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Classic Hollywood: The motion picture academy during wartime

The War Film Library consists of classic shorts, newsreels and combat films.

May 09, 2011|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • A scene from "Resisting Enemy Interrogation," 1945. Pictured are Lloyd Nolan, seated, second from left, Craig Stevens, standing, Arthur Kennedy to Stevens' right, George O'Hanlon standing, background.
A scene from "Resisting Enemy Interrogation," 1945. Pictured… (AMPAS, AMPAS )

As World War II was raging in 1942 in Europe, North Africa and Japan, Hollywood movie studios asked to have access to British and Canadian war documentaries, newsreels and combat films. So the then executive secretary of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences organized a conference attended by a representative of the British Ministry of Information as well as representatives from the studios. By the end of the meeting, the academy's War Film Library was born.

"It is the oldest film collection housed at the academy," said the organization's film archivist Heather Linville. "They began to collect war shorts that had been made in all the allied countries and the studios. The collection ended up with approximately 500 titles."

During the global conflict, the movie studios would borrow the shorts for feature-film ideas, said Linville. "The studios were also making many of the propaganda shorts and documentaries on behalf of the U.S. government. So the collection also represents one of the most unique collaborations between the government and the studios."

Now titled the War Film Collection, it consists of about 230 titles. Some prints were lost, said Linville, because the collection moved across town over the decades. "The collection is primarily 35-millimeter nitrate prints. Because of the volatility of nitrate, the prints have deteriorated over time. So we are constantly learning about the collection. We have been inspecting each reel and determining what we have and, from that, prioritizing for preservation work which titles have been nominated and received an Academy Award or are one-of-a-kind because many of these nitrate prints turn out to be the only surviving material that exists."

Throughout the month to honor Memorial Day, the academy's website will be highlighting examples of the restored documentary shorts, propaganda films and public-service announcements. The Web series began last week with "Hollywood Helps," which featured actors in propaganda shorts and public service announcements for war bonds.

Here are highlights:

"Women in War": begins Monday

"Women in Defense" (1941): First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt penned the commentary and Katharine Hepburn narrates this short examining the type of jobs for women through the Office of Civilian Defense.

"It's Your War Too" (1944) A look at the Women's Army Corps — the WACS — both here and abroad. WACS are shown getting technical training and having some R&R at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.

"Stability": Begins May 16

"The American Scene No. 11: Library of Congress" (1945): This Oscar-nominated documentary short narrated by Ralph Bellamy chronicles the creation of the Library of Congress.

"The American Scene No. 8: Tuesday in November" (1945): This examination of the electoral process and the 1944 presidential election was directed by John Houseman, scored by Virgil Thomson and features animation by John Hubley.

"The Home Front": Begins May 23

"Bomber" (1941): Academy Award-nominated documentary short penned by Carl Sandburg follows the construction of the B-26 bombers at the Glenn L. Martin plant in Baltimore.

"Farm Battle Lines" (1942): Documentary short shows how farmers were contributing to the war effort.

"U.S. War Shorts Overseas": Begins Memorial Day

"The Battle of Midway" (1942): Winner of a special Oscar, this short — shot in color by then-Cmdr. John Ford with his 16-millimeter camera — captures the devastating first major battle in the Pacific.

"Brought to Action" (1945): This chronicle of the 1944's Battle of Leyte in the Philippines includes air and sea battles between the U.S. and Japan and memorials on the decks of aircraft carriers for soldiers who died.

To watch the Web series go to or it can also be accessed from the site's main page,

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