Hollywood & the Nazis, Part One: We’re All Jews & GermansTravis LeBlanc
All installments in this series available here
Over the last few years, there has been some controversy about the influence of China over Hollywood. The claim is not that China is secretly controlling Hollywood, as the Alex Jones types have been insisting, but that Hollywood has been increasingly tailoring their films to meet the approval of the Chinese government in order to gain access to the massive Chinese market. Most commentators, especially liberal ones, consider this a bad thing.
One of the first major media figures to address the elephant in the room was Bill Maher. Maher started a minor controversy when on a 2016 episode of Real Time when he claimed that the reason why Hollywood movies were not even more multicultural than they are now is because of China. “The dirty little secret is most movies are made now with an eye to the foreign market, and Asians really are racist.” He continued “I’m just honest. They don’t want to see black people generally in their movies. The Hollywood executives are, like, ‘We’re not racist, we just have to pretend to be racists because we’re capitalists. We want to sell our movies in China (and) they don’t like Kevin Hart.’”
The controversy was blown up by the oh-so-clever detractors of Maher’s, who pointed out that saying that the Chinese were racist was itself a racist statement (checkmate, Bill!). But since then, Maher’s statement has been accepted as common knowledge. South Park had an entire episode called Band in China where they ridiculed Hollywood’s obsequious pandering to the Chinese. When the recent Star Wars sequels bombed in China, Chinese racism was accepted as a main reason for the spectacular failure.
What is less known is that Hollywood and Nazi Germany collaborated throughout most of the 1930s. Hollywood studios made movies that could meet the approval of Nazi censors and allowed Nazi censors to suggest cuts to not just the German versions but to the international versions of various films.
Screenwriter Budd Schulberg, best known for writing On the Waterfront, saw this firsthand as he was working on the 1938 film Three Comrades, a sequel to All Quiet On the Western Front. He put it quite explicitly in an interview with film historian Kevin Brownlow:
There were some films that Louis B. Mayer of MGM (where he) would actually run those films with the Nazi German consul and was willing to take out the things that the consul, that the Nazis, objected to. . . . I heard about the way that Louis Mayer would kowtow. We were amazed when we heard it but he was definitely doing it. I think the consul even came to the studio and looked at his pictures and said yes, that’s all right, no take that out. It was unbelievable.
Hollywood made no anti-Nazi propaganda movies until the 1939 film Confessions of a Nazi Spy released four months before the German invasion of Poland. One movie released during this period, 1937’s Charlie Chan at the Olympics, actually took place in Nazi Germany. In the film, the Chinese-American detective travels on the Hindenburg zeppelin to the 1936 Berlin Olympics whereupon he teams up with German police to catch a gang of international criminals (watch it here). The movie goes out of its way not to criticize the German government. There are no swastikas and the word “Nazi” is never used. If anything, you are left with a positive impression of Germany, especially at the end when the German police help save the day.
Hollywood and Nazi Germany were not as purist about one another as you would expect. At the time, Nazi Germany was the second-largest film market in the world. On the Nazis’ side, the German film industry could not produce films fast enough to keep the cinemas in constant business so they had to allow some foreign films into the country. As a result, around 250 Hollywood movies were shown in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1939.
One conspicuous feature of 1930s American cinema is that with a few exceptions (which I will address), Jews are virtually non-existent. There were Jewish actors, sure, but there were hardly any onscreen portrayals of Jews from the time the Nazis came to power until after the war began.
This was not always the case. Between 1900 and 1929, there were over 200 movies made about Jews. The most famous one was The Jazz Singer, the movie which is recognized as the official beginning of the talkie era. The Jazz Singer is about Jakie Rabinowitz, a Jew who wants to sing on Broadway much to the disapproval of his religious father. One of the largest-grossing movies of the 1920s was Abie’s Irish Rose about a marriage between a Jewish guy and an Irish Catholic gal and the culture clash between their respective families. Another was the 1926 film The Cohens and Kellys which, despite being a blatant rip-off of Abie’s Irish Rose, was popular enough to inspire six sequels. In 1930, George Arliss won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Disraeli about the British prime minister who overcame antisemitism. This isn’t even getting into a movie about Jews set in biblical times like Ben-Hur, the third-largest grossing movie of the silent era. But as the 1930s wore on, Jews completely vanished from the screen thanks in no small part to the influence of Nazi Germany.
There is a book on this subject called Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand and much of the information in these articles will be from that book. And before you ask, yes, he’s Jewish. But despite that, I am willing to trust his research here based on the criterion of embarrassment. Why would he lie about something that makes other Jews look bad? A lot of his commentary is garbage, but I have no reason to doubt his research. I’ll be using some of his research but then giving you the correct commentary.
Being a Jew, Urwand apparently believes that Hollywood’s collaboration with the Nazis is a shameful black mark on Hollywood’s history. Well, I’m a white identitarian, so for me, it’s a good thing, because it means we white ethnonationalists can claim some morsel of credit for Hollywood’s Golden Age even if our only contributions were in an advisory capacity. If you ask me, American cinema peaked in the 1930s, and with the exception of the 1970s and maybe the 1990s, every movie decade since has been worse than the one before it
And for the 1488-ers reading this, yes, I am going to be using the term “Nazi” a lot. I am well aware that it was originally a Jewish slur, but it’s a lot easier and punchier than saying “National Socialist” over and over.
The story of the Hollywood-Nazi collaboration begins in December of 1930, two and a half years before the Nazis took power in Germany. The American film All Quiet on the Western Front was set to make its German debut at the Mozartsaal cinema in Berlin. The Nazis had purchased 300 tickets for the 7:00 PM showing. The movie had premiered in America in April and the book it was based on had been a controversial bestseller so the Nazis had an idea of what to expect. When the movie started, the Nazis started heckling the film and eventually became so raucous that the projectionist had to stop the film partway through. At this point, Joseph Goebbels came out and gave a speech to the audience.
The Nazi objection to the film was that they felt it portrayed German soldiers as cowardly. Germans are portrayed showing fear in the face of battle and dying in hysterical agony. By contrast, French soldiers are shown dying with quiet dignity. The film also features a sadistic drill sergeant named Himmeltoss who resembles a wartime German stereotype. Himmeltoss is needlessly cruel to his trainees but when sent to the front himself, he is found to be a simpering coward and is quickly killed in his first battle. In the book, Himmeltoss ultimately redeems himself and reconciles with his former trainees. So the film version of Himmeltoss is actually less sympathetic than in the book version and the Nazis hated the book.
I like All Quiet on the Western Front because I am anti-war and I think it is good anti-war propaganda but I can understand why it would have been offensive to German nationalists. After the Confederacy was defeated, the victorious Union decided to be good sports by allowing the Confederates to keep their war heroes and celebrate the valor of their soldiers. In this sense, I can sympathize with German nationalists who may have felt that All Quiet on the Western Front was kicking them while they were down. It was bad enough that they lost but now this movie was attempting to deprive them of their heroes.
The controversy around All Quiet on the Western Front was soon addressed in the Reichstag and then an emergency meeting of the government was held. One week after its Berlin debut, All Quiet on the Western Front was banned in Germany on the grounds that it was harmful to Germany’s image. Even without being in power, the Nazis managed to get a major American movie banned from Germany.
Carl Laemmle, a German-born Jew and head of Universal Pictures, stepped in to see if he could rectify the matter. In negotiations with the German government, Laemmle asked what he could do to get All Quiet on the Western Front back on the screens. The Germans demanded eight cuts which they considered inflammatory or offensive to German sensibilities. But here’s the twist: they wanted those cuts to be made in all versions of the movie in every country where it was playing, not just the German version (which was already edited). Universal agreed, and by September of 1931, All Quiet on the Western Front was back on German screens again in a heavily edited form.
When the Nazis took power in 1933, All Quiet on the Western Front was banned once more and not shown in Germany again until the 1950s. But a precedent was established with All Quiet on the Western Front that would continue throughout the decade.
In 1932, Germany introduced a new set of quota laws that put a limit on how many foreign films could be imported. These kinds of laws (“only X number of foreign films can be shown for every Y number of domestic films”) were common throughout many countries in order to protect the domestic film industry from complete Hollywood hegemony. Britain’s quota laws were pretty infamous and lead to the term “quota quickie” being used for cheaply-made low-quality British films produced for the sole purpose of filling quotas so that they could import more of the Hollywood movies that people actually wanted to see.
Hidden in the fine print of the 1932 quota law was Article 15 which stated “The allocation of permits may be refused for films, the producers of which, in spite of warnings issued by the competent German authorities, continue to distribute on the world market films, the tendency or effect of which is detrimental to German prestige.”
Note the words “on the world market.” Meaning a studio that produced a movie that made Germany look bad and had it play anywhere in the world, that studio could lose their right to show their movies in Germany. No talking crap on Germany behind its back.
Again, there were other countries that had similar laws. In 1939, France hit Warner Brothers with a two-month ban in retaliation for the film Devil’s Island. In the movie, Boris Karloff plays a doctor who is unjustly convicted of a crime and sent to the famously unpleasant French penal colony off the coast of South America.
The first time Article 15 was put into use was in 1933, just a few months after the Nazis had come to power. The film in question was a Warner Brother film called Captured! which was set in a WWI prisoner of war camp. The film starred Leslie Howard and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as British POW in love with the same woman. You can watch it here.
But the character the Nazis took the most issue with was the despotic German commandant played by Paul Lukas. Paul Lukas was a Hungarian-born Jew who frequently played ethnic Germans. Later in 1939’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy, he would play the leader of the German-American Bund who was secretly running a national spy network on behalf of the Nazis and reported directly to Joseph Goebbels. He would be a Gestapo officer in 1943’s Hostages and a treacherous Nazi in 1944’s Address Unknown.
In Captured!, Lukas’ wicked German commandant is shown punching one of the prisoners, insulting another’s Victoria Cross medal, and throwing coffee in the face of a subordinate. It was textbook wartime propaganda stuff. Not only was it an offensive German stereotype, but the character was also being played by a Jew.
The Nazis’ representative in Hollywood at the time was a guy named Georg Gyssling. He would be an important figure in Hollywood as any film relating to Germany had to meet with his approval. Gyssling was shown Captured! and was having none of it. He laid out a long list of items that needed to be cut which Warner Brothers proceeded to blow off. Long story short, Warner Brother would up getting banned from Germany in 1934.
This was a serious blow to Warner Brothers who had just had a massive hit in Germany with I Am a Fugitive from Chain Gang which was the fifth most popular film in Nazi Germany the previous year. After the banning of Warner Brothers, everyone in Hollywood knew that the Nazis were not playing around and meant business. They were not going to tolerate Germany being insulted.
Around this time, there was one man who was hellbent on making an outright anti-Nazi movie. His name was Herman Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz was the son of two German Jews and an in-demand script doctor. For those who don’t know, a “script doctor” is someone who takes a completed script and just jazzes it up, makes the dialog snappier and whatnot. Mankiewicz would later go on to co-write Citizen Kane with Orson Welles. In the 1920s, he had spent some time in Berlin as a correspondent for Women’s Wear Daily (yeah, I don’t know either). While in Berlin, he had witnessed the Nazis rise and was alarmed when Hitler finally came to power. So he banged out an anti-Nazi screenplay called The Mad Dog of Europe.
From what I gather, the plot of The Mad Dog of Europe was quite silly. You have the family of ultra-patriotic Jews (already we are in science fiction territory). The two oldest sons enthusiastically sign up to fight for the Fatherland in the Great War and are killed. The third son, Heinrich, signs up and fights, but unlike his brothers, he survives the war. He comes back and is furious about the outrageous Versailles Treaty and the various indignities that have been thrust upon his beloved country. He thinks his country needs a strong leader who will set things right and so he becomes a devotee of a house painter named Adolf Mitler.
The script recreates the Beer Hall Putsch and Heinrich winds up sharing a prison cell with none other than Mitler himself. In prison, he becomes totally radicalized and a fanatical anti-Semite. In a way, the story is similar to the 2001 movie The Believer, about a Jew who becomes a wignat skinhead. Anyway, Heinrich rises up the Nazi ranks and it is only when the Nazis kill Heinrich’s father for being a Jew that he sees the error of his ways. Like I said, it is all very silly.
Mankiewicz sent the script to producer Sam Jaffe who loved it. Jaffe believed so strongly in the script that he quit his job at RKO to devote himself to the project full-time. They took out full-page ads in the trade papers announcing the project. The only problem was that after the Captured! affair, no Hollywood studio wanted to touch it. Geog Gyssling made it clear that anyone who made the movie who definitely be banned from Germany.
Even the Anti-Defamation League was against the movie being made. Why would the ADL be against an anti-Nazi movie? Well, the concern was that making a movie like The Mad Dog of Europe would effectively confirm the claims of a lot of the Nazi propaganda that was going around. The Nazis would be able to say “See? The Jews are using their control of the media to try to start another war.”
Mankiewicz and Jaffe took the matter up with the Hays Office. I guess I should explain what the Hays Office is. In 1915, there was a landmark Supreme Court case Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio which determined that films were a commercial product and not art. As such, they were not protected by the 1st Amendment, and could be censored or banned by local, state, and federal governments if they so pleased. This would later be overturned in 1952.
As Hollywood started accumulating a lot of negative press, there was a fear that the feds were going to step in and start censoring the movie industry. To prevent this, they decided that they would censor themselves. They set up an independent organization called the Motion Pictures Producers & Distributors Association. This organization was headed by Will Hays, the former Postmaster General of the United States, and is thus commonly referred to as the “Hays Office.” Hays was largely a figurehead. His right-hand man Joe Breen, a hardcore Catholic, was the guy who did most of the work of enforcing moviemaking guidelines.
The Hays office issued a list of do’s and dont’s to studios. The guidelines were loosely enforced until 1934 when after a series of risqué films, the specter of federal censorship rose up again. This time, they introduced the Production Code which was strictly enforced. Okay, so now you know what the Hays Office is. Back to the narrative.
Mankiewicz and Jaffe took the matter of The Mad Dog of Europe up with the Hays office and they effectively told them the same thing as the ADL. Joe Breen told them “Because of the large number of Jews active in the motion picture industry in this country, the charge is certain to be made that the Jews, as a class, are behind an anti-Hitler picture and using the entertainment screen for their own personal propaganda purposes. The entire industry, because of this, is likely to be indicted for the action of a mere handful.”
The script was so inflammatory that there was concern that if it was made that Germany would not only ban the studio that made it but ban all American films from appearing in Germany. Jaffe would eventually bow out of the project and Mankiewicz would sell the rights to the script to super-agent Al Rosen who was known for his wizardly ice-to-Eskimos salesmanship. Rosen would spend the next few years trying in vain to acquire funding to make the film independently.
There would be a few more attempts to make anti-fascist or anti-Nazi films in the 1930s which would all end up being either strangled in the crib or gutted of any serious ideological message. The most significant of these would be the abandoned film adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ bestselling novel It Can’t Happen Here.
The inspiration for It Can’t Happen Here is not Hitler or the Nazis but actually Huey Long. Long rose to prominence promoting himself as a man of the people and promising radical wealth distribution. He used some fairly unorthodox methods of getting his policies and had no problem with ruining the lives of anyone who opposed him. Despite, or perhaps because of, his deep contempt for democratic institutions, he was wildly popular with the working class and many feared that if he was not stopped, Long might very well become dictator of the United States.
Long was still alive when It Can’t Happen Here was being written but it was not released until one month after Long had been assassinated by a Jew. The book tells the story of Buzz Windrip, a Southern populist, who defeats Roosevelt at the 1936 Democratic convention, gets elected president, becomes a dictator, and dystopia ensues. His paramilitary group the Minute Men terrorize the population, mass censorship is enforced, people live in fear and none of Windrip’s promises are fulfilled. Eventually, a resistance movement emerges and a civil war breaks out.
MGM bought the rights started preproduction on the film in 1935. They were weeks away from film and had an all-star cast lined up and ready to go. Then suddenly, MGM head Louis B. Mayer pulls the plug on it. The excuse he gave was that the film would have been too expensive. This seemed odd because MGM had already dumped $200,000 into the project.
Some suspect that there were political considerations at work. Huey Long was dead by then so it was redundant as an anti-Long cautionary tale. However, the story did have a lot of parallels to Hitler’s rise. The Minute Men resembled SS and Windrip strips Congress of its power in a way similar to Hitler did with the Reichstag. While the movie was not going to reference Jews, it was to show Windrip rounding up “foreigners” and putting them in camps. So the speculation is that Mayer killed the movie to avoid offending the Nazis.
Another MGM producer attempted to revive the project in 1938 after Charlie Chaplin announced his intention to make The Great Dictator. This time, the movie would be more explicitly anti-Nazi and feature Windrip forming an alliance with Germany, Italy, and Japan. But again, the project fizzled out.
The closest thing to an anti-fascist movie that Hollywood released in the 1930s is that they did make some anti-Klan movies. Or rather, they made a couple movies about one particular splinter faction of the Klan.
The first time I watched the 1937 Humphrey Bogart movie Black Legion (watch it here), I assumed the Black Legion was a fictional group that some Hollywood Jews made up to represent the Ku Klux Klan for legal reasons. I assumed they wanted to do an anti-KKK movie without being sued so they made up this fictional group. I thought the movie was ridiculous and over-the-top. I was thinking “The Klan were no angels but they weren’t this crazy.”
But then I learned the Black Legion were a real group and they really were that ridiculous and crazy. I got to this part and saw their uniforms and thought “Okay, the KKK was cringe in a lot of ways but they weren’t that cringe.”
Then I found out that the Black Legion were a real group and yeah, they were that cringe.
The Black Legion was an organization based mostly in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. They started out as a paramilitary wing of the KKK but broke off from the Klan for being insufficiently hardcore. They claimed to have millions of members but the FBI estimated that they only had a still-impressive 135,000 members. The Detroit police chief and the manager of the Detroit Tigers were both suspected of being members.
I don’t want to call the Black Legion a cult because liberals always call white nationalism a cult and I don’t want to call them terrorists because liberals call everyone to the right of Jonah Goldberg terrorists but the Black Legion kinda really was a cult and they kinda really were terrorists. They would threaten people into joining and would threaten people who wanted to leave the group. While the Klan might do retaliatory lynchings, the Black Legion would roam the streets at night looking for people to attack.
As any normie conservative will tell you, the KKK were Democrats but the Black Legion switched sides and supported the Republicans because they considered them more anti-communist. They were attacked by unions because they considered unions riddled with communists and led by Jews. In this sense, the Black Legion had more elements of European fascism than the old-school Southern Klan.
What brought the Black Legion down is that they killed Charles Poole, an organizer for the federal Works Project Administration on the grounds that he was a Catholic who was allegedly beating his Protestant wife. The feds came down on them hard and the group was broken within a few years. In the end, simping would be the Black Legion’s undoing.
In Black Legion, Humphrey Bogart is a factory worker who gets passed over for a promotion in favor of an immigrant name Joe Dombrowski. That’s a Polish name, but one of Bogart’s co-workers makes a joke about Joe having a big nose, which suggests that the character of Joe is Jewish. Bogart is heartbroken that he lost the promotion and is persuaded by his friends to join the Black Legion. The Black Legion goes to Joe’s house, beats him up, and forces him to quit. Bogart then gets Joe’s job.
Things are going great but then Bogart finds he has to commit more and more violence. He can’t get out. His wife leaves him in disgust. His friend finds out that he’s in the Black Legion and they have to kill him to protect the secret.
There was another movie made about the Black Legion in 1936 called Legion of Terror which you can watch here. Legion of Terror came out only six months after Poole’s murder so as to capitalize on the controversy while it was still a relatively hot story. In Legion of Terror, two federal postal inspectors intercept a mail bomb addressed to a senator. They travel to the town it was mailed from and get jobs in a factory whereupon they are invited to join the Hood Legion, which is a fictitious group based on the Black Legion.
One thing you see in both Black Legion and Legion of Terror is that it tries to present both groups as money-making scams. The idea is that groups like the Back Legion use talk of patriotism to hoodwink dupes into joining but at the top, the leaders are cynics who are only interested in collecting membership dues and selling uniforms. In reality, most Black Legion outlets did not charge membership fees. There was already enough not to like about the Black Legion without having to lie like that but I guess they thought they should that in just in case there were people with no moral qualms about all the other stuff.
If you are into old-time radio, there were a couple of radio shows made about the Black Legion. There was an episode of The Shadow starring Orson Welles called The White Legion which you can listen to here. You can hear the 1937 True Detective Mysteries episode on the Black Legion here.
So that concludes this article on Hollywood’s refusal to make movies about the Nazis. In the next article, I will be discussing Hollywood’s reluctance to make movies about Jews after the unintendedly antisemitic masterpiece The House of Rothschild. Tune in next time. Same Trav time. Same Trav channel.
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