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Prelude to War (1942)

Not Rated | | Documentary, War | 27 May 1942 (USA)
The official World War II US Government film statement defining the various enemies of the Allies and why they must be fought.

Directors:

(uncredited), (uncredited)
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Cast

Credited cast:
Victor Bulwer-Lytton ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Lord Lytton)
Kai-Shek Chiang ...
Himself (archive footage) (as General Chaing Kai-Shek)
Walter Darré ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Darré)
Otto Dietrich ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Dietrich)
Hans Frank ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Frank)
Joseph Goebbels ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Doctor Goebbels)
...
Himself (archive footage) (as Goring)
Rudolf Hess ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Hess)
...
Himself (archive footage) (as Hitler)
Saburo Kurusu ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Kurusu)
Robert Ley ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Ley)
Yosuke Matsuoka ...
Himself (archive footage)
Frank McCoy ...
Himself (archive footage)
...
Himself (archive footage)
Puyi ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Henry Pu-yi)
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Storyline

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 <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Your boy wants you to see it!

Genres:

Documentary | War

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Release Date:

27 May 1942 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Why We Fight, 1  »

Company Credits

Show more on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

(copyright length)

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Frank Capra wanted this propaganda film to be shown to the general public after it was well received by enlisted men. By the time it was released generally, however, it was not at all well received and made little money at the box office. A likely problem is suggested by the film's title: It is about the events leading up to a war the United States had already entered; audiences wanted new information about the war, not a rehash of its causes. See more »

Goofs

During the (silent) footage of Ethiopians shouting, the angry voices are actually shouting in Kiswahili: "Kwenda!" ("go:), etc. The principal language of Ethiopia is Amharic. Kiswahili (commonly known as "Swahili") is the main language of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. See more »

Quotes

Narrator: [Last line] For this is what we are fighting: Freedom's oldest enemy, the passion of the few to rule the many. This isn't just a war. This is the common man's life and death struggle against those who would put him back into slavery. We lose it, and we lose everything. Our homes; the jobs we want to go back to; the books we read; the very food we eat. The hopes we have for our kids; the kids themselves. They won't be ours anymore. That's what's at stake. It's us or them! The chips are down. Two ...
[...]
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Connections

Featured in Hacksaw Ridge (2016) See more »

Soundtracks

Beautiful Dreamer
(1862) (uncredited)
Music by Stephen Foster
Played in the score
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User Reviews

 
Well-done and educational propaganda
10 July 2006 | by See all my reviews

Prelude to War is the first in a series of well-made propaganda films that were co-directed by Frank Capra during World War II with the intention of educating new U.S. soldiers about the war while inspiring them to fight for "what's right". Watching them at this point in time, they are fascinating as a glimpse into more or less official propagandistic stances. Of course it's to be expected that the films go to pains to dehumanize, even demonize, then enemy cultures. Because this specific material is so far removed from our current stances and concerns, it's instructive to watch and especially to show it to students, because it's much easier to see through the propaganda tactics, enabling similar tactics to more easily be identified in modern politics.

But perhaps surprisingly, Prelude to War and the other films in the series also contain a good deal of accurate factual information, so that unless you're a World War II buff, you can learn quite a bit about how the war progressed and at least one side of why it progressed (one of many necessary sides)--if you watch the series with a critical eye.

The series also contains a lot of intriguing historical footage--including films of Axis military campaigns in execution, and some of the more typical newsreel-type shots of the three Axis leaders--Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito, their right-hand men and their military and civilian support systems. Just as notable now is footage of various aspects of American life that would have passed by without much thought in 1943--such as cars traveling on relatively sparse, newly built U.S. highway interchanges. You can gain as much from Prelude to War by simply watching the images and keeping in mind the historical context as you can by listening to the narration.

There are a couple rough spots--a montage of Axis armies marching like huge, well-oiled machines probably goes on too long 60-something years later, but surely the aim was to put just a bit of fear as well as an increased fervor to conquer into the new U.S. military recruits.

This film isn't crucial viewing for everyone, but for those who study history, politics, sociology, the military and especially World War II, it is essential.


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