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Historically Inaccurate Cinema of 1936

Roosevelt the Second charged Frank Capra with creating war propaganda films to sustain the war frenzy and silence critics of his war as “traitorously unpatriotic” — the facts would take a backseat to selling war bonds. The solution might be, as the editorial below suggests, of having films supervised by “well-known historical professors” – though it remains that the professors may willingly subvert the facts in exchange for tenure and a paycheck.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Historically Inaccurate Cinema of 1936

“Those of us who are interested in the presentation of correct history will read with interest an editorial which appeared in a recent Christian Science Monitor on historical films. While the writer deplores the fact that so many historical personages and events are treated inaccurately, yet he expresses his belief that better days are in the offing. The editorial says:

“The rising tide of historical films is rapidly sweeping away the bridges of knowledge that have been laboriously and slowly built over the wastes of popular ignorance. Such is the opinion of the effect of the recent state if historical films, expressed at the last annual meeting of the Historical Society of London.

The Society can easily back up its assertions with concrete instances. Henry VIII, who ruled over England with some strength at one of the most crucial periods of its existence, has been represented to millions of cinemagoers in all parts of the world as a mere buffoon. Catherine of Russia, one of the sternest and fiercest of governors has been shown as a sentimental schoolgirl.

But the French ruler who permitted Joan of Arc to go to the stake had perhaps better treatment than he deserved in a recent picture. Nor are such travesties confined to English-speaking films. The whole trend of serious historical study nowadays is to get away from attaching undue importance to personalities. This the screen is counteracting, regrettably, in an inaccurate manner. But there are signs that better days are approaching.

One large film company is this year extending its program of definitely educational pictures. Its first venture will be supervised by a well-known historical professor. This is perhaps only a small thing, but it may be the beginning of a more conscientious era of historical films.”

(The Main Street of the South, Anne V. Mann, Historical Films Not Always Accurate, The Southern Magazine, Volume II, Number 11, May 1936)

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