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We'll Always Have the Movies: American Cinema during World War II

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We'll Always Have the Movies explores how movies made in Hollywood during World War II were vehicles for helping Americans understand the war. Far from being simplistic, flag-waving propaganda designed to evoke emotional reactions, these films offered audiences narrative structures that formed a foundation for grasping the nuances of war. These films asked audiences to consider the implications of the Nazi threat, they put a face on both our enemies and allies, and they explored changing wartime gender roles. We'll Always Have the Movies reveals how film after film repeated the narratives, character types, and rhetoric that made the war and each American's role in it comprehensible. Robert L. McLaughlin and Sally E. Parry have screened more than 600 movies made between 1937 and 1946 -- including many never before discussed in this context -- and have analyzed the cultural and historical importance of these films in explaining the war to moviegoers. Pre-Pearl Harbor films such as Sergeant York, Foreign Correspondent, and The Great Dictator established the rationale for the war in Europe. After the United States entered the war, films such as Air Force, So Proudly We Hail! and Back to Bataan conveyed reasons for U.S. involvement in the Pacific. The Hitler Gang, Sahara, and Bataan defined our enemies; and Mrs. Miniver, Mission to Moscow, and Dragon Seed defined our allies. Some movies -- The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Hail the Conquering Hero, and Lifeboat among them -- explored homefront anxieties about the war's effects on American society. Of the many films that sought to explain the politics behind and the social impact of the war -- and why it concerned Americans -- Casablanca is perhaps one of the most widely recognized. McLaughlin and Parry argue that Rick's Café Américain serves as a United Nations, sheltering characters who represent countries being oppressed by Germany. At Rick's, these characters learn that they share a common love of freedom, which is embodied in patriotism; from this commonality, they overcome their differences and work together to solve a conflict that affects them all. As the representative American, Rick Blain (Humphrey Bogart) cannot idly stand by in the face of injustice, and he ultimately sides with those being oppressed. Bogart's character is a metaphor for America, which could also come out of its isolationism to be a true world leader and unite with its allies to defeat a common enemy. Collectively, Hollywood's war-era films created a mythic history of the war that, even today, has more currency than the actual events of World War II.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hollywood's WWII films played a vital role in helping average Americans understand the nations, conflicts and values involved. Their plots and images were often subject to government censorship, military recommendations and studio biases, but the movies brought to life distant battlefields, American allies and foreign enemies. To discuss the cultural meanings and impact of such films as Casablanca, Lifeboat and Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, Illinois State University professor McLaughlin and dean Parry viewed more than 600 movies made between 1937 and 1946. Their essential volume explores "the process by which actual events become film history and by which film history becomes myth." The authors chronologically discuss the interplay of historical fact, narrative storytelling and cultural stereotypes. Analyzing films, including such pre-Pearl Harbor works as Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) and postwar films like The Courage of Lassie (1946), they identify recurring cinematic formulas used for depicting heroism, gender roles and juvenile delinquency. Whether dealing with famous flicks or lesser known titles, McLaughlin and Parry maintain a scholarly tone, treating blockbusters and B-movies with equal rigor, but never forgetting the view from the peanut gallery or the history and movie buffs among them. Photos. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Whether dealing with famous flicks or lesser known titles, McLaughlin and Parry maintain a scholarly tone, treating blockbusters and B-movies with equal rigor, but never forgetting the view from the peanut gallery or the history and movie buffs among them." — Publishers Weekly

"Addresses many probing questions pertaining to the wartime movies.... Enjoyable reading." — America in WWII

"Surveying the wide, diversified field of WWII films, the authors... examine how many films went beyond simply evoking patriotism to maintaining support for the War on the 'home front' and to forming perspectives and expectations on it and characterizing the enemy." — Antiques Today

"Provides and excellent analysis of the many wartime motion pictures that Hollywood produced. It is recommended not only to the many film buffs who still enjoy watching classics... but also to those who seek a greater understanding of America's home front during the war." — Journal of America's Military Past

"A terrific book that explores not only the themes of hundreds of films but also their impact on patriotism and national will in a time of war." — WWII History

"Through the lenses... Hollywood films from 1937 to 1946 are rearticulated as myth-making propaganda....It opens the window to a vanished and deeply interesting world that these pages recover with a sense of sympathetic understanding." — Journal of America & Culture

"Even the most devout cinemaphile should be able to discover at least one new treasure in the filmography of this volume. McLaughlin and Parry present a rather exhaustive survey of the Hollywood films made between 1939 and 1946." — Ron Briley, History News Network

"A compelling appraisal- aesthetic and cultural- of films (including Casablanca) that eventually would form a mythic history of World War II… A masterful study of film narrativity." — The Historian

"This book is a wonderful addition to insights of how the media plays a role in the life of Everyman." — Gerald F. Kreyche, USA Today, Society for the Advancement of Education

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813130057
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 8/25/2010
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,165,801
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert L. McLaughlin is associate professor of English at Illinois State University.

Sally E. Parry is Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Illinois State University.

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