The historical moments shown in the film date back to 1941, right at the beginning of United States involvement in World War II. The graphic footage of carnage caused by Nazism and Fascism is portrayed by director Frank Capra as the evil that it was. The United States is clearly shown as the peaceful and proud nation that, until the unprovoked attack at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, had stayed out of the war. The film is a raw training guide for young new recruits to enlist and serve their country to protect our Nation’s freedom.
This film has a very overwhelming approach about it. It jumps instantly into Europe and what has been happening there. The contemporary culture is shown to the viewer immediately- what is going on in the European nations and in Japan while the citizens of the United States are going about their daily lives. Newsreel footage of Hitler rising in power in Germany, and Mussolini rising in power in Italy, give reality to the situation. The musical score laid down for this film clearly shows the difference in tones. Anytime the film topic involved Germany, Italy, or Japan the music would change to a horrifying tone. When the United States or an Allied country appeared on the screen, the viewer was soothed by peaceful and uplifting music.
World War II needed films like this to show the citizens of a country that they can help make the difference, whether that be for good or evil. The Axis nations had films of their own to convince their citizens of the importance and righteousness of their causes in the War. All wars are presumably fought for a reason. Modern warfare is fought much differently, with seemingly less human casualty. At this period in time, warfare relied heavily on manpower- the soldiers were the most important asset that any country had. The meaning of sacrificing one’s life to better their nation’s future was an idea that had to be kept foremost in the soldiers’ mind in a positive and heroic way..
The meaning and importance of the film has changed over the years in some respects, but not in others. “Prelude to War” was the first of seven documentary films in the series “Why we Fight” that Frank Capra produced for the Department of Defense. The original intended audience was new military recruits, but the films were released to the public as well to gain support for the war and to show everyday citizens what was going on. In modern times, films are not needed to explain anything to the public, because with the technology that now exists (internet, etc), information is available almost immediately and people can form their own opinions almost instantly. This was not the case in the 1940’s, so these films presented information that people might not have, and also presented an opportunity to present the war in a favorable light.
The importance of the film nowadays is more as a history lesson and a lesson to learn from the past. It was interesting to see the film, with its’ antiquated newsreel images, effectively create an atmosphere of horror at the events going on in Europe and Japan. The politics in the film, although they were from seventy years ago, seem very similar to our present times. The concept of should the United States be the “watchdog of the world”, or should we maintain an isolationist policy, was recently seen in the events of the chemical warfare in Syria.
The film impacted the business practices of Hollywood, because it appealed to the audiences of the day. Throughout the earlier years of World War II, with the United States on the sidelines, the movie industry had suffered because European nations had no interest in seeing American films. Many people in the United States were not going to the movies, either, because of the hardships of the Great Depression. President Roosevelt created the Bureau of Motion Picture Affairs, which was supervised by the Office of War Information. The studios themselves created the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry. The film industry did not become nationalized by the government, as it had been in many of the European nations, particularly Germany and Italy. Many actors, directors, and others in the film industry joined the war effort by enlisting in the service, including Frank Capra himself. The film industry a chance to show its patriotism and make films that would show the importance of participating in the war to preserve the freedom of the world.