Crisis on the Eastern Front, 1941-42: A Comparative Analysis of German and American Newsreel Coverage
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 13, Number 2, May 1983
- pp. 34-42
- Additional Information
CRISIS ON THE EASTERN FRONT, 1941-42: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF GERMAN AND AMERICAN NEWSREEL COVERAGE ** by Robert E. Herzstein While Joseph Goebbels and his Propaganda Ministry censors were approving the release of the latest Wochenschau, a different sort of newsreel was being readied for public consumption over four thousand miles away. In an unimposing New York office building at 460 West 54th Street, near the Hudson River dockside, a frantic scene took place on the third floor on Monday and Tuesday. The busy staff of Movietone News was preparing one of two weekly newsreels produced by the Fox organization. The crowded, bustling third floor housed all the editors, commentators, technicians and equipment involved in this mammoth undertaking. The great outburst of interest in foreign news since the late 1930s made their task more challenging, but also more rewarding. Negative prints of footage filmed abroad were often sent to New York by chartered air clipper. From the airport they were transported via armored car to the Fox building. Included in the film canisters were "dope sheets," handwritten reports filed by the cameramen, indicating the subject, contents and length of the footage. Fox kept a daily log, a record of all film received.33 By 1941 Movietone News had acquired the reputation as the best and most popular of American newsreels. Nor was Fox modest about boasting of its primacy as "the mightiest of them all." Fox News had begun production back in 1919, and proudly displayed a congratulatory letter from President Woodrow Wilson. In the light of the interventionist impact of later Movietone productions, this represented an interesting and prophetic bit of symbolism. Fox News released its first soundtracked film in 1927, showing Colonel Lindbergh taking off on his historic flight to Paris from ** ThAA l& pasut two oI a. two-pa/it ojüá.cJL The great Soviet counter-offensive against the Army Group Center began about three days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During these months after Pearl Harbor, Americans, shocked but determined to win, directed most of their attention to the Pacific theater of war. They had been following reports of determined Soviet resistance with increasing interest, but for the monent the Axis threat seemed greatest in the Far East and the Pacific. From the viewpoint of American public morale, the Russian offensive was quite promising, however. Soviet Russia , now a de facto ally, had also been attacked without warning, and after stunning early defeats had rallied her forces and taken the offensive . Newsreel producers realized by January 1942 that this analogy might encourage Americans depressed by the dreary news from the Philippines , or apprehensive about further Japanese attacks on Pearl Habor, or even against the West Coast. Movietone News, like other American newsreel firms, faced real dilemmas in depicting the crisis on the Eastern Front. The United States was not permitted to station newsreel film crews in the Soviet Union. Exceptions might sometimes be made for a state visit or a special interview, but not for battle footage—which is what Americans wanted to see. The quality of the Soviet film was uneven; it was subject to severe censorship, and five to ten weeks might elapse between the original filming and presentation on American screens (sometimes ten to twelve weeks). Film was generally shipped to the United States via Great Britain. Because of these problems, the War Department, with the cooperation of 36 companies such as Movietone, Universal, and Paramount, required that the great newsfilm companies assist each other by facilitating the delivery and showing of foreign films. During the Soviet winter offensive, for example, a British Movietone News editorial dope sheet informed Movietone in New York that "Paramount have already shipped this [footage of the Eastern front] and they will service you." Newsreel companies made duplicates of developed footage of the Eastern Front available to one another in a kind of pool. Unlike the Deutsche Wochenschau, which was a state monopoly, American newsreel companies operated in a competitive environment , which at times yielded to mutual assistance.3? Despite the limitations noted above, American newsreel companies managed to produce impressive coverage of the Eastern Front. Two themes dominated Movietone's coverage of the Eastern Front—Allied...