Throwback Thursday -Black Bart TV Series (1975)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

Here’s a fun one from back in February of 2014.

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Throwing A Wet Blanket On A Blazing Saddle – It’s The Pilot For The Unsold Black Bart TV Series (1975)

10Why? Really, just… why?

Why try to spin a TV show out of a hit comedy film like Blazing Saddles when you can’t use any of the elements that made to film so original and funny?

And why am I sharing it with you now?

I’ll admit, most of the time I would file this kind of thing under the heading of either “Yeah, this exists” and go ahead and maybe post a link to it on the Durnmoose Movie Facebook page (see the kind of fun you’re missing if you haven’t gone there and “liked” the page? Why don’t you take a minute to do that now? Trust me, Black Bart and I will still be here when you get back. Unfortunately.) or I’d not even bother doing that and just let it go with a shrug and put it in my own personal “Okay, I watched that so you don’t have to” file. (Yeah, honestly, there’s a lot of this kind of thing that I sort through and throw away without ever even bothering to mention having watched it. See what a nice guy I am?)

black-bartBut no, I think this time I’m actually going to post the whole dang thing.

Why?

Because I know that there are going to be some of you out there who are going to find this wildly entertaining.

Because I know somewhere out there there’s going to be that person who thinks that Lou Gossett and Steve Landesberg are adequate replacements for Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder.

Because I know that some of you are actually going to be shocked by the fact that a major network sitcom could actually use the “N-word” (GASP! How dare they!) back in 1975. (Of course, there may actually be some validity to that shock when we can’t even use the word on television today even in a discussion of using it.)

But you want to know the real reason I’m posting it and encouraging you to go ahead and watch it?

Because sometimes, as “they” say, misery simply loves company.

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

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Throwback Thursday -Old Time Radio: Bold Venture

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

Before I started Throwback Thursday here, the Thursday feature was devoted to Old Time Radio, another of my favorite forms of entertainment, and a genre that unfortunately has died out, at least here in the U.S, though it does thrive in Britain and other countries to this day. Plus, there would often be a film ir Hollywood tie-in, as in today’s reprinted feature. So enjoy, and hey, if you’re interested in seeing a return of some kind of regular OTR feature, let me know.

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 Old Time Radio Thursdays – #005: Bold Venture (1951-1952)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Bold Venture! Adventure! Intrigue! Mystery! Romance! Starring Humphrey Bogart! And Lauren Bacall! Together in the sultry setting of tropical Havana and the mysterious islands of the Caribbean. Bold Venture! Once again, the magic names of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall bring you Bold Venture and a tale of mystery and intrigue…

51-04-10-Storz-Beer-spot-adHumphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall together on the radio? In a weekly dramatic adventure show? Set in the Caribbean? Yep, that’s exactly what Bold Venture promised, and that’s exactly what it delivered.

1951 had to have been a busy year for one of Hollywood’s most popular couples. Bacall was pregnant with the couple’s second child, and they would soon be off to “deepest darkest Africa” where Bogie would be filming his Academy Award winning turn as Charlie Allnut in The African Queen. Nonetheless, the couple managed to record 30 episodes of the radio show before their departure, and supposedly another 48 upon their return.

Bold Venture is the story of Slate Shannon (Bogart), who runs a hotel and fishing boat rental service in Havana and his “ward”/sidekick/possible love interest Gail “Sailor” Duval (Bacall) as they scrape and scrap their way through stories involving everything from spies to lost love. The setting obviously was designed explicitly for the couple, as “Shannon’s Place” might just as well be “Rick’s Cafe” from Casablanca, and the fishing boat set-up is obviously a combination of To Have and Have Not and Key Largo.

1-bold-ventureIn reality, however, the show probably could have been set almost anywhere, because the real draw for listeners, and the real appeal, is obviously the interaction between the two stars, and in that aspect the show definitely doesn’t disappoint. The natural chemistry between the two shines through, even when the scripts are on the weak side or when the plot becomes somewhat muddled. This is definitely a show where the leads were able to bring even a mediocre script – and there were, unfortunately, more than one of those, though when the writing shines, it really does shine – to a much higher level. Which is exactly what one would expect from stars of this calibre and level of intimacy.

Speaking of stars, special note also has to go out to supporting actor Jester Hairston who played “King” Moses on the show. If Bogart was reprising Rick Blaine, then King was his Sam, and one of the more intriguing aspects of the show was that after the first commercial break, King would provide the listener with an up-to-this-point plot summary in the form of a calypso verse, which was an interesting way to play up the Cuban setting even when the script really didn’t otherwise call for or allow much reference to the island nation.

One thing that you may have noticed earlier when I noted the number of episodes recorded before and after the shooting of The African Queen is that I said “supposedly another 48 upon their return”. Bold Venture is what was known as a syndicated series, meaning that rather than going out live, the episodes would be recorded before hand and then sent out (usually on lacquer disks) to the local stations who would then slot them into their schedules with local sponsors buying individual spots. Unfortunately, this has led to some confusion over just how many episodes were actually produced, the sequence they were aired in, the dates they would have originally aired, and even the titles given to the episodes. This is unfortunately the case with many radio shows of the period, especially since the disks themselves were often supposed to be destroyed after their broadcast – remember, this was a time when there was no secondary market for these programs, and there was no value seen in the shows beyond their initial broadcast.

Humphrey-Bogart-Lauren-Bacall-1This has led to the unfortunate situation where many of these early radio shows are simply lost to our generation, and many of the ones that do survive exist only in the form of recordings made of the actual on-air broadcasts by enthusiasts who would set up tape machines to capture their favorite shows. Also it means that those trying to research these shows often have to piece together snippets of information or advertisements from various newspapers or magazines in order to try to make some sense of exactly which shows do still exist and other information about them.

In the specific case of Bold Venture, the syndicator’s records indicate that a total of 78 shows were recorded, but of those only 57 have been verified to still exist and are “in circulation” – meaning they are available to collectors and/or listeners. There may very well be more recordings out there, but if so, they are either in the hands of private collectors or may even simply be sitting on a shelf without the owner even realizing the treasure they have.

This is, of course, yet another thing that these old radio shows have in common with early films and television shows.

Anyway, we fortunately do have those 57 shows available to listen to, and the full collection of them can be found here.

And now, once again, I invite you to sit back, close your eyes, and let the magic of Bogart, Bacall, and Old Time Radio take you on your own Bold Venture.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into radio’s past, and today’s focus on Bold Venture. Next week? Well, next week we’ll take a look at one of Hollywood’s most notable horror icons as he steps into a much more… “saintly” role.

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – My Favorite Brunette (1947)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

What happens when you throw Bob Hope into a film noir? Well, you get My Favorite Brunette.

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Friday Funnies – My Favorite Brunette (1947) – Starring Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour

Way back when your Ol’ Professor was but a wee nubbin, one of the local stations (yes, this was back in the days of the dinosaurs when local stations were all we had and there were only four of them, weep for us kids of today, weep for us…) used to have a movie feature every afternoon. Called “The Big Show”, they would usually have a theme for each week – one week it would be westerns, the next giant japanese monsters, the next Abbott and Costello flicks. And at a certain point in each showing, the local weatherman would appear with the phone book and a telephone and, picking a number at random, he would ask whoever picked up the phone what movie they were showing. If the person on the other end could answer correctly, they would win whatever the day’s pot was. If not, then the prize would be raised for the next call.

I’m sure it was The Big Show, along with my father’s enthusiasm for the entertainers featured in these movies that formed the basis for my own love of the movies of this period. Among the staples of The Big Show rotation were the “Road” movies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. These movies showcased two stars who were otherwise during that time relegated to the occasional TV special- Bing would show up at Christmastime with his family, and Bob was a regular staple on USO tours where he and other stars of the day would entertain troops. But these movies showed that not only was there more to these guys than just a bit of standup or an occasional song, they were full-fledged movie stars.

Hope himself, besides just the “Road” movies, starred in at least two movies a year (and sometimes as many as four) pretty much every year from 1934 to 1959. and one of those movies, from 1947, was My Favorite Brunette.  And actually, I suppose I should make a slight correction to one statement I made above – when talking about the “Road” movies I said they starred Hope and Crosby, and that’s true, but they also starred Dorothy Lamour, who appeared in all of them but the last and was probably as big a reason for their success as the two marquee names. I bring her up now, because she also appears with Hope in this film, portraying the movie’s titular brunette.

The film itself is a pretty light comedy, a parody of the film noir style, with Hope playing a bumbling photographer who wishes he could be a private eye. One day he is answering the phones for the detective who works across the hall when in walks Lamour, the archetypical noir dame. Mistaking Hope for the actual detective, she pleads for his help, and sure enough he finds himself in way over his head. The film also gives us Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney Jr, and Alan Ladd in supporting roles, and even a cameo by Crosby.

Here’s a two-minute clip that’ll give you a good taste for this film:

And now, the skinny:

Title: My Favorite Brunette
Release Date: 1947
Running Time: 87 min
Black and White
Starring: Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour
Director: Elliot Nugent
Producer: Daniel Dare:
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

 

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday -Starring Al Pacino As…

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

Here’s a fun one from back in March of 2013.

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So Who Is Al Pacino Going To Play In His Next Movie? That’s Easy: He’ll Be Playing Al Pacino.

Al Pacino
Al Pacino (Photo credit: Martin McKenna)

In some ways, it’s become something of a joke. There are certain actors who lose themselves so deeply into a movie role that you lose sight of the actor and see nothing but the character. These are the actors who tend to get the acclaim when it comes to awards season. As a matter of fact, all you really have to do is look at the two strongest contenders in this year’s Academy Awards Best Actor category – Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix – for examples of this. The actor somehow seems to “become” the character in a way that seems almost incredible.

Pacino turns it up...
Pacino turns it up…

Then there are the other actors. The ones who have become so recognizable for playing a certain type or for something that is so inherently “them” that it’s become impossible for them to really take on any role other than themselves, or at least the onscreen persona they have developed over the years. Again, all one has to do is look at last year’s Lincoln for a perfect example of this. Whereas Day-Lewis seems to become Lincoln to the extent that you have to look for the actor behind the character, Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Thaddeeus Stevens, could be no one but Tomyy Lee Jones. He has become a Type. As in “if you can’t get me Tommy Lee Jones for the role, get me a Tommy Lee Jones Type.”

...and UP....
…and UP….

Other actors who fit this category are people like Nic Cage and Jack Nicholson. When you see their name on a poster or in the credits for a movie, you know precisely what you’re going to get from them. They have become predictable, they have, in a way, lost the ability to surprise us in any role. Oh, sure, there are the occasional exceptions, but for the most part, that’s just the way it is. And in a lot of ways, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Going to see a Nicholson movie can be like putting on a well-worn but beloved pair of shoes. You do it precisely because they’re comfortable and you know they’re going to be without having to think about it.

Which brings us to Al Pacino. There was a time when Pacino still had that ability to surprise, and if you look at some of his early work, it’s obviously there. But after awhile – I’d say most likely after Scarface – Al Pacino became known mostly for playing “Al Pacino”. Again, if you talk to somebody who has seen the latest Al Pacino movie – whatever it might be – and you ask them how Pacino was in the flick, you’re going to get the answer “He was Pacino”.

...AND U!!!!
…AND U!!!!

So what is it that makes Pacino “Pacino”? Well, there are a number of things, I’m sure, little ticks and quirks, a certain way of talking, of carrying himself, that simply cannot be hidden or disguised. But whatever other things might encompass a Pacino role, one thing you can be sure of: at some point, Al’s gonna lose it. He’s gonna start yelling. He’s gonna start cursing. And from there on out HE’S GONNA F#^@*ING BE F#^@*ING AL PACINO AND THERE’S GONNA BE NO F#^@*ING COMING BACK DOWN!!!

And that’s what today’s video is about. In it, Nelson Carvajal has compiled a great sequence of scenes that show exactly those moments in Pacino’s movies where he cranks up the intensity and the volume, and you know that, once again, no matter what the character’s onscreen name may be, you are watching Al Pacino. Here, take a look:

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these are bad movies or that Pacino is a bad actor. Far from it. I love Pacino, and I almost always enjoy seeing him turn it up. Sure, there are times lately when it’s seemed more like he was “phoning it in”, and there are times when I wish a director would try to get something more from him, that he would surprise us with something new and different, but at the same time, like that well-worn pair of shoes I mentioned earlier, there’s something comforting about knowing what your going to get from a particular actor before you walk into the theater or pop in that DVD or Blu-Ray disk.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m off to watch an Al Pacino flick.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – The Rogues’ Tavern (1936)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

I’ve often noted that one of my all-time favorite classic movie genres is the “Old ark House” thriller, so I thought today we’d take a look back at one of the (probably for good reasons) lesser-known examples of the genre.

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The Rogues’ Tavern (1936) – The Ghouls Take A Holiday

We’ve discussed before the ever-popular “old dark house” type mystery. You know the ones: strangers gathered for some reason – perhaps they were driven there by a storm, perhaps they are gathered for the reading of a will, perhaps they are simply being paid – in a creepy old house, trapped with no way out until morning, and soon they are being picked off one by one. sometimes the murderer turns out to be one of them. Sometimes it’s their host. Sometimes it’s some previously unseen or unknown third party. Usually there are secret passages or unseen traps. Sometimes, as in House on Haunted Hill, there’s a pit of acid in the basement. Every once in awhile, there are even actual ghosts.

The Rogues’ Tavern is definitely a variation on the old dark house theme, the twist this time being that the role of the house is being played by the Red Rock Tavern. That’s right, kiddies, today we’ve got an old dark hotel. The other twist on the usual pattern for this type of movie is that in this case the murderer may not even be a who, but a what, as it appears that the victims have been savaged by a wild animal. Is it possible that the killer is perhaps some kind of wild dog or wolf? Or maybe even something more bizarre?

In the end The Rogues’ Tavern is a mystery that doesn’t play completely fair with the audience, and the “howdunnits”seem at times a bit implausible, but it is entertaining a long as one is willing to simply go along with and accept certain elements. There is enough humor (both of the intentional and unintentional kind) to keep the proceedings light, and the characters are engrossing enough that, while you might not wind up completely invested in them, you don’t wind up rooting for the murderer just to kill them all and get it over with.

Unfortunately, the only clip I could find to embed is from near the end of the film, and is something of a spoiler, so if you plan to watch it, proceed with caution.

And here’s the Skinny:
Title: The Rogues’ Tavern
Release Date: 1936
Running Time: 70min
Black and White
Starring: Wallace Ford, Barbara Pepper
Directed by: Robert F. Hill
Produced by: Sam Katzman

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

 

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – Last Man On Earth (1964)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

A personal favorite guilty pleasure type movie from the 70s is the Charlton Heston flick The Omega Man. which I’ll be writing about soon, and which was the second film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. So for today’s Throwback Thursday I thought I’d revisit this article from Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest first posted Feb 9, 2010.

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Tuesday Terrors – The Last Man On Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price

lmoe1Hello?! Is there anyone out there? Oh, thank goodness. For a moment I was afraid that there was no one left but me and Richard Morgan. (Morgan! Morgan! Come out Morgan!) Who’s Richard Morgan, you ask? Why he’s the character played by Vincent Price in today’s feature. He’s The Last Man on Earth.

In 1964, Italian director Ubaldo Ragona and American Sidney Salkow set out to adapt Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend to the big screen. Hiring Matheson himself to write the screenplay (though he eventually decided he was disappointed with the outcome and had the credit changed to “Logan Swanson”) and Vincent Price to star, the duo felt they had a sure-fire hit on their hands. Unfortunately, the film was hampered by an obviously low budget and some of the Italian actors were very badly dubbed, and it wasn’t until later years that the film came to be seen as anything more than a minor Price effort. Now, however, it has a 73% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and is considered by many to be the best of the three major adaptations of the novel. The other two being the 1971 Charleton Heston starring The Omega Man, and 2007’s Will Smith actioner I Am Legend .

Set in the then-near-future time of 1968, Price stars as Dr. Richard Morgan, the last survivor of a plague that has turned most of humanity into near-zombie like vampires. Since the plague hit, Morgan now finds himself spending each day making wooden stakes, hunting the vampires, and burning them in a communal pit. Each night is a torment to be endured as he tries to keep the continually persistent vampires from breaking into his home, which has become his last refuge.

Morgan, as played by Price, becomes a very sympathetic figure as we learn that he has not only lost his daughter to the plague, but he has had to put a stake through the heart of his wife who returned as one of the vampires after he could not bear to throw into the fire pits when she, too, succumbed to the disease.

lmoe2When he finally encounters another living human, a woman, who seems to also be immune to the disease, Morgan is at first elated, but his joy soon turns to suspicion and then fear as he learns that she is hiding a dark secret. Will she be the key to helping him resurrect humanity, or will she be the final nail in the coffin of the last true man?

As you can perhaps tell from the above, this is a movie that i like a great deal. Yes, the budget was minimal, but it simply forced all involved to come up with more creative solutions to the presentation. Plus, Price injects a great amount of humanity into a role that would in lesser hands be very flat. We not only hear the increasing desperation of the character in the voice-over narration that guides us through the film, but we see it on his face to an extent that becomes almost palpable.

So, again we have to ask, how did a movie from 1964 starring one of terror-dom’s greats come into the public domain. Again, the answer is simple. Before the law was changed so that everything that is produced is automatically copyrighted, a notice of copyright had to be filed, and that was never done. Therefore, automatic Public Domain.

And here’s the trailer:

Ok, the skinny:
Title: The Last Man on Earth
Release Date: 1964
Running Time: 86 min.
Stars: Vincent Price
Directors: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Producers: Robert L. Lippert, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Harold E. Knox
Distributed by: American International Pictures

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting
-Professor Damian

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – The Fighting Lady (1944)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

What with all of the back-and-forth lately between the U.S., Russia, China, North Korea, an other nation-states, there’s been a lot of talk about what constitutes sabotage, how powerful some of these entities really are, and what constitutes propaganda and where the line is between that and actual traitorous talk and actions. Thus, it seemed to me that this might be a good time to take a look back at some actual propaganda films from World War II and how the government enlisted the help of Hollywood during that war. So, for this week’s Throwback Thursday, I thought I’d share this post from Professor Damian which first appeared on the Public Domain Treasure Chest on June 17, 2010.

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The Fighting Lady (1944) – World War II Propaganda

fightinglady1Today we shift focus to a different, though no less fascinating, type of feature: the propaganda film. Governments, and especially the military have used various forms of propaganda probably ever since Kulano of the Shell Tribe called the inland tribe they were fighting “squirrelly little tree climbers who are afraid of the water” and said therefore that they would be easy to defeat.

So what exactly is “propaganda”? Well, in his book Film Propaganda and American Politics, author James Combs describes propaganda as material produced by governments or political groups designed to “sway relevant groups of people in order to accommodate their [the government’s] agendas”. In other words, propaganda, and specifically for our discussion propaganda films, are movies, either documentary or fictional, which are designed not only to present a particular point of view, but to persuade the viewer of the rightness of tht point of view or outlook. For a current example, one could point, say, to the films of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock or Al Gore as propaganda. No, they are not produced by the government, but they definitely have a particular point of view, and though the use of select footage and interviews, are designed to persuade the viewer that that point of view is the only “correct” or “intelligent” one.

nips1A couple of weeks ago, in an article I wrote for Blogcritics.org, I discussed the use of characters from popular fiction to promote the war effort during World War II. Characters as diverse as Bugs Bunny, Tarzan, Superman, and even Sherlock Holmes were all used to promote different aspects of the war against the Axis powers, whether it was conservation/recycling, the need for vigilance on the homefront, the superiority and fighting capability of the Allied forces, or even the dehumanization of the enemy. (The last being an especially popular tactic in cartoons of the day as animation made it easy to over-exaggerate certain physical or stereotypical qualities of the enemy, thereby making them seem less like “us” and even more alien and therefore easier to kill in battle. For an actually fairly restrained example, see the picture at the left.)

Famous characters were not the only ones called upon to contribute their talents to the government’s propaganda efforts during the great war. On both sides of the conflict, all-star directors were also expected to bring their expertise to bear in the creation of films designed either to convince viewers of the rightness of the cause and the superior military might of their respective countries. In Germany, Leni Riefenstahl was busy creating Triumph of the Will, long considered one of the greatest propaganda films of all time, while in America Frank Capra (with the aid of the Disney studios) was making his seven-part propagandistic blockbuster Why We Fight which was first commissioned to show to U.S. soldiers to explain the necessity of going to war against the axis, but was later also used to convince the American people not only of the rightness and validity of the U.S. joining the fray but early intervention was the only way to keep the war from coming to America’s shores. As a matter of fact, the last film in the series is titled “War Comes to America”, and spells out in dire terms the consequences to America of an Axis victory:

German conquest of Europe and Africa would bring all their raw materials, plus their entire industrial development, under one control. Of the 2 billion people in the world, the Nazis would rule roughly one quarter, the 500 million people of Europe and Africa, forced into slavery to labor for Germany. German conquest of Russia would add the vast raw materials and the production facilities of another of the world’s industrial areas, and of the world’s people, another 200 million would be added to the Nazi labor pile.

whywefight1Japanese conquest of the Orient would pour into their factory the almost unlimited resources of that area, and of the peoples of the earth, a thousand million would come under their rule, slaves for their industrial machine.
We in North and South America would be left with the raw materials of three-tenths of the earth’s surface, against the Axis with the resources of seven-tenths. We would have one industrial region against their three industrial regions. We would have one-eighth of the world’s population against their seven-eighths. If we together, along with the other nations of North and South America, could mobilize 30 million fully equipped men, the Axis could mobilize 200 million.

Thus, an Axis victory in Europe and Asia would leave us alone and virtually surrounded facing enemies ten times stronger than ourselves.

The film then ends with images of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, showing that even as the U.S was honorably negotiating with them, the “treacherous Japs” were plotting to attack us on our own soil. Of course, this idea is the same that fueled the propaganda of a more recent administration who more simply put it “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” Let’s face it, kiddies, good propaganda never dies.

Capra was not the only filmmaker called into the service of his country at the time, of course. Other notable directors who lent their talents were John Ford, John Houston, William Wyler, and the director of today’s feature, noted photographer and Director of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit Edward Steichen who spent months aboard the USS Yorktown documenting the lives and heroic deeds of the brave men who manned this great ship.(The ship, and most of her crewmen, are never actually identified by name, due to wartime security restrictions, thus, she is simply called The Fighting Lady. It was only after the end of the war that the ship in question was officially identified as the Yorktown.)

fightinglady3The film opens slowly, exploring the lives of these men as they go about their day-to-day duties as the ship sails through the Panama Canal and on into the Pacific Ocean. The emphasis here is on the mundanity of the shipboard life, and quite often we are reminded (in a voice-over by narrator Robert Taylor) of the saying that 99% of war is waiting. The waiting does not last forever, however, and it is not long before we get to see the ship and her crew in action at Marcus Island. This, and the subsequent battle scenes (especially those filmed at what was to become known as the “Marianas turkey shoot”) is where the film truly begins to take off, as the Technicolor photography brings the dogfights and ship-to-air fighting a spectacular brilliance. It’s easy to see why the government wanted the most skilled directors and photographers (many of them enlisted men who went uncredited for their part in the filming for years afterward) involved in a project like this. The battle raging all around them, these men, just like their comrades manning the guns or working the take-offs and landings of the airplanes, stood their ground and provided a document of the war like few others, including some truly spectacular footage taken by cameras actually mounted on the cockpits of fighter planes in the air. There is even footage of some spectacular crashes as the planes try to return to the ship once the fighting has ended.

Nor does the film forget to remind the viewer of the cost of war even as it celebrates the victory at the Turkey shoot” and shows the sailors and airmen painting battle flags and war markings on the ship and planes, counting the number of enemies downed, it also shows us the flag-draped bodies of those lost by our side, letting the viewer know the fates of some of the ones met earlier, and even giving us a glimpse of a twenty-one gun salute and burial at sea.

Here’s a section from the middle of the film showing some of the fighting and its aftermath:

And the skinny:
Title: The Fighting Lady
Release Date: 1944
Running Time: 61min
Color

The Fighting Lady and many other World War II propaganda films including Capra’s Why We Fight are available to watch or download for free here.

 

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.