The Effect Film Had On Wwii Propaganda

Essay, Research Paper Without the advent of the medium of film to wage a war of propaganda both the Axis and the Allies of World War II would have found it difficult to gather as much support for

Essay, Research Paper

Without the advent of the medium of film to wage a war of propaganda both the Axis and

the Allies of World War II would have found it difficult to gather as much support for

their causes as they did. Guns, tanks and bombs were the principal weapons of World

War II, but there were other, more subtle, forms of warfare as well. Words, posters, and

films waged a constant battle for the hearts and minds of the masses of the world just as

surely as military weapons engaged the enemy. Persuading the public became a wartime

industry, almost as important as the manufacturing of bullets and planes. Both sides

launched an aggressive propaganda campaign to galvanize public support, and some of

these nation’s foremost intellectuals, artists, and filmmakers became warriors on that


Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique of influencing human action by

the manipulation of representations. These representations may take the spoken, written,

pictorial, or musical form. Since the cinema uses all four of these types of representations,

a filmmaker would seem to wield a lot of power as a propagandist. If he so choosed to

use his power to its fullest potential. The essential distinction lies in the intentions of the

propagandist to persuade an audience to adopt the attitude or action he or she espouses.

This is ever so previlant as Hitler gained support from his nation to exterminate the Jewish

people from Germany and Europe alike. He adopted such support by using his Nazi

propaganda films as a weapon of mass distraction and manipulation of the people of

Germany. The most famous Nazi propaganda film is Der ewige Jude (“The Eternal Jew”).

Der Ewige Jude was engineered by Hitlers Minister of Propaganada. It was

created to legitimize the exclusion, and the ultimately the destruction, of an entire people.

It depicts the Jews of Poland as corrupt, filthy, lazy, ugly, and perverse: they are an alien

people which have taken over the world through their control of banking and commerce,

yet which still live like animals. The narrator tries to depict the Jew’s behavior as rat like,

while showing footage of rats squirming from sewers and leaping at the camera. The

film’s most shocking scene is the slaughter of a cow, shown in bloody detail, by a grinning

Rabbi- and it is followed by, of all things, three innocent (presumably German) lambs

nuzzling each other.

Hitler also provides the emotional climax of the film, with footage of his speech to

the Reichstag from 1939. When preceded by sixty minutes describing the Jewish problem,

and followed by thunderous applause, Hitler’s prophetic warning takes on even greater

significance: “If the international finance-Jewry inside and ouside Europe should succeed

in plunging the nations into a world war yet again, then the outcome will not be the

victory of Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”(Adolph Hitler).

The importance of this groundbreaking propaganda is often underestimated. Someone

might characterize the film as a X-ray of the decisionmaking process that led to the

Holocaust. It can also be argued that the film is seen as the official promulgation of

Hitlers’s decision, and that it – together with the feature film Jud Sub- deliberately was

used to prepare both perpetrators and bystanders for the extermination of the Jews.

Prior to all of this Hitler had to iniate the movement towards this propaganda war

waged on the silver screen. In 1934, 413 English per 1000 went to the movies each week,

343 per 1000 Americans, and 160 per 1000 French. In Germany, only 86 of 1000 went to

the movies, a far cry from the turn out that the English and Americans had. Leaving aside

the cultural and historic differences between Germany and these other nations, it is clear

that increasing German film attendance is among the most important tasks of German film

policy, and that doinog so would increase the effectiveness of film in propaganda and

popular enligtenment. Hitler recognized films effectiveness early. Not only does it

influence popular opinion but films relative great costs “pay off”: film stock, equipment,

studios, the large technical and artistic staffs, et, all cost a lot of money, but the result, the

finished film, may bring in tens of thousands whose admission fees not only cover the

costs, but result in a good profit. Hitler’s answer to the lack of attendence was to

estaiblish the extremly powerful Ministry of Propaganda, and to nationalize the film

making process.

In this propaganda war Germany and its allies seemed to initially have a distinct

advantage. Because their governments controlled all media, they could largely seal off

their peoples from Western propaganda. At the same timve, the highly centralized

government could plan elaborate propaganda campaigns and mobilize resources to carry

out their plans. They could also count on aid from Nazi parties and sympathizers in other

countries. Democratic states, on the other hand, could neither prevent their peoples from

being exposed to Nazi propaganda nor mobilize all their resources to counter it. Before

each new aggressive move by Germany, as for example, against Czechoslovakia in 1938,

the German press, radio and newsreels publicized alleged evidence of persecution of

German minorities in the victim country. Incidents were manufactured and exploited to

justify German intervention, and the German war machine was depicted as invincible. The

technique proved effective in dividing poplulations, weakening the power of the victim to

resist, and causing its allies to hesitate.

By 1941 Nazi propaganda films were being shown in evening shows 45,000 times

every month in areas that are without movie theaters. Nine to ten million citizens see both

the latest films and the German Weekly Newsreel. More than 30 million soldiers received

relaxation and entertainment from films shown by the party. In addition the 80,000 to

100,000 veterans of the war that return back to the Reich monthly are shown films in their

camps. Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 of 1940 33.7 million adults and 6 million youths

were reached by party film shows. The proceding numbers and facts prove that this task is

being met, even when one considers that it is not being carried out by a fully-staffed and

experienced team. Ruffly 50% of the Ministry’s people joined the army when the war

broke out. Yet they were still able to wield this propaganda and use it to reach out to far

more people then they other wise would have been able to.

The French and British also attmepted to fight back and gain support for their

causes through propaganda. In 1944 the British Ministry’s Film Division asked Alfred

Hitchcock to make two French language adventrue movies designed as war propaganda

films. They were to be produced to raise the spirts of people in Occupied France and gain

support for the French resistance there. So in the winter of 1944 “Aventure

malgache”(which translate as “Madagascan Adventure”) and Bon Voyage were made over

a four week period in Occupied France. Having already edited a pair of English war

documentaries (that were directed by others) in 1941, Hitchcock considered such work to

be his patriotic duty, and he immediately accepted the offer.

The plan called for Hitchcock to direct refugee French actors in two half-hour

French lanquage mini-movies designed to be shown in secret locations in Nazi-held

France. Hitchcock wanted to keep the films simple as possible, achieving a dark,

black-and-white “film noir”look which he felt the people of Occupied France could relate

to. Walking in the dark shadows, telling secrets in dark corners, a very effictive way to

associate the film to its viewers. Hitchcock chose to highlight in the story irony, surprises,

moral ambiquity, and the uncertainties of life.

The joint venture of the British and the French Nationalist to try to promote these

two films fell short by the simple fact that the German Occupied france was isolated by the

Germans. Reaching out to the masses of the population of France was all but impossible

with the Germans controlling the theaters and projectors. Conducting secret screenings of

only a select few really dont have the same christening effect as would showing the films

to thousands. Gather support in a occupied country was a lost cause when the people are

being fed German propaganda every day and seeing the apperance of their unsurpassable

strength would be hard to over come. Besides the fact that the films never reached the

masses they were intended for, Hitchcocks inability to resist his timptations to focus on

ironies and ambiguities was for the majority the down fall of the two films.

Propaganda, especially in a highly political wartime context, strives to glorify one

system or ideology and assault the opposing views. In other words, propaganda neeeds to

be clear, direct, and orthodoox, with every perception razor shoarp and every moral issue

purely black and white. No ambiguity or alternative thinking is allowable. It has often

been asserted by critics that propaganda films make bad entertainment: Hitchcock

demonstrated that good entertainment can make equally bad propaganda. The films are

relatively unknown untell their re-release approximatley 50 years later.


If one compares the directness and intensity of the effect that the various means of

propaganda have on the great masses, film is without question the most powerful. The

written and spoken word depend entirely on the content or on the emotional appeal of the

speaker, but film uses pictures, pictures that for eighty years have been accompanied by

sound. We know that the impact of a message is greater if it is less abstract, more visual.

That makes it clear why film, with its series of continually moving images, must have a

particular persuasive force.