A while ago we featured a couple of historically important Disney animations commissioned during the Second World War in the form of propaganda. Today we’re losing the cutesy animation and diving in with real footage of some of the most politically motivated films ever made.
Propaganda is a by-product of nearly every war or major conflict, and acts as a concentrated effort by the government to influence, calm and control. The Second World War saw propaganda make the jump from posters and radio broadcasts to the moving image, in film form. Let’s take a look at some of those films.
Why We Fight: Prelude to War (1943)
Directed by Frank Capra and produced by the US Army’s own Special Services Division, Why We Fight: A Prelude to War tells the story (as of 1943) of the Second World War in 7 documentary-style films beginning with the 1931 invasion of China by Japanese forces.
As the name suggests, the film was designed to inform (and probably justify) to the American public the country’s involvement in WWII. The film was also a direct retaliation to Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will” which also appears further down this list.
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Slightly early to be considered a WWII film but way too important and highly-regarded to leave out, Battleship Potemkin (original Russian: Bronenosets Potyomkin) tells the story of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew of the Potemkin rose up and rebelled against their on-board Tsarist officers.
Considered to be one of the most influential propaganda films ever made, Battleship Potempkin was named the greatest film of all time at the Brussels World Fair in 1958 and is now available completely free of charge from the Internet Archive.
Bon Voyage (1944)
A French propaganda film produced towards the end of the Second World War, Bon Voyage tells the tale of a British RAF pilot who was shot down and managed to escape over French occupied territory. The film was produced in French, and the version below is accompanied with English subtitles.
The film was directed by one of cinema’s greats, Alfred Hitchcock. Being a Hitchcock production (with some help from the British Ministry of Information) the director managed to stamp his unique approach on the film, making it a must for fans of his work.
Churchill’s Island (1941)
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada (and currently hosted on their website), Churchill’s Island is a 1941 film chronicling the defense of the British Isles and the lengths taken to preserve the country’s freedom.
The film won the very first Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject, earning the recently created Canadian film board their first Oscar. The film is regarded as historically important today thanks to the fantastic original footage that provides a moving, visual record of war on this highly fortified island.
Triumph of the Will (1935)
Regarded as one of the most important, well-produced and innovative films of all time, Triumph of the Will is a propaganda film straight out of Nazi Germany shortly before the country went to war. Commissioned and overseen by Adolf Hitler himself (look for his name in the opening credits), the film re-imagines Germany as a great power and sets Hitler as the great leader who will take the country to dizzying new heights.
Produced by female director Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will won awards in the US, Sweden and France amongst others and is still regarded by many as a highly influential film, even today.
The True Glory (1945)
A joint production between the US Office of War Information and Britain’s Ministry of Information, The True Glory documents the Allied victory on the western front from several different perspectives. The film makes use of fairly innovative first-person camera angles and voice-over techniques to deliver several different perspectives on the struggle.
The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1945.
These films provide unprecedented visual reminders of a world at war, a dictatorship taking hold of its people, the effort to safeguard a homeland and even the relief felt around the world once the Second World War was declared over. If you know of any other films that have historical punch like these then don’t hesitate to share them in the comments.