Gentleman’s Agreement, a 1947 film based on a novel of the same name, took a hard look at anti-Semitism.
“It’s a story that people don’t really know,” explains Jo Ann Arnowitz, executive director and chief curator at Miami Beach’s Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU. The tale in question is Hollywood’s role in the years just prior to America’s December 1941 entry into World War II. It’s a history far more checkered than most of today’s rosy recollections, and one on colorful display in the museum’s “Cinema Judaica” exhibition.
What emerges in this showcase of over two dozen period film posters is a reminder of just how strong isolationist feelings were in the US during that era. “Some people stood up to Nazi Germany, but there were so many other people being lackadaisical and doing nothing,” says Arnowitz.
Hollywood’s desire to maintain German movie ticket sales—even if it meant purging scripts, casts, and crews of anything and anyone “offensive” to Nazi officials—all too often outweighed moral concerns. “Out of the eight major studios producing films at that time, only two stood up to [German Minister of Propaganda Joseph] Goebbels’s demands about not employing Jews,” says Arnowitz. “United Artists closed down their German arm, but still distributed their films there through another company. Only Warner Brothers went the opposite route in creating films that were about what was happening in Germany.”
The results, as seen in “Cinema Judaica,” culturally skew both high and low—from The Man I Married, a 1940 melodrama spotlighting anti-Semitism in Germany, to I’ll Never Heil Again, a gloriously surreal 1941 Three Stooges short with Moe as a brutish Hitler and Larry as a befuddled Goebbels. Third Stooge Curly is left to serve as the lone voice of wisdom: Breaking character as the other two begin yammering in faux-German, he turns to the camera and confides, “They’re nuts!” “Cinema Judaica” is on exhibit through August 24 at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, 301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 305-672-5044