Stories about fighting fascists always make for fascinating movies.
Look at the legendary Casablanca (1942), for instance, or the low-key but surprisingly tense The Mortal Storm (1940). Like many Hollywood war films of the early 1940s, these productions have interesting characters, engaging stories, and no small amount of trepidation.
Such films were more than just entertainment. As author Jacqueline T. Lynch writes, “We sometimes forget today…that the angst depicted in these films was real.”
In her new book, Hollywood Fights Fascism, Lynch examines Hollywood’s response to fascism, both in Europe during WWII and, later, on American soil. The goal of the book, she says, is to “examine how fascism starts, how it spreads, and what do we do about it.”
She warns we can’t be complacent about fascism today, or dismiss it as something that could never happen in North America.
In Hollywood Fights Fascism, Lynch methodically examines anti-fascist movies with her trademark insight and empathy. She looks at feature films, documentaries, and animated shorts.
The sheer variety of films she’s dug up is remarkable, such as How to Fly the B-26 Airplane (1944). (Lynch wryly notes, “[I]f you can stick to watching it, you will most certainly know how to fly a B-26 airplane.”)
She also puts the films in historical perspective. [T]hese films were never intended to be documentaries,” she writes, “only stories reflective of their times.”
It’s clear Lynch loves movies as much as she loves her country. This book is not only a labour of love, it’s also as a wake-up call for her countrymen to not take democratic and individual freedoms for granted.
It’s a sober and fascinating read, although we do have one criticism: We feel this book is too narrow in focus.
Lynch notes, “Fascists always eat their own.” There’s no disputing this, but it’s also true of those on the other end of the political spectrum, e.g. Joseph Stalin, whose policies regarding free speech and political opposition mirrored those of Adolph Hitler.
However, the stated goal of this book is to examine Hollywood’s responses to the extreme right, not the extreme left.
Even so, Hollywood Fights Fascism is so focused on the current political situation in the United States, it misses an opportunity to be more universal in scope.
Political oppression is deadly in any part of the world, and those who challenge it are courageous souls indeed. That’s why their stories need to be told on screen and examined in books like the one Lynch has written.
Therefore, the narrow focus of this book could make it seem quickly outdated, which does the material a disservice. The principles Lynch outlines are timeless; we fear this book could be easily overlooked or dismissed once the current American political situation has settled.
And that would be a shame, because Lynch gives us a truly inspiring and helpful collection of essays.
We’re a big fan of Lynch’s writing. She’s funny and smart, and sometimes her words are so lyrical they almost sing.
She challenges you to evaluate not only the movies themselves, but also, perhaps, the political environment in your area.
As for the wartime films themselves, Lynch says we shouldn’t judge them too harshly, or view them with a strictly 21st-Century lens. Don’t forget, as she reminds us, “the Allies were losing for much of the war.”
If you’re a film or history buff – or a civic-minded individual – we recommend this analysis of a Hollywood that championed stories of ordinary people standing against the tyranny of their time.