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Events leading to WWII

Film | Digitized | Accession Number: 2003.482.1 | RG Number: RG-60.3641 | Film ID: 2578

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    Events leading to WWII


    War film about the background of World War II (Orientation Film No. 1). Reel 1 shows the bombing of Pearl Harbor, London air raids, cavalry and tank battles in Russia, and Panzer and Luftwaffe operations in western Europe. Fascists in Italy and Nazis in Germany riot and parade. Titles appear at beginning of reel.
    Event:  1941-1942
    Production:  1942
    Pearl Harbor, Oahu, HI, United States
    Soviet Union
    London, England
    Accessed at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives & Records Administration
    Director: Frank R. Capra
    Producer: Frank R. Capra
    Producer: United States. Army. Signal Corps.
    Frank Capra was an Italian American film director, producer, and writer born in Italy and raised in Los Angeles from the age of five. Capra became one of America's most influential directors during the 1930s, winning three Academy Awards for Best Director from six nominations, along with three other Oscar wins from nine nominations in other categories. Among his leading films were "It Happened One Night" (1934), "You Can't Take It with You" (1938), and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939).

    Capra served in the US Army during World War I and became naturalized shortly thereafter. He reenlisted after Pearl Harbor and was offered a commission as a Major at the age of 44. Chief of Staff George Marshall bypassed the US Army Signal Corps and assigned Major Capra the job of producing seven propaganda films (the Why We Fight series) that would be seen less as propaganda pieces and more as the inspiring films that Capra had made.

    After World War II, Capra's career declined as his later films, such as "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), performed poorly when they were first released. Outside of directing, Capra was active in the film industry, engaging in various political and social issues. He served as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, worked alongside the Writers Guild of America, and was head of the Directors Guild of America.

    Physical Details

    B&W / Color
    Black & White
    Image Quality
    Time Code
    01:00:15:00 to 01:09:27:00
    Film Format
    • Master
    • Master 2578 Video: Digital Betacam - NTSC - small
      Master 2578 Video: Digital Betacam - NTSC - small
      Master 2578 Video: Digital Betacam - NTSC - small
      Master 2578 Video: Digital Betacam - NTSC - small
    • Preservation
    • Preservation 2578 Video: Betacam SP - NTSC - small
      Preservation 2578 Video: Betacam SP - NTSC - small
      Preservation 2578 Video: Betacam SP - NTSC - small
      Preservation 2578 Video: Betacam SP - NTSC - small

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    You do not require further permission from the Museum to access this archival media.
    Public Domain
    Conditions on Use
    To the best of the Museum's knowledge, this material is in the public domain. You do not require further permission from the Museum to reproduce or use this material.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Film Provenance
    The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum purchased this from the National Archives and Records Administration in 2003. The footage was obtained as research for the Museum's special exhibition in 2003 on Nazi bookburning, "Fighting the Fires of Hate."
    On March 4, 1943, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded an Academy Award to Frank Capra for Prelude to War as the Best Documentary film of 1942.

    Credits: Script, Eric Knight, Anthony Veiller; Editor, William Hornbeck; Music, Dmitri Tiomkin; Res. Richard Griffith; Narrator, Walter Huston.

    The well-known Why We Fight series, produced by the War Department under the general supervision of Lt. Col. Frank Capra, include: "Prelude to War," "The Nazis Strike," "Divide and Conquer," "Battle of Britain," "Battle of Russia," "Battle of China," and "War Comes to America" and together represent one of the most comprehensive efforts to teach history through film. Designed for new recruits, these films were eventually shown to civilian warworkers and the general public. Capra's staff used the compilation method in these films. Footage was selected from the resources of the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, the Army Pictorial Center, and the newsreel libraries in New York City. Films from Allied Governments and those captured from the Axis were also used in the productions. These films were arranged and rearranged to explain official U.S. policy on the causes of the war and toward the Allied and Axis powers. "Prelude to War" reviews events leading to the war and contrasts American democracy with fascism. "The Nazis Strike" and "Divide and Conquer" detail German expansion toward the east and west. "Battle of Britain" concentrates on the fight against the attacking Luftwaffe and the resilience and courage of British civilians. "Battle of Russia," running almost two hours, quickly reviews centuries of Russian history, emphasizing the theme that the Russian people would ultimately defeat and drive out all foreign invaders. This film shows in grim detail the bitter conditions of fighting on the Eastern front. "Battle of China," quickly withdrawn from circulation after its release, is the least historically accurate of the series. Its footage, obtained from many documentaries on China, shows the magnitude of the struggle between China and Japan and builds sympathy for the Chinese people. "War Comes to America" is the summation of the work done by Colonel Capra's film staff; it is a fast-paced, rhythmical film on the values of American culture and U.S. composition, achievements, failures, and ideals. Although the Why We Fight films generally employ footage of historical events, they are more important for the study of ideas, attitudes, and interpretations than for the facts they present.
    Copied From
    35mm DNT; b/w
    Film Source
    United States. National Archives and Records Administration. Motion Picture Reference
    File Number
    Legacy Database File: 3798
    Source Archive Number: 111 OF 1 R1
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 21:56:48
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