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Celluloid Soldiers

The Warner Bros. Campaign Against Nazism

Michael Birdwell

Publication Year: 1999

During the 1930s many Americans avoided thinking about war erupting in Europe, believing it of little relevance to their own lives. Yet, the Warner Bros. film studio embarked on a virtual crusade to alert Americans to the growing menace of Nazism.

Polish-Jewish immigrants Harry and Jack Warner risked both reputation and fortune to inform the American public of the insidious threat Hitler's regime posed throughout the world. Through a score of films produced during the 1930s and early 1940s-including the pivotal Sergeant York-the Warner Bros. studio marshaled its forces to influence the American conscience and push toward intervention in World War II.

Celluloid Soldiers offers a compelling historical look at Warner Bros.'s efforts as the only major studio to promote anti-Nazi activity before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

The completion of this book would not have been possible without the help, cooperation, support, argument, and love of a great number of people. For those of you who were kind enough to let me spend the night at your house, I am forever grateful. Others of you, who listened to me go on and on about all this, thanks for the indulgence....

Time Line

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pp. xi-xxii

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pp. 1-34

During the 1930s many Americans avoided thinking about war erupting in Europe, believing that it was of little significance to their interests. Besides, America was suffering from its own myriad problems: the Great Depression, social displacement, political unrest, and burgeoning crime. Bitter memories of World War I and the failure of the Versailles...

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Black Legion: Fascism in the Heartland

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pp. 35-56

Although Harry Warner announced in 1934 his intentions to expose Nazism through a number of hard-hitting features, pressures placed on the film industry from within and without made it impossible to make good on his promise before 1936.Hobbled by the federal government and the PCA’s restrictions against violating American neutrality,...

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The Road to Confessions of a Nazi Spy and Beyond

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pp. 57-86

Benito Mussolini’s desire to produce films rivaling those made in Hollywood and Paris led to the creation of the Cinecitta Studio and, in 1932, the advent of the Venice Film Festival, the world’s first international competition.1 Jack Warner entered...

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A Change of Heart: Alvin York and the Movie Sergeant York

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pp. 87-130

Although the production of Black Legion and Confessions of a Nazi Spy had produced conflict and controversy both in and outside of the studio, that paled in comparison to the initial furor that came about when Warner Bros. announced that it would produce a film based on the wartime exploits of Sgt. Alvin C. York. Known as the greatest hero of....

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Using the Devil’s Tool to Do God’s Work: Sergeant York, America First, and the Intervention Debate

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pp. 131-153

With the release of the film recounting his military exploits, Alvin York had again become one of America’s greatest living heroes, a man who had captured the imagination and admiration of millions of Americans. Perhaps the only other living individual who could have equaled his fame was the Lone Eagle, Col. Charles Lindbergh. Their political...

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Hollywood under the Gun: The Senate Investigation of Propagandain Motion Pictures

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pp. 154-171

On August 1, 1941, Senators Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota and Bennett Champ Clark of Missouri introduced Senate Resolution 152, drafted largely by America First’s true believer, John T. Flynn, calling for a thorough investigation of the film industry.1 The investigation would be carried out by a subcommittee of the Interstate Commerce Committee directed by isolationist Sen. Burton K. Wheeler. The subcommittee was...

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“This Isn’t What We Had in Mind”

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pp. 172-176

The U.S. declaration of war in December of 1941 brought an end to the Nye-Clark subcommittee hearings.1 What was ironic about those hearings was that the Nye-Clark subcommittee could have proven their allegations of warmongering against Warner Bros. if they had followed John T. Flynn’s advice and had conducted a formal investigation. If...

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pp. 177-178

In the years since the Depression, filmmakers have often looked back at that era with a degree of nostalgia. Movies like Bound for Glory and Honky Tonk Man merely used the Depression as a backdrop for the celebration of the human spirit during times of national and personal crisis. Woody Allen’s endearing portrait of folks coping...


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pp. 179-224


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pp. 225-258


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pp. 259-265

About the Author

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p. 266-266

E-ISBN-13: 9780814739259
E-ISBN-10: 0814739253
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814713389
Print-ISBN-10: 0814713386

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 1999