Great Movie Directors During Wartime: Hitchcock, Capra, Huston & Their WWII Films


Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, John Ford and John Huston. They were some of the most important filmmakers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. And they were also part of “The Greatest Generation,” the generation that scraped and struggled to bring victory to the Allies during World War II. Like many others, these directors put commercial aspirations aside for a while, and worked with the government to produce propaganda films that galvanized support for the war at home. You can find these films hosted at the Internet Archive within the Cinemocracy section, and below we have highlighted some of the more important ones. For many more classic films, don’t forget to see our long list of Free Movies Online:

  • Frank Capra brought us some of America’s great feel good films: It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). (Find them here.) But, once WW II broke out, he was commissioned by the US government to direct a seven episode series of films called “Why We Fight.” This included Prelude to War, The Nazi Strike, The War Comes to America and others.
  • John Huston — The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948) — served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1943 and directed an Academy Award winning documentary, Report from the Aleutians. The film, which Huston helped narrate, follows the daily lives of American soldiers serving in the Aleutian Islands (off the shores of Alaska). Huston also directed another wartime film, The Battle of San Pietro (1945).
  • John Ford, famous for his westerns Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956) and for his adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940), also got into the act of shooting wartime films, directing The Battle of Midway, an account of the Japanese attack of American ships at Midway. The film uses mostly authentic footage from the battle and is narrated by Henry Fonda (who starred in The Grapes of Wrath). The other notable production was December 7th, a film documenting the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Of course, it wasn’t just American directors who made these propaganda films. The great Alfred Hitchcock was the force behind Bon Voyage and L’aventure Malgache (1944), two French language films backed by the British Ministry of Information. Both were tributes to the French resistance movement. And then there’s Death Mills (1945), the disturbing German-language documentary directed by Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard and Some Like it Hot) that showed Germany the horrors the Allies encountered when they liberated Nazi extermination camps. Some of these films can be found in our collection of Free Movies Online.


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  1. MrG says . . . | December 10, 2009 / 7:28 am

    Great post. Thanks for sharing this resource and your ideas!

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