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Hell-Bent for Election (1944)

 -  Animation | Short
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 68 users  
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A villainous Thomas E. Dewey supporting sprite tries to influence a sleepy Union rail switchman to derail Franklin D. Roosevelt's campaign train.


(as Charles M. Jones)


, (lyrics)
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Title: Hell-Bent for Election (1944)

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In this cartoon, a political piece paid for by the United Auto Workers, presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt is portrayed as streamlined express train, while Thomas Dewey is shown as an old, tired steamer. The voters are encouraged not to "fall asleep at the switch" when it came time to support FDR. Written by Mike Konczewski

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Animation | Short





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Featured in Animated Century (2003) See more »


We're Going to Win the War
Music by Earl Robinson
Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
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Here's the way to win the war -- You've gotta get out and Vote!
21 October 2006 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

What an exhilarating piece of work this is! HELL-BENT FOR ELECTION is by far the most enjoyable and effective example of campaign propaganda I've ever seen, a fascinating animated extravaganza that plays like an elaborate editorial cartoon come to life. This 13-minute film was a collaborative effort between the legendary Chuck Jones and the two men who would form the nucleus of UPA (the hippest cartoon studio of its day), Steve Bosustow and John Hubley. The goal of this particular project was the re-election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, and the artists involved gave it everything they had: the visual style combines the fluid, funny character work found in Jones' Warner Bros. classics with the cubist, angular graphics UPA would soon help establish as the dominant post-war style. The script is sharp, full of puns and topical references that might bewilder viewers who aren't well-versed in the political history of the 1940s. But even if you don't catch all the jokes, there's no denying that the campaign song that closes the film is incredibly catchy and may have you singing along by the end. The lyrics were written by E. Y. ("Yip") Harburg, who wrote the words for a number of songs that can safely be called immortal, including "It's Only a Paper Moon" and "Over the Rainbow."

The story concerns a railroad worker named Joe whose job it is to throw a switch so that one of two trains-- but only one --can proceed to the White House on a single track. The trains represent the candidates of the two main parties, and this is where the political analogies are especially clever: FDR is personified as a slick, modern diesel train, the Win-the-War Special no less, while the opposition is depicted as a tired, wheezing, decadent locomotive called the Defeatist Limited. There is no attempt to make the "Republican" train resemble the GOP candidate, Thomas E. Dewey, but the film-makers were careful to show this train pulling a lot of ugly freight loads, such as the Business as Usual Sleeper and a Jim Crow car representing institutionalized racism. (This last accusation was pretty nervy, however, since so much Jim Crow legislation of the era was sponsored and passed by conservative Southern Democrats.) As these two trains approach the junction, meanwhile, Joe is pestered by a wicked little politician who attempts to distract him with flattery, blather, and booze from a bottle labeled "Campaign Champagne – No Proof." A powerful cigar offered by this scoundrel lulls Joe into a heavily medicated, hallucinatory nightmare state, but there's little doubt he'll manage to snap out of it and do the right thing in the nick of time.

I think it's worth pointing out that depicting FDR as a powerful train was a brilliant, almost subliminal transformation of his personal misfortune, i.e. his paralysis, into an asset. President Roosevelt was never photographed in his wheelchair, and according to people of my parents' generation the true extent of his disability was not widely understood, but certainly most Americans were aware that he could not walk without assistance. To depict him here as a grinning, confident diesel train, happily barreling down the track towards certain victory, was a stroke of genius.

In any event, a written description doesn't do this cartoon justice, nor does a single viewing. It's a dazzling display of the animator's art as well as brilliant political propaganda. From what I gather the film was originally shown not in regular theaters but at labor meetings, rallies, Democratic Party conclaves, etc. I'm sure it was a very effective means of rallying the troops, especially with that great song at the finale. Even today, many decades later, you may feel charged up and ready to go out and vote when it's over.

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