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An MGM Short Subject.
In a phone conversation with Hitler five months after Pearl Harbor, a delighted Devil describes how INFLATION can win the War for the Axis as easily as bullets & bombs.
This is an imaginative little film which effectively alerted the American public to the 5 ways in which inflation could be unleashed on the economy:
Impulse or overbuying Buying on the Black Market Hoarding food & supplies Breaking the price ceilings Cashing in War Bonds
Edward Arnold is at his most sardonic as The Devil; playing his role as if Lucifer were a corrupt businessman, Arnold gets to ham it up most deliciously. In her first film role, Esther Williams plays a typical young housewife who learns about the evils of inflation from an FDR radio broadcast.
After Pearl Harbor, Hollywood went to war totally against the Axis. Not only did many of the stars join up or do home front service, but the output of the Studios was largely turned to the war effort. The newsreels, of course, brought the latest war news into the neighbor theater every week. The features showcased battle stories or war related themes. Even the short subjects & cartoons were used as a quick means of spreading Allied propaganda, the boosting of morale or information dissemination. Together, Uncle Sam, the American People & Hollywood proved to be an unbeatable combination.
In this wartime short subject Edward Arnold looks like he's having a
grand old time playing Mephistopheles planning with one of his number
one supporters over in Germany the economic destruction of the USA
through Inflation. I wonder if the folks at MGM from Louis B. Mayer on
down knew that among Adolph Hitler's other interests was one in the
occult. He may really have been trying to communicate with the devil,
especially as the war started going against Germany.
Arnold between chuckles on the phone to Hitler gives us a short economics lesson about how the evils of inflation can cripple the American economy and thus the effort on the home front to back our troops in battle. Actually not a bad lesson to learn right now as we are going through an inflationary cycle at the moment.
Inflation is also significant as the screen debut of young Esther Williams. The former swimming champion and Olympic hopeful until the 1940 games were canceled had signed an MGM contract and went through the usual preparation back then that contractees had to go through. This short subject where she plays Mrs. Joe Smith American opposite Stephen McNally was a trial run so to speak. But Esther doesn't get near a pool.
Anyway though to see Arnold ham it up and love every minute of it, put Inflation on your shopping list if it won't bust the budget.
Five months after WWII's Pearl Harbor, Americans were cautioned by
President Franklin D. Roosevelt to curb their spending and to buy war
bonds while he encouraged paying off debts and mortgages in a
To thwart this common sense talk, we have EDWARD ARNOLD as The Devil, spreading his own version of what Americans should do so that they will be defeated by the enemy. In a phone call from his friend Adolf, he outlines his own plan after advising one of his associates to "put more heat on the 7th level".
In an illustration of encouraging spending, we see Joe Smith (STEPHEN McNALLY) and his young wife (ESTHER WILLIAMS) going on a buying spree using credit for things they can't really afford. After admonished by storekeeper HOWARD FREEMAN, who turns on FDR's radio speech when the couple want to buy a new radio, they see the error of their ways.
It's a sardonic morality tale, benefiting mostly from the relish with which Arnold plays his Devil role. His laughter is full of dark menace as his huge close-ups convince us that he wants his evil plan to work, happily engaged in causing a "Roman holiday of spending" and encouraging a man to cash in his $300 war bonds.
In the end, of course, the Devil is outmaneuvered by smarter Americans who refuse to get caught up in black marketing, hoarding and cashing in their bonds--and the American spirit wins.
Good little propaganda film spotlights Arnold at his best--or should I say "worst" (as The Devil).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a must-see film for fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood like
myself. Part of it is because of Edward Arnold's wonderful performance
as the Devil (second for pure entertainment value, perhaps to Laird
Cregar's rendition of Satan in HEAVEN CAN WAIT). Plus, the film is such
a wonderful time capsule of WWII and the efforts to enlist the support
of the people at home in the war effort.
The film starts with Old Scratch receiving a phone call from Adolf Hitler and they thank each other for the support! Then the Devil discusses how greed and hoarding are helping Hitler in his plans for global domination (just think,...buying that EXTRA pound of coffee might just lead to the fall of the Western World!). The performance of Edward Arnold is just hilarious (you don't actually see Adolf on screen).
Then the film cuts to Joe Smith, a "typical American" who doesn't think twice about hoarding--reasoning that no one will miss it if he keeps just a few extra odds and ends. Well, Joe finally realizes that he, too, has fallen into the Devil's plans and the only way to defeat Satan AND his #1 sidekick is to stop hoarding and give 100% to the war effort! The film is just a lot of fun and a great piece of American history. Well worth seeing!
Does anyone know if "Inflation" is available as a DVD supplement? I watched this short anti-Nazi propaganda newsreel piece at the 1940s movie music movie group I attend several years ago, and thought the idea of the devil encouraging people to make goods and thus raise the inflation level of the USA quite ingenious. I believe the music was quite interesting used within it, and it was quite novel to see how greedy people were after the devil encouraged them through his own style of propaganda to buy to excess with his cunning plan to send the world into Depression and obtain enjoyment out of people's misfortune and personal misery. From memory the cinematography of this piece was quite interesting coupled with the devil's overacting entrenched this piece in my brain, even though it is really quite minor when you consider it in the aspect of short newsreel history. It is my belief that people remember the comic overacting devil, and this is why "Inflation" has found a warm place in most people's minds from the older generation. I am 35, so younger people might have also found this interesting short newsreel as well. I give this 7/10 for the novelty factor although it's possibly only worth a 5-6/10 at most for it's overall content.
Much has be written about the use of propaganda by Nazi Germany to
control and misinform its citizenry. Inflation is an American short
that falls into the same category.
Released in 1942, Inflation does not offer rational reasons for recommending certain behavior; it attempts to play on the emotions of the viewer. FDR outlines the unprecedented steps the government is about to take during the early months of WWII to control the U.S. economy. By 1942, the public had become accustomed to his far-reaching and federally-centric approach to public policy while fighting The Depression. The film suggests that another depression is down the road if Americans don't follow his advice.
Consistent with other wartime releases, Inflation implies in a very heavy-handed way that anyone who does not comply with Washington's edicts is unpatriotic and, in fact, traitorous. Don't even think about questioning the government's approach. Inflation tells the viewer not to complain.
Why? Because if you complain or act contrary to the public message, you might as well consider yourself a killer of American soldiers. Worse, you are in league with the devil. That's right, in this fable with a moral, the primary character is none other than El Diablo himself. And he converses daily with Hitler, of course. Together they plot the downfall of America. Their solution is to convince American citizens to ignore the pleas from Washington, which will cause that most dreaded of all calamaties--Inflation!
The acting is intentionally over the top, except for Esther Williams who (in her first film role) plays the wife of a spendthrift jerk who, for some reason, feels compelled to buy! buy! buy! The music is appropriate, providing the ominous strains of violins when The Devil speaks.
Looking back at this short film through the intervening years of history (after all the public exposures of government mismanagement and corruption)is interesting. Of course people today still fall victim to empty government promises and its foolish propaganda, especially during war or conflict (remember Freedom Fries? how about the way Mohammad Ali was condemned for following his conscience?) FDR starts with a short and accurate view of wartime realities: military buying produces scarcity in supplies which increases prices. His prescriptions for these economic consequences are sweeping and pervasive (price fixing, taxation, rationing, etc.). Too bad they couldn't rely upon reasoning to convince people. By tweaking the heartstrings of patriotism and invoking a diabolic metaphor, they sell U.S. citizens short. And they do it very well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A nice little short subject, sometimes rerun on TURNER CLASSICS, it
gives Edward Arnold his one chance at playing Satan. Coming only a year
after Arnold faced Satan (Walter Huston) in ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY,
here Arnold had his chance to be compared to Huston, Laird Cregar
(HEAVEN CAN WAIT), Claude Rains (ANGEL ON MY SHOULDER), and others.
It's also his only chance to be seen wearing a full beard on camera
(pointed at the tip, and with eyebrows reminiscent of Eric Campbell's
opposite Chaplin, but subtler).
We see Arnold in an office behind a large desk, not quite as fashionable as Cregar's but (under the circumstances) respectable. He rises from his desk and introduces himself as the Devil, and explains how he can help people with all sorts of goodies like armaments, propaganda machines, goose stepping soldiers. Soon there is a phone call and he answers, and it is his good chum Adolf, asking for more assistance to defeat the Allies. And Arnold soon is explaining that he can help by encouraging economic suicide - inflation.
The idea (seen dramatized in the short) is how by hoarding or buying to much and encouraging manufacturers to continue doing "business as usual", the public undercuts the war effort. It is an interesting theory, and has some validity. Presented here, with Esther Williams in her first role as a housewife caught in the realities of wartime economics, it is thoroughly understandable.
Today, of course, it is Arnold's wonderful chuckly Devil that makes us like the short. As has been said on several of the other reviews, it is an interesting time piece of our own propaganda machine at wartime at work.
Curiously, although Hollywood did not know it, the issue of "guns or butter" (as it was referred to by Herman Goering) was playing an odd role in of all places Germany. While the U.S. and England were sacrificing much to help their armed forces (and Japan even more), Germany acted as if nothing was happening until late in 1944! Albert Speer mentioned in his memoirs that the German economy was still producing luxury items until late that year - apparently it was in an effort to keep the German population under the assumption everything was going well (despite the heavy bombardments? - Hitler and his advisers had blinders on much of what they were observing). It was only when France (not Italy but France) was lost, and Hitler nearly killed in an assassination plot, that the Nazis started a belt-tightening policy that really was tight.
WW2 short from MGM about the Devil (Edward Arnold) conspiring with
Hitler to wreck the U.S. economy. He plans to do this by making
Americans buy things on credit, ignore rationing laws, and cash in
their war bonds. That Devil sure is a stinker! The point of this short
was to make American at home think about how they could help the war
effort by keeping the economy strong.
I love patriotic WW2 shorts like these. It avoids being too preachy and delivers its message in a clear and entertaining way. Edward Arnold is terrific. Just the year before he was fighting Satan in The Devil and Daniel Webster, now here he is playing him and doing a wickedly delightful job. It's a great short that anybody who enjoys WW2-era material should love. Also features Esther Williams in one of her earliest roles.
*** (out of 4)
WW2 propaganda short features Ester Williams in a small role in her film debut. The film tells the story of how Adolf Hitler calls the Devil (Edward Arnold) and asks to make American's start spending more money so that their war efforts can be washed down the toilet. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Stephen McNally, Williams) begin a shopping spree not knowing what they're doing to the country and their souls. It's rather amazing to see how far these shorts would go in terms of the war and one can't imagine any actors doing something like this today. Arnold wasn't the biggest star in Hollywood but he did have countless lead roles at MGM and was a fairly well known face. He is quite good in his role of the Devil and you can tell he's having fun. Williams is pretty much centered in a thankless role but she isn't too bad.
I'm not usually up at 05:30 but this morning [27aug2011] I am and "Inflation" came on. Took me a while to find where it is documented but once I began looking I wasn't ready to give up. Due to the star and subject matter I was sure that someone would have entered something and, sure enough, I finally found it. I started opening titles in the filmography but it just wasn't there. I was about to give up when I read the biography. Its not high art by any means but Edward Arnold is a favorite actor of mine and I'm so glad I had the chance to see this short. I thoroughly enjoyed it, a very well done short on a very timely subject. No spoilers, just a recommendation.
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