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Banzai (1918)

 -  Short  -  October 1918 (USA)
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German soldiers are boasting of how they're going to win the war when a platoon of Americans appears and wipes them out. The American General discovers that his men are almost out of ... See full summary »

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Cast

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The American General
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German soldiers are boasting of how they're going to win the war when a platoon of Americans appears and wipes them out. The American General discovers that his men are almost out of ammunition, and he appeals to the audience to buy Liberty Bonds. Written by David Eickemeyer

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October 1918 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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A print of this short survives in the Library of Congress. See more »

Connections

Edited into The Moving Picture Boys in the Great War (1975) See more »

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User Reviews

 
It's the Japanese doughboy.
15 September 2007 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

During the First World War, several Hollywood stars made short films dedicated to the cause of selling war bonds: these films were distributed free of charge to cinema chains, which included them in the regular movie programme. The best known of these shorts is Chaplin's 'The Bond', in which he used storytelling techniques utterly unlike those in any of his other films.

'Banzai', produced by Sessue Hayakawa's film studio Haworth (not Hayworth) Film Company -- with no credited director nor scriptwriter -- is a slight variation on the theme: it was released AFTER the Armistice (in January 1919, not '18), and it urged audiences to buy Liberty bonds rather than war bonds, so as to aid the cause of financing the peace. During and after the Great War, the United States loaned vast sums to several ally nations: Finland was the only nation that repaid this war debt. I can't help wondering if perhaps 'Banzai' had been scheduled for production DURING the war, and was only revised for release because of the Armistice. As it stands, the film's intertitles clearly state that the war is over. "U.S. dollars have put the Hun beyond the Rhine" says a title card. So that's sorted, then.

We see some German soldiers and officers (played by very unGerman-looking American actors) as they gloat over the imminent defeat of the Americans. (There's absolutely no mention of Britain, Canada nor Australia: evidently the Yanks are going it alone.) A couple of pretty peasant girls in dirndls (French, apparently) are brought in, clearly intended for some weiner schnitzel. 'All American women will belong to German soldiers,' gloats the commandant in some very unconvincing whiskers.

SPOILERS COMING. Suddenly the roof collapses and the doughboys burst in. The Americans have won the war! At this point, something unexpected happens: a curtain descends, and we see that these are actors in a stage play performing for an audience out front. As the audience applaud, the curtain rises to show the actors frozen in a tableau. This was a 19th-century stage device; I'm surprised to see it being used as late as 1919.

Now an American officer (in heavy facial hair and eyebrows) steps downstage to inform the audience that their applause didn't win the war and it won't win the peace: what's required is money, to purchase Liberty Bonds. For a finale, this American officer strips off his phony facial hair to reveal the Asiatic features of Sessue Hayakawa, the Japanese-born star of American silent films. There's no need to question Hayakawa's loyalties, since Japan was on America's side during the First World War.

Ironically, Hayakawa ends the film by saluting the camera and shouting (in a title card) 'Banzai!'. For modern viewers, of course, this word evokes memories of a war in which Japan was NOT on our side. Despite that unfortunate ending, this is a fascinating piece of post-war propaganda, and I'll rate 'Banzai' 8 out of 10. A further irony is the fact that the logo of Hayakawa's Haworth Film Company was a rising sun. Oops!


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