In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 by Thomas Doherty
  • Rochelle Miller
Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 Thomas Doherty. Columbia University Press; 448 pp; $35 ISBN9780231163927.

Thomas Doherty’s meticulously researched study examines the encounter of the American film industry and moviegoers with Hitler and Nazism during the seven-year period between Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of war in Europe. Predominantly employing primary sources, Doherty traces the narratives of key individuals, institutions, and organizations that figured in shaping what, if anything, of Nazism appeared on American screens.

Doherty’s carefully crafted thirteen chapters focus on what influenced the way Nazism came to be represented in motion pictures, documentaries and newsreels from 1933 onwards. On July 1, 1933, four months after Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor of Germany, “a new law regulating the production and importation of motion pictures in Germany codified the anti-Semitic actions that had already been initiated by roving gangs of brownshirts” (22). The policy of Aryanization that eliminated Jews from the German film industry ‘was “sudden, ruthless, and comprehensive” (21). Doherty’s first chapter addresses how the Aryanization policy decimated Weimar’s revered film industry, demanding as well that American studios with a presence in Germany remove their Jewish workers. “Studios had two options - obey or pull up stakes.” Some studios such as Paramount, Fox, and MGM, acquiesced; other studios eventually pulled out but “maintained back-channel communications and intermediaries in the country” (38). Warner Brothers departed “by the end of 1933,” becoming the first studio to “withdraw on principle” and refuse to have any dealings with Nazis (38). In his chapter on Warner Brothers Doherty, in accord with Michael Birdwell’s study Celluloid Soldiers (1999), highlights how its fierce anti-Nazi stance made it the major studio of exception.

Doherty’s explanation for the absence of Nazis and the disappearance of Jewish characters from 1930s Hollywood movies–a subject often glossed by other authors–represents one of the most comprehensive accounts of how “commerce and censorship colluded” in the era (45). With no official policy on how to handle foreign and domestic politics, the Production Code, given teeth in 1934 with Joseph [End Page 77] Breen’s establishment of the Production Code Association (PCA), proved of service through its proviso on the subject of “National Feelings.” The Code stated: “The history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry of all nations shall be represented fairly.” Throughout the thirties, Breen’s office would invoke the phrase to quash projects (commonly submitted as scripts at the pre-production stage), proposing to tackle the rising threat of Nazism or represent Jews on the screen. In addition to placating conservative domestic groups, the PCA’s enforcement of the Code meant that American films were initially more inclined to pass the stringent, and often bizarre stipulations of Goebbels’ Reich Ministry of Popular Entertainment and Propaganda that issued certificates and import permits for release in Germany. Doherty’s illuminating chapter goes on to outline how the PCA put to sleep Al Rosen’s pet project, The Mad Dog of Europe, before it was given a chance to bite. Breen’s vetting of the project and his “unofficial judgment,” which became widely circulated in a memo, included the line: “The purpose of the screen, primarily is to entertain and not to propagandize”; it went on to formulate “a policy that shaped Hollywood’s attitude to anti-Nazi cinema for the rest of the decade” (57). The chapter also discusses films referring to either Nazis or Jews that somehow managed to make their way onto American screens – typically on limited release and in most cases before the PCA had become fully operational.

Two chapters that inform, and may amuse, address the misjudged sponsorship of Mussolini’s son’s visit to Hollywood, and the ill-timed visit of Nazi darling, director Leni Riefenstahl, which coincided with Kristallnacht, Germany’s infamous Night of the Long Knives. In each case the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League (HANL) mobilized to see that the individual in question was sent packing. Doherty devotes a chapter to the HANL, covering its establishment, fundraising publicity stunts, and effectiveness. The organization does not, however, receive the unquestioning praise from Doherty that...