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James A. Verinis
This famous propaganda piece, used as a U.S. Army training film in WWII before theatrical release, asks 'why we fight.' The answer compares the 'free' and 'slave' worlds. Included: development of dictatorships in Italy, Germany and Japan, while anti-militarism and isolationism rise in the USA; a look at enemy propaganda; and the first acts of aggression. Walter Huston narrates a combination of archival footage, maps, and other graphics. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
just hokey enough to be dated, but it never loses its forceful impact for showing why the war happened
I usually don't watch old propaganda movies, unless it's meant for fun. The kind that they show on Mystery Science Theater before the main feature are some of those. But Frank Capra had an entire series of films in the second world war educating an American public, whether they knew it or not, about the reasons and and the current fighting conditions, of World War II. Granted, these were made more-so for the US Army as a training film, and in this particular case we get the not-so-subtle look at "Free" vs "Slave" states, the latter being those in Germany and Japan. Did you know, for example, that the Nazis make their schoolchildren pledge allegiance to Hitler every day before school starts and that the Japanese have an unyielding allegiance to their Emperor? It's that kind of movie.
But there is more than I expected here, which is what is so fascinating and satisfying. Capra is a real filmmaker, he's not just some gun for hire that the Army would get to make something fast and message heavy without any artistic merit. So even when Capra's imagery and tactics of narrative devices beat the drum over the head- perhaps for good reason as it was, again, for the US Army- is really does drive the points home as solid propaganda. And, sometimes, as some decent history too about how Germany and Japan got to where they were in the lead-up into the war. On top of this is Capra's skill in combining documentary footage of Nazis and "the Japs" with various maps showing what the axis powers would do with their far-reaching goals in taking over the road (like an oil-slick it goes over the map), and there's even some really creative animation used. Plus, of course, some actual interviews and footage of politicians.
Overall, while not subtle in the slightest, Prelude to War is a fine piece of film-making that achieves its principle goal: get the soldiers (or the audience in general) riled up about what has happened up until this point in time, and, of course, to 'know-your-enemy' as it were. It's no less an artistic achievement really than anything else Capra was doing in the 1940's.
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