U.S. Released by the Office of War Information. (Note: this DIVIDE AND CONQUER was NOT part of Frank Capra's Why We Fight series)

The Truth About Taxes THE TRUTH ABOUT TAXES
(1939) 10:46 min

The Republican National Committee produced this theatrical short subject as an indictment of Roosevelt's "New Deal." It deals primarily with government spending issues of the day, challenging the government spending programs that helped lift our nation from the depths of economic depression in the 1930s. This example of extreme propaganda was made two years before Pearl Harbor as part of the 1939 Republican campaign to bring Wendell Willkie to the White House. The need for national defense and homeland security was on everybody's mind as Japan marched into China and Hitler annexed the Balkans.

Hell-Bent for Election HELL-BENT FOR ELECTION
(1944 - color) 13:02 min

Animation genius Chuck Jones (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig) directed this colorful political cartoon designed to influence the 1944 elections just as the war was coming to an end. The film is a Democratic Party campaign tool urging the continuation of FDR's wartime priorities as the best way to ensure a prosperous future. The short, financed by the United Auto Workers, United Farm Workers and other organized labor groups, urges Americans to "get behind the president and stay the course to victory." While the president was re-elected for an unprecedented fourth term, his party lost 50 congressional seats that year. Viewers will find that many of the issues facing the American voter in 1944 are startlingly familiar today.

It's Everybody's War IT'S EVERYBODY'S WAR
(1945) 15:05 min

Narrator Henry Fonda introduces a typical small town in America and the call-up of the local National Guard: "We all thought nothing could happen to them . . . this wasn't OUR war . . . the Japs wouldn't dare attack us . . . Hitler couldn't cross the Atlantic. Then came Pearl Harbor." The pitch dramatizes the hometown response to escalating casualties and costs of global warfare: "Our salvage drives took on new meaning to us because our boys could have used the things we'd been wasting . . . we didn't waste electricity--and the smelters 100 miles away had more power to make steel. To those who had given arms and legs and eyes, we could say that we gave not only our sickening luxuries and comforts, but our money, our thoughts, our skills, our work, and our sweat."

Candy for Your Health CANDY FOR YOUR HEALTH
(1929) 3:00 min

Sugar and chocolate are the stars in this brief theatrical tour of a candy factory produced by the Euclid Candy Company. The on screen text says it all: “Your family doctor will tell you that it is necessary to eat good, pure candy between meals because your health requires the energy building properties candy contains. Judge for yourself how perfectly pure LOVE NEST candy bars are made by the Euclid Candy Company in their San Francisco factory.” An energetic music score adds to the fun in this classic piece of extreme cinematic propaganda.

Tree in a Test Tube TREE IN A TEST TUBE
(1943 - color) 5:00 min

The only color film made by Laurel & Hardy was produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to demonstrate the importance of forests and forest products in winning the war. Stan and Ollie are stopped by narrator Pete Smith for the purpose of showing the audience how much wood and wood by-products the average person carries. The boys then begin to open their pockets and briefcase, pulling out a variety of things that derive from trees.

The Last Will and Testament of Tom Smith THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF TOM SMITH
(1943) 10:35 min

This powerful wartime propaganda film stars George Reeves (of Superman fame), Barbara Britton, Lionel Barrymore and Walter Brennan. Tom Smith, an American pilot, is shot down and captured by the Japanese. While imprisoned and awaiting execution, he recalls his life at home before the war and imagines what he will be bequeathing to those he leaves behind. At the conclusion, the film turns out to be an appeal to theater audiences on behalf of the National War Fund, serving as an excellent example of the scripted and dramatized form of the cinematic fundraiser. The Motion Picture Industry produced the film for the National War Fund and the nation's United Community Campaigns.

Beyond the Statue of Liberty BEYOND THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
(1942) 10:00 min

Here is a fascinating look at a propaganda film created and produced during the war by the other side. This German short subject was originally released to audiences in 1942 with the title Rund um die Freiheitsstatue (Beyond the Statue of Liberty). Subtitles were subsequently added by the National Archives prior to its limited release in the U.S. as part of a special film series.

Winky the Watchman WINKY THE WATCHMAN
(1945 - color) 9:35 min

Here is a colorful blend of live action and animation as a group of school children visits a dentist who tells them the story of Winky, the dental healthcare watchman who falls asleep when he should be watching for the dark forces of tooth decay. This short subject was directed by Hugh Harman and produced by the Tennessee Agriculture and Commerce Department.

Hollywood Victory Caravan HOLLYWOOD VICTORY CARAVAN
(1945) 19:30 min

An excellent example of the use of celebrities to manipulate audience response. This time it is in the form of a splashy, star-studded postwar musical fundraiser that features, among many others: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Betty Hutton, Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck and Humphrey Bogart. The minimal plot is somewhat reminiscent of the famous Hope/Crosby road pictures.

You, John Jones! YOU, JOHN JONES!
(1944) 10:18 min

James Cagney, Ann Southern and little Margaret O’Brien are persuasive in this starkly dramatic look at patriotism and civil responsibility on the WWII American home front. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy and produced by Carey Wilson for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as their contribution to United Nations Week. Cagney attends his civil defense post one evening and dreams of the horrors of war in Europe and Asia. He visualizes a blitz on civilians of several countries and pictures his own daughter (Margaret O'Brien) under fire in each country. The film ends with child-star O'brien reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The film is starkly dramatic and patriotic - and a classic of the genre.