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Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 (Film and Culture Series) [Kindle Edition]

Thomas Doherty
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Cinematic History Books
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Book Description

Between 1933 and 1939, representations of the Nazis and the full meaning of Nazism came slowly to Hollywood, growing more ominous and distinct only as the decade wore on. Recapturing what ordinary Americans saw on the screen during the emerging Nazi threat, Thomas Doherty reclaims forgotten films, such as Hitler’s Reign of Terror (1934), a pioneering anti-Nazi docudrama by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr.; I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany (1936), a sensational true tale of “a Hollywood girl in Naziland!”; and Professor Mamlock (1938), an anti-Nazi film made by German refugees living in the Soviet Union. Doherty also recounts how the disproportionately Jewish backgrounds of the executives of the studios and the workers on the payroll shaded reactions to what was never simply a business decision. As Europe hurtled toward war, a proxy battle waged in Hollywood over how to conduct business with the Nazis, how to cover Hitler and his victims in the newsreels, and whether to address or ignore Nazism in Hollywood feature films. Should Hollywood lie low, or stand tall and sound the alarm? Doherty’s history features a cast of charismatic personalities: Carl Laemmle, the German Jewish founder of Universal Pictures, whose production of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) enraged the nascent Nazi movement; Georg Gyssling, the Nazi consul in Los Angeles, who read the Hollywood trade press as avidly as any studio mogul; Vittorio Mussolini, son of the fascist dictator and aspiring motion picture impresario; Leni Riefenstahl, the Valkyrie goddess of the Third Reich who came to America to peddle distribution rights for Olympia (1938); screenwriters Donald Ogden Stewart and Dorothy Parker, founders of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League; and Harry and Jack Warner of Warner Bros., who yoked anti-Nazism to patriotic Americanism and finally broke the embargo against anti-Nazi cinema with Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939).

Editorial Reviews


With a rich blend of art and politics, Doherty brings to light the story of how Hollywood handled Nazism during Hitler's reign. Recommended.

(Library Journal (starred review))

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 tracks the advance of fascism, and the movie industry's reaction on screen and in private.... [A] fascinating work.

(Kate Muir The Times (London))

A lively study of Hollywood's relationship to Nazism.

(Emily Greenhouse Culture Desk blog, The New Yorker)

Wide-ranging and brightly written.

(Dave Kehr The New York Times Book Review)

A lively, detailed account and a worthy successor to his books Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934 and Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration.

(Philip Kemp Times Higher Education)

A remarkable and stimulating account of an important part of movie history and American history.

(Rob Hardy The Commercial Dispatch)

[Doherty's] books on American cinema from the 1930s to the 1950s are essential reading: Pre-Code Hollywood and Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen & the Production Code Administration.... No one has told this story in as comprehensive or convincing a fashion. As always, Doherty's work is well researched.

(Clayton Koppes Cineaste 1900-01-00)

A witty writer familiar with Hollywood history and manners, Doherty places the studios' craven behavior within a general account of the political culture of the movies in the thirties and forties.

(David Denby The New Yorker)

[A] riveting read.

(Merve Emre The Millions)

Mr. Doherty fully understands the studio system and how it juggled interference from its own internal agency, the Production Code Administration. He doesn't deny the greed and fear that motivated studios, but he puts the behavior in context.

(Jeanine Basinger Wall Street Journal)

Meticulously researched and captivating.

(Noah Isenberg Times Literary Supplement)

Doherty masterfully describes how the movie industry, mostly headed by Jews, ultimately came together at a time when the nation needed unity.... The book is crisply written, well documented.

(Burton Boxerman St. Louis Jewish Light)

Doherty's well researched Hollywood and Hitler 1933-1939 throws fascinating new light on America and the rise of Nazism.

(Philip French The Observer)

[A] wide-ranging, scrupulously researched and highly entertaining study.

(Philip French Sight and Sound)

[A] judicious and comprehensive history of the period.

(Mark Horowitz Tablet)

Doherty provides a more nuanced and accurate account of Hollywood's relationship with Hitler, and his book should be considered the authority on the subject.

(M. Todd Bennett American Historical Review 1900-01-00)

Hollywood and Hitler is an excellent addition to Doherty's impressive oeuvre, well worth reading for its important insights, strong narrative, and mastery of the period.

(David Welky Journal of American Studies 1900-01-00)

Doherty's book is well documented and brings together a corpus made of lesser-known, yet signifying feature films.

(Yves Laberge Journal of American Culture)

Thorough and elegantly written.

(Saverio Giovacchini Journal of American History 1900-01-00)

Doherty brings fresh eyes and a witty pen to re-examine the business of US cinema production and distribution in the turbulent pre-war years.... A valuable contribution to scholarship on the subject.

(Vincent O'Donnell Media International Australia 1900-01-00)

An important contribution to the history of Hollywood's response to the Nazi efforts to censor US films targeted for export to Germany.... Highly recommended.

(Choice 1900-01-00)

Vividly written, academically unpretentious, and indispensable for historians and students of film.

(Bernard F. Dick American Studies 1900-01-00)

[Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939] is painstakingly researched and offers film historians, as well as historians of World War II, a rich, insightful, and engaging portrait of an industry and a world in turmoil.

(Brian Faucette Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 1900-01-00)

Meticulously researched.... [Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939] provides an informed backdrop to scholars looking to contextualize and analyze individual films from the era.

(Rochelle Miller Film & History 1900-01-00)

A tour de force of film history, deftly weaving together many strands of Hollywood and world history to explain Hollywood's vexed and often vexing relationship to the rise of Nazism.

(Leslie Fishbein American Jewish History 1900-01-00)

Doherty offers a compelling prequel to his own Projections of War: Hollywood,American Culture,and World War II and an indispensible contribution to the emerging body of work on the relationships between Hollywood and Berlin in the 1930s.

(Hannah Graves Film Quarterly 1900-01-00)


Thomas Doherty traces a powerful historical narrative as Hollywood's treatment of European fascism dramatically changes with the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 marks a significant advance in our understanding of the American film industry in the 1930s and also in our appreciation of a wide range of films and filmmaking practices, revealing Hollywood as a social and geopolitical force.

(Thomas G. Schatz, author of The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era and Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s)|

Meticulously researched and vigorously written, this comprehensive account of Hollywood, Hitler, and all points in between is both a scholarly tour de force and a riveting page-turner. Marshalling his finely-tuned expertise in American studies, film studies, and twentieth-century history, Thomas Doherty unfolds an epic chronicle of dueling ideologies, complicated celebrity politics, and the unstable boundaries between art, entertainment, and propaganda as World War II drew near. This is cultural analysis at its fascinating best.

(David Sterritt, chairman, National Society of Film Critics)

Product Details

  • File Size: 3921 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (March 12, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231535147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231535144
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #576,549 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and adds much detailed information April 2, 2013
When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they understood the importance of propaganda and the critical 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 preeminent 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 her film Olympia, about the 1936 Berlin Olympics, 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.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Nazis have become staple villains for Hollywood, from _Casablanca_ to _Indiana Jones_ and to the counterfactual _Inglourious Basterds_. It took a long while for the movies to include them as bad guys, and this was at least partially because the moguls feared that they would lose the German market. Partly, too, it was because they thought American audiences didn't want politics injected into entertainment. The surprising story of the slow but eventual acknowledgement by Hollywood that Nazis were a menace is told in _Hollywood and Hitler 1933 - 1939_ (Columbia University Press) by Thomas Doherty who obviously loves the movies. He has written before about pre-code films and about the censorious life of Joseph Breen (who plays a big role in this book as well). He admits that "failure of nerve" by Hollywood during its "Golden Age" of the thirties was part of the general slowness of American culture to accept the Nazi threat, but the details of Hollywood's particular reluctance make for a fascinating part of movie history.

"During the first wave of Nazi terror," writes Doherty, "the commentary from the motion picture industry journalists and Hollywood producers reflects the natural befuddlement of cool businessmen up against hot-headed fanatics." Mild jests and veiled allusions to Hitler were cut. When Breen could do nothing, often local or state censorship did the job. The German consul in Los Angeles, Dr. Georg Gyssling. He was always interested about forthcoming movie projects, and if there was any hint of a film that might impugn the honor of Hitler or the glory of the Fatherland, he was quick to get complaints to Breen, heads of studios, or Washington politicians. The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, mostly actors more radical than their bosses, butted heads with Gyssling frequently.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Hollywood and Hitler's purpose is to trace the rise of German Nazism in the turbulent 1930s and how Hollywood filmmakers dealt with the Reich. During this perilous time, the film business lost revenue as the flow of American made films slowed from a rapid stream of product to a sluggish trickle. Author Doherty makes the reader aware of nefarious events in Europe affected the film industry. Among them:
1. The expulsion of all Jewish personnel in the film business in Germany.
2. The flight of American film companies such as MGM, RKO, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Universal and others from Germany due to the oppression of the Nazis. Hitler took office in January 1933 making things deleterious for freedom in film production
in the Reich.
3. Doherty devotes a long chapter on the impact of the Spanish Civil War. The war was a brutal and bloody contest between the Republicans backed by Stalin's Soviet regime and the Loyalists led by General Franco who received men and arms from both Germany and Italy. Documentary cameramen brought the horrors of the conflict to the American screen in newsreels and feature films.
4. Doherty discusses the importance of newsreels in keeping Americans abreast of European developments.
5. Warner Brothers was the industry leader in promoting Americanism through their patriotic shorts and feature films. "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" was one of their best films in exposing the Nazi evil to Americans.
6. Doherty examines the importance of Hollywood in providing a refuge for artists and movie stars from Nazi rule. Among the expatriate community in Los Angeles: Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Marlene Dietrich, Conrad Veidt, Thomas Mann and many others.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars LaGina
Excellent overview of a neglected area of movie history and somethings I didnt even know.
Published 5 months ago by LaGina
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
interesting way to learn about hollywood and WWII history
Published 5 months ago by Lizzette
4.0 out of 5 stars A well done and interesting history
A very detailed study of the time. Very interesting history.
Published 6 months ago by Jackie G Duncan
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A+A+A+ Thanks!!!
Published 9 months ago by Richard
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential book to understanding Hollywood
Well-written, well-researched and entertaining book about American culture and fascism.
Published 9 months ago by Brad Rockwell
3.0 out of 5 stars Profits over Morals
I thought the subject matter was very interesting and the book was extemely informative. I had no idea that most of the studio heads were more interested in the lucrative German... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Carole
3.0 out of 5 stars For specialists only
I like history and lately I became interested in early Hollywood history, so I could leave such contradicting period as World War 2 without my attention, so I picked up this book... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Anna
5.0 out of 5 stars ...For the All-Mighty Dollar...
Then, as now Hollywood replies heavily on the International Market. But what happens when the major movie studios allow it to dictate what type of movies are also made for the... Read more
Published 17 months ago by dwood78
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent job
A well researched and highly readable effort.Gives great insight into the workings of the studios.A valuable tool in underdtanding the coming of world war 2
Published 18 months ago by Bob Iannaccone
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Deal!
brand new-arrived promptly. I love getting new hardbacks for the price of a paperback. This was more affordable than I
Published 19 months ago by Lawrence B.
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More About the Author

A professor of American studies at Brandeis University, Thomas Doherty is a cultural historian with a special interest in Hollywood cinema. His undergraduate degree is from Gonzaga University, a small liberal arts college in Spokane, Washington, similar to Brandeis but with different religious holidays. After a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in South Korea, he entered graduate school at the University of Iowa, where he earned a Ph.D. in American studies in 1984. He came to Brandeis in 1990, after teaching in the division of humanities at Boston University. His most recent book is Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 (2013), from Columbia University Press. He serves on the editorial board of Cineaste and edits the film review section for the Journal of American History. He and his wife, Sandra, a freelance editor and fierce Pittsburgh Steelers fan, live in Salem, Massachusetts.

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