Friday 20 December 2019

Convoy (1978)

"Hey Duck, are you coming back?"

They could be on the same side, Martin Penwald and Lyle Wallace, and their trades are soon to be part of the same union, the Teamsters. And they have one fundamental thing in common, they are both fiercely independent, they rather be on their own than part of any union. But they cannot be friends. Penwald is a trucker and Wallace is a sheriff, and the sheriff hates truckers. Or he has grown to hate them. Whatever the two have in common, one is now destined to be hunted by the other. Towards the end, Penwald accuses Wallace of having become corrupt and mean, and Wallace is hurt by it because he knows it is true.

Penwald and Wallace are the lead characters in Convoy (1978), Sam Peckinpah's tribute to American truck drivers, and the two are somewhat to Convoy what Pike Bishop and Deke Thornton are to The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah 1969). It is a road movie, where more and more truck drivers, men as well as women, black and white, gay and straight, join what is becoming a national revolt against police brutality and racism, and a struggle for workers' rights. Perhaps. It is not as specific as that. The leader, Penwald, aka Rubber Duck, would not consider himself a leader, and he does not seem to have much political interests other than to be honest, decent, self-sufficient and be left in peace. After he has led the truckers across two states, he suddenly leaves them and goes off alone, to help a friend. That is when the line I quoted above is spoken. One of the other truckers calls after him, with the fear of being abandoned palpable in his voice. Rubber Duck does not reply, because he cannot. He does not know where he needs to be.

For a film by Sam Peckinpah, it is relatively bloodless; it is more cars and trucks that are hurt than people, but it is still permeated by his style and personality, and an anarchist dream of total freedom. That freedom is inaccessible, but as a dream it lives on and is perhaps necessary to be able to keep going in a brutal world.

Peckinpah did not like the script and was high on alcohol and cocaine during the making of it, and was frequently unable to actually direct. James Coburn is said to have directed a lot instead. A first rough cut was 3.5 hours but after Peckinpah had been working on editing and post-production for months without being able to finish it, the production company took over and the film was finally trimmed down, without Peckinpah's involvement, into 110 minutes that could be released.

The released film was scolded when it came but I like it. I find it irresistible, and already found it so when I was in my early twenties. It is totally devoted to its subject, and in its diesel-scented working-class romance it is an example of a movie that is rarely, if at all, made today. The expansive cinematography by Harry Stradling Jr., of roads, fields, small towns, and endless lines of trucks across the horizon, is quite beautiful. It is often said to be badly cast but I disagree with this too. Kris Kristofferson plays Penwald, Ernest Borgnine plays Wallace and Ali McGraw plays a photographer who joins Penwald in his truck, and they are all fine. I think Kristofferson is perfect in his part, aloof and detached.

Between 1969 and 1973 Peckinpah made six films that together form an exceptional explosion of creativity and brilliance. The three films he made before 1969 are good too, as are the five films he made after 1973, but they do not reach the same height of those four years of exceptionalism. Yet Convoy, for its flaws and disturbed production, still has enough of Peckinpah's magic to make it feel more genuine and special than most American mainstream films made today.


I was reminded of Convoy recently for two reasons: it was unexpectedly released on Blu-ray in Sweden, and there was an article in The Economist about Chinese truck drivers, and how the American mythology of truckers gives them a status that Chinese truckers do not have, who are instead treated badly by anyone. And while I am recommending articles to read, there is also Nick Pinkerton's 2005 article in Film Comment about the history of truckers in American cinema.

I got the information about the making of Convoy from David Weddle's book If They Move...Kill'em! - The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah (1994).

Friday 6 December 2019

Alice Guy-Blaché

The earliest days of cinema, from the late 1880s to the late 1900s, was a fascinating, fabulous time where pioneers came and went, rose and fell, and the art form grew and expanded from one day to the next. Almost all of the films made then are long gone, and what we have left now are bits and pieces, often with unknown dates and unknown makers, but what is left is exciting enough for a lifetime of studies. One of the most impressive and important contributors to this period is Alice Guy-Blaché, who was present at Lumière's first public screening of films in Paris in late 1895, and almost immediately began her own career as a filmmaker of great ambition and inventiveness. Last year a new documentary about her was released, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (Pamela B. Green, 2018), which generated a lot of publicity and interest in Guy-Blaché's life and work. I finally watched it last week, and it is an engaging and well-edited and professionally narrated film. The topic naturally appeals to me, but at the same time, the title of the film, and its marketing campaign, had annoyed me a great deal because the story about Alice Guy-Blaché is not untold. There are books, articles, video essays, retrospectives and previous documentaries about her, about her life and career. As an example, The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché (Marquise Lepage 1995), a great Canadian documentary, tells the exact same story as Be Natural. The Canadian one is 40 minutes shorter, but that is not because Be Natural provides more information about Guy-Blaché. The extra time is primarily spent on celebrating the team who made Be Natural, whom, you might think, single-handedly discovered Guy-Blaché and gave her back to the world.

Despite all earlier research and books and films about her, Guy-Blaché is still not a well-known name among people at large, but if you have studied early cinema and film history you would have come across her name. Very few of the early pioneers are remembered today, and many of their careers ended in failure and they became invisible, but despite the contention of the title and the film itself, Guy-Blaché is one of the very few who actually is remembered today. It is made a point in the film that Thomas Edison and Lumière brothers are more well-known than she is, and this is true, but they are not known or remembered as filmmakers but as inventors. Guy-Blaché was not an inventor, she was a filmmaker and studio head, and those of her peers from the earliest days of cinema (before D.W. Griffith and that era) are almost all, with the obvious exception of Georges Méliès, forgotten today unless among film scholars specialising in that era. The way Griffith in particular has come to completely dominate conventional film history of the 1900s and 1910s is both unfair and ahistorical and Guy-Blaché, who was well acknowledged and celebrated at the time, is sadly a victim of this. So are many others. Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince made a couple of short films in 1888 in Leeds, and they are the oldest moving images I have ever seen, yet he is hardly ever mentioned. Max and Emil Skladanowsky organised a public screening for moving images in Berlin in November of 1895, almost two months before the Lumière brothers did their first public screening in Paris, yet it is rare that the Skladanowsky screening is mentioned. Such is the unfair nature of early cinema history.

Falling Leaves (1912)

There is another way that Be Natural lacks a necessary film historical context, and that is that, in the film, Guy-Blaché seems to have been alone at doing what she was doing. Yes, she experimented with sound, colour, editing, narrative, but so did many others, including, eventually, other women. She was perhaps unique in her business acumen, in the way she moved to the United States and started a film studio (Solax), but this does not make her a uniquely inventive filmmaker. It is suggested in the documentary that Guy-Blaché made a film in 1896, The Cabbage Fairy (La Fée aux Choux), that would be one of the first fiction films telling a story, which in some commentaries and reviews has been transformed into the claim that Guy-Blaché made the very first fiction film that tells a story. Given that the overwhelming majority of all films made at the time have been lost, it is impossible to say whether any remaining film was the first of anything. We cannot even say with certainty that Guy-Blaché made a film in 1896 and there is much speculation about The Cabbage Fairy (see here for example): did she make one in 1896 or is the one available now, which is referred to as the 1896 one, a remake from 1900, or maybe from 1902, and the one from 1896 is lost? Or is the one from 1900/1902 the first one, and she never made a film in 1896? Some have referred to a print in the archives at the Swedish Film Institute, which is listed as being from 1896, as proof that she made one in 1896, but the date of that print is an estimate and not a certainty either. It proves nothing. They only reason why we are debating whether she made a film in 1896, despite there being no proof of its existence, is that she said so in her autobiography, and in some later interviews. But our memories are not necessarily to be trusted, and her description of the plot of the alleged film of 1896 match a later film she made, and which does exist. These are important nuances that are not to be found in Be Natural.

But the bottom line is that it does not really matter if she made one in 1896 or not, either way her legacy and importance are the same, with or without that potential film. And even if a print was found and that it was established without doubt that this was the 1896 version, it would still not prove that it was the first of anything.

There is one version of The Cabbage Fairy available online with the year 1896 attached to it, which is, probably, erroneous. But if this one in fact is from 1896, as some claim, it is correct that it is a work of fiction but it does not tell a story or provide a narrative; it is just a woman walking through rows of cabbage, and picking up babies. It is not something new and not different from many other films of that year or the year before, such as historic re-enactments like The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895), or the many fictional staging of crimes and chases that were made in 1895 and early 1896.

At another point in the documentary, there is some excitement about her film Matrimony's Speed Limit, which has editing, alternates between medium shots and close-ups, and tells a longer story than the earlier ones with one shot/one setup. But that film was made in 1913, and there was nothing new and interesting about it, technically. In 1913, what was new and exciting were full-length features of depth and complexity like The Student of Prague by Paul Wegener and Stellan Rye or Victor Sjöström's Ingeborg Holm. It becomes absurd of praising Guy-Blaché for doing something, a short comedy with a race against time, that had already been done for years, including by herself in all likelihood.

Celebrating the work and achievements of Guy-Blaché is a good thing, and easy to do. As Be Natural has brought renewed attention to Guy-Blaché and her work, I am in that regard happy that it was made, and can be shown around the world. But her achievements are exceptional as they are and do not have to be embellished and exaggerated. I think that it belittles her, as if what she had actually done was not good enough. One of her major accomplishments was her central position in Gaumont's production of chronophone films. Guy Blaché directed/supervised maybe as many as 150 of these short sound films, called Phonoscènes, but this is barely mentioned in Be Natural. They say she experimented with sound but not how, for how long and what that entailed. The focus of the film is not always to Guy-Blaché's advantage. The way the film highlights its own makers, make them out to be heroes, almost at Guy-Blaché's expense and certainly at the expense of all those scholars and researchers that came before this film, does raise some ethical questions.

I have been teaching film history for ten years and all that time Guy-Blaché is probably the one I devote the most time to when I talk about the early days of cinema. The students seem to be impressed by what she did, without me having ever felt any need to invent things or make her out to be more than she already was.


Here are some previous documentaries that told this allegedly untold story:
Qui est Alice Guy 1975, produced by Nicole-Lise Bernheim
The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché (Marquise Lepage 1995)
Alice Guy ou l'enfance du cinema (Florida Sadki 1997)
Reel Models: The First Women of Film; Alice Guy, Lois Weber, Frances Marion, Dorothy Arzner (2000)
Looking for Alice (Claudia Collao 2008)

And there is a fictionalisation about her life: Elle voulait faire du Cinéma (Caroline Huppert 1983)

Here are some earlier books:
Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-2968): La première femme cinèaste du monde by Victor Bachy (1993)
Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema by Alice McMahan (2002)
Alice Guy Blaché: Cinema Pioneer, edited by Joan Simon (2009)
Alice Guy, Gaumont et les débuts du film sonore by Maurice Gianati, Laurent Mannoni (2012)
Alice Guy Pionnière du cinéma by Daniel Chocron (2013)

The entry for her in Ephraim Katz's The Film Encyclopedia (1994) tells the same story too, although without mentioning all of Guy-Blaché's many siblings, children and grandchildren that take up a considerable part of Be Natural.

Friday 22 November 2019

Japanese cinema of the 1930s, very briefly

Spending so much time with the 1930s for several months has been very rewarding, at least when it comes to watching films. (It has been less rewarding reading about it.) It is time to end this special focus for now, with some brief words about Japanese cinema of the 1930s. They have to be brief because I have seen very little, but I have seen enough to know that it was a rich and exciting period of filmmaking. There was a lot of experimentation, and popular, mainstream Japanese films played with conventions and tried new approaches and angles. Maybe less so than in the 1920s, but still noticeable. You could take risks and surprise the audience because with millions of cinema visits made in Japan every year, it was a profitable and safe business, and a lot of films were made, 400 - 500 per year. But while being experimental and playful, it took a long time for sound film to break through. There had been occasional efforts but it was not until 1931, with The Neighbour's Wife and Mine (Madamu to nyōbō, Heinosuke Gosho), that sound broke through successfully. The following year only about 10% of the recorded films were with sound. As late as 1937, silent films were still being made. One explanation for this is the Japanese tradition of having a person, a so-called benshi, in the screening room who narrated, interpreted and translated the films, and who also gave voice to foreign actors. Benshis was a tradition that they were unwilling to give up, and their unions fought against sound, as it was something that would make the benshi superfluous. But it was inevitable that sound would take over.

But while thousands of films were made in Japan during the 1930s, few are preserved. According to one estimate, less than 5% remain. It is a great cultural treasure that has been lost, due to disinterest, fire, natural disasters and wars. Japan was becoming increasingly fascist in nature (historians debate whether it is accurate to call it a Fascist state, but probably not), and with increasing censorship, during the 1930s. Of those films that remain, few are known or seen, but much of what is preserved and available is very good. Given that the overwhelming majority of all films from the period are lost, we cannot draw too many conclusions from the high quality of what remains. It is reasonable to assume that they have been saved partly because they were outstanding, and not reflective of the average film. But either way, we can still watch and marvel at the 1930s films of filmmakers like Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Mikio Naruse. There are also many interesting filmmakers I have seen nothing of but who, judging by what I have read, are major artists. Teinosuke Kinugasa, Hiroshi Inagaki, Mansaku Itami, Hiroshi Shimizu (whom Mizoguchi called "a genius"), Yasujiro Shimazu (whose films Japanese critics in the 1930s referred to as "neorealism") and Tomu Uchida. Many of the great Japanese actors in the postwar era debuted in the 1930s, such as Setsuko Hara, best known for her collaboration with Ozu, Hideko Takamine, who often collaborated with Naruse, and Takashi Shimura, who is best known for his later collaboration with Akira Kurosawa. The big production companies, or studios, that have dominated Japanese cinema were in place in the 1930s: Toho, Nikkatsu (the oldest one, founded in 1912) and Shochiku (founded in 1895, but they began making films long after Nikkatsu was founded).

One special case is the filmmaker Sadao Yamanaka, from whose oeuvre of 26 films only three remain, and who died at a young age, only 28 years old. They are jidaigeki, the Japanese term for films in a historical setting, and they are blending comedy and tragedy, naturalism and Kabuki, and are filled with passion and sensuality, with striking compositions. The first two are called The Million Ryo Pot (Tange Sazen Yowa: Hyakuman Ryo no Tsubo 1935) and Priest of Darkness (Kōchiyama Sōshun 1936), both fine films. But the most notable is his last film, the beautiful named Humanity and Paper Balloons (Ninjō Kami Fūsen) from 1937. It is about a poor and lonely samurai, a ronin, and his struggle to preserve his dignity. Slowly and meticulously, it builds up to its tragic and poetic ending, with a tight script and a closed, but varied and detailed, set with great depth of field and extravagant compositions, with several planes of interest in a given shot. The script is written by Mimura Shintaro, and the various themes of pride, humiliation and dignity are addressed in many forms, and it is also occasionally witty. The balloons that signify the ronin is quite remarkably handled. The one single balloon drifting away in the ditch in the last shot is one of the finest, most poetic, endings I know.


Friday 8 November 2019

John Ford in the 1930s

To have seen all of Ford's sound films has long been a goal, as he is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and worthy of such a commitment. Lately the focus of my research in general has been the 1930s, and as that was also the decade from where I had several Ford films left to watch, I have spent the last ten days or so exclusively on Ford's 30s. Now I have finally seen all of them too, with one exception; I have not been able to get hold of an acceptable version of The Brat (1931). But that is the only sound film of his that remains unseen. A satisfying feeling.

These are the films he directed then, including one from 1929 as it was his first feature-length talkie:

The Black Watch (1929), an adventure in British India during World War 1.
Men Without Women (1930), a World War 1 drama in the Navy.
Born Reckless (1930), a gangster drama with a section during World War 1.
Up the River (1930), a prison comedy.
Seas Beneath (1931), a World War 1 drama in the Navy.
The Brat (1931), a comedy about an unexpected guest in a rich family.
Arrowsmith (1931), a drama about a country doctor.
Air Mail (1932), an aviation drama.
Flesh (1932), a melodrama.
Pilgrimage (1933), a World War 1 drama.
Doctor Bull (1933), a comedy about a country doctor.
The Lost Patrol (1934), a World War 1 drama in the Sahara Desert.
The World Moves On (1934), a tale about a rich family and their business 1914-1934.
Judge Priest (1934), a human comedy.
The Whole Town's Talking (1935), a gangster/journalist comedy.
The Informer (1935), an Irish political drama.
Steamboat Round the Bend (1935), a comedy/drama set in the 1890s.
The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), a post-Civil War drama.
Mary of Scotland (1936), a historic drama.
The Plough and the Stars (1936), an Irish political drama.
Wee Willie Winkie (1937), an adventure in British India.
The Hurricane (1937), a South Sea adventure.
Four Men and a Prayer (1938), a globe-trotting whodunit.
Submarine Patrol (1938), a World War 1 drama/comedy in the Navy.
Stagecoach (1939), an epochal Western.
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), a biopic and pre-Civil War drama.
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), an American Revolution drama.

As you can see there were all kinds of films but with several recurring themes, and almost half are set in the past and deal with war. He made films for most studios and some independent producers, but usually with a recurring crew and cast. The cinematographer Joseph H. August shot nine of the films above, (their collaboration peaked later, with They Were Expendable (1945)), George Schneiderman shot five and Bert Glennon five more. Dudley Nichols wrote or co-wrote at least twelve of them. Most of them are good, a couple are bad and a few lack Ford's distinct personality. But the three great ones were all made in 1939; something happened there, and from 1939 onwards almost all of his films are either great or magnificent. There is the odd misfire here and there, but I think the only bad one after 1938 is What Price Glory? (1952).

Of the earlier ones, The Informer is the most famous one I imagine, and it is a fine film, although somewhat overwhelming in its solemn artfulness. Also fine, but in a lighter mood, are two with Will Rogers, Judge Priest and Steamboat Around the Bend. I am less keen on Ford and Rogers's first film together, Doctor Bull.

Ford did several submarine-related films in the 1930s, the first was Men Without Women, which was also his first film written by Nichols. I do not care much for that one, the construction is off and, like many other early ones, there is a problem with the acting. But the next year they did the fine Seas Beneath, which admittedly also has terrible acting but is otherwise solid.

Seas Beneath

Seas Beneath is about a battle between the American Navy and the German Navy in 1918, but both sides respect and admire one another. There is even a death scene with an American sailor dying in the arms of two concerned German sailors. And it is bilingual, all Germans speak German.

Arrowsmith is a film where no one feels right for their part (except John Qualen) and it is all talk and no conviction. But visually it is spectacular. Epic set design, breathtaking lighting (Ray June was cinematographer) and imaginative staging in depth. It is one of Ford's most distinguished films, visually.


Flesh is about a big-hearted German wrestler and a frail, conflicted American woman in a tragic melodrama of its time. First 50 minutes are fine but then things start to get a bit out of hand, script-wise. It has a great, moody look all the way through though.

Pilgrimage is, like The Informer, self-consciously artistic. The opening 30 minutes is like a long tribute to Murnau. But then it changes gear and takes on more the tone of Henry King, and then changes again to be more Fordian. A serious drama with moments of greatness, but it suffers from stiff/awkward acting.


The Hurricane (co-directed with Stuart Heisler) is a lavish production where the highlight is the hurricane sequence, which take up the last part of the film. It is incredible, one of the greatest natural disaster sequences I have seen, and genuinely scary. James Basevi was in charge of creating it and he was a master of these kinds of special effects. The earthquake in San Francisco (W.S. van Dyke 1936) is another one of his creations, as is the storm in China Seas (Tay Garnett 1935). He also did spectacular set designs, such as on Wilson (Henry King 1944). Basevi was art director for many of Ford's films up until The Searchers (1956), which was the last film he worked on.

Four Men and a Prayer is, despite George Sanders in a leading role, a lame, anonymous anomaly in Ford's career, expect for the brief appearance of Barry Fitzgerald in a good scene. The rest might as well have been directed by someone else.

Submarine Patrol from the same year is also a minor film, and the first 15 minutes or so are tiresome, but then it gets it together and here you really feel Ford's presence. At the same time, the film reminded me of Hathaway's You're in the Navy Now (1951), which I prefer.

The scene in Wee Willie Winkie where Shirley Temple is singing for Victor McLaglen, not understanding that he is dying, is one of the most moving scenes in Ford's career. The rest of the film is not as good, but amiable enough. But of the two films Temple did with Ford, the later Fort Apache (1948) is superior in every way. What is interesting is that they have a lot in common, but the differences (such as in acting, visuals and maturity) are what makes Fort Apache superior; one of Ford's best.

One film Ford wanted to do but never did was a remake La Grande illusion (Jean Renoir 1937). Darryl F. Zanuck talked him out of it, and maybe that was a good thing. But that Ford wanted to remake it is not surprising since the sentiment of Renoir's film can be found in Ford's films too, before and after 1937. Consider for example how in the films about World War 1, the Americans, French and Germans do not hate each other but treat each other with respect and concern. They fight and kill because they have to, but they do not celebrate their victories. They salute the falling soldiers regardless of which side they were on, and mourn the loss of life. "Do we cheer?" asks a newly recruited sailor after his ship has sank a German U-boat. "No." says the more experienced sailor next to him.

Drums Along the Mohawk

Spending so much time with a filmmaker during a short period of time is a rewarding experience, as you notice connections, links, references and recurrences that you might not think of, or remember, if you are watching an oeuvre during a long stretch of time. It is also enlightening to watch Ford try things out, enrich his cinema by experimenting with sound, visuals and eventually colour. He was of course not a newcomer, he had been making films since the late 1910s, and several good ones, but the 1930s meant many new challenges, technically and structurally, for his as for everybody else. He struggled a lot during the decade, with producers and actors mostly, and many films were severely compromised in one way or another. But almost all of them are filled with the specific scenes, moments, jokes, visual touches and sentiments that are the essence of Ford's art. Then, as he moved into the 1940s, he got more freedom, more certainty and more depth, and his art grew. It would eventually reach such beauty, clarity and confidence that it has almost no equals.

From 1934 to 1940, Frank S. Nugent was film critic at The New York Times and there he was a champion of Ford's films. Perhaps it was inevitable that, beginning with Fort Apache (1948), Nugent would become one of Ford's most important creative partners as scriptwriter. When Wagon Master (1950) was finished, Ford told Nugent "I liked your script. In fact, I actually shot a few pages of it." according to an article from 1949 in his former paper.

Wagon Master

(Initially I briefly mentioned Frank Tuttle in the article, but I removed his name to keep things in perspective. He will instead appear in a future post. There is always more to write about.)

Friday 25 October 2019

Young and Innocent (1937)

In 1990 a new TV channel started in Sweden, TV4, and for a while in the early 1990s they were showing Hitchcock's films of the 1930s regularly in the afternoons. I watched them all and recorded them on VHS tapes, so I could watch them whenever I wanted. And I wanted to a lot. I watched them so many times that the colourful logo of TV4 has become part of my memories of these films. While The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) were the best ones, it was another one I re-watched the most: Young and Innocent (1937). It is not a terribly exciting story but it has such generosity and charm, perhaps like no other film by Hitchcock, that I immediately developed a crush on it.

It has a typical Hitchcockian story, a man on the run after having been falsely accused of murder and himself searching for the real criminal. It is also a sort of road movie in the British countryside, interspersed with typical Hitchcockian set pieces. There is for example a children's party which is a feast of looks, mistaken identities and sly wit. There is also an accident in an abandoned mine and the celebrated long take in the end of the film, starting high up in a hotel lobby, moving down across a restaurant, over a band playing, and into the eyes of the drummer.

Children in Hitchcock's films are usually eccentric.

While anybody watching it would instantly recognise the man behind it, the tone is different. There is no darkness or neuroses, or paranoia; instead it is a lovely tale of the growing romance and love between the two young leads: Derrick de Marney as the fugitive and Nova Pilbeam as the chief constable's daughter who helps him. Their banter and flirting are what keeps the film together, and gives it its charm. That most of the people they encounter are distinct characters also adds to the overall sense of bonhomie. Despite the seriousness of the situation, nobody seems to take things too seriously, and the real murderer is not a threat or a menace but only appears briefly in the beginning and for a few minutes in the end (where he is only a threat to himself).

According to Patrick McGilligan's book Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, Hitchcock was under a lot of stress and in a bad mood when he made the film because of his economic situation and contractual reasons (it was about to expire): he had gained a lot of weight, he was tired, and used humour and sarcasm as a defence mechanism. Maybe he wanted to make something light and playful to counter his inner turmoil.

The film is based on a book, but they have little in common other than that there is a murder in the countryside. Instead Hitchcock completely re-imagined it, working with a lot of people on the script, including his recurring partners Joan Harrison, Charles Bennett and Angus MacPhail. Another key collaborator was, as always, his wife Alma Reville.

The set designer was Alfred Junge, otherwise known for his work on the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and it is particularly the mine that stands out. It is a good, effective scene. Perhaps the only scene in the film of real danger, shot almost like it was a silent film.

Doing the complicated long take.

It is often said that Hitchcock was discovered by the French in the 1950s, but this claim is undermined by the fact that he was celebrated as an important filmmaker on both sides of the Atlantic early on, and in the mid-30s some leading critics, including Otis Ferguson, suggested that he was one of the greatest directors currently working. Young and Innocent is not a work of greatness but it has great charm, and it shows how even under stress and difficult working conditions, and without the financial resources he would later have, he could, seemingly effortless, pull off a fully accomplished and recognisable film of pure Hitch.

A good analysis of the film is by Charles Barr in his book English Hitchcock (1999), drawing out the connections with later films like Vertigo (1958) and The Birds (1963), and emphasising the importance of Charles Bennett in Hitchcock's development.

Friday 11 October 2019

Cinema of the 1930s - an art form reborn

One of the many notable things concerning the release of Ben Urwand's book The Collaboration is that, according to the publishers, it had been peer-reviewed by five scholars. Either these scholars had objections which were ignored, or neither scholar was knowledgeable about 1930s film history and hence did not see anything wrong with the book. It is quite possible that it is the second alternative because I have long had the sense that the 1930s is the least researched and least understood decade in terms of film history. Put another way, I do not think that a book as unhistorical as The Collaboration would have been published if it had been about any other decade, because people would know enough to be able to dismiss it.

Today the 1930s is known for things like Hollywood pre-code films, French poetic realism and the year of 1939, but these things too are often misunderstood and leads to a skewed and unfair view of the decade. The cinema of the 1930s is much richer and more fascinating on many levels than conventional wisdom gives it credit for, especially films from Hollywood, Japan and France. (I have unfortunately not seen any Chinese films from the 1930s but I know they had a large and, I imagine, interesting film production.) For one thing so much happened, not least the introduction of three-strip Technicolor and the recovery of mobility and agility after the first shock of the introduction of synchronised sound. Films from 1930 are on average extremely different from films of 1939, maybe more so than for any other decade. Cinema at the end of the 1920s had reached a creative peak, technically, visually, emotionally, but with the introduction of sound everything changed and there was a general sense of upheaval, some for good and some, in the short run, for bad. Even if the impact on sound on actors' careers and the loss of mobility of the camera has frequently been overstated, there was, I think, a dip in the overall quality of films as the 1920s turned into the 1930s, and that it took a couple of years for the art form to find itself again. (Although great films were made in the dip too, such as The Big Trail (Raoul Walsh 1930), in the now barely remembered 70mm system of the time.) There was a certain waywardness and ad hoc quality in the filmmaking processes as the 1930s progressed, even among the studios in Hollywood; giving a sense of an art form in an often raw and rough state, side by side with the carefully controlled and exquisite, in a way that is different from the 1940s and 1950s.

Cinema going practises were different from now. There was the concept of A- and B-movies for example, and there was among the audiences also a waywardness, audiences coming and going as they saw fit with no regard for schedules. There were ongoing debates about how to deal with the audience, and how films should be shown and what schedules should look like. Hitchcock's campaign at the release of Psycho (1960), to keep the audience in place and not to allow anyone in after the film had begun, is well-known, but such efforts had been done before.

I have often been puzzled by the widespread idea that deep focus was more or less invented by Welles/Toland for Citizen Kane, with a few rare precursors such as some films by Jean Renoir. Puzzled because deep focus was common all through the 1930s, in films from many countries, yet hardly anyone seems to be aware of this. According to David O. Cook, "cinema's physical capacities for deep focus" was "restored" by the "creative genius of Orson Welles and Gregg Toland" (p. 247) and "Renoir was the first major director of the sound film to compose shots in depth." (p. 247). Neither of these statements are true. (I have written about this here.) But it has occurred to me that this is not surprising, since so much about the 1930s is hidden behind a veil of ignorance.


The biggest and most well-known cinema of the 1930s is of course Hollywood, but it does not mean it is better understood or known than other countries. A representative quote:
"American cinema of the 1930s consistently concealed from the American people the reality of the Depression, and later, of the war in Europe. This is not a matter of opinion, but of historical record: with several notable exceptions (e.g. Warner Bros.' I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Mervyn LeRoy, 1932; United Artists' Our Daily Bread, King Vidor, 1934), Hollywood did not seriously confront the social misery caused by the depression until the release of Fox's The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford) in 1940; the first Hollywood film to acknowledge the Nazi threat in Europe, Warner Bros.' Confessions of a Nazi Spy (Anatole Litvak), did not appear until 1939." (p. 221)
That was from the fifth edition of A History of Narrative Film by Cook, but whatever he may think, it is not an historical record that the reality of the depression was concealed. There were plenty of such films, in a variety of different genres, made each year. Just because Cook has not seen them does not mean they do not exist. They do; it is of historical record that they were plentiful, and sometimes strikingly harsh and bleak.

It is however the case that there were few films that addressed the situation in Europe, but I wrote more about that in an earlier post about Urwand's book.

While there is often talk about Hollywood's 1930s as being a decade of fixed genres and studio house styles, it was a lot more varied, complex and free-spirited than such beliefs allow for. Different genres, directors and cinematographers had different styles, and the concept of house style is often only applicable to specific groups of films from individual studios. For example, Universal is usually said to have specialised in horror films, and it is true that they did make several classics in that genre. But they also specialised in romantic musical comedies, particularly starring Deana Durbin. These do not look like Frankenstein (James Whale 1931), but are more reminiscent of what is usually alleged to be Paramount's house style. It is clear that Warner Bros. on average had a grittier look than Paramount or MGM, at least with regard to the most well-known classics. But Warner Bros. also did expensive-looking films with art deco design, while MGM did the Tarzan films, gangster films (the violent ending of The Beast of the City (Charles Brabin 1932) is quite something), horror films and films like Fritz Lang's Fury (1936), neither of which fits with the idea of what an MGM film looked like. Talking about studio style is to simplify matter in a way that leads to ahistorical conceptions about the actual reality. "Hollywood films of the decade, with surprisingly few exceptions, looked strikingly alike." (p. 230), from the seventh edition of A Short History of the Movies, is a condensed version of the conventional wisdom. But such a statement would not be made by someone who has watched a lot of Hollywood films of the 1930s.

The concept of genre is complicated for various reasons. It is for example often more relevant to talk about cycles or trends than genres. Fast films partly set in newsrooms with wise-cracking reports were popular in the 1930s, such as The Front Page (Lewis Milestone 1931), Five Star Final (Mervyn LeRoy 1931), Blessed Event (Roy Del Ruth 1932), the nine films about the female reporter Torchy Blane, and so on to its apotheosis, Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (1940), appropriately a reimagining of The Front Page. But do these films constitute a genre? They are usually a combination of gangster film, social drama and screwball comedies, and might better be seen as a cycle of films.

Many films are almost impossible to pinpoint to a specific genre, as they contain multitudes. This connects back to what I said earlier about the waywardness and ad hoc quality of the decade. This is also what makes many of the films unpredictable and interesting. Our understanding of genres is often based on films made after World War 2, but the 1930s (or for that matter the 1920s) are different in many respects and do not neatly tie in with contemporary ideas about various genres and their alleged rigidity and stability.


The concept of the pre-code often entails a belief that films after 1934 are boring or timid but this is not the case. There is no particular reason to single out the pre-code years, the whole decade is remarkable, partly to do with the reasons I gave above, the thrill of watching an art form reborn and re-invented. And there were so many great films; fabulous, weird, ruthless, charming, magical, confusing films that are to a large extent forgotten. It is often the case that famous filmmakers are discussed primarily for their films of the 1940s and not least 1950s, and neglecting their earlier films, but this is a mistake. Just consider Douglas Sirk, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Max Ophuls, Henry Hathaway and Henry King.

Then there are those filmmakers who thrived in the 1930s but either never really made it after the war, such as Jean Grémillon, Victor Fleming, or Sadao Yamanaka (who died in 1938 and forgotten) or those that continued but never became household names for proceeding generations or film historians, such as Roy Del Ruth. In the early 1930s he was exceptionally productive, making six films in 1933 alone. That was a normal year for him. What is remarkable is how good so many of the films are. Witty, inventive, direct, sometimes moving and at time stylish. And almost always fast. Here is a shot from Employees' Entrance (1933):

According to conventional wisdom of the visual style of the 1930s, such a shot did not exist.

I do not know much about Del Ruth, but he began his film career as a gag maker for Mack Sennett and made short films for a decade or so. From 1925 he began making feature films, and soon became one of the highest paid directors in Hollywood, working at Warner Bros. and making films in almost all genres except Westerns. He did the first adaptation of The Maltese Falcon (1931) and several films with James Cagney, including Blonde Crazy (1931) and Taxi! (1932). Particularly good are Bureau of Missing Persons (1933), with Pat O'Brien as a cop with a violent temperament who is mellowed by his love for a murder suspect played by Bette Davis, and the delightful The Little Giant (1933), with Edward G. Robinson as a mobster going straight. In one scene he kisses Mary Astor, and then turns to look at the camera, at us, and swallows, as if he cannot believe what just happened.

Marvellous scene

While I said Del Ruth worked in almost all genres, it might be more accurate to say that many of his early films are difficult to pinpoint to a specific genre, including those films mentioned above. But towards the end of the 1930s he began making musicals at MGM and Twentieth Century-Fox. After that he tried being independent for a while, making films through his own company Roy Del Ruth Productions, including a thriller with George Raft and Virginia Mayo called Red Light (1949). His last film, after having done TV for many years, was the capital punishment drama Why Must I Die? (1960).

It is a pity that when directors working in Hollywood are written about and analysed it is almost always the special cases, such as Lubitsch, Hawks, Hitchcock, Wyler, Ford, those that had the power and independence, and inclination, to strike out on their own. But all those other directors that were the backbones of Hollywood, and who often made the largest number of films and the biggest box office hits, are not nearly as discussed and researched. Hardly a word has been written about Del Ruth despite his central rule at Hollywood's second largest studio. What was it like for someone like him? How were the processes, and what was his view of his position within the community and the filmmaking tradition? I am not saying that he is a forgotten auteur. He might be, but it is more interesting if he is not. The life and career of a happy workhorse is an underappreciated research topic. It would also be interesting to make a comparative study of him and Mervyn LeRoy, with whom he had a lot in common, although LeRoy had more of an edge to his filmmaking, more daring and imposing, and an anecdote mentioned in The Genius of the System is suggestive of this: Del Ruth was offered to direct I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang but he turned it down since he felt it was too dark and without popular appeal. Instead LeRoy made it and while it is very bleak it was also more commercially successful than Del Ruth's Taxi! Del Ruth had a much lighter touch than LeRoy but, as they say, more research is warranted.

They Won't Forget (Mervyn LeRoy 1937), a bleak, powerful study of corruption.


A Short History of the Movies, Gerald Mast, Bruce F. Kawin (2000, 7th ed.)
A History of Narrative Film, David O. Cook (2016, 5th ed.)
The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era, Thomas Schatz (1988)
(I like Schatz's book but it seems to be known primarily for its introduction, which is unfortunate since it does an injustice to the nuances of the rest of the book.)

See also my earlier post about Deanna Durbin, Henry Koster and Universal.
I have written about poetic realism here.
For a prominent Swedish filmmaker from the 1930s, there is Schamyl Bauman. Read about him here.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

52 directors: Howard Hawks

This is a second co-posting event with Swedish film bloggers. There is something called "52 directors" where each participant, once a week, post a list of their five favourite films of a specific director. As this week is Hawks, and it is a well-known fact that Hawks is my favourite filmmaker, I shall participate. A frivolous exercise for sure, but a regular post will be up again next Friday at 09:00. For now, here is Hawks.

To choose five films based on some relevant criteria is not possible. Since there are three films I think are his best, five are either too many or too few. But the top three would be:

Only Angels Have Wings (1939), The Big Sleep (1946) and Rio Bravo (1959).

The first and the last are quintessential Hawks stuff about group dynamics in enclosed spaces. They are laidback and casual and care more about characters than plot, yet are also filled with drama and action. Some of the flight sequences in Only Angels Have Wings are beautiful.

The Big Sleep is interesting because the first 90 minutes is almost like a comedy, a wisecracking screwball with an unusual body count. Then Harry Jones is murdered by being forced to drink poison and both the film and Marlowe change; the film into tragedy and Marlowe from cynical to angry. The transition is almost imperceptible but it is there, you can feel it.

But in all three, as in the rest of Hawks, it is the dialogue, the movements of the characters, the direction of looks, the music numbers, the exchanges of matches, the tempo and rhythm, the worldview, that makes them what they are: uniquely Hawksian.

So those three were easy. For the remaining two I will just go with Red River (1948) and Hatari! (1962). I love them both, for the same reason I love the others. In addition, Red River has an epic sweep and Hatari! might be the most laidback film Hawks ever made. (Pier Paolo Pasolini visited the set. I have always wondered how he and Hawks got along.)

For the bookkeepers:

The Big Sleep
Rio Bravo
Only Angels Have Wings
Red River

But really, there are at least eight others also worthy of inclusion, and I feel bad for not including Twentieth Century (1934). It has Roscoe Karns in it, which should be reason enough for anybody. Of Hawks's 42 feature-length films (depending on how you count) only about four or five disappoint. As batting averages go that is quite something.

Those who can read Swedish can check out two other bloggers contributions:

"In some Humpty Dumpty way that was true love."

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Death on the Nile (1978)

Instead of the usual Friday posting, I am this week doing a joint venture within a Swedish film blog community about Death of the Nile (John Guillermin 1978) and tradition says that these posts go out on Wednesday mornings. The screening was at the big cinema at the Swedish Film Institute, with a surprisingly large crowd. Always a nice experience. Now to the writing:


When I was a teenager I began devouring Agatha Christie's books. Conveniently a cosy shop in the small town of Norrtälje, where the family spent the summers, had a large selection and whenever we happened to pass it my dad bought me a new book. I know them well by now, and therefore I do not devour them any longer, but they do make a handsome shelf in one of my bookcases. I love several of them, such as Sad CypressThey Came to Bagdad and Cat Among the Pigeons. Although I think her best book is Absent in the Spring, one of her novels written under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott and that are not detective stories.

There have been several famous adaptations of her books and plays. The oldest one still considered a classic is probably the American And Then There Were None (René Clair 1945). Billy Wilder did Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Frank Tashlin made The Alphabet Murders (1965), with Tony Randall as Poirot. Christie did not like it as the film is more Tashlin than her, which is undeniably true. In Britain, George Pollock did four films in the 1960s with Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. They have great music by Ron Goodwin but I am not convinced that Rutherford is suitable for the part. (I much prefer her as the medium Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit (David Lean 1945).) Tashlin being Tashlin, he had Rutherford make a cameo as Miss Marple in his film, which also has music by Goodwin. But the really big ones, today still famous, appeared in the 1970s and early 1980s. They are filled with stars, have great production values and expensive location footage. There were four of them, all produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin and three were written by Anthony Shaffer, including Death on the Nile. The first of these is Murder on the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet 1974), the best (according to me) is The Mirror Crack'd (Guy Hamilton 1980), and the last is Evil Under the Sun (Guy Hamilton 1982). But the second is the biggest, i.e. Death on the Nile. 

David Niven and Peter Ustinov

The films not only have great casts, several actors also appear in more than one film. Sometimes in the same part, sometimes in different parts, such as Angela Lansbury who plays an outrageous writer of erotic romances in Death on the Nile but then plays Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack'd. These large casts of great actors are among the films' greatest assets, and so it is in Death on the Nile too.

It begins humbly enough, and rather boringly, with the introduction of the main characters in England (and one in the US), and here Lois Chiles as the future murder victim Linnet Ridgeway is the centre of attention. This is unfortunate because she is a terrible actress. She is almost worse here than in next year's Bond film Moonraker (Lewis Gilbert 1979), if that is possible. But once they are all in Egypt things change, and it is no longer boring or humble. Instead it becomes something of a vulgar feast, a celebration of camp and with nobody taking things seriously. There are plenty of excellent one-liners, delivered by such pros as Maggie Smith, Bette Davis and David Niven. It is not just the one-liners and the general sense of light mockery of the conventions, it is also the characters and how they relish their ridiculous parts. Lansbury, Davis and Jack Warner in particular ham it up (as Victor Fleming would say) with obvious satisfaction, and the director John Guillermin is not one to rein them in. He is by no means a good director, but here his shortcomings work to the film's advantage.

Simon MacCorkindale, Lansbury and Warner

There is however a problem with the film and it has to do with Christie's central storyline. The book is not this camp or hilarious; at heart it is a tragedy. The film at times tries to invoke this, especially in Mia Farrow's wonderful performance as Jacqueline de Bellefort, one of most interesting characters Christie has ever created. But it does not sit well with the rest of the film, which has a different tone.

The film was made on location on the Nile and in surrounding areas and is shot by Jack Cardiff no less. But while the vistas are beautiful, the visual style is on the whole pedestrian and unimaginative. There are a few nice shots, such as Lois Chiles and Mia Farrow surrounded by mirrors in a scene in the beginning, and an evocative, meticulously timed, sequence among the tall pillars at the Karnak temple complex. But that is about it, visually. There is a complex series of re-enactments of the first murder, and the incident right before it. Everything that happened then is shown repeatedly throughout the rest of the film, but each time from a new angle or perspective, almost Rashomon style. It adds a dimension to the narrative, making it more imaginative than the imagery.

But while you read the book for the characterisations, Christie's psychological insights and for the thrill of the plotting, the film does not care much for any of that. Here the pleasures are other things, not least Poirot deadpanning "We know Madame Doyle was not killed by a fish."

Davis and Smith

Shaffer also wrote Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) and The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy 1973) so he was no stranger to bloodshed and mystery. He later wrote one more Christie adaptation, Appointment with Death (Michael Winner 1988), which also stars Peter Ustinov and alas is appallingly bad.

I said that I did not like Rutherford as Miss Marple, but Christie did. She dedicated The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side to her.

While I have only mentioned feature film adaptations, there are also innumerable TV adaptations. Joan Hickson as Miss Marple in BBC's series from 1984 to 1992 is particularly good. And it is not only an Anglo-Saxon tradition. There are many French, Indian and Japanese adaptations. Some German ones too.

Two fellow film bloggers also write about the film today: Sofia Åkerblom here and Carl Sandell here (in Swedish only).

Friday 6 September 2019

The status quo of happy endings

It is axiomatic that corporate-sponsored and produced media tends to be affirmative and rarely if ever challenges the status quo. The majority of Hollywood films end happily, for example. (p. 269)
Lee Grieveson's new book Cinema and the Wealth of Nations: Media, Capital, and the Liberal World System (2018) is beautifully written, deeply researched (at least judging by the endnotes) and with a clear purpose. It has some obvious weaknesses though. While it is not about fiction feature films, it does on occasion refer to such films, and the quote above is an example of the way in which it does so. All of what is said in the quote can be questioned but I want to dwell on status quo and happy endings for now, as Grieveson is not making an original observation in the quote but only repeating a common cliché.

That the majority of Hollywood films ends happily is not something that has been researched and proved. Grieveson does not provide a reference or source for his statement, not even David Bordwell's widely circulated figure of some 60% of films having conventional happy endings in "classical" Hollywood. But there is no comprehensive research. For all anyone knows maybe 53,7% of all Hollywood films end unhappily.

Part of the problem is that what constitutes a happy ending is not an exact science but to some extent a subjective feeling. If a romantic comedy ends with two lovers united and happy, and there are no complications or issues left to deal with for any of the characters in the film, then it might be considered a straightforward happy ending. But such endings are not the norm for all Hollywood films.

Side Street (Anthony Mann 1950)

And what has it got to do with "the status quo", an amusingly vague concept? In Grieveson's context it probably means "the liberal-capitalist economic system" but what is the relation to affirmative and happy endings? If a film ends with a glorious rebellion that finally ends capitalism as we know it, and our heroes survive and prosper in the new economic system, I suppose Grieveson would call this a happy ending. Which status quo would it support?

Consider a film about a woman training for a marathon and in the end she manages to complete the race. Why would this in any way have any bearing on any status quo? A film about a child who loses her stuffed tiger in the beginning and is then happily reunited with it again in the end, would this by default implicitly argue that the only economic system possible is the one we currently have?

Those were hypothetical films so let us consider The Apartment (Billy Wilder 1960) instead. It ends happily for Baxter and Fran; the last shot is of their new-found happiness. But they find their happiness by breaking with the status quo, i.e. the rat race of corporate America. One interpretation of the film is that within the capitalist structure men and, especially, women are exchangeable commodities and for love to stand a chance you have to leave that structure, even if it means quitting your job. Is this not an ending that challenges the status quo yet is also happy, at least superficially? Another, especially beautiful, example is All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk 1955). Examples like this are not hard to come by. Another thing one could consider are films about gay/lesbian characters. Historically speaking such films often ended unhappily, frequently with suicide, but when they do end happily it is because of a defiance against some status quo, i.e. the opposite of Grieveson's belief. It is possible, like in The Children's Hour (William Wyler 1961), that a Queer film ends with a suicide but is still in defiance, but I think that is rarer.

Making these arguments and mentioning these titles feels unnecessary however. The content of the opening quote are not real arguments but thought-clichés that have been perpetuated for decades. I do not understand why they are taken seriously. But the way Grieveson makes the arguments, tossed out as if they were well-established facts that we all know to be true, proves how ingrained and prevalent they are, despite their vacuousness.

What Bordwell says in Narration in the Fiction Film (1985): "It is significant that of one hundred randomly sampled Hollywood films, over sixty ended with a display of the united romantic couple - the cliché happy ending, often with a 'clinch' - and many more could be said the end happily." (p. 159)

One hundred films might sound like a lot but considering the period he covers is 43 years (1917-1960), when a single year could produce over 500 films, it is a small figure; only about 2.3 films per year. It does not tell us much and nothing is said about what kind of films they are, or how representative they might be.

Friday 23 August 2019

The Collaboration by Ben Urwand

Something that has always bothered me within the humanities is the common idea that if you criticise someone it is only because you have a different interpretation, and that either we cannot know the truth or that there is no truth to know, all we have are just interpretations. While few, if any, are willing to persists in the belief that there are only interpretations if you push them on specific topics, it is still a frequent first response. Consider for example Ben Urwand and Harvard University Press's response when Urwand's book The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler was criticised by a few reviewers and scholars, most explicitly perhaps by David Denby in The New Yorker. "Though not all reviewers agree with Urwand’s interpretation of the actions he describes, nearly 60 pages of notes and documentation enable readers to judge for themselves the strength and validity of his presentation." was the publisher's response.

But the criticism was not so much about Urwand's interpretations as about factual errors and unsubstantiated claims. Urwand himself does not treat his writing as interpretations but facts. The publisher's use of the word "interpretation" becomes a way of avoiding responsibility.

Although Urwand's book was published in the autumn of 2013 I had reason to return to it this summer. Since it continues to be taken seriously, is referenced in new books, and is getting published in translations around the world (last year a Portuguese version was published in Brazil), it seems there is still cause to critique it. Since I have now somewhat moved my research focus from the 1940s to the 1930s, the book also fits within that focus. And, finally, there are some interesting thing about it that were not mentioned in any of the reviews and articles I read at the time, so I might perhaps add something new myself. The book gets worse the more you study it.


There are many questionable assumptions and claims in The Collaboration and I will not be able to discuss them all. I will instead focus on two things: the German consul in Los Angeles, Georg Gyssling, as he is a key figure in the book, and Urwand's conception of Hollywood films in general of the 1930s. But first the Prologue, and page seven, on which the basic problem with the book reveals itself.

The prologue begins with several pages discussing Hitler's enthusiasm for films, and that he liked to watch films made in Hollywood. Urwand then says that the "Nazis' fascination with King Kong does not fit neatly into the accepted account of Hollywood in the 1930s. In the popular imagination, this was the 'golden age' of American cinema" (p. 7). There is no reason why the fact that Hitler liked Hollywood films would contradict any "accepted account" unless the "accepted account" was that Hitler hated Hollywood films. It is like saying that "Hitler being a vegetarian does not fit neatly into the accepted account of vegetarianism." And what does Urwand mean by "accepted account"? He is more specific at the end of the page: "it seemed to shatter a common idea about Hollywood, one that has been recycled in dozens of books - namely that Hollywood was synonymous with anti-fascism during its golden age." (p. 7)

This is not "a common idea" and I do not understand why Urwand would think so. For as long as I have been studying film history, it has always been a recurring criticism from lecturers, articles and books that Hollywood was not actively engaging with, or attacking, Nazis and fascists during the 1930s, the period Urwand is referring to. When Confessions of a Nazi Spy (Anatole Litvak 1939) is mentioned, it is usually to emphasise that it was, to quote from Katz's Film Encyclopedia, "the first clear anti-Fascist stand in a film from a major studio." This is the "accepted account" and Urwand is wrong. Not doing a different interpretation but being wrong. He has an end-note where he lists several books that I assume he includes among the "dozens of books" that recycles "the common idea". I have read some of these books however and they all say that there was a lamentable lack of anti-fascist films in the 1930s. Besides, the titles of them, and the others too, show that they are not about the 1930s but the war years and the 1940s. It is possible that one of them might claim that 1930s Hollywood "was synonymous with anti-fascism" but that would make that book an outlier, as the consensus is the opposite, and the opposite of what Urwand claims it is. Even You Must Remember This - The Warner Bros. Story (2008), a glossy celebration of the history and legacy of Warner Bros., has this to say about the 1930s: "Even though Hollywood was largely founded and run by Jews, a blind eye was deliberately turned on events in Europe in the 1930s. Nazis and anti-Semitism were given no place in the cinema and Hitler was for the most part ignored." (p. 96) Something cannot reasonably be called a hidden secret if even the studios themselves bring it up in books meant to celebrate them.

Urwand also claims that his book "reveals for the first time the complex web of interactions between the American studios and the German government in the 1930s" (p. 7) It is unclear what he means by "for the first time" because Hollywood's relationship with Nazi Germany is well-documented. To take one 20-year old example, Mark Glancy's book When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' Film 1939-1945 has a chapter called "Hollywood's foreign policy" which documents much of the same things Urwand does in his book, with several of the same examples and the same figures, including the presence of the German consul, Gyssling. (See quote at the end of this article.) Glancy's book is not mentioned in The Collaboration.

All those problematic quotes from The Collaboration were from page seven. That is a lot of misleading information on one page. It does not improve from there. But before we go further, here is a notice from Hollywood Reporter, 14 November 1935, which clearly lay out the issue that Urwand claims to have discovered, yet in a more nuanced way than he does:
It is admitted that today, due to the political situation throughout Europe, censorship on pictures touching on topics considered dangerous to those in power is tougher than ever. The picture companies are through with their former stand, ‘We’ll make it anyway’. They will now listen to foreign departments whose business it is to keep closely in touch with problems confronting the sales departments abroad. 

Now I will focus on the activities of Gyssling, the German consul, and what Urwand has to say about him. He is a key figure in the book.

Gyssling makes his first appearance on page 55. He is sent to Los Angeles in 1933 to be the Nazis' official representative in Hollywood and try to ensure that films that are critical of Germany were not made. Germany could deny the screening, in Germany and German-controlled territory, of any film they disapproved of, so they had influence.

The first meeting in which Gyssling appears, according to Urwand, was about Warner's film Captured! (Roy Del Ruth 1933) and Gyssling did not approve of it. The studio did not care and released it anyway. "It is uncertain what happened at this point, but in all likelihood Gyssling sent one of his warnings to Warner Brothers." (p. 56) Urwand speculates.

In January 1934 Warner Brothers held another screening before what, I assume, would be the international release of Captured! and this time they had made some cuts. Another German, Gustav Müller, saw this version and approved it. But Warner Bros. would still leave Germany in 1934. It is unclear why exactly and Urwand does not say. (As far as I know, Warner Bros. had already decided to leave although they were contractually required to remain until early 1934. Then they were free of Germany.)

Urwand does however say this in an end-note: "Warner Brothers went even further in order not to get into trouble. In late 1933, the company released a picture entitled Ever in My Heart, which told the story of a German immigrant who experienced discrimination in America during the World War /.../ In other words, when the persecutions of the Jews was beginning in Germany, Warner Brothers released a picture about the persecution of the German minority in the United States." (p. 267-268n64) Urwand is suggesting that Warner Bros. made a film to endear themselves with the Germans, but it must have been made before they even knew they would be in trouble, and Urwand does not tell the entire plot and what he leaves out is rather important. When the war begins the man, the German immigrant, returns to Europe, enlists in Germany and becomes a spy against the Americans. As he becomes a threat to the United States he is killed by his former wife. Why does Urwand think that such a story would please the Germans?

Urwand says that this event with Captured! marked the beginning of Hollywood's pact and collaboration: "Every time they embarked on a potentially threatening production, they received one of [Gyssling's] letters /.../ In response /.../ they did not make the same mistake as Warner Brothers. They simply invited Gyssling to the studio lot to preview the film in question, and they made all the cuts that he suggested." (p. 58) As we shall see, Urwand is not able to substantiate this claim.

The next time Gyssling appears is in relation to a film project of 1935, The Mad Dog of Europe. The film was never made and Urwand blames Gyssling for this; saying that Gyssling's only chance to stop the film was to threaten the Hays Office (the censor board, of which an important part was The Production Code Administration) with a complete ban on all American films in Germany if The Mad Dog of Europe was released. Then Urwand somewhat unexpectedly says "It is uncertain whether Gyssling actually did this at this particular point in time - the evidence in inconclusive - but he probably did" (p. 68) Or maybe not.

A couple of months later Gyssling did contact the Hays office about The Mad Dog of Europe, Urwand has conclusive evidence this time. But judging by his book, almost everybody, except a couple of producers, thought it was a bad idea to make the film. That included Jewish organisations and the Anti-Defamation League. It seems unfair to blame any one individual for the cancelling of the film when hardly anybody seemed to have liked the idea of making it.

Next time Gyssling appears is when Darryl F. Zanuck is told to send him the script for Zanuck's upcoming production The House of Rothschild. According to Urwand, Zanuck declined. (p. 78)

Then there is a discussion about the cancelled adaptation of Sinclair Lewis's anti-fascist novel It Can't Happen Here. About this Urwand says that "there is no evidence to suggest that Gyssling issued any complaint about" it (p. 178) and adds "[w]ether Gyssling was involved in the cancellation of It Can't Happen Here will probably never be known." (p. 179)

The next film discussed is Warner Bros The Life of Emile Zola (William Dieterle 1937). Gyssling called the studio on several occasions during the making of it and finally talked with Henry Blanke, an associated producer. He apparently told Gyssling that he need not worry about the film, saying "that the Dreyfus case plays a very small part". (p. 179) Since the Dreyfus case take up most of the film this was obviously a lie to get rid of Gyssling. That however is not Urwand's interpretation of it. He mentioned how Jack Warner asked that the film should not emphasise in dialogue that Dreyfus was a Jew, and says this "unfortunate episode revealed what an aggressive figure Georg Gyssling had become." (p. 180). That Gyssling was aggressive is obvious but this example does not reveal anything about his influence. What it does reveal is that the studios continued to be sensitive about being seen as advocating explicitly on behalf of the Jews. (More on this later.) But at the same time, The Life of Emile Zola does show that Dreyfus is a Jew and that this is the reason for why he is mistreated; that he was innocent and a victim of antisemitism.

Further, The Private Lives of Emile Zola dealt with a subject matter that was delicate in France, and they would also have been keeping an eye on the production of the film. It is more probable that Warner Bros. would listen to French concerns than German concerns in this case and it is possible that the French asked for the removal of the word "Jew" or other concessions. I do not know if they did, but it is a possibility that Urwand has not considered at all.

Then Gyssling is mentioned in relation to the film The Road Back (James Whale 1937), where he was so aggressive against the cast and crew that it became a general scandal and led to a reprimand from the U.S. State Department in Washington. The film was released, and, according to Urwand, its release led to Universal Pictures not being allowed to continue operations in Germany (p. 184). I would like to suggest that the reason Gyssling threatened the cast and crew was that Universal ignored him, as they were no longer working in Germany. There were cuts in the film, and the reasons for this has been explored and discussed at great length in James Curtis's book James Whale - A New World of Gods and Monsters (1998), especially on pages 292-309. Suffice to say it is a lot more complex than Urwand suggests.

The same year, the release of Twentieth Century-Fox's Lancer Spy (Gregory Ratoff 1937) also met with Gyssling's disapproval but it did not lead to Fox being banned. (p. 185)

The production of Three Comrades (Frank Borzage 1937) was one where Gyssling was involved by way of letters written early in the production. There is a quote in the book from Budd Schulberg, which Urwand treats like a revelation. "Mayer read the paper from Breen and understood the problem immediately. According to Budd Schulberg, here is what happened next: 'When they tried to make some, I think there was Three Comrades, there were some films that Louis B. Mayer of MGM would actually run those films with the Nazi German consul and was willing to take out things that the consul, that the Nazis, objected to.'" (p. 189) According to Urwand's interpretation, Mayer held a screening for Gyssling and then made a list of changes that he gave to Breen who then gave it to the film's producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz. That quote from Schulberg is one reason Urwand has given (here for example) for why he wrote the book, and what made him learn German and research the archives. He wanted to know if Schulberg's quote was correct.

But the chronology in his telling of the event is off. How could Mayer arrange a screening for the film when it only existed on paper yet? And if Mayer had the screening why would he give a list to Breen instead of directly to his producer Mankiewicz? This is too muddled to make sense. Then Urwand speaks of "a second screening" for which he has evidence. But it is unclear why make that the second screening when it is more plausibly the first, and the only one. Why cannot this be the screening that Schulberg spoke of? When the film's script was published in 1978 it is stated in the afterword to the script that "a private screening was arranged for the German consul in Los Angeles" (p. 265) so it clearly happened, but probably only once. The case is also discussed in depth in Hervé Dumont's book Frank Borzage: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic, first published in France in 1993 and then in an English translation in 2006. There too only one screening for Gyssling is mentioned. In Scott Eyman's book about Louis B. Mayer Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer (2005), there is also only one screening mentioned.

As we have seen, many previous scholars have addressed the very thing Urwand claims he has discovered, and the only new thing Urwand brings up is that there were two screenings instead of one, but it seems he is wrong about that too. It is worth reflecting over the fact that Urwand claims he learned German and spent ten years in archives to find out about something that any book about the subject could have told him immediately, if he had bothered to look.

After Three Comrades, Gyssling is mentioned in reference to Four Sons (Archie Mayo 1940). According to Urwand, it "greatly annoyed Georg Gyssling" (p. 212). The significance of this anecdote is unclear since the film was made and released, on 14 June, 1940, and Gyssling's annoyance had no effect. Urwand dismisses it as "a relatively minor film set in Czechoslovakia that ignored the specific dangers of Nazism." (p. 212). That is not true. The film is about a family in Czechoslovakia that is destroyed when the Nazis take over their country. The Nazis are portrayed, in no uncertain terms, as the enemy of democracy, decency, and humanity as a whole. They kill innocent civilians, they deport people, they send people to camps, they teach young children to kill. In the end the main character, the old woman who once had four sons, escapes to the United States with her grandson. For a film of 1940 it is remarkably explicit about what the Nazis were doing. It is puzzling that when a film finally comes along that is doing what Urwand has repeatedly asked for, he dismisses it and deliberately misrepresents its content.

Four Sons, although the film is in black and white.


Towards the end of the 1930s Gyssling was no longer in the same position he once was. He was considered a threat by the FBI, at least since 1937, and according to Urwand, by 1939 the Hays Office had "ceased all communication with him." (p. 198) By now explicitly anti-Nazi films were being made by the major studios, even MGM.

It is clearly the case, and this has been known and documented by film historians for decades, that Gyssling for a few years was a powerful man in Hollywood by his position as a representative of Nazi Germany. But there were hundreds of films made each year and Urwand mentions few, and even those few he mentions it is often unclear what, if any, Gyssling's involvement was. And if there was a pact and a collaboration, why did Hollywood repeatedly try to make films that would upset the Germans? You could read Urwand's book and come away with the feeling that rather than a collaboration there was a constant battle.

But why deal with the Nazis at all, in the form of Gyssling? Because it was standard procedure to do so with many nations. Hollywood was in general conscious about the reactions of other countries and engaged with them, whether friends or enemies. Italy, France, Spain, Britain, Japan were among other countries that demanded cuts and changes, and got them. This wider context is only briefly mentioned by Urwand in an end-note (p. 257n26), but without this context the book becomes lopsided. The most influential country was Britain, to which Breen and the Hays Office often aligned themselves. But most countries to which American films were exported were consulted. MGM's convoluted efforts to make Idiot's Delight (Clarence Brown 1939) against the wishes of the Italian consul is an interesting tale, but it is not mentioned in Urwand's book.

Something else Urwand does not mention is that after Hollywood, Gyssling appeared in Sweden during the war, pestering the Foreign Office about film issues. That is perhaps not relevant for Urwand's purposes, but what is relevant is that, unknown to Urwand apparently, Gyssling was not a loyal Nazi but instead provided secret information about Germany to a Jewish friend in the United States, who then passed it on to higher American authorities. This gives a new meaning to his role in Hollywood, and was brought to light a few years ago by Stephen J. Ross at University of Southern California. See here.)

In short, Urwand mentions nine films in relation with Gyssling. On some of them Gyssling's involvement is unclear, on some he had no impact at all, on others Urwand speculates. Only for two of the films, Three Comrades and The Road Back, has Urwand established an active engagement between Gyssling and a studio, which resulted in changes. And these were already known cases.

Urwand also insists that the only reason that the studios acted like they did was because of their greed and business concerns, even though his book is filled with examples of other concerns. One such concern that was very real for the studios' bosses and many of the cast and crew members was the rampant antisemitism in the United States, and the real threat from local Nazis. This is something, on what might be the most outrageous page in the book, Urwand completely brush off as insignificant and probably not even true. "There is no evidence, at this point or later on, that they were actually afraid of the potential anti-Semitic reaction that an anti-Nazi film might provoke." (p. 75) How can he be so tone-deaf? If he wanted proof, and there is a lot of that, he would not have to look far. Maybe turn to page 208 of his own book where he describes what happened when Confessions of a Nazi Spy was released: "Theaters were vandalized, critics in the Midwest were urged to write negative reviews, and Hollywood was denounced as a Jewish conspiracy." (For more information about the genuine threat from local Nazis, and the fears among the Jews in Hollywood, see this article.)


In order for Urwand to strengthen his argument, he also talks in more general terms about Hollywood films of the 1930s, but here he is also misguided and wrong.

"For three years, Hollywood had avoided making movies that draw attention to the economic depression and the horrendous conditions under which people lived." (p. 107) Urwand writes, and the three years are 1930 to 1932. But one thing those years are famous for is films dealing with the depression and the "horrendous conditions" of the time. Urwand himself has mentioned one, I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy 1932), so he must be aware that they exist. Five other examples he could have mentioned had he known about them are City Girl (F.W. Murnau 1930), The Cabin in the Cotton (Michael Curtiz 1932), American Madness (Frank Capra 1932), Faithless (Harry Beaumont 1932) and Employees' Entrance (Roy Del Ruth 1933).

The film he erroneously claims was the first one to address the economic conditions of the time is Gabriel Over the White House (Gregory La Cava 1933). A notorious film which has, since it came out, usually been considered a fascist film, as it seems to be in favour of rule by a strong leader with dictatorial power. Although there are other interpretations to be done, Urwand agrees with those who says it is fascist, but he goes further than that and says that "ever since MGM's Gabriel over the White House, the Hollywood studios had themselves released 'one pro-Fascist film after another'" (p. 175) and that "a film advocating liberal democracy over fascism - could not have been made in the United States at this time" (p. 175) That is not true.

Which are these "pro-Fascist" films Urwand talks about? "In a sense, the most successful Nazi propaganda film of the 1930s was not Triumph of the Will /.../ but The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (p. 116) he declares. "The next Hollywood movie that delivered a National Socialist message /.../ would set a new standard for future German production. The film was called Our Daily Bread." (p. 121) But Our Daily Bread (1934) was not a Hollywood production but an independent production by King Vidor and made the year before The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, not the year afterOur Daily Bread is usually considered a working class, left-wing film, and if you watch it you will understand why. It is also a cheaply made, naturalistic film with no stars. Exactly which German productions are Urwand thinking of as following that standard? I do not know much about German filmmaking from the Nazi era, but what I have seen does not give the impression that they were keen on producing films about poverty and rural depravation. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (Henry Hathaway 1935) is a pro-British film and a hymn to its rule over India, in the spirit of Rudyard Kipling. (It was banned in Italy for its pro-British sentiments.) This one might find distasteful, but it does not make it Nazi propaganda. But for Urwand it is and, he says, there was "a whole series of American films just like it." (p. 125) He mentions the following titles:

Looking Forward (Clarence Brown 1933)
Night Flight (Clarence Brown 1933)
Queen Christina (Rouben Mamoulian 1933)
Mutiny on the Bounty (Frank Lloyd 1935)
West Point of the Air (Richard Rosson 1935)
Mr Deeds Goes to Town (Frank Capra 1936)
Souls at Sea (Henry Hathaway 1937)
Captains Courageous (Victor Fleming 1937)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra 1939)

"This list went on. This was the high point in Hollywood's relationship with Nazi Germany." (p. 127)

I do not know Looking Forward or West Point at the Air but the others I have seen. There is not space enough here to discuss each of them in depth and explain why it is strange, not to say incomprehensible, to talk about them as being some kind of Nazi propaganda, but you have probably seen some of them and can vouch for yourself. It is possible there were some random films made in Hollywood that could be considered Nazi propaganda in some way, but those films are not among them. Urwand provides a quote regarding Mutiny on the Bounty, it "showed how an ordinary man could rise up against the tyranny of a corrupt power" (p. 126). If this is his idea of Nazi propaganda then that might explain why he thinks there was so much of it in Hollywood cinema.

Souls at Sea, about the fight to end the transatlantic slave trade.

When Urwand discusses The Mad Dog of Europe, he claims that the fact that it was not made led to the complete erasure of Jewish characters in Hollywood films. After describing their vivid presence in previous Hollywood films he says, "The decision not to make The Mad Dog of Europe changed all this." (p. 76) However, a few pages later, at the end of his discussion about The House of Rothschild, Urwand says that "the Jew, once so prominent in American culture, was suddenly nowhere to be found /.../ More than any other single factor, The House of Rothschild was responsible for this disappearance." (p. 90) How can The House of Rothschild be the single most important factor if two years earlier The Mad Dog of Europe had already "changed all this"? Either way, this change was not because of any one film but a wide-reaching reform which did not just involve Jewish characters but many kinds of ethnicities, sexualities, languages and other things that could cause offence among some part of society. It also involved dress codes, level of violence and so on. It was the tightening of the Production Code, and its enforcement is well-known. It was this (gradual) change that has given us the term "pre-Code cinema" today to refer to the films between, roughly, 1930 and 1934. Urwand seems to be unaware of this. Jews where still to be found though, and other minorities too, albeit less frequent and often in coded form.

Another issue is what is missing from the book, such as all those films that, on terms acceptable by the Production Code, did try to address problems with fascism and/or racism, at home and abroad. "What's better work for an American than helping to fight for democracy?" O'Hara (played by Gary Cooper), rhetorically asks in The General Died at Dawn (Lewis Milestone 1936 Paramount), one such film. Other films one could mention are Fury (Fritz Lang 1936, MGM)They Won't Forget (Mervyn LeRoy 1937, Warner Bros.), Black Legion (Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz 1937 Warner Bros.), The Last Train from Madrid (James P. Hogan 1937 Paramount), Blockade (William Dieterle 1938 Walter Wanger), The Adventures of Robin Hood (William Keighley Michael Curtiz 1938 Warner Bros.), Juarez (William Dieterle 1939 Warner Bros.). Then there are B-movies, including Westerns such as those about the Three Mesquiteers, in which anti-fascist messages sometimes appear and other political issues are brought to attention. Since their existence would undermine Urwand's argument it is understandable that he does not mention any of this. For those who want to get an idea of the tremendous difficulties Hollywood filmmakers had to deal with when making a film with a political subject, I suggest the introduction to the published (1983) script of Juarez. It was difficult to make these films, yet many tried.

Another factor that adds context is the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League (HANL), for a while one of America's most prominent organisations for opposing Nazis and Fascists. Many members of the Hollywood community were members, including some that Urwand talks about, but while he mentions the organisation briefly he does not describe their importance or their members. He does say that "it had avoided all criticism of the Hollywood executives' dealings with Georg Gyssling." (p. 199) but since he does not provide any reference or source for this claim it is relevant to ask how he would know this. Maybe it was raised in several meetings at the time. Or maybe the League knew that Gyssling was not the real problem.


That was an overview of some key aspects of the book. It is time to sum it up. As the full title of the book is The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler, and because Urwand has persistently said, in the book and in interviews, that he has uncovered completely new information, one way of evaluating the book should therefore be by asking three questions:

Has Urwand shown that there was a pact?
Has Urwand shown that there was a collaboration?
Is there any new information in the book?

The answer to all three questions is unfortunately no, at least based on Urwand's book. He has not provided any examples of any written agreements between Hollywood and Hitler, although this is not surprising for how would such agreement have been possible? Hollywood is not a unity or corporate entity with the capacity to engage in such pacts with anyone. Of all of Hollywood's studios only three were actively working in Germany up until the war, the others left or were kicked out in the early days of the Nazis, so it was not the case that the whole of Hollywood was in on it. Urwand instead focuses only on Twentieth Century-Fox and MGM, and he has provided examples of local agreements in Germany between the studios and the local authorities. But that is not the same as a pact, and definitely not a pact between Hollywood and Hitler, and Urwand has not shown that there was any.

Was there a collaboration? Urwand claims that he used that word because, he says, that is the word that was used in written correspondence between the Germans, but they did not. They wrote in German and not English, and there is a German word for collaboration, Kollaboration. This is not the word they used in their correspondence. The word they used was Zusammenarbeit. Urwand has instead made a conscious decision to translate Zusammenarbeit into collaboration. I am not saying that it is necessarily a false translation, but I am saying that he cannot hide behind the Germans. He made that choice, not them. He could have chosen cooperation for example, or liaisons. (The word in effect means together-work.) But is it accurate to describe what happened between some of the studios and Germany as collaboration? It depends on your own definition of collaboration. If by collaboration you mean two, or more, parties with sinister motives working together for a common cause, then there was no collaboration and Urwand has not shown any proof of such an arrangement. The case of The Road Back is a good example of the reality. If there had been a pact or collaboration, the film would not even have been planned. Instead Gyssling had to threaten and bully the cast and crew to get his way. Is there not something unpleasant about telling these poor people that they were collaborating with Hitler?

Finally, is there anything new? If by "new" we mean relevant information that we did not have before about the historical situation being discussed, then the answer would be no. Over the last decades there have been several books and articles making the same arguments and telling the same story. It is perhaps the case that Urwand has looked at more materials in the German archives than previous English-speaking scholars have done, but even so he has not brought forward any new information.

There is one thing that some commentators of the book have mentioned as being new and shocking information. It is Urwand's claim that "the largest American motion picture company [MGM] helped to finance the German war machine." (p. 147) Is this true? I do not know. Urwand's reference is to "Stephenson, 'Special Report 53,' December 30, 1938." so I cannot double-check it. In Urwand's summary of Stephenson's report he says that Stephenson "explained the process" (p. 147). What is unclear is to whom he described it. If he described it to MGM, then it does not follow that they did as he suggested. But it could be the case that Stephenson explained to someone else what MGM had done. Considering the importance of the issue it is a pity that Urwand is unclear. But MGM's affairs have been discussed before, it is for example mentioned in Dumont's earlier book about Borzage, and in slightly different terms. Dumont says MGM had money in Germany that had been frozen by the Nazis. They could not remove it and instead invested that money and then sold their shares to American banks, with the approval of the US State Department. (p. 260) I do not know what this means, what the ethics involved were or whether it is fair to say MGM helped "finance the German war machine" as Urwand claims. But he has shown that he is not reliable.

Whatever the case is with MGM and its money, based on the evidence that Urwand provides in his book, a more accurate title for The Collaboration would be, for example, Dealing with the Enemy: How Some Hollywood Studios Negotiated with Nazi Germany. And that was already the "accepted account" of the period. The only things Urwand adds are inventions, hyperbole and confused interpretations.

The final page of The Collaboration briefly touches upon films made after the war, and Urwand writes "Decades would pass before any reference to [the Holocaust] appeared in American feature films." (p. 253) This is not true. It was mentioned in several films during the war, and it took barely a year after the war until it was referenced again. It features for example in Orson Welles's The Stranger (1946), where newsreel footage is included. Sword in the Desert (George Sherman 1949) and The Juggler (Edward Dmytryk 1953) are explicitly about Holocaust survivors. Hedy Lamarr plays a survivor from Buchenwald in A Lady Without Passport (Joseph H. Lewis 1950).

It is fitting for The Collaboration that even the penultimate paragraph gets the basic facts wrong.

Selected bibliography:

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Screenplay for Three Comrades (1978)

Jan Olsson Svensk spelfilm under andra världskriget (1979)

Colin Shindler Hollywood Goes to War: Films and American Society, 1939-1952 (1979)

Juarez - Edited and With an Introduction by Paul J. Vanderwood (1983)

Gregory D. Black, Clayton R. Koppes Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profit and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies (1987)

Ephraim Katz The Film Encyclopedia (1994)

James Curtis James Whale - A New World of Gods and Monsters (1998)

Mark Glancy When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' film 1939-45 (1999)

Michael E. Birdwell Celluloid Soldiers: The Warner Bros. Campaign Against Nazism (1999)

Scott Eyman Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer (2005)

Hervé Dumont Frank Borzage: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic (2006)

George C. Perry, Richard Schickel You Must Remember This - The Warner Bros. Story (2008)

Thomas Doherty Hitler and Hollywood 1933-1939 (2013)

Here is a relevant quote from Glancy's book:
Gyssling was determined to prevent films which cast a negative light on Germany, whether related to Nazi Germany or to Germany's past, and he was well versed in the means with which to deal with the industry. For example, even before Twentieth Century-Fox began filming the First World War spy drama Lancer Spy (1937), which centres on a British double agent, Gyssling informed Breen that he heard that there would be 'several scenes apparently objectionable from the German standpoint'" He also reminded Breen that 'many Fox films are being shown in Germany at this time'. This was only one of many references made to the link between film content and the studios' ability to operate in Germany. There were also numerous references to the 'National Feelings' clause. Gyssling apparently had read the Production Code, and was determined to see that this clause was applied to Germany. (p. 44) 
If you want to get a coherent and accurate overview of the topic of Urwand's book, I suggest you just read the chapter from which the above quote comes instead of reading The Collaboration.