When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they understood the power of propaganda and the powerful role of cinema in promoting the party's aims. Joseph Goebbels, as Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, made it a priority to Nazify all areas of art and took a particular interest in the powerful UFA film studio.
During the six years of the Nazi Reich before the beginning of World War II in 1939, the US film industry was not quick to tackle Nazism. It's not too surprising, given the strength of isolationist feeling, but Doherty tells us exactly why there was only one Hollywood film released about the Nazis and their violent practices before 1939. (I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany, whose making Doherty describes in detail.) He details how the Production Code Administration and local censorship boards quashed nearly every attempt to tackle the subject, and how the studios themselves hesitated to rock the boat and lose the opportunity to sell their own products to German distributors.
For an academic publication, this is written in an almost breezy style. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but it's certainly a very readable treatment, filled with personalities and inside-Hollywood stories. Chapters about the abortive attempt to make nice with Mussolini by getting his son involved in the picture biz, Leni Riefenstahl's disastrous publicity junket to the US to promote Olympia, and the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League's near-whiplash when Germany and the Soviet Union signed their Non-Aggression Pact all read as entertainingly as a gossip column.
Some of the most interesting parts of the book cover the role of newsreels in covering Nazi Germany. Newsreel-only theaters in New York played to full houses and audiences didn't hold back their feelings when big-name political personalities appeared on the screen. There was even a newsreel theater on 96th Street that showed pro-Nazi reels right up until Pearl Harbor.
Although isolationist feeling in the US continued even after England and France declared war on Germany in 1939, Hollywood finally went to war, beginning with films like Confessions of a Nazi Spy and The Mortal Storm. They must have hit a nerve: Warner Bros. Warsaw executive reported, after he fled Poland with just the clothes on his back, that the Polish theater owners who booked the former film "were hanged by the Nazis from the ratters of their own theaters."
This is a rewarding read for anybody interested in World War II history or the history of the film industry. Double points for those interested in both