Thursday, September 17, 2020

Book Review: Hollywood Hates Hitler!


It was written by Chris Yogerst, an online friend of several years who is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

He previously authored FROM THE HEADLINES TO HOLLYWOOD: THE BIRTH AND BOOM OF WARNER BROS., which I reviewed in 2017.

In this new book Chris covers an interesting niche in history, the battle between the Hollywood studios and Congress over Hollywood's proper "role" leading up to World War II.

Many movie moguls were immigrants from Europe who as the '30s unfolded became acutely conscious of Hitler's threat, both to the world in general and to Jews specifically. The studios began releasing films such as CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939), THE MORTAL STORM (1940), and THE MAN I MARRIED (1940), to name just a few, in order to alert the public to the looming danger.

Isolationist senators considered these films "warmongering," and in September 1941 a Senate subcommittee began an investigation on Hollywood war propaganda.

The book relies extensively on primary source documents, including Congressional records, to detail a time in history which was pushed out of the public consciousness when debate on propaganda and entering the war was "overtaken by events" beginning on December 7, 1941.

The author does an excellent job setting the context regarding politics and 1930s Hollywood, including efforts by the Germans to establish pro-Nazi groups in California; the citizens who infiltrated and spied on these groups might have been worthy of a movie themselves!

The hearings are covered in a "you are there" manner in great detail. I imagine the extensive plunge into Congressional records and testimony might be dry reading for some, but as someone who's been interested in Hollywood and World War II since my teenage years -- I wrote a school report on the topic when I was 14! -- I was very interested, especially as I previously knew next to nothing about the hearings. I had a vague knowledge from references in other books that there was conflict between Hollywood and politicians prior to the war, but this was my first "deep dive" into the topic.

My one criticism of the book is that I would have liked detailed critical assessments of the films at issue and their specific content in some sort of organized way, in part because I respect Chris and would have enjoyed reading his insights on the movies, and also as I think it would have added some additional depth and color to the topic at hand. However, I suspect because the material was already so dense, detailed discussion of the films might have been too unwieldy to include.

Instead mentions of the movies are woven into the greater narrative about Hollywood versus the Senate; sometimes brief information on a film is provided, including contemporary critical reaction or box office performance, while other titles are mentioned in passing. Perhaps this topic instead calls for a second volume! (I can hope...) I mention my thoughts here in part so that future readers will know what to expect in terms of what is and isn't covered.

HOLLYWOOD HATES HITLER! is an important record documenting a previously undercovered yet important moment in both Hollywood and World War II history. As modern media's influence in politics continues to be a critical issue, the book also has significant resonance for today's reader.

I reviewed a softcover advance reading copy which was just over 200 pages long and was not yet indexed. The book contains a limited number of black and white photographs of varied quality printed directly on the pages.

Thanks to Chris Yogerst and the University Press of Mississippi for providing a review copy of this book.


Blogger Raquel S. said...

Excellent review! I agree that I also would have liked to have seen some in-depth analysis on the films at hand. Would have added more context and livened up the text for sure. I wouldn't have minded a longer book since this one was pretty short.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much, Raquel, I appreciate your feedback!

Yes, I would happily have read a longer book! :) Such an interesting topic.

For anyone who would like to read more about the book, Raquel's review may be found at her blog Out of the Past.

Best wishes,

10:08 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

There was a definite hole in my knowledge here! I had not previously been aware of this relatively brief political issue of the time. The book sounds really interesting.

I have just put up a comment over at Colin's RTHC blog on one particular European actor's experience of the impending tragedy.

2:54 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Hollywood may have hated Hitler, but they certainly did not hate Stalin.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad you found it of interest, Jerry. Just saw your comment on Conrad Veidt at Colin's blog, very interesting.

Barrylane, I guess you could say it was one of those "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" situations during WWII. I have been rather amazed by films such as SONG OF RUSSIA and its friendly depiction of Stalin but of course it was reflecting U.S. wartime policy.

Best wishes,

6:19 PM  
Blogger SimpleGifts said...

Does Chris mention SO ENDS OUR NIGHT (1941)? It's another compelling film that sounded the alarm about the Nazi rise. Interestingly, the screenplay was by German author Erich Maria Remarque who wrote the anti-war novel ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. Thank you for the review. I look forward to reading the book. Jane

12:04 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jane! I'm not immediately remembering SO ENDS OUR NIGHT...unfortunately this copy doesn't have an index which I could use to jar my memory! I'm glad you enjoyed the review and hope you find the book interesting.

Best wishes,

11:52 AM  

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