Book Review: The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler


by Ben Urwand

Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard / Belknap Press, 2013. Pp. viii, 328. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $26.95 . ISBN: 0674724747

Did Hollywood "Collaborate" with Hitler?

The thesis of this work is that in order to protect their distribution rights in the lucrative German market, the heads of America’s principal movie studios, almost all of whom were Jewish, willingly cooperated with the Hitlerite regime to insure that their products did not offend Nazi sensibilities, and thus cause their, films to be banned in Germany. 

Urwand documents many cases of films being altered, even cancelled, with this object in mind. He often gives us scene-by-scene critiques by German officials (surprisingly, Goebbels comes off as a rather astute critic) and the generally favorable response of studio leaders to the commentary. And certainly it wasn’t until 1939 that a clearly anti-Nazi film came out of Hollywood, Confessions of a Nazi Spy

But while Urwand has done a useful service in compiling more evidence, much of this ground has been covered before, and using the word “collaboration” seems intended to be provocative, rather than useful. 

In the interest of making money, the studios usually avoided directly addressing sensitive subjects of any sort, not only fascism, but also communism, bigotry, poverty, mental illness, and, of course, race, though occasionally obliquely touching upon them. Moreover, many of these studio chiefs whom Urwand tars with “collaboration” were involved in anti-Nazi activities behind the scenes almost from the advent of the regime in 1933. In addition, Urwand overlooks many films the were implicitly critical of fascism, such as the Marx Brothers’ 1933 Duck Soup (in which the militaristic country Sylvania is foiled from conquering Freedonia), the 1937 Black Legion (which has a sinister movement that’s part KKK, part Borwnshirt), or the 1939 Gunga Din (with the serried ranks of the mad Guru’s troops and artillery closely resembling the militaristic displays of both Hitler and Mussolini).

The Collaboration is a flawed work, though still useful for those interested in the cinema, war propaganda, and politics.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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