Monday Movie Post: Good Propaganda From the Good War

In the 1942 propaganda short "Inflation," the devil gets on the phone with Hitler.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Marshal Joseph Stalin in Yalta in 1945.

You have to hand it to World War II: Not only did it produce the best war movies (contemporary and after-the-fact), it also had the best propaganda. I've written about "Point Rationing of Foods" (1943), a Warner Brothers cartoon, and about Frank Capra's wonderful "Why We Fight" (in two parts). My selection for today's Monday Movie Post is a short, "Inflation," from 1942.

The film was intended to convince Americans not to hoard and not to bid up prices on scarce, and soon to be scarcer, consumer goods. It involves a plot by the devil himself (played upscale and only a bit over the top by Edward Arnold) to destroy the U.S. by inducing inflation. His Satanic Majesty is shown on the phone with Hitler, reassuring his friend Adolf that Americans are going to be easy to break with higher prices.

As entertainment, "Inflation" isn't at all bad. It may not rise to the level of the Warner Brothers gang or Capra, but it is a pleasant enough diversion before the main movie plays. Of course, it helps that instead of preaching about sacrifice, the movie has Old Nick talking about how great it would be to cash in your war bonds and buy that mink coat. There is one fairly brief excerpt of President Franklin Roosevelt explaining war measures to stabilize the economy, but only toward the end does it veer dangerously close to sanctimony, with the devil finally laying it on a bit too thick.

Hitler doesn't appear directly; he's just on the other end of the phone. But this Hitler, like the one in several Warner Brothers cartoons of the era, is more buffoon than evil genius. Unlike in the Capra movies, though, the enemy is entirely personal here: It isn't the Axis leaders, or the Germans and Japanese -- just Hitler, in league with the devil himself.

Of course, as politics this one falls way short. It is pure war propaganda: the good guys are in a life-or-death fight against pure evil, and the only way to win is to do what the president asks. Which only proves that war isn't very good for healthy politics.

For those of us who haven't yet celebrated our 80th birthday, it's useful to get these reminders about just how total a total war can be, even when it is fought abroad. The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for a very long time, and one might argue that a full and proper peace never really took root after WWII. Still, there's nothing about recent U.S. wars, including Vietnam, that even comes remotely close to what happened in World War II. "Inflation" is just a peek, but for that alone, I'd recommend it.

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