Should Hollywood Lie Low or Sound the Alarm? 'Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939'

Thomas Doherty

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.

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939

Publisher: Columbia University Press
Price: $35.00
Author: Thomas Doherty
Length: 448 pages
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2013-04
“Excerpted from Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 (footnotes omitted), by Thomas Doherty. Copyright © 2013 Columbia University Press. Used by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.” No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher.



Hollywood first confronted Nazism when a mob of brownshirts barged into a motion picture theater and trashed a film screening—a resonant enough curtain-raiser, if a bit heavy-handed on symbolism.

On December 4, 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Universal Pictures’ spectacular screen version of the international best seller by Erich Maria Remarque, premiered at the Mozart Hall, a showpiece venue in Berlin, the true capital of the Weimar Republic, the democratic federation founded in 1920 and hanging on by a slim thread ten years later. The antiwar epic was the first must-see film, not starring Al Jolson, of the early sound era. Only a few years earlier, Jolson had shattered the mute solemnity of the silent screen with the soulful racket of The Jazz Singer (1927), a technological marvel and cultural bellwether about an ethnic, religious, and racial chameleon—a Jewish boy in blackface—who hits the big time in America, actually becomes American, by singing jazz and shaking his hips on the Broadway stage.

Only the clash of ignorant armies filled the soundtrack of All Quiet on the Western Front. Directed by Lewis Milestone, a Russian-born veteran of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, the somber death march kept faith with Remarque’s bitter perspective on the Great War, a wrenching tale of blithe cannon fodder led to the slaughter by dreams of glory and the lies of cynical old men. The film won top honors from a professional guild founded just two years earlier, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, garnering a pair of trophies not yet dubbed Oscar for Best Director and Best Production.

Remarque’s sentiments were shared by most of the people so lately in each other’s crosshairs: the real enemy was war, not Germany, England, or France, still less the United States, a tardy combatant who had emerged from the bloodbath relatively unscathed, the body count for its entire hitch in service not matching the deaths suffered by the British, French, and Germans at the Somme, or Verdun, or Pachendale. With a presold story and a heartfelt message, the international market for what critics and audiences alike hailed as a cinematic masterpiece seemed auspicious, nowhere more so than in Germany, the war-ravaged home of the author.

Yet since the January 1929 publication of Remarque’s novel, a bildungsroman steeped in the antiwar atmospherics of the Weimar Republic, a rival zeitgeist had swept over Germany. Led by a former corporal on the Western front, the most extreme of the right-wing militarist groups continued to fight for a noble cause lost only because the gallant warriors had been stabbed in the back by the Armistice of November 11, 1918, and crushed underfoot by the Versailles Treaty. For the Nazis, the Great War remained a festering wound and a powerful recruitment tool. The party’s paramilitary wing, the Sturmabteilung (storm troopers, or S.A.)—street thugs known by the brown color of their uniform—stood ready to do battle, Armistice or not.

Anticipating a turbulent reception in Germany, Universal tried to head off trouble by soliciting prior clearance from Baron Otto von Hentig, the German consul general in San Francisco, who flew down to Los Angeles for a private screening at Universal Pictures. Under his editorial guidance, and with the approval of the German Chargé d’Affaires in Washington, D.C., Universal prepared a special print for German release, sanitizing the stench of life in the trenches—the foul mud, the rancid food, the vulgar griping—and muting the antiwar rhetoric, notably a patch of dialogue blaming the Kaiser for the war. On November 22, 1930, given the go-ahead from the foreign office, the German censors in Berlin cleared All Quiet on the Western Front for exhibition in the nation that had inspired the source material.

The first public screening in Berlin augured well. Mirroring the reactions of American, British, and French audiences, the opening-night crowd at the Mozart Hall watched in quiet reverie. After all, like the book, the film was a deeply German story: of a patriotic young Gymnasium student, blazing with fervor for the Fatherland, who marches into carnage, disillusionment, and ultimately, inevitably, death, felled by a sniper’s bullet as he reaches over a parapet to touch a fluttering butterfly. The final image plays taps for the dead on all sides: a double exposure of fresh-faced, smiling recruits, looking back into the camera, not accusingly, just oblivious to what awaits them, over a field of graveyard crosses.

When the lights came up, the Berliners sat still for a long moment, as if shell-shocked, “too stirred and moved to either disapprove or applaud,” according to a Hollywood reviewer in the crowd. A beat later, the patrons filed out in stricken silence. A relieved reporter for the Film Daily, the New York–based trade paper, cabled back an optimistic prediction to the home office. “Considerable interest and apprehension has been aroused over the picture due to its war theme, but it does not appear likely that any untoward demonstrations will result.”

A film for the ages: a German solder (Lew Ayres) and a dying French
soldier (Raymond Griffith) share a night in a bomb crater in Universal
Pictures’ antiwar epic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), directed
by Lewis Milestonefrom the novel by Erich Maria Remarque

In fact, the first day’s screening was uneventful; the police, tipped off to the potential for violence, had come out in force. The next day, however, the authorities let down their guard, or perhaps looked away. Led by Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, the media impresario for the Nazi Party, a cadre of burly brownshirts had infiltrated the theater’s interior. As the film unspooled, the Nazis stood up and howled invective at the screen, railing against the perfidy of the Hollywood Jews who had bankrolled this slur on German honor. Above the din, a shrill epithet rang out. “Judenfilm!” screeched Goebbels. “Judenfilm!” Along with the rhetoric, other noxious elements—stink bombs and sneezing powder—permeated the air, and white mice, released at the same time, scurried down the aisles. As patrons gagged and women stood on their seats screaming, the management was forced to stop the show and clear the house. Amid the chaos, several moviegoers, taken for Jews by the brownshirts, were savagely beaten.

“Within ten minutes, the cinema was a madhouse,” Goebbels gloated in his diary that night. “The police are powerless. The embittered masses are violently against the Jews.” Over the next evenings, Goebbels mounted a series of nighttime rallies and torchlit parades to protest All Quiet on the Western Front. Assembling in the nearby Nollendorf Plaza, hordes of brownshirts, with Goebbels in the lead, descended on the Mozart Hall and demanded that the theater doors be shuttered and the film print destroyed.

As similar riots erupted across Germany, Dr. Alfred Hugenburg, owner of Ufa, Germany’s flagship motion picture studio, beseeched President Paul von Hindenburg, the geriatric leader of the wheezing Weimar Republic, to revoke the permit for exhibition issued by the German film censors. The German Motion Picture Theater Owners passed a resolution refusing to exhibit All Quiet on the Western Front and regretting “exceedingly that Carl Laemmle, a German-American, should present, twelve years after the war, a war film in which the German version differs from those shown throughout the world.” That is, after insisting on alterations in the original American version for the German release, the Germans now objected to the alterations.

Carl Laemmle, president and founder of Universal Pictures, was indeed a native son of Germany, but his national heritage was not the problem. Born in 1867 in the municipality of Laupheim, in the blue Danube district of Württemberg, Germany, he was the son of precariously bourgeois Jewish merchants, Julius and Rebekka Laemmle. At seventeen, he immigrated to America to live out a scenario scripted by Benjamin Franklin: up the ladder a rung at a time, working hard, living modestly, and keeping an eye out for the main chance, rising from $4-a-week messenger, to clerk, to store manager, to store owner. In 1906, Laemmle moved to Chicago with plans to invest his savings in a five-and-dime store—until he noticed a long line of customers, nickels in hand, waiting to enter a storefront to gawk at the entertainment revolution launched with the new century.

Opening his own nickelodeon, Laemmle got in on the ground floor of a business that would never again be small change. As an exhibitor, he needed a reliable film broker, so he expanded into distribution. As a distributor, he needed a steady stream of product, so he moved into production—financing his own films and fighting the monopolistic film trusts that controlled the supply chain. In 1912, flush with an infusion of cash from a white-slavery exposé entitled Traffic in Souls (1912), he transferred his operation to the city soon to become synonymous with the budding industry, opening the first Universal Pictures in an old brewery on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. On March 15, 1915, he expanded the operation to a 230-acre lot in the San Fernando Valley and christened the grounds Universal City—already declaring his global aspirations for the universal medium.

As Laemmle built his American dream factory, he maintained warm kinship ties and close commercial links with his native Germany, frequently vacationing there and mixing business and pleasure with his extended family. In 1920, returning to Germany for the first time since the Great War, he was heartsick at the appalling destitution in a once prosperous land. Taking to the pages of the Saturday Evening Post, he made impassioned pleas for the fortunate people of America to relieve the sufferings of the stricken people of Germany. “Possibly many of you haven’t forgotten the war and maybe some hatred still lingers in your hearts, yet it is an American trait to forget and forgive, to soften and sympathize, when real distress steps over the threshold,” he wrote, imploring his readers to give aid and comfort to their former enemy—not the bestial Hun leering from the Great War propaganda posters but fellow human beings in desperate need of relief. “Will you send me any kind of help you can afford—food, clothing, hats, shoes, money?” he begged. “All the employees of Universal are contributing and weekly we are sending cases of supplies to Germany.” Laemmle paid the shipping costs for the donations out of his own pocket.

A product of late-nineteenth-century Germany, Laemmle was a generation and a culture removed from the newer Jewish arrivals in Hollywood, descendants of Eastern European and Russian Jews mostly, who occupied the executive suites of his rivals at Warner Bros., MGM, Paramount, and Fox. An avuncular figure known—universally—as “Uncle Carl,” he had a weakness for the ponies (he was a regular at the racetrack at Santa Anita) and poker (he wryly described himself as “the unluckiest poker player in the United States,” knowing how lucky he was in other ways). If Laemmle adhered to any stereotype, it was the stock image of the kindly German burgher—white-haired, well-fed, and warm-hearted.

Next Page

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.