The silver screen, a golden past: Part 3 – The movies at war

Humphrey Bogart and Ingred Bergan in Casablanca, 1942
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca”, 1942 (© Warner Bros)

By the mid-30’s cinema had become the most popular form of entertainment. Political repression under Hitler led to many countries boycotting German films, which in turn created a gap that Hollywood aptly filled, partly with the help of the extraordinary talent of European emigré directors and performers who were lured to America and joined the Allied cause.

Once the Second World War broke out, the film industry everywhere was mobilised to boost morale and support the cause of heroism and patriotism, only sometimes explicitly and often indirectly, as in what is perhaps the greatest film of this time, “Casablanca”. Escapism in the guise of Fred Astaire and sirens like Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich also came to the rescue to soothe the embattled souls of soldiers and workers. Some actors and directors even went to the battlefield. And when Errol Flynn takes on the Japanese in Burma, there is not the slightest hint of concern for political correctness.

The Italians and Germans worked on epic sagas, not to be outdone by the British actor Laurence Olivier’s memorable war speech in “Henry V”. In fact, it is said that British film came of age during this time, becoming more democratic. After the war, British films even beat Hollywood at the box-office in England.

Producer: Dheera Sujan

Broadcast: January 20, 1994