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The Star-Spangled Screen

The Star-Spangled Screen: The American World War II Film

Bernard F. Dick
Copyright Date: 1985
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Star-Spangled Screen
    Book Description:

    The American World War II film depicted a united America, a mythic America in which the average guy, the girl next door, the 4-F patriot, and the grieving mother were suddenly transformed into heroes and heroines, warriors and goddesses.The Star-Spangled Screenexamines the historical accuracy -- or lack thereof -- of films about the Third Reich, the Resistance, and major military campaigns. Concerned primarily with the films of the war years, it also includes discussions of such postwar movies asBattleground(1949),Attack!(1956),The Bridge on the River Kwai(1957), andPatton(1970). This revised edition includes a new afterword that covers more recent films, such asSophie's Choice(1982),Biloxi Blues(1986), andSchindler's List(1993).The Star-Spangled Screenmakes a major contribution to popular culture by recreating an era that, for all its tragedy, was one of the most creative in the history of American film.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4895-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1. Prologue to Pearl
    (pp. 1-9)

    Shortly after noon on 17 July 1943, I set out for the West Side Theater; it was a thirty-minute walk from the wrong side of the tracks, where I lived in a Central European enclave in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to the other, not exactly the right but merely the less primitive side. Environment provides the first metaphor, and the railroad tracks were mine; they were the line of demarcation between the valley and the hill, the border beyond which lay civilization.

    Beyond the tracks rose a hill, more arduous than steep, occasionally sinking into small depressions where the houses had settled...

  5. 2. The War that Dared Not Speak Its Name
    (pp. 10-40)

    Despite its careful orchestration, Capra’sPreludeis incomplete; the entire midsection—the years between I936 and I939, the period of the Spanish civil war—is missing. Perhaps Capra did not hear the music because it was the music of the “International.” Yet to omit the Spanish civil war in a prelude to the Second World War is to reduce a prelude to program music.

    Hollywood did not ignore the Spanish civil war, although reaction to it varied from the studios’ reluctance to portray it as the class struggle it was, to the rallying around the Spanish Republic of movie liberals...

  6. 3. Hollywood as Premature Antifascist
    (pp. 41-64)

    Although Hollywood claimed to be neutral on Spain (but really wasn’t), it never even pretended to be neutral on fascism.¹ In fact, Hollywood began its war on fascism before fascism began its war on democracy. Initially, it was an undeclared war, and as in all such wars, the date for the commencement of hostilities is disputed. Film historians customarily speak ofConfessions of a Nazi Spy, which was released in the spring of 1939, as the first anti-Nazi movie. But every war, even one waged by Hollywood, has its prelude.

    Nineteen thirty-three was not only theannus mirabilisof Adolf...

  7. 4. Hollywood as Neutral Interventionist
    (pp. 65-100)

    When Harry Warner returned from abroad on 4 September 1939, the day after Britain had declared war on Germany, he proclaimed grandly, “That which we fought the British to obtain we will have to fight with them to retain”; shortly thereafter, his brother Jack, speaking on behalf of the studio, announced, “America is neutral, and we are Americans. Our policy is one hundred percent neutrality. There will be no propaganda pictures from Warner Brothers.”¹ On 9 September 1939, Herbert J. Yates was quoted in theNew York World Telegramas saying that Republic would “veer away from pictures of war.”...

  8. 5. Hollywood Mobilizes
    (pp. 101-123)

    Until 1941, Japanese aggression in Asia was material for aMarch of Timeor a newsreel, but not for a feature film. The reason was certainly not fear of losing the Japanese market, which as of 1937 was “virtually lost.”¹ There were several reasons. The Far East afforded less drama than Europe. Even if some drama could be extracted from the war in China, casting would pose a problem. Since the studios never groomed Orientals for stardom, the leads would have to be played by such veterans of racial transformation as Paul Muni, Luise Rainer, and Sylvia Sidney, although there...

  9. 6. Plotting the War
    (pp. 124-145)

    War itself is not dramatic; the real drama lies in the people caught up in it or in the events that lead to it. A battle is even less dramatic because it is plotless; its prelude is a battle plan, which, whether it is explained at a briefing session or diagrammed on a blackboard, is only talk. Even when the talk becomes action, it is still just sound and fury. When the sound and fury signify something, however, there is the possibility of drama; when they signify something human, there is the start of characterization; when the characters interact, there...

  10. 7. The People’s War
    (pp. 146-187)

    Throughout the 1940s, World War II was called a “people’s war,” and Hollywood interpreted “people” as everyone not in uniform. If the war was fought as much on the home front as on the battlefield, then “the people” also included the antifascist underground; in occupied countries, the home front was the battleground where, to complete the paradox, the soldiers were civilians. Like the American home-fronters, resistants were of no one type. Being one required three qualities, two of which loyal Americans already possessed: love of country and hatred of fascism. But there was a third that Americans never had to...

  11. 8. The Masters of the Race
    (pp. 188-210)

    When Churchill announced that England “will never negotiate with Hitler and his gang,” he was using a designation for the Nazis that Hollywood had already appropriated. Where there is a gang, there are gangsters; whether they run a syndicate or a Reich, whether they control the North Side of Chicago or aGauin Germany, they are cut from the same cloth. The fiefdoms that crime czars carved out of American cities had their equivalent in theGaueor geographical regions into which the Reich was divided, with the gauletiers who governed them being no better than ganglords.

    Since the...

  12. 9. California Comrades
    (pp. 211-229)

    In the Fall of 1947, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (huac) took up an item that was still outstanding on its prewar agenda and that, in light of the Cold War, required immediate attention: the Communist subversion of the motion picture industry, on the grounds that Soviet propaganda had been injected into films in the guise of Stalinist tributes and barbs aimed at the United States. Huac chose not to remember that during the period when Russia was an ally, short lived as that was, Soviet support was at its highest level. Nor were Communist screenwriters the only Russophiles....

  13. 10. Japs on Their Minds
    (pp. 230-249)

    Hollywood’s revilement of Japan after its “unprovoked and dastardly attack” on Pearl Harbor is unparalleled in movie history. There is no real analogue, not even the Yellow Peril serials of the teens like the anti-JapanesePatria(1917) orPearl of the Army(1916), in which “peerless, fearless” Pearl White saves the Panama Canal from Oriental spies. “The Jap” is neither a white slaver nor a warlord, bottom lit to look as if he has just emerged from the nether world; instead the Jap is subhuman, a lethal object, a thing that, when incinerated, becomes “fried Jap” (Air Force, God Is...

  14. 11. Remembering Pearl Harbor
    (pp. 250-256)

    Some moments are metaphors; others, epiphanies. Still others are both, such as the moment in which one recognizes a relative in a painting or finds oneself in a character, or when strands of thought that have been hanging loose in the mind suddenly pull together and form a pattern.

    For me, it was the Saturday afternoon I sawFighting Coast Guardat the West Side in 1951. It was a Republic programmer, that ordinarily would have appeared as a second feature of a double bill, along with a chapter of a serial, a short, a cartoon, and a newsreel.


  15. Afterword to the 1996 edition
    (pp. 257-264)

    Between 1940 and 1945, the war had been worked into practically every genre except science fiction (which would have challenged the most imaginative filmmaker). Even such unlikely types as the musical and the horror film rallied to the Allied cause. The Rita Hayworth musicalTonight and Every Night(1945), set in London during the Blitz, did not spare the lives of two of the secondary characters. Wartime London was also the scene ofReturn of the Vampire(1944), in which the Dracula figure (Bela Lugosi) roamed the city with a werewolf. Since the true horrors of the war would not...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 265-276)
  17. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 277-286)
  18. Film Index
    (pp. 287-292)
  19. Subject Index
    (pp. 293-297)