Date of Award
Union College Only
Bachelor of Arts
propaganda, film, cinema, government, hollywood
Propaganda was seen as one of the most influential tools during World War II, and three of the most powerful nations during this era, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, turned to the film industry to mobilize the public. However, political and social circumstances created three very different developments in cinematic wartime propaganda. The general attitude towards propaganda in all three nations was an underlying suspicion towards government controlled films. This distrust was taken into account and the films that emerged from this period not only utilized traditional methods of propaganda and clandestine collaborations by government and independent bodies but developed into its own form of stylistic cinema. The propaganda that developed in these countries was shaped both by the current political and social conditions. The need for propaganda bolstered film production in all three nations. Germany’s film industry was more productive than ever due to the government’s investment in cinema and the elimination of competition from Hollywood and other national film industries. By the outbreak of the war production was at an all time high. However, in America and the United Kingdom, the government proved to be more a detriment than a benefit. The lack of support by both governments placed the responsibility on to the national film industry. The evolution in the United States was the slowest governed by a combination of isolationism, racial insecurities, and the film industry’s self-imposed strict censorship. It was the politically-minded artistic talent in Hollywood who took it upon themselves to produce propaganda bringing the nation out of isolationism. Propaganda production was even more difficult in the U.K. Despite a Ministry established for the specific purpose of propaganda, for most of the war the ministry was ineffective due to poor leadership and government restrictions and censorship. As a result most British propaganda was produced independently of the government, and in response to the British people’s demand to be informed documentaries became the propaganda of choice. The wartime productions from Hollywood bore little resemblance to their British ally. Where Hollywood utilized the western film, exchanging cowboys for soldiers, the battlefields were clean and the soldiers came out victorious and unscathed. Such cinema was rejected in the United Kingdom. The constant fear of foreign attacks, the bombardment of the cities, and the extensive casualties made such fanciful depictions of war insulting to the British people. Military presence and bombardment affected the cinematic styles of Germany, as well. Images of the SS were generally box office failures. However war films that existed in fictional or past eras were successful in capturing the attention of the audience while still providing a militaristic message. The cinema of Germany emulated the popular films of Hollywood, and much of the cinema coming out of the era were not the intimidating fascist images many identify with the regime, but rather romantic dramas, comedies, and musicals that bore striking resemblance to Hollywood films. Social restraints also impacted wartime cinema. Highly influencing the type of propaganda in the U.K. were the British people, as the leftist Labour Party held an authoritative role in the government. Unlike Germany which had eradicated all opposing socialists and critics of the government, or the United States which was governed by a strong conservative and isolationist mindset. These conditions greatly impacted the style of propaganda being released during this period. Propaganda evolved from being just a medium to convey a message to its own entity, which not only influenced the audiences but also entertained them. Although this period in cinema became notorious for its propaganda, its production also enabled new developments in filming and editing techniques, which are now standard in the film industry.
Rosenberger, Kimberly N., "For your entertainment only ?: the use of propaganda in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom’s cinema" (2008). Honors Theses. 1542.