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Documentary News Letter (1940) - Correspondence





DEAR sirs:

In your September issue there is an admirable article, The Other Side of the Atlantic, "by a correspondent in America." With the general criticism in the article I am in entire agreement; but there are some statements of fact which make it obvious that the writer knows intimately about films in Canada and not so completely about films in the United States.

The Lion Has Wings, with the commentary by Lowell Thomas, has received about 1,000 bookings and is continuing at the rate of about 25 per week — mainly one or two days each. It never made a "huge impression" here, but I believe it is doing a good job still. I have seen it three times lately and have been surprised to see how little of it has dated. The film has been withdrawn in half a dozen situations where the local German influence threatened trouble for the theatre showing it.

For Freedom has not been released here, so far as I know, and I doubt if it has much of a market now.

Pastor Hall has received ecstatic press notices for its New York release. It is now in its third week at a small house on Broadway. Its releases in other big cities have been fairly successful, depending apparently on the advance publicity build-up.

Neither Convoy nor Contraband have been released. The Stars Look Down is still held by M.G.M.: it is said that the difficult accent of one of the leading characters is causing worry. Mein Kampf—My Crimes, released here as After Mein Kampf, has had a short run on Broadway with severe criticisms from most of the press. Madmen of Europe has, as your corresponder writes, a vogue as a second feature. R.K.O. has recently released Queen of Destiny (60 Glorious Years) as a second feature for extensive showing. Other British features now released include The Outsider, 21 Days Together, and The Fugitive (known in England as On the Night of the Fire). All the early Korda productions have been re-issued lately, and such films as The Lady Vanishes, the Bergner films, Man of Aran, Edge of the World and the early Hitchcock films are often to be seen in revival theatres.

The story of British shorts is pretty sad. Columbia still holds Squadron 992, which is likely to be released as Floating Elephants. Men of the Lightship is receiving a new sound track at the time of writing. I have not seen a single British wartime short that would be acceptable as a commercial proposition in the American film market without some alterations.† The "war psychology" of the British film audience appears to have widened the gulf between American and British film tastes, and the British find it hard to realise this trend or the reason for it. We read the opinion of a senior London critic that Men of the Lightship should be shown in America immediately. Such an attempt (were it feasible or acceptable commercially) would have had the reverse influence from what was intended.

In conclusion I must express a personal disagreement with your contributor about Foreign Correspondent. Not only to me, but to many others who have complained bitterly, it is incredible that Wanger and Hitchcock should have devised a noble and heroic death for their fifth-column politician, followed by a justification of his way of life from his daughter. Is this what we are to expect when "Hollywood tries hard"?


New York.
October 1th, 1940.

Since this letter was written London Can Take It has been given the widest theatrical release ever accorded to a short in the U.S.A.—ed.

DEAR sirs:

Maybe I'm speaking for a minority among the British documentary film people, but nevertheless I ask D.N.L. to place on record my deep resentment at its support of the closing speech in Hitchcock's film Foreign Correspondent.

"America!" booms Joel McCrea, "Hang on to your lights, they are the only lights left in the world!"

D.N.L. is pleased to describe this off-the-cuff piece of melodramatics, based on Lord Grey's famous 1914 utterance, spoken in the film by an irresponsible American news-hound in London to a transatlantic audience, as : "It is neither a warlike nor a political piece of propaganda; it stimulates thought, and its message should strike home on the other side of the Atlantic; to us over here it does at least bring evidence of a goodwill backed by clear thinking".

I describe it as an insult to the "only army which", claims D.N.L. itself in an editorial in the same issue, "will win the war" ; an army of civilians, I maintain, in whom the lights have never burned more brightly and more proudly than they do now.

The tale has gone the rounds that the words spoken by McCrea were either written or inspired by Mr. John Grierson when he was in Hollywood. If this is true (though to me they sound more like Mr. Kennedy that Mr. Grierson) they reveal a grave lack of knowledge of public opinion in Britain, a lack one does not usually associate with a propagandist so sensitive to the public pulse as Mr. Grierson.

If the Editors of D.N.L. subscribe to this message, which implies that the British people no longer have faith in democracy in their own country, and call it "evidence of goodwill backed by clear thinking", do they not place themselves, to use their own words, among "the large number of people who are out of touch not so much with fact as with feeling; who are frightened of any clear statement of true democratic principles; who, from their own safe little paradises, will delegate authority upwards but never downwards; who turn at all costs to a fictional heaven rather than a factual purgatory"?

I can assure these leaders of the British documentary film that the people who are really suffering as well as fighting this war do not share this view that the lights are even dimmed in Britain. If they did, the Fascist propagandists might well claim to have already won the war. My own belief is that if the Editors of D.N.L. had not been under the impression that the words in question had been written or inspired by Mr. John Grierson, they might not have been so quick to agree that their own, as well as other people's beliefs in democratic Britain had vanished. Assuming he is responsible, Mr. Grierson's 4,000 odd miles remove from Britain may explain his rare misjudgment of public opinion, but Film Centre Ltd. is, after all, quite close to the Front Line. In their editorial the Editors of D.N.L. neatly divide the British nation into two camps of US and THEM ; I invite these leaders of the documentary group to remember that democracy in practice needs only one camp — WE.

In order that readers of D.N.L. may not think I am alone in holding this opinion, the following wish to associate their names with this letter: Michael Balcon, Ealing Studios; Ritchie Calder, Daily Herald and New Statesman; Cavalcanti, Ealing Studios; A. J. Cummings, NewsClvonicle; Aubrey Flanagan, Motion Picture Herald; Michael Foot, Evening Standard; Dilys Powell, Sunday Times, Alexander Werth, Manchester Guardian.

Yours, etc.

The final speech in Foreign Correspondent, an imaginary broadcast to the U.S.A., from London, runs: —

I can't read the rest of the speech I had had because all the lights have gone out — so I'll have just to talk off the cuff. All that noise you hear isn't static. It's death coming to London. Yes, they're coming here now. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don't tune me out. Hang on a while. This is a big story — and you're part of it. It's too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come. It's as if the lights are out everywhere — except in America. Keep those lights burning there. Cover them with steel; ring them with guns. Build a canopy of battleships and bombing 'planes around them — Hello, America! Hang on to your lights. They're the only lights left in the world!