During the early part of the 1940's, Hollywood made a number of World War II movies that not only sought to entertain, but also to heighten the spirit of "patriotism" in the American people. These films would influence the entry of the United States into the war and support our military effort when finally involved.
War was raging in Great Britain and throughout Europe while America was still in its isolationist period. Director Alfred Hitchcock released Foreign Correspondent in 1940 allowing American audiences an insightful look into the war without actually providing the identity of the enemy.
Charlie Chaplin chose to be more direct. In the Great Dictator (1940), directed by Chaplin, he gave us a scorching spoof of fascism and the Nazi party. Individuals were easily identified behind the thinly veiled character names used, and portrayed as the dictatorial, power hungry, tyrants that they were. The production was brilliantly written and executed by Chaplin and is still regarded as one of the most classic films of the century.
After the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, America entered into the war. Hollywood would now begin the release of some of the most popular War movies in history. Republic Pictures film Flying Tigers (1942) showcased American combat pilots fighting for China against Japanese invaders just before the invasion of Pearl Harbor. The film stared John Wayne, who throughout his career would prove to be one of the most patriotic celebrities of all time.
1942 honored the tragic, but courageous story about the battle of Wake Island. While the events were grimly real, the Hollywood portrayal was inaccurate. The film gave audiences the impression that the island's defenders fought to the last man, when in truth, the overwhelming odds and repeated assaults by Japanese troops led to the surrender of the island. However, Hollywood had not failed in their telling of the story as the film Wake Island served its primary purpose regarding war time propaganda and fueled feelings of patriotism.
In 1943 the film classic Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, clearly positioned the Nazi's as the villains in the war and depicted the conquered people of Europe as glorified, courageous resisters of Nazi Germany.
Casablanca's success, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, helped to establish both Bogart and Bergman as superstars. In the history of motion pictures, Casablanca will always be considered a World War II classic and honored as one of the best films of the twentieth century.
Many other films were produced that served the needs of propaganda and patriotism, but the hallmark of this effort would be the seven-part series created by filmmaker Frank Capra entitled Why We Fight. The basic principle of all propaganda films was to create a patriotic mentality that recognized great sacrifices were necessary in order to defeat the enemy.
It wouldn't be until after the war that true victories would be documented and a more realistic perspective of the casualties and cruelties of war would be understood.
Movies during this period in time helped to keep the American peoples patriotic spirits up and provided them the justification necessary to support the defeat of the "axis of evil." As they had done with film during the time of the depression, Hollywood's World War II movies again gave audiences a full-length mirror that reflected their society, values, beliefs, and place in history.