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We'll Always Have the Movies

We'll Always Have the Movies: American Cinema during World War II

Robert L. McLaughlin
Sally E. Parry
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    We'll Always Have the Movies
    Book Description:

    We'll Always Have the Movies explores how movies made in Hollywood during World War II were vehicles for helping Americans understand the war. Far from being simplistic, flag-waving propaganda designed to evoke emotional reactions, these films offered audiences narrative structures that formed a foundation for grasping the nuances of war. These films asked audiences to consider the implications of the Nazi threat, they put a face on both our enemies and allies, and they explored changing wartime gender roles. We'll Always Have the Movies reveals how film after film repeated the narratives, character types, and rhetoric that made the war and each American's role in it comprehensible. Robert L. McLaughlin and Sally E. Parry have screened more than 600 movies made between 1937 and 1946 -- including many never before discussed in this context -- and have analyzed the cultural and historical importance of these films in explaining the war to moviegoers. Pre-Pearl Harbor films such as Sergeant York, Foreign Correspondent, and The Great Dictator established the rationale for the war in Europe. After the United States entered the war, films such as Air Force, So Proudly We Hail! and Back to Bataan conveyed reasons for U.S. involvement in the Pacific. The Hitler Gang, Sahara, and Bataan defined our enemies; and Mrs. Miniver, Mission to Moscow, and Dragon Seed defined our allies. Some movies -- The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Hail the Conquering Hero, and Lifeboat among them -- explored homefront anxieties about the war's effects on American society. Of the many films that sought to explain the politics behind and the social impact of the war -- and why it concerned Americans -- Casablanca is perhaps one of the most widely recognized. McLaughlin and Parry argue that Rick's Café Américain serves as a United Nations, sheltering characters who represent countries being oppressed by Germany. At Rick's, these characters learn that they share a common love of freedom, which is embodied in patriotism; from this commonality, they overcome their differences and work together to solve a conflict that affects them all. As the representative American, Rick Blain (Humphrey Bogart) cannot idly stand by in the face of injustice, and he ultimately sides with those being oppressed. Bogart's character is a metaphor for America, which could also come out of its isolationism to be a true world leader and unite with its allies to defeat a common enemy. Collectively, Hollywood's war-era films created a mythic history of the war that, even today, has more currency than the actual events of World War II.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7137-1
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    BY MIDWAY THROUGH THE 1942 wartime classicCasablanca, relationships among the characters have reached a state of crisis. American expatriate and Moroccan gin-joint owner Rick Blaine, having drunkenly insulted his former lover, Ilsa Lund, the night before, has been rebuffed in his attempts to apologize. Rick becomes bitter and, as his waiters note, drinks too much. Ilsa and her husband, the Czech resistance leader Victor Laszlo, in a morning meeting with the French prefect of police, Captain Renault, and the Gestapo’s liaison to Casablanca, Major Strasser, have been informed that the authorities won’t allow Laszlo to leave Casablanca. Laszlo and...

  5. 1 Before Pearl Harbor
    (pp. 26-66)

    RETROSPECTIVELY, THE UNITED STATES’ ROLE in World War II seems inevitable. In the late thirties, however, as Japanese aggression in China and Germany’s expansionist claims both grew, and after September 1939, when the war in Europe began, things in the United States weren’t so clear. American society’s feelings about the war were confused and contradictory; there was a general feeling of sympathy for the victims of fascist aggression, but at the same time, most people were determined that the United States shouldn’t become involved in these foreign wars. This determination, however, was not necessarily pacifistic, since many people supported a...

  6. 2 The War in the Pacific
    (pp. 67-99)

    HOLLYWOOD, LIKE THE REST OF AMERICA, was surprised by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The studios, as we have seen, had been preparing Americans to think about their potential involvement in the war in Europe in various ways; the narratives and rhetoric supporting this involvement had already become film conventions, easily recognized by audiences and presumably influencing or at least interacting with their ideas about Hitler, Germany, the European war, and America’s part in it all. Japan, however, was a different story. Even though Japan had been waging a ruthless war against China since the summer of 1937, and...

  7. 3 Our Enemies
    (pp. 100-136)

    POPULAR MEDIA HAVE ALWAYS BEEN an important cultural vehicle for transmitting ideas to people about who they are and, just as important, who they aren’t. As Edward Said and others have shown, a society’s sense of national identity is based to a great extent on the way it contrasts itself to other societies that are different, foreign, strange, and often threatening—in short, its enemies. Hollywood films, because they were seen by huge numbers of people over the whole country, were the most efficient and powerful means of communicating ideas about American national identity and America’s enemies in the 1940s....

  8. 4 Our Fighting Allies
    (pp. 137-172)

    IN THE LAST CHAPTER we examined the various strategies filmmakers used to define as Other the nations with which the United States was at war. In this chapter we examine the similar but more complex process by which our main fighting allies—Britain, the Soviet Union, and China—were constructed through film. In the next chapter we examine the somewhat different way European countries occupied by Germany were presented.

    During the war, the U.S. mainland was never attacked or seriously threatened. This left Americans with the question of how U.S. interests were served by our participation in the war. Why...

  9. 5 Our Occupied Allies
    (pp. 173-215)

    DRAGON SEEDCONTAINS A NUMBER OF SIMILARITIES to another group of films—those set in European countries conquered and occupied by Nazi Germany. These films, however, are less interested in explaining why America should be fighting for these countries and in celebrating the uniqueness of the featured nation and nationality. Rather, they tend to focus on two ideas: the horrors of occupation and the possibilities for resistance. The first idea, as we saw in our discussion ofNone Shall Escape(see chapter 3), set in occupied Poland, uses the occupation as a way of defining the Germans as a brutal,...

  10. 6 American Men and Women
    (pp. 216-246)

    WE HAVE SEEN HOW HOLLYWOOD FILMMAKERS defined the Germans, Italians, and Japanese as our enemies and the British, Soviets, other Europeans, and Chinese as our allies. This still leaves us with the issue of how Americans were defined to American moviegoers. How were Americans supposed to see themselves, and how were they to behave? In this time of war, how were they to perform the role of American? The answer, in terms of U.S. popular culture during the war years, seems to have depended on one’s gender: both men and women were told that they had vital roles to perform,...

  11. 7 Home-Front Anxieties
    (pp. 247-279)

    SO FAR, WE HAVE BEEN CONCENTRATING on what Hollywood films of the World War II era had in common—the narrative conventions, character types, and tropes by which, en masse, they made the war understandable and communicated ideas about the war, America’s place in it, our enemies, our allies, and each American’s role in fighting it. Taken together—and together with other forms of pop culture and public discourses—these films helped construct the reality of the war for millions of Americans. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that retrospectively we tend to think of the World War II...

  12. 8 Postwar Films in the Postwar World
    (pp. 280-300)

    AS WE SAW IN THE LAST CHAPTER, as the end of the war approached, some Hollywood films began reflecting anxieties about what the postwar world would be like. By the time the war ended in September 1945, films about the war had begun inexorably to change. It was no longer necessary for them to make the war understandable; they began to use the war as a setting to pursue other purposes. At the end ofCasablanca, Rick famously tells Ilsa, “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 301-314)
    (pp. 315-320)
    (pp. 321-336)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 337-366)