Monahan: On trial in 1942, Hollywood faces 1943 with more confidence (1-3-42)

The Pittsburgh Press (January 3, 1942)

On trial in 1942, Hollywood faces 1943 with more confidence

By Kaspar Monahan

Any survey of the movies for the year just passed must necessarily touch on the effect of the impact of war on the film center. Any survey of the theater, ditto.

The most profoundly affected was Hollywood. In some respects, the war did Hollywood a good turn. The growing restrictions of materials – and the studios use up tons of everything imaginable – the loss of manpower and moral obligation of producing product in step with a warring nation’s mood, actually had good results and the setting up of a Spartan-like regime in the place once referred to maliciously as “Lotus Land” and "Baghdad-by-the-Sea.”

Not all of a sudden, you understand, but pretty swiftly once the national urgency became apparent to the film people from the big wigs on down through the rank and file. Before Pearl Harbor, Hollywood was in a quandary, and not all its own fault either.

What to do?

What to do about entertainment? Theoretically we were at peace, but with our sympathies unmistakably on the side of the anti-Axis nations. Any film dealing with the war (before we got in) did considerable fancy footwork, pussyfooting work, in fact. There could be no name-calling, little identifying of the common enemy.

After Pearl Harbor, the bars fell down. The floodgates were open.

Then came the “anti” films, but the first of them for the most part were poor, ill-conceived and hastily devised. The hymns of hate with a hysterical overtone, the “comedies” and comic-strip compilations of celluloid portraying the shrewdest enemies of mankind in history as witless fools and burlesque zanies – these were a discordant, foolish ripple. Through 1942, they would crop up. But along about midway, Hollywood, from pressure within and without, started to realize this was no comic opera war and that its grim and terrible reality was a challenge to the cinema as the dominant medium of entertainment. In short – to adopt a realistic attitude and to do something about it in the way of hard-hitting, no-punches-pulled movies.

Pointed way

Wake Island struck the keynote of an awakened Hollywood, spoke in powerful dramatic terms to a nation which is sturdy enough to stand the truth and wants the truth. Mrs. Miniver faced reality too. Both were popular. Other films, though not in the same class with this pair, dealt directly or indirectly with the situation with candid approach. Notable among the late arrivals of 1942 is the current Commandos Strike at Dawn at the J. P. Harris. I like the way it faces the fact and the way its characters react to the challenge to all free peoples: In short, you can’t have freedom unless you’re willing to fight for it with everything you’ve got.

These films pointed the way. Hollywood is now no longer in doubt. We have reason to expect great things from Hollywood this year.

In other fields, the industry came through nobly. In promoting war bond sales, it stood second to no other business in the nation. In September, their valiant efforts poled up the sales to prodigious heights as all the country’s 16,000 film houses joined in the drive with a vim. Its glamor girls and boys dropped their customary ennui and went on long treks all over the nation, whopping up the bond rallies and appearing at countless shows for the boys at the camps.

The theater

Supreme triumph of the legitimate theater from both the standpoints of entertainment and the morale of the country was Irving Berlin’s magnificent This is the Army, produced with the fervent blessings of Washington and with the indispensable cooperation of the Army. It is being made into a movie and will reach millions in contrast to the thousands served by the footlights production.

This is the Army was the highlight of a very good year for the local Nixon. Another glittering jewel left at the shrine of Thespis was Gerty Lawrence’s Lady in the Dark. There were a number of worthy exhibits in 1942 and they all managed to reach Pittsburgh despite the growing demands on railroad transportation.

Transportation? Aye, there’s the rub as we speculate on the current year. Until the summer layoff, there are indications that show troupes bound for Pittsburgh (which after all is not so very far from New York) will reach their destination.

But there can be no assurances as we get deeper into the war that this happy condition will continue indefinitely. As for the rest of the “road” – well journeying farther west than Chicago will be a venture I wouldn’t care to bet on. Lady in the Dark, with its massive scenery, decided that the Westward Ho stuff was outmoded and turned eastward after its Chicago engagement.

In dealing with the war in 1942, the theater lagged far behind its Hollywood cousin, the year producing only one outstanding drama on the subject. This was Maxwell Anderson’s Eve of St. Mark which was locally presented at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. There are differences of opinion on John Steinbeck’s Moon Is Down, but I, for one, stand with the dissenters. For a drama about occupied Norway, vastly preferable is Lester Cowan’s movie Commandos Strike at Dawn. The Norwegians would be the first to agree to that statement.

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Mrs. Miniver is a first-rate war classic, Out of all the “war” directors William Wyler is on the top of my list.