- Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 2, 2003
- pp. 91-92
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature andWe Can Do ItAgain," while Carl Hoffand OrrinTucker forged "You're a Sap, Mr. Jap." Another copyrighted title, "The Sun will be Setting for the Land ofthe Rising Sun," by Max Lerner, reiterated anti-Japanese sentiment. Soon, other tunes flashed over the airwaves and by early 1942, radio audiences were humming the melodies of "When those Little Yellow Bellies Meet the Cohens and the Kellys," "Slap the Jap Right off the Map," and "We're Going to Find a Fellow Who is Yellow and Beat Him Red, White and Blue." Since Hitler's Germany was also a belligerent, a few anti-Nazi ditties, "Let's Put the Ax to the Axis" and "Let's Knock the Hit out of Hitler" reaffirmed America's determination to win the War. For the next three years these songsters, continued to churn out one melody after another hoping that their latest creation would catch on as the nation's official World War II title. And while dozens of popular tunes offered messages of morale and guarantees of victory, not one title, according to Professor Kathleen E. R. Smith, emerged as the definitive War song. Why was this? Why could not one composition pump up the blood, skyrocket to the top, and raise the public consciousness to untold patriotic levels ? What happened? Had stateside composers run out of steam? These are some of the questions Dr. Smith answers in her excellent study, God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War. According to Professor Smith, most of the musical writers erroneously assumed thatAmericans needed heavy doses of morale -inspiring music to help them through this Allied versus Axis conflict. While it was true that twenty-five years earlier popular Great War lyrics such as "Keep the Home Fires Burning," "Mademoiselle fromArmentieres," and "Over There" fostered patriotism with each note, this new generation, weaned by those bleak depression days, did not need a catchy melody for inspiration. Rather, as the conflict raged in virtually every part of the world, listeners turned away from most war songs, favoring, instead, those titles that idolized love with every beat in the measure. Why would they not? Since virtually every adult understood the agonizing pangs associated with long-term separation, any song that cherished romance became the staple of the popular music market. Titles such as "I'll Be SeeingYou," "LongAgo and Faraway," and "I'll Get By" became immediate favorites as various crooners recalled the virtues of fidelity, warmth, and kindness and promised that eventually all lovers would be found, embraced, and married. Occasionally, a novelty tune such as "Mairzy Doats," an off-the-wall ditty, "Der Führer's Face," a quasi-religious hymn, "God Bless America," a rousing victory song, "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer," or a frivolous melody, "Bell Bottom Trousers " soared to the top of the weekly charts but they could not maintain the popularity of "White Christmas," a love ballad that conjuredup nostalgic remembrances ofhome andholiday warmth. Even other well-known titles, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" or "This is the Army, Mr. Jones" could not compete with romantic lyrics thatpromised future happiness and commitment . Basically, the bright-eyed vocalist, Vaughn Monroe, said it all when he warbled, "The Love I Long For." In all, God Bless America details a nation's wartime mood when popular music, in all its formats, became a unifying factor during a period ofuncertainly and separation. As Dr. Smith carefully explains, standard melodies were known by everyone and their lyrics—sometimes patriotic, often trifling, frequently romantic —mirrored the hopes and aspirations of the country. Complete with a marvelous discography and rare sheet music photographs, God Bless America captures the temperament of a people that faithfully believed Les Brown when he tapped his baton, smiled at the audience, and promised thattheir dreams were getting better all the time. Robert Fyne Kean University RJFyne@aol.com Hernán Vera & Andrew M. Gordon. Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness. Rowan & Littlefield, 2003. 203 pages, $75.00. A Huge Subject Bizarre as it may seem, there is not that much difference between a creaky silent film like Birth ofa Nation (1915) and a state...