The Pittsburgh Press (April 26, 1942)
By Florence Fisher Party
Good news to report: The movies have swung into action. No longer will we be having to see, in the name of patriotism, pretty Technicolor shorts, showing favorite actors in pancake makeup personifying Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson in episodes from American history (which always made me think of Friday afternoon exercises in grade school).
No longer will the Army, Navy and Marines, to say nothing of the Air Force, be used exclusively as glorified backdrops for Betty Grable and Dorothy Lamour.
We are to have something from the movies as adult as Norman Corwin’s radio programs; as stirring as the theater’s war plays; as real as the headlines in our newspapers.
You saw, a few weeks ago, a short called This is Blitz. It was as unsparing and terrifying as any record that had come out of this war. Then, last week, you saw another short – the one that got the Academy Award: Churchill’s Island, which showed why England did, and still can, defend her island from successful invasion.
To me, this short, which probably did not take more than twenty minutes to show, is the very best motion picture we have had out of the war, and provides the healthiest and most stirring kind of propaganda. No editorials, no government effort, no radio blast could have hoped to do more to cement our two countries than was accomplished by this one single picture!
It should be shown in every theater; it should reach our whole population. We do not understand the British people. Word sifts to us from the camps that the English boys are not liked or are at best misunderstood. Somerset Maugham, the other day, had an excellent article in the Saturday Evening Post, in which he attempted to explain why Americans did not like Britishers. It is terribly important that we DO like them; that we work together with the closest harmony and sympathy. A picture such as Churchill’s Island provides the most effective kind of solution to this difficult and dangerous problem. It seems to me that pictures like this should be advertised better, should be brought to the attention of editors and all those who have the power to give them the needed publicity.
Watch for these
The World in Action is a series of 12 such pictures, only two of which have already been exhibited. Watch for them. Make great effort to see them. If the others attain the high excellence of these first two, then indeed can we assert that the “short” takes its place alongside the most meritorious propaganda as a weapon for victory in this war.
Some time ago, when we were enjoying the illusion of peace, several shorts of equal artistic merit, were produced and shown in all too few motion picture theaters. This series of “travelogues” (insufficient name!) was known by the trade as the World Windows series. They were so far above travel shorts previously made, that it was extraordinary that they were not more widely shown. The exhibitors were said to report that the audiences “weren’t interested.” I question that report. The reaction of all the audiences, of which I was part, when these pictures were shown was most impressive.
Now that the war is leveling the great landmarks of the earth, it seems to me that pictures like these, evoking our most poignant memories of traveled lands, would be bound to take an additional meaning. When I think how many wearisome, cheap shorts are shown, and that beautiful and thrilling pictures like these are available and not used by the exhibitors, I am driven to the suspicion that the taste of the public is – at least in that regard – underestimated by them.
We have had a number of excellent feature films made lately, by our major studios, which have touched on the war. If you have failed to see them when they were first released, it will be worth your while to watch sharply for them at your neighborhood theaters. To Be Or Not to Be is an uneven and unsatisfactory picture in many respects; but it strikes at least one note: It makes fun of the Nazis in a grim, oblique way, and manages to show up the very flaw in their natures which is apt to lose the war for them: Their complete lack of elasticity and humor.
Mrs. V is an excellent story of espionage and does much to reveal the innate character and temperament of the British people. There are two other fine pictures which have not yet been shown here: The Invaders and Saboteur. Do not miss them. They will do much to rid your mind of foolish prejudices against “war pictures.”
The Moon is Down
One of the most extraordinary revelations of war psychology has occurred in the case of the play The Moon is Down, which as you know is now playing in New York to divided audiences.
The novel from which the play was adapted by its author, John Steinbeck, escaped this agitation. Its characters were accepted as reasonably true and believable. The German colonel Lanzer seemed, in the novel at least, a credible figure.
But in the play, he is found to be unacceptable to the American audiences, who insist that he is drawn too sympathetically. In short, theater audiences will not accept a HUMAN German officer.