When Hollywood Turned against Hitler

For most of the 1930s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) steered clear of politics, declining, for instance, to produce a cinematic version of Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, about a fascist takeover of the U.S. That changed in 1940 with the production of A Mortal Storm, recently restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It tells the story of a German Professor Roth whose life, and that of his family, is upended by Hitler’s rise to power. Thomas Doherty writes:

Professor Roth (played by Frank Morgan) is an esteemed scholar-scientist, . . . a man beloved by his family, worshipped by his students, and honored by his profession. [But] the professor is “non-Aryan.” “Non-Aryan” is as close as the film will come to designating what the new regime would call professor Roth’s racial type. At no point is he explicitly identified as a Jew; at no point is the word uttered on the soundtrack. Still, one would have to be a very dense spectator indeed not to understand what makes him a born enemy of the Third Reich. Later, when Roth is hauled off and imprisoned in a concentration camp, the sleeve of his prison uniform will bear a conspicuous “J.” . . .

One of the most chilling—and, these days, resonant—scenes in The Mortal Storm takes place in the university lecture hall. . . . He is teaching what he has always taught: the biological unity of all mankind, “the scientific truth” that blood is blood. His once-admiring students are now a squad of menacing brownshirts who will not tolerate his heretical rebuke to Nazi eugenics. They storm out of the lecture hall and call for a boycott of his classes. . . .

As the highest profile of the anti-Nazi films [released between the beginning of World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor], the film was a ripe target of opportunity for the extreme edges of the political spectrum, right and left. . . . In the wake of The Mortal Storm, Nazi officials tersely informed MGM that its pictures would henceforth be banned in the Greater Reich and the occupied countries. Stateside, fifth columnists in the German American Bund sought to intimidate exhibitors playing anti-Nazi films with bomb threats and vandalism. . . . Taking dictation from Moscow, the official organs of the Communist Party USA [in the heyday of the Nazi-Soviet pact] lambasted Hollywood’s anti-Nazi [films] as errant warmongering by capitalist merchants of death. . . .

In Washington, a bipartisan cohort of isolationist U.S. senators eyed Hollywood’s anti-Nazi cycle and saw . . . an insidious propaganda campaign designed to sucker America into the European maelstrom.

Brought before a Senate committee holding hearings about “propaganda” in the film business, Nicholas M. Schenk—the president of Loew’s, which owned MGM—was asked by the isolationist Senator D. Worth Clark if he thought The Mortal Storm “contributed to harmony and national unity.” Schenk retorted, “I don’t think you want unity with Hitler.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewry, Communism, Film, Isolationism, Nazism, World W II

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus