The Celluloid Foxhole: World War Two, the Government and Hollywood
Hollywood enlists in the war effort
There was no better way for the U.S. government to prepare America for laid ahead after the Pearl Harbor than putting Hollywood to work. The basis of a project I am currently working on is an expansion of two papers I wrote while in college. Both were solid A papers but I realized after re-reading them I could have done a better job at exploring the collaboration between Hollywood and the government. It was not a match made in heaven. The partnership was a lot of back and forth about how to best “sell” the war to the public. The memories of the propaganda campaign during the Great War was still in the minds of millions of Americans and the policymakers. The government men put in charge of informing the public wanted to avoid a repeat of the Creel Committee, and Hollywood wanted to earn a buck while churning out films that showcased America.
At the front of the government’s propaganda war effort was the Office of War Information. It was formed by executive in June 1942. Its mandate was to filter information deemed useful to the war effort and to work with outside organizations on making sure the public knew the why and goals of the war. Newspapers, radio, magazines, stage shows and Hollywood played a key role in getting that information out and into the hands of the public.
For Hollywood, its role was all-encompassing. Not only was it tasked to helping shape the government’s message, it also had to keep morale up on the home front. The hundreds of films released between 1942 and 1945 ranged from comedies and westerns to combat films about the brotherhood of soldiers. The military also put the industry to work to make training films—a project started by General George C. Marshall. In 1942, he would ask Frank Capra to create a series of films for the troops that would explain why they were going into battle.
From the films that were made between the years of 1933 to 1945, The Celluloid Foxhole will dive into some of the best known films of the time: Casablanca, The Great Dictator, Sergeant York, Wake Island, Bataan, Guadalcanal Diary, and The Story of G.I. Joe. The project will also explore some of the first films made in the post-war era: The Best Year of Our Lives, Twelve O’Clock High, Battleground, and Sands of Iwo Jima. And it will look at films that came later: The Longest Day, Patton, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and Pearl Harbor.
The movies listed above is not the complete list. Hundreds of films were released during the war years. Some other films include: Lifeboat, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Since You Went Away, Mrs. Miniver, Triumph of the Will (a German propaganda film), several shorts made for the U.S. military and documentaries such as Capra’s Why We Fight series.
The project will also explore the issues facing society at the time.
I will share excerpts of the project from time-to-time. I’ll also include my bibliography and recommend readings for those who want to learn more.
I hope you enjoy.