Entertainment Magazine

Book Review: Hollywood & Hitler 1933-1939 – Thomas Doherty

Posted on the 29 August 2013 by Donnambr @_mrs_b
About Hollywood & Hitler (2013)

Hollywood & Hitler - Thomas DohertyThe abundance of WWII-era documentaries and the huge cache of archival footage that has emerged since 1945 make it seem as if cinematic images of the Nazis were always as vivid and plentiful as they are today. Yet between 1933 and 1939, representations of the Nazis and the full meaning of Nazism came slowly to Hollywood, growing more distinct and ominous only as the decade wore on.

Recapturing what ordinary Americans saw on the screen during the emerging Nazi threat, Thomas Doherty reclaims forgotten films, such as Hitler’s Reign of Terror (1934), a pioneering anti-Nazi docu-drama by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr.; I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany (1936), a sensational true tale of “a Hollywood girl in Naziland!”; and Professor Mamlock (1938), an anti-Nazi film made by German refugees living in the Soviet Union. Doherty also recounts how the disproportionately Jewish backgrounds of the executives of the studios and the workers on the payroll shaded reactions to what was never simply a business decision. His history features a cast of charismatic personalities: Carl Laemmle, the German Jewish founder of Universal Pictures, whose production of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) enraged the nascent Nazi movement; Georg Gyssling, the Nazi counsel in Los Angeles, who read the Hollywood trade press as avidly as any studio mogul; Vittorio Mussolini, son of the fascist dictator and aspiring motion picture impresario; Leni Riefenstahl, the Valkyrie goddess of the Third Reich who came to America to peddle distribution rights for Olympia (1938); screenwriters Donald Ogden Stewart and Dorothy Parker, founders of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League; and Harry and Jack Warner of Warner Bros., who yoked anti-Nazism to patriotic Americanism and finally broke the embargo against anti-Nazi cinema with Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939). As Europe hurtled toward war, a proxy battle was waged in Hollywood over how to conduct business with the Nazis; over whether to address or ignore Nazism in Hollywood feature films; and over how to cover Hitler and his victims in the newsreels. Should Hollywood lie low, or stand tall and sound the alarm?


Review: Hollywood & Hitler 1933-1939

I’ve read a lot of books about Hitler and WWII this last couple of years, from the fictional (City of Women, The Patient Ecstacy of Fraulein Braun) to non-fiction (Dinner with Churchill, Useful Enemies), so to approach the subject from the angle of entertainment/culture was very interesting. I must admit, there were several things I was completely unaware of, so it certainly enhanced my knowledge.

As a general interest read – rather than for academic reasons – I did find my attention wavering a little at times, so I’ll admit it wasn’t the easiest of reads, but as an academic source, I can see that this would provide a wealth of information and add additional context to the social events of the time. The title – Hollywood & Hitler – sums up the twin aspects of the book perfectly. This is a look at film within the Third Reich itself, as both propaganda and entertainment, but also a look at the effects across the Atlantic.

From restrictions on imports/exports of films, to being unsure whether to show Hitler on screen (and risk giving him a voice) or boycott his appearances (and risk keeping viewers uninformed), to the propaganda value of various films, this really is an excellent look at the issues affecting the film industry at the height of the Third Reich’s journey to first power and then war.

This offers something of interest to film buffs, those with an interest in culture and entertainment and, of course, those with an interest in 20th century history. Don’t be put off by the academic approach. This is a highly informative and worthwhile read, whether it be for general interest or for more serious review.

Verdict: 4/5

Source: Netgalley

Book Review: Hollywood & Hitler 1933-1939 – Thomas Doherty

About the Author:

By day a publicity assistant, by night an avid blogger and reader. I'm happiest when I'm surrounded by books and cats, with my husband by my side. Luckily, that's a pretty apt description of most days!

Donna Brown – who has written 630 posts on Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dave.


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