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Hollywood's War with Poland, 1939-1945

Hollywood's War with Poland, 1939-1945

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 290
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  • Book Info
    Hollywood's War with Poland, 1939-1945
    Book Description:

    During World War II, Hollywood studios supported the war effort by making patriotic movies designed to raise the nation's morale. They often portrayed the combatants in very simple terms: Americans and their allies were heroes, and everyone else was a villain. Norway, France, Czechoslovakia, and England were all good because they had been invaded or victimized by Nazi Germany. Poland, however, was represented in a negative light in numerous movies. In Hollywood's War with Poland, 1939-1945, M. B. B. Biskupski draws on a close study of prewar and wartime films such as To Be or Not to Be (1942), In Our Time (1944), and None Shall Escape (1944). He researched memoirs, letters, diaries, and memoranda written by screenwriters, directors, studio heads, and actors to explore the negative portrayal of Poland during World War II. Biskupski also examines the political climate that influenced Hollywood films.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7352-8
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Films in the era before television were a significant source of information as well as entertainment, and their influence on popular attitudes, though impossible to quantify, was considerable.¹ Let us remember that in the 1939–1945 era Hollywood released five hundred films yearly and that the decade beginning in 1935 saw a phenomenal increase in American film attendance: 74 percent of the population of the country went to the movies at least once a week; many, especially in urban areas, went more often.² Attendance at films surpassed 85 million a week, and the industry exceeded $1 billion in annual receipts.³...

  5. 1 The Polish Presence in American Cinema before 1939
    (pp. 11-44)

    Poland, returned to the map at the end of the First World War, mattered little to the United States after 1918. This was true in both political and cultural matters. American films reflected this lack of interest. Indeed, the Polish population in the United States was also largely an unknown community to the American public, who regarded this newly created minority group with a mixture of disdain and indifference. It is not surprising that few films produced in the silent era or later in the 1930s featured Polish themes or explored the lives of Polish immigrants to America. The relative...

  6. 2 Poland in the Second World War
    (pp. 45-56)

    Before we consider what Hollywood said about the Poles during World War II, it would be useful to present a brief outline of the events to which the film industry was reacting. Two themes are particularly noteworthy. The first is that many of the significant aspects of Poland’s involvement in the war were ignored by Hollywood. The second is that the film industry made certain references to Poland that were entirely without foundation but nonetheless figure prominently in Hollywood’s version of the war. In other words, Poland in World War II and Hollywood’s Poland have little in common.

    Germany invaded...

  7. 3 Radical Hollywood and Poland
    (pp. 57-66)

    The FBI traced the Comintern’s determination to establish a presence in American films to articles by Willi Münzenberg in theDaily Workerin 1925 that extolled the significance of motion pictures as a means of political propaganda and hence the need for the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) to control their production.¹ The accuracy of this genealogy is problematic, as it was several years before the party undertook concrete steps to gain a foothold in the entertainment industry. In 1934 the total party membership in the Los Angeles area was estimated by the FBI to be...

  8. 4 The Roosevelt Administration and Film during the War
    (pp. 67-82)

    Poland’s travails had no consequences for American policy, and public opinion continued to oppose active American involvement in the war after the September campaign. By the time the United States entered the war, the major opponent of Nazi Germany was the Soviet Union, and Poland was a weak member of the anti-German coalition. Propitiating the Russians was the preemptive concern of American policy regarding Poland and Polish-Russian difficulties after 1941. The idea of a free Poland may have been theoretically American policy, but it was completely subordinated to whatever was required to maintain “cordial relations” with the Russians.¹

    Within months...

  9. 5 Hollywood’s Version of the War: The Polish Films
    (pp. 83-118)

    Hollywood had much material to use but created only three films set in Poland. Two of them deal with the last days of peace and the immediate aftermath of the invasion. OnlyNone Shall Escape,made in 1944, focuses on the occupation. Certainly the inattention to Poland reflected the fact that, by the time of American belligerency, the September campaign was more than two years past. By late 1941, the war seemed largely an affair of Britain, Russia, and the United States.

    Life under German occupation was another matter, however. Unprecedented in its brutality, this was a story of contemporary...

  10. 6 Poland: Fleeting, Ambiguous, or Omitted
    (pp. 119-168)

    Beyond the three films discussed in the previous chapter, cinematic depictions of Poland were a rarity for Hollywood. Poland and the Poles had minor roles on the margins of a few films, reflecting the margins of the American consciousness to which they were relegated. A comprehensive review of the Polish themes in American cinema of the war years is not a lengthy undertaking.

    Hours before the fall of Warsaw in 1939, Columbia began production of the film adaption of the 1928 stage playFront Page.Released early in 1940 asHis Girl Friday,the witty comedy is set in the...

  11. Photos
    (pp. None)
  12. 7 Hollywood and the American Poles during the War
    (pp. 169-200)

    By World War II, Hollywood had a long history of ignoring the Polish population of the United States or presenting them negatively. This, in part, reflected the unenviable position the Poles occupied in American society and consciousness in the decades before the Second World War.

    The Poles were among the “new immigrants” from Eastern and Southern Europe who largely displaced the previous flow of arrivals from Western Europe by late in the nineteenth century. Of this group the Poles were a significant number. Exact figures are speculative, but at least 2 million arrived between 1890 and the outbreak of World...

  13. 8 Why Hollywood Was at War with the Poles
    (pp. 201-228)

    How may we explain the inattention and hostility with which Hollywood treated wartime Poland? Hollywood’s version of the war was a combination of the left-wing, pro-Soviet political sympathies of many of its leading figures and the preference of the U.S. government to present a depiction of the war that supported its policy predilections.

    The screenwriters and directors of the films in which Poland is portrayed, most unfavorably, are a virtual gallery of the activist radical Left. John Howard Lawson, Lester Cole, Robert Rossen, Arthur Kober, Jay Leyda, Leopold Atlas, Guy Endore, Philip Stevenson, Lillian Hellman, and Sidney Buchman were members...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 229-230)

    Hollywood in World War II displayed a perfect combination for the woeful depiction of Poland. An administration bent on selling Russia found ready allies in a politically left-wing community that tended to regard Poland as a reactionary obstacle to Soviet-American cooperation and the celebration of their ideological convictions. Ceplair and Englund describe the Communist Party screenwriters as forming “an anti-fascist, pro-Russian army.”¹ The implications of this are significant: since, to the radical Left, Poland was fascist and opposed Russian designs on its territory and sovereignty by definition, the writers were effectively soldiers campaigning against Poland in Hollywood.

    Poland, overrun earlier...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 231-330)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 331-344)
  17. Index
    (pp. 345-362)