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Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939

4.3 4
by Thomas Doherty

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Between 1933 and 1939, representations of the Nazis and the full meaning of Nazism came slowly to Hollywood, growing more ominous and distinct only as the decade wore on. Recapturing what ordinary Americans saw on the screen during the emerging Nazi threat, Thomas Doherty reclaims forgotten films, such as Hitler’s Reign of Terror (1934), a pioneering anti-Nazi


Between 1933 and 1939, representations of the Nazis and the full meaning of Nazism came slowly to Hollywood, growing more ominous and distinct only as the decade wore on. Recapturing what ordinary Americans saw on the screen during the emerging Nazi threat, Thomas Doherty reclaims forgotten films, such as Hitler’s Reign of Terror (1934), a pioneering anti-Nazi docudrama by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr.; I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany (1936), a sensational true tale of “a Hollywood girl in Naziland!”; and Professor Mamlock (1938), an anti-Nazi film made by German refugees living in the Soviet Union. Doherty also recounts how the disproportionately Jewish backgrounds of the executives of the studios and the workers on the payroll shaded reactions to what was never simply a business decision. As Europe hurtled toward war, a proxy battle waged in Hollywood over how to conduct business with the Nazis, how to cover Hitler and his victims in the newsreels, and whether to address or ignore Nazism in Hollywood feature films. Should Hollywood lie low, or stand tall and sound the alarm? Doherty’s history features a cast of charismatic personalities: Carl Laemmle, the German Jewish founder of Universal Pictures, whose production of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) enraged the nascent Nazi movement; Georg Gyssling, the Nazi consul in Los Angeles, who read the Hollywood trade press as avidly as any studio mogul; Vittorio Mussolini, son of the fascist dictator and aspiring motion picture impresario; Leni Riefenstahl, the Valkyrie goddess of the Third Reich who came to America to peddle distribution rights for Olympia (1938); screenwriters Donald Ogden Stewart and Dorothy Parker, founders of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League; and Harry and Jack Warner of Warner Bros., who yoked anti-Nazism to patriotic Americanism and finally broke the embargo against anti-Nazi cinema with Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939).

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Doherty (American studies, Brandeis Univ.; Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture) delivers a revealing look at how Hollywood adjusted to the onset of World War II. In the 1930s, the studios were forced not only to find ways to continue business in Germany, but also to prepare for the eventual loss of that business. Many studios refused to run newsreels of Hitler, as film stars petitioned for complete economic withdrawal from Germany, and Hays Code censors battled with filmmakers about how to portray the truth of German brutality. VERDICT Believing that film is the heartbeat of American culture, Doherty does a fine job of showing how the movie industry united at a time when the nation felt angry and helpless. Readers who love classic Hollywood or who are looking for a cultural picture of 1930s America will find much of interest here. With a rich blend of art and politics, Doherty brings to light the story of how Hollywood handled Nazism during Hitler's reign. Recommended.—Rochelle LeMaster, Medina Cty. Dist. Lib., OH
The New York Times Book Review - Dave Kehr
…wide-ranging and brightly written…
Culture Desk blog, The New Yorker - Emily Greenhouse
A lively study of Hollywood's relationship to Nazism.

The New York Times Book Review - Dave Kehr
Wide-ranging and brightly written.

Times Higher Education - Philip Kemp
A lively, detailed account and a worthy successor to his books Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934 and Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration.

The Commercial Dispatch - Rob Hardy
A remarkable and stimulating account of an important part of movie history and American history.

Cineaste - Clayton Koppes
[Doherty's] books on American cinema from the 1930s to the 1950s are essential reading: Pre-Code Hollywood and Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen & the Production Code Administration.... No one has told this story in as comprehensive or convincing a fashion. As always, Doherty's work is well researched.

The New Yorker - David Denby
A witty writer familiar with Hollywood history and manners, Doherty places the studios' craven behavior within a general account of the political culture of the movies in the thirties and forties.

The Millions - Merve Emre
[A] riveting read.

Wall Street Journal - Jeanine Basinger
Mr. Doherty fully understands the studio system and how it juggled interference from its own internal agency, the Production Code Administration. He doesn't deny the greed and fear that motivated studios, but he puts the behavior in context.

Times Literary Supplement - Noah Isenberg
Meticulously researched and captivating.

St. Louis Jewish Light - Burton Boxerman
Doherty masterfully describes how the movie industry, mostly headed by Jews, ultimately came together at a time when the nation needed unity.... The book is crisply written, well documented.

The Observer - Philip French
[A] wide-ranging, scrupulously researched and highly entertaining study.

Tablet - Mark Horowitz
[A] judicious and comprehensive history of the period.

American Historical Review

... Doherty provides a more nuanced and accurate account of Hollywood's relationship with Hitler, and his book should be considered the authority on the subect...

Journal of American Studies - David Welky
Hollywood and Hitler is an excellent addition to Doherty's impressive oeuvre, well worth reading for its important insights, strong narrative, and mastery of the period.

The Times (London) - Kate Muir
Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 tracks the advance of fascism, and the movie industry's reaction on screen and in private.... [A] fascinating work.

American Historical Review - M. Todd Bennett
Doherty provides a more nuanced and accurate account of Hollywood's relationship with Hitler, and his book should be considered the authority on the subject.

Journal of American Culture - Yves Laberge
Doherty's book is well documented and brings together a corpus made of lesser-known, yet signifying feature films.

Journal of American History - Saverio Giovacchini
Thorough and elegantly written.

Media International Australia - Vincent O'Donnell
Doherty brings fresh eyes and a witty pen to re-examine the business of US cinema production and distribution in the turbulent pre-war years.... A valuable contribution to scholarship on the subject.

An important contribution to the history of Hollywood's response to the Nazi efforts to censor US films targeted for export to Germany.... Highly recommended.

American Studies - Bernard F. Dick
Vividly written, academically unpretentious, and indispensable for historians and students of film.

Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television - Brian Faucette
[Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939] is painstakingly researched and offers film historians, as well as historians of World War II, a rich, insightful, and engaging portrait of an industry and a world in turmoil.

Film & History - Rochelle Miller
Meticulously researched.... [Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939] provides an informed backdrop to scholars looking to contextualize and analyze individual films from the era.

American Jewish History - Leslie Fishbein
A tour de force of film history, deftly weaving together many strands of Hollywood and world history to explain Hollywood's vexed and often vexing relationship to the rise of Nazism.

Film Quarterly - Hannah Graves
Doherty offers a compelling prequel to his own Projections of War: Hollywood,American Culture,and World War II and an indispensible contribution to the emerging body of work on the relationships between Hollywood and Berlin in the 1930s.

Hollywood Progressive
Top notch, exhaustively researched film history book by a superb historian.

Product Details

Columbia University Press
Publication date:
Film and Culture Series
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Barnes & Noble
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What People are Saying About This

Thomas G. Schatz
Thomas Doherty traces a powerful historical narrative as Hollywood's treatment of European fascism dramatically changes with the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. Hollywood and Hitler, 1933–1939 marks a significant advance in our understanding of the American film industry in the 1930s and also in our appreciation of a wide range of films and filmmaking practices, revealing Hollywood as a social and geopolitical force.

David Sterritt
Meticulously researched and vigorously written, this comprehensive account of Hollywood, Hitler, and all points in between is both a scholarly tour de force and a riveting page-turner. Marshalling his finely-tuned expertise in American studies, film studies, and twentieth-century history, Thomas Doherty unfolds an epic chronicle of dueling ideologies, complicated celebrity politics, and the unstable boundaries between art, entertainment, and propaganda as World War II drew near. This is cultural analysis at its fascinating best.

Meet the Author

Thomas Doherty is a professor of American studies at Brandeis University. His previous books include Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934; Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture; and Hollywood’s Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration. He lives with his wife Sandra in Salem, Massachusetts.

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Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gina04 More than 1 year ago
Excellent overview of a neglected area of movie history and somethings I didnt even know.
Tennesseedog More than 1 year ago
This was a tremendous book.  A real treat for cinema lovers in that the author works his way through the significant Hollywood movies starting with All Quiet On the Western Front and ending with the post-World War II productions. The emphasis is on how the Hollywood studio owners interacted with the German government as the German government became a Nazi-run operation under Adolph Hitler. The change occurred on Jan 30, 1933 and developments over the next 7 years until the outbreak of World War II in Sept 1939, are the main meat of this book. Of course this means the treatment of Jews and other groups in Nazi Germany. Numerous producers, directors, writers and the Hollywood moguls themselves were Jewish and how the commercial, ethical and political issues were worked out in the production of movies during this era makes this book very interesting reading. All the major players are there and their actions delved into by the author. This includes Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, the Mayer brothers, Carl Laemmle, Leni Riefenstahl, Edward G. Robinson, the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, Fritz Kuhn of the German American Bund, Breen's Production Code Administration and many more characters both here and in Europe. The writing style of author Doherty is free flowing, entertaining and informative to the max. Using content from memos and speeches and primary sources without attaching post-World War II attitudes and information, he presents the world of local bijous, the major newsreels, raucous first showings and the controversies that erupted over how to deal with the propaganda spewed by the Nazis and their demands that Hollywood pictures be censored and shaped in ways that they approved. It was a grand battle leading up to the mass slaughter of the Second World War and much of it was fought over cinema, making money and staying true to democratic ideals which is the essence of America. If you love cinema, especially with the advent of the talkies in late 1920's and through the 1930's, you will find this volume highly entertaining and factually alluring.”
AnastaciaKnits More than 1 year ago
I love history & love reading non-fiction, though I don't read as much of it as I'd like to or should. I was interested in this title & got the book to review back in January & started reading it then, but then life got busy & this book got pushed to the back shelf in favor of lighter, faster reads. I was looking through netgalley & saw the title & was reminded of my obligation to read, and picked it up & reread it from the beginning. Doherty writes about the subject in a fairly lighthearted manner, making this easy to read for those who don't read a lot of non-fiction. Like I said, I love non-fiction but sometimes the language makes it tough for a layperson to read, but this one isn't like that. Admittedly there were some terms I had to look up, such as "hagio-biopic" (still don't know what that means). Besides the obvious, Doherty gives us inside looks into Hollywood's early history and gossip and the background of Nazi movies (often times in much more detail than I would have liked, but movie buffs will certainly enjoy this). Doherty's other books are also on TV & film, so certainly this is a passion of his. My favorite chapter was on Leni Riefenstahl, who directed two popular Nazi propaganda war films. I received this book to read and review from netgalley & was not paid for my honest review.