Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939.

Author:Fishbein, Leslie
Position:Book review

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939. By Thomas Doherty. New York: Columbia University Press 2013. 429 pp.

Thomas Doherty's Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 is 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 and its charismatic leader, Adolf Hitler. Doherty begins his exposition with Hollywood's first confrontation with Nazism on December 4, 1930, when a mob of brownshirts invaded a motion picture theater and trashed the screening of Lewis Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front, an award-winning lament of the slaughter of the young in World War I to nurture old men's dreams of glory, and ends when after the death of its courageously anti-Nazi producer, Carl Laemmle, Universal Studios rereleased the film accompanied by a prologue reviewing the Great War and its aftermath, including the now iconic newsreel footage of the 1933 book burning. As Doherty notes, "Among the volumes being tossed into the pyre was, of course, Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front" (364).

To explain Hollywood's convoluted relationships with Hitler between these historical bookends, Doherty's prodigious knowledge of Hollywood history-the glamour and the gossip but also the economic forces that shaped decisions about production and distribution-allows him to provide readers with a multi-variant analysis of Hollywood's initial neglect of Hitler and of its subsequent preoccupation even in present-day films with the Nazi leader. Hollywood's obsession with preserving the lucrative German market for its films impelled most producers to comply with German demands for the Aryanization of those involved in film production and distribution, firing or relocating many Jewish staff members stationed in Germany and increasingly conforming to the demands of Nazi censorship of American films to be screened in Germany. During the first wave of Nazi terror, motion picture journalists and Hollywood producers evinced "the natural befuddlement of cool businessmen up against hot-headed fanatics" and remained oblivious to contemporary Nazi horrors and impending disaster (39). Nazi censorship meant that Hollywood films seeking to be screened in Germany had to obtain one of a limited number of import permits, to be granted a certificate issued by the Reich Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, and "to pass the home censor, who...

To continue reading