Germans in Hollywood Films: The Changing Image, The Early War Years, 1939-1942
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 4, Number 2, May 1974
- pp. 22-24
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Pollack: No, Gig Young is no villain. When we place blamefor ourfailures, we must look in the right place. Young was not to blamefor the dance marathons; they were the result ofsocial attitudes, and notjust thefeelings ofthose characters watching and exploiting the dancers. What interested me most in the movie were thoseforces within the value structure ofour society that keep everyone trying to succeed despite the devastating odds against them. What made those people in the dance marathons keep ttying to make it? In both "Horses" and "Jeremiah" the heroes are also the victims. Everyone who sees "Horses" is right there at the marathon cheering on the dancers. That's why the audience is so uncomfortable. They came to watch people suffer in the moviejust ¡ike the audience came in the 1930s to seepeople suffer in the marathon. Vanderwood: Do your films reflect your feelings about life? Pollack: To tell you the truth, 1 do not understand why I have done anyparticular film, or what I have done with the material involved. I have a great wife and family. I have some very goodfriends. I think ofmyselfas a happyperson, yet only one ofthe eightfilms I have made has a happy ending. Maybe my subconsciousness is at work. Perhaps I am more pessimistic than I think that I am. Germans in Hollywood Films THE CHANGING IMAGE, THE Early WAR YEARS, 1939-1942 By Richard A. Oehling Assumption College Almost any American, bom in the early 1930's or a watcher ofTV "movies", could name at least a few vintage World War II films about the Nazis. Most of us can recall a Conrad Veidt, Erich von Stroheim, Francis Lederer, or Martin Kosleck performance—perhaps without recalling the name ofthe actor but certainly remembering the villainous character portrayed. It is this very familiarity which is dangerous to a scholarly approach. We tend to view these films with nostalgia or as "camp"—i.e., so bad as to be amusing. Such an attitude obscures the significance of the persistence and development of negative German stereotypes from before World War II, through the war and into the post-World War II world. In the years 1939-1945, Hollywood produced over fifty feature films in which portrayal of "Germans" constituted a significant aspect. Despite the number, most fell into three types: stories of German spy activities, accounts ofNazi occupation of conquered peoples, and portrayals ofNazi personality types and life in Germany. Considering America's reluctance in the late 30's to become involved in Europe's approaching cataclysm, we should not be surprised by the popularity ofNazi spy films in the years 1938-1941. Liberal Hollywood was interested in exposing the Nazi menace, but could not openly defy the isolationist sentiment of the American public; such disregard would be financial suicide. Besides, certain Congressmen and Senators had already hinted at investigations of the film industry's role in America's entrance into 22 World War I. (1) Hollywood did not relish similar charges about the impending conflict in Europe and the uproar which greeted the 1938 production of "Blockade", (2) a pro-republican story ofthe Spanish Civil War, seemed to forecast a violent reaction of many Americans to anti-Nazi films. Fortunately for Hollywood's anti-Nazis, the Germans themselves showed how to manage the impossible. The FBI rounded up a large and active German spy ring in 1 938-39 and the revelations ofthe ensuing trial shocked many Americans. Before a year had passed, Hollywood had turned this episode into a film which emphasized its factual foundation.(3) The characterizations ofthe Nazi spies, ranging from Paul Lukas as the master spy, George Sanders as his resourceful subordinate, and Francis Lederer as the weak link in the Nazi spy chain, set models for future films. In ensuing years, Hollywood turned out "Nazi Agent" (1942), "Nazi Spy Ring" (1942), "Once Upon a Honeymoon" (1942), "It Happened in Gibralter" (1943), "All Through the Night" (1942), and "Foreign Correspondent" (1940). All but the last two can be lumped together. The cruel Nazi faces are always leering out ofdark doors, always trying to discover America's deepest and most vital secrets (although everyone knew that our great advantage was...