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Part Three: Stability

During World War II, government-produced propaganda films were used to convey democratic ideals and remind citizens of the freedoms they enjoy. The Office of War Information and other agencies were also committed to showing that American institutions and traditions were strong enough to hold up to the challenges of wartime. Documentaries that presented this image of stability included films about the electoral process, the Library of Congress, public education, and life in a typical American town.

In Hollywood, the studios produced topical war movies and films about the home front, but also continued to make comedies, musicals and sentimental movies that provided escapist entertainment and celebrated the American way of life. One of the most popular movies of the wartime era was “Going My Way,” a heartwarming story of an unconventional priest that won Academy Awards for both Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, and was named Best Picture of 1944.

The Academy Awards, a tradition in Hollywood since 1929, continued during the war, although the tone and focus of the presentations changed significantly. In December 1941, the Academy considered postponing or canceling the upcoming ceremony, but after much discussion the Board of Governors decided to go ahead with the annual event. Academy President Bette Davis lobbied to move the presentation to an auditorium and sell public tickets to raise money for the Red Cross, and resigned when the Board vetoed her plan. On February 26, 1942, Academy members and guests gathered for the eighth time in the Biltmore Hotel ballroom, but the subdued event was a dinner not a banquet, and formal attire was banned. This event also marked the first time the Academy recognized documentary films, with the inaugural award going to “Churchill’s Island,” produced by the National Film Board of Canada. (Listen to John Grierson accept the award for “Churchill’s Island,” along with other audio clips from the ceremony, in the Oscar Legacy section.)

Throughout the war years, the Academy Awards celebrated moviemaking while at the same time recognizing the film industry’s important role in the war effort. Banners displayed the number of industry personnel in the service, and many guests were themselves in uniform.  The Academy also acknowledged the importance of metal conservation, presenting statuettes made of plaster painted gold starting in 1943. The following year, the presentation was moved to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in order to accommodate more guests, including hundreds of servicemen and women, and the proceedings were broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Service.

War Films

An American Scene Number 5: A Journey
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"The American Scene
Number 5: A Journey"
(ca. 1944)

“A Journey” presents the cooperative efforts on the home front to solve wartime problems in four cities across the United States. Scenes include citizens working to create temporary housing and schools in war production cities like Mobile, Alabama, and citizens from Cache Valley, Utah unloading train cars transporting military supplies.


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The American Scene Number 8: Tuesday in November
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"The American Scene
Number 13: Tuesday in November" (1945)

An idealized portrayal of the electoral process and the 1944 U.S. presidential election, “Tuesday in November” reflects an impressive production pedigree including the likes of John Houseman and music composer Virgil Thomson. The film contains a concise lesson in American government using animated sequences by John Hubley.


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An American Scene Number 11
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"The American Scene
Number 11: Library of Congress" (1945)

Academy Award nominee in the Documentary (Short Subject) category (1945, 18th)

Narrated by actor Ralph Bellamy, this film reports on the creation of the Library of Congress and the diverse international collections housed within it. It includes highlights of the most iconic documents held within the library to emphasize its duty to preserve and make accessible the nation's history.


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