Der Fuehrer’s Face (1942)

Normally, I do not do short film on this blog, but because of the rich treasure of classic short films available at the Internet Archive, I have decided that October is Short Film Month. First out is the classic cartoon Der Fuehrer’s Face.

Hideki Tōjō on sousaphone, Hermann Göring on piccolo, Benito Mussolini on bass drum, Heinrich Himmler on snare drum, Joseph Goebbels on trombone and Donald Duck in Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)

The beginning of the film cannot really be described any better than Wikipedia does it: “A German oom-pah band—composed of Axis leaders Joseph Goebbels on trombone, Heinrich Himmler on snare drum, Hideki Tōjō on sousaphone, Hermann Göring on piccolo and Benito Mussolini on bass drum—marches noisily at four o’clock in the morning through a small German town where everything, even the clouds and trees, are shaped as swastikas, singing the virtues of the Nazi doctrine.” There, the tone is set, and the rest of the film continues in the same crazy, satiric and nationalistic spirit.

Due to its propagandistic content, the film has not been released on DVD and Bluray as many times as most other Donald Duck films from the 30s and 40s, especially not in Europe. Still, some say it is one of the best. At any rate, there are many brilliant gags, and it is a film well worth watching.

The film has many neat little details. For example, in the image below, note how even the telephone poles (barely visible) are shaped like swastikas. Another detail, for anyone interested in how Disney cut corners in the war year animations, is when the band marches back across the screen just after the titles. The swastikas on the uniforms are mirrored, because the entire section is just mirrored from the first time they marched past.

Der Fuehrer’s Face received an Academy Award for best animated short. At least two other nominees from the same year can be found at the Internet Archive: the Tex Avery cartoon Blitz Wolf and George Pal’s Puppetoon Tulips Shall Grow. Both are excellent, and highly recommended.

This film is best enjoyed if you like the Disney shorts from the classic period. This is one you may have missed if you relied on the official collections from Disney.

A factory with swastikas in the Donald Duck film Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)

Der Fuehrer’s Face
Download link
Year: 1942
Running time: 8 min
Directors: Jack Kinney
Stars: Clarence Nash (voice)
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (76 M)

The Nazis Strike (1943)

When the United States entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it became necessary for the government and military to explain to people in general just what the war was all about. Why they were fighting and who they were fighting. The assignment to create a series of propaganda films, collectively titled Why We Fight, went to Frank Capra. These classic films are all available at the Internet Archive, and today we take a look at the second of the series, The Nazis Strike.

Swastika over world map in Why We Fight: The Nazis Strike (1943)

The film describes mainly Nazi Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia and Poland, and thereby the events immediately before and after the beginning of World War II. It does so mainly by using German news and propaganda films. Through ingenious editing and splicing the whole thing together with animations (mostly strategic maps) made by the Disney Studios, Capra puts the German material in a new light, turning the German propaganda into American propaganda.

But the most disturbing part of the film is the beginning, where Nazi methods of propaganda and infiltration are described. Most startling is, perhaps, a scene from a meeting of the Nazi American federation known as the German-American Bund (see image below). During the meeting, guards drag away and beat up a person who seems to a protester. Frightening parallels come to mind with today’s political realities.

The best versions of the films in the Why We Fight series can usually be found in the FedFlix collection, along with thousands of other films produced for the U.S. government. Not only military films with great historical value, but also films about energy, education, health and just about any other subject that a government could want to inform about.

Below follow links to the complete series Why We Fight.

  1. Prelude to War
  2. The Nazis Strike
  3. Divide and Conquer
  4. The Battle of Britain
  5. The Battle of Russia
  6. The Battle of China
  7. War Comes to America

I will probably write in more detail about a few of the others in the future.

This film is best enjoyed for its novel and beautiful turning German propaganda into highlighting the dangers of Nazism. For historical facts, this film, as all propaganda, should be used with considerable care.

Fritz Kuhn and the German-American Bund in Why We Fight: The Nazis Strike (1943)

The Nazis Strike
Download link
Year: 1943
Running time: 41 min
Directors: Frank Capra, Anatole Litvak
Stars: Walter Huston (narration)
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (549×366)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.9 G)

Victory through Air Power (1943)

Disney’s animated features in the 1940s was a bumpy ride, to say the least. It started with classics-to-be such as Pinocchio (1940) and Bambi (1942), while the rest of the decade saw a range of films sewn together from shorter animations without any real connection, for example Melody Time (1948). These latter are rarely released on video, but at least tend to be seen in lists of all Disney animated features. But there is one animated Disney feature which is normally left out of such lists, and which will never be included in the Walt Disney Diamonds line.

Victory through Air Power, released exactly 70 years ago the day after tomorrow, is forgotten today not because it is a bad movie. It is not. But its message is not exactly relevant to today’s fans.

Nazi forces attack in Victory through Air Power (1943)

This was a time when a good deal of the Disney production was war-time propaganda and information. Walt Disney had read a book by Russian-born Alexander de Seversky, where the author argues for the use of powerful strategic bombers as the most important strategy for winning the war. Disney was so impressed that he decided to make a film on the subject, and film critic Leonard Maltin has been quoted to the effect that the film made such an impact on Franklin D. Roosevelt that it changed the strategies used by the United States in the war (source: Wikipedia).

The film begins with a 20-minute history of aviation. This part stands well on its own, and is light enough in content that it could well be watched by kids. Even though this part is very different in style from the rest of the movie, the transition works well through a presentation of the career of Alexander de Seversky, who appears in live sequences throughout the rest of the film, arguing for the military strategical developments that were Disney’s rationale for making the film.

By Disney standards, the animation is a bit simplistic at times, but it is nevertheless very well done, and in its best moments extremely beautiful. The animators took every opportunity to appeal to the audience’s emotions, and the result is a film full of powerful imagery. Even though the final two thirds of the film basically consist of arguments and propaganda, the animations make it worth watching even for those who may not be very interested in the film’s historical implications.

There are two versions of this film at the Internet Archive. The “secondary” version, intended for internal use in the US Air Force, is slightly longer but all in black and white. They may have reasoned that a colour version did not appear serious enough, or it may have been a matter of cost reduction. I have not checked to see what the exact differences are, but probably only minor details; perhaps just title cards in between reels. If you are interested, here is a link to the black and white version.

This film is best enjoyed after having seen all the other Disney animated features (so that you can proudly say “Check!” when done), or if you are interested in military history. Every Disney fan should see it, though.

Allied strategic bombers strike back in Victory through Air Power (1943)

Victory through Air Power
Download link
Year: 1943
Running time: 1 h 5 min
Directors: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, H.C. Potter
Stars: Alexander de Seversky
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: Medium (512×384)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Cinepack (396 M)