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Susan Green

To See or Not to See

(7 October 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 26, 7 October 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Monogamous Mormons

Just why Twentieth Century Fox should want to paint Mormonism in heroic colors at this time is hard to say. Perhaps it wished to make a plea for religious tolerance. The impassioned speech of disciple Brigham Young at the trial of head-prophet Joseph Smith would indicate something of the sort.

So as not to offend the admission-paying public, the film pushes to the background the polygamy of the Mormons. Young’s first wife has the show all to herself. She is his inspiration and pillar of strength, in good conservative fashion, and the only indication of other wives are a few nondescript and vague females scattered about.

According to this version by Louis Bromfield, the Mormons believed in a community way of living. As Joseph Smith explains it to young Brigham, each should work for all and all for each, the needs of all should be supplied from a central store house, the old and the sick should be cared for by the community, there should be no social distinctions. Undoubtedly this principle of equal-sharing was carried out during the trek to Salt Lake City and the building of the first settlement. But, as we all know, the ideal of community living was lost in the shuffle of capitalist development; and Salt Lake City in its beautiful mountain setting is today just another American city embracing the haves and the have-nots.

The story of westward-ho, on the usual grand scale, is still impressive. A caravan of covered wagons moving across frozen rivers or flooded ones. Man against nature in the raw, bitter winter with weaklings falling by the wayside. The variation from the usual pioneer picture is that Brigham Young, now in Joseph Smith’s shoes, is guided by revelations from god. The final crescendo is the arrival of the famous flock of sea gulls to eat the hordes of crickets attacking the growing grain.

Thus are saved the food of the settlement and the reputation of Brigham Young as a prophet.

Would you believe it – Tyrone Power plays a secondary role, the main role being very well performed by Dean Jagger.

A Pretty Soupy Business

After a while you catch on that this is an anti-communist film. At first it gives the impression of poking fun at capitalist justice. A bunch of communist demonstrators are arrested, and the judge gives them all the maximum punishment. When he is informed that one of the prisoners is the rich heiress of a soup company, turned communist, in great panic he releases her. On her threat to expose him for his bias in favor of wealth, he consents to let the others go too. Not bad from Hollywood on the subject of justice as it is practiced under capitalism. But from then on, you get something that the cat dragged into the soup.

The heiress is supposed to have been duped by comrade-the-butler who is after her fortune, for himself of course, though he makes her think it is for the cause. Enters the hero, a fearless all-American waiter, who spanks the heiress in a restaurant for her communist beliefs or something. This optimistic hombre is against communism because he wants to hold on to his one-in-a-million chance of becoming a millionaire. Though he does not quite make that grade, he does get to be vice-president of the soup company and marries the heiress, which is as good as anyone can expect.

There is a silly mix-up about saving the company from bankruptcy because the heiress’ political views have made her soup distasteful to the pure American stomach. To the rescue comes Elsa Maxwell – of whom the less said the better – with a costume ball at which nearly everyone is dressed as Abraham Lincoln, to add just another touch of true Americanism. Mischa Auer and Charles Ruggles are pathetic swimmers against the soupy current. And if this is the best Hollywood can do by way of demolishing communism; capitalism is in the soup – but definitely.

When Are Atrocities Atrocities?

This English film is based upon the story by Ernst Toller, said to have been written. from the experience of Martin Niemoeller, the Nazi-hounded priest. Without bothering to toot the English horn, it simply sets forth the ruinous march of the Nazi storm troopers into a contented German town and the heroic fight of its pastor against them. Except for the Oxford accent of the storm troopers, the story bears the stamp of authenticity. The conclusions are left to the public. And such is the unjustified moral gain to imperialist England from Hitler’s hated savagery, that it is supposed the public will naturally draw the pro-English conclusions.

Though by now Nazi methods are pretty well-known and heartily hated, this story is still stirring. There is the great misfortune of a fourteen year old girl who is violated in a Nazi labor camp and comes home with her misery. And the wanton atrocities of a concentration camp where only the lash is liberally used instead of bullets that cost 12 pfennig each. The spiritual strengthening of the pastor to put up a fight is realistically developed. His final choice to speak openly against the Nazi and take his punishment of death, rather than escape from the country, comes as a natural climax.

James Roosevelt; the American distributor, did not feel as confident about the conclusions of the public as did the English- producer. He has had his mother appear on the screen, in new gown and with schoolgirlish accents, to deliver the usual blah-blah, Perhaps the Roosevelts remember, and think the public may, that Hitler’s atrocities went on from 1933 to 1939, with material aid from England and the United States, and that it was only when Hitler’s imperialism began to tread on the pet corn of the British imperialists that his atrocities became something to write home about.

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