Throughout World War II, American moviegoers were treated to a steady stream of war-related programming. The movie-going experience included a newsreel, which lasted approximately 10 minutes and was loaded with images and accounts of recent battles, followed by an animated cartoon. While many of these cartoons were entertainingly escapist, some comically caricatured the enemy. Among these titles were “Japoteurs” (1942) featuring Superman, “Der Fuehrer’s Face” (1943) starring Donald Duck, “Confessions of a Nutsy Spy” (1943) with Bugs Bunny, “Daffy the Commando” (1943) with Daffy Duck and “Tokyo Jokie-o” (1943). Documentaries such as the seven-part “Why We Fight” series, released between 1943 and 1945 and produced and directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Frank Capra (1897-1991), included Axis propaganda footage and emphasized the necessity of America’s involvement in the war, as well as the importance of Allied victory.
As for the main program, movie theaters showed non-war-related dramas, comedies, mysteries and Westerns; however, a significant segment of feature films dealt directly with the war. Scores of features spotlighted the trials of men in combat while demonizing the Nazis and Japanese who perpetuated the conflict. “Wake Island” (1942), “Guadalcanal Diary” (1943), “Bataan” (1943) and “Back to Bataan” (1945) were a few of the titles that centered on specific battles. “Nazi Agent” (1942), “Saboteur” (1942) and “They Came to Blow Up America” (1943) portrayed America’s enemies as spies and terrorists. “So Proudly We Hail!” (1943) and “Cry ‘Havoc’” (1943) recorded the heroics of women nurses and volunteers at faraway battlefronts. “Tender Comrade” (1943), “The Human Comedy” (1943) and “Since You Went Away” (1944) focused, respectively, on the trials of average American women, communities and families while exploring the very real fear that a loved one who went off to war might never return. The struggles of citizens in occupied countries were portrayed in such films as “Hangmen Also Die!” (1943) and “The Seventh Cross” (1944).
Meanwhile, some of Hollywood’s top stars joined the military. Many appeared in government-produced training films and morale-boosting short subjects. Others participated directly in the fighting. Clark Gable (1901-60), the beloved, Academy Award-winning actor, served as a tail-gunner with the U.S. Army Air Corps and flew combat missions over Germany. James Stewart (1908-97), another equally adored Oscar winner, had enlisted in the corps even before Pearl Harbor. He eventually became a B-24 combat pilot and commander and also flew missions over Germany.