Saturday, February 28, 2009

Moguls and Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II

Here is Richard Schickel's review of a new book on how some of the Hollywood moguls (the most powerful being Harry Warner of Warner Brothers) braved the growing currents of anti-Semitism against "Hollywood" by making films starting in the late 1930s against Hitler and against Fascism in Europe and elsewhere.

The book is Moguls and Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II (John Hopkins Press, 2009).

Schickel's best point is that the more fascinating story is the fear among those in the American elite, including those with Jewish religious beliefs or Jewish by heritage, who feared stoking anti-Semitic backlashes while hoping America would enter the war in Europe to fight against Fascism and Nazism, and how that controversy about taking action played out in Hollywood and elsewhere, as well as Washington, DC.

Schickel may find the book, "Saving the Jews: FDR and the Holocaust" by Robert Rosen, to be of help here. Rosen ably defends FDR and shows FDR was far less silent, and more active regarding the fate of Europe's Jews than many now assume or conclude, but was still admittedly cautious to our 21st Century ears. Still, anyone who thinks Republican Presidential candidates of 1940 and 1994 (respectively Wendell Wilkie and Thomas Dewey) would have done more for European Jews is ahistorical, and fails to recognize the deep connection between stuffy anti-Jewish opinions held in the State Department and the halls of Congress--not to mention the American "heartland."

Schickel's point also resonates with me because, outside of Warner Bros., most American elite business people were lukewarm to Nazism and often supportive of Mussolini and Fascism as a way to govern. See: "Trading with the Enemy" by Charles Higham; "The Splendid Blond Beast" by Christopher Simpson; and the latest entry on this subject, Edwin Black's "Nazi Nexus."

See also the outstanding journalistic book by I.F. Stone, called "Business as Usual," which Stone wrote to help Americans realize who was not preparing for the eventual war with Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo.

What is important to know is that FDR saved this nation not so much from Communism as from Fascism--with the irony that elements of Fascism nonetheless asserted itself during the Red Scare that followed World War II, and that Harry Truman, who provided a favorable blurb to Stone's book cited above while Truman was a US Senator, was an enabler in the assertion of those elements of Fascism during his terms of office.

Still, in the late Thirties and early Forties, there were some in the power corridors of Hollywood corridors who recognized the threat of Fascism and Nazism, and were willing to stick out their corporate neck to produce some amazing films, not the least of which were: "The Mortal Storm," "Foreign Correspondent" and of course, "Casablanca."

And during World War II, a most underrated anti-Fascist collaborationist film was released entitled "This Land is Mine," a Jean Renoir directed film, made through RKO Productions in Hollywood, with an amazing cast of Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, George Sanders, and unsung character actors. It is a film to watch if it shows up on any television channel.


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