"Tunisian Victory" and Anglo-American Film Propaganda in World War II

By Krome, Frederic | The Historian, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

"Tunisian Victory" and Anglo-American Film Propaganda in World War II


Krome, Frederic, The Historian


The story behind the making of the Anglo-American propaganda film Tunisian Victory provides an instructive study of inter-allied tensions during World War II. Tunisian Victory is generally regarded as a primary example of the power of film propaganda, emphasizing the ideological unity as well as the military power of the "special relationship" between England and the United States. It is technically competent and stylistically innovative in its construction. The film would seem, then, to stand as a tribute to the closeness of the Anglo-American alliance. A closer examination of the film's production, however, reveals a maze of transatlantic miscommunication, tension, and rivalry for power that characterized much of Anglo-American relations during the war. How these factors affected Anglo-American film propaganda is the subject of this article.

In the summer of 1943 Frank Capra, the noted American filmmaker, visited London. His purpose was to amalgamate his own partially completed documentary of the joint Anglo-American invasion of North Africa, "Operation Torch," with a nearly finished British production of the same campaign. Although Capra went with high hopes and expectations, he quickly found himself embroiled in a struggle for control of Anglo-American film propaganda. The story begins with the creation of the Grand Alliance itself.

The entry of the United States into the Second World War in December 1941 changed the strategic, military, economic, and diplomatic relationship between Great Britain and the United States. Prior to Pearl Harbor, British propaganda in the United States was primarily intended to influence American public opinion toward intervention, sometimes with the tacit consent of an officially neutral United States government. Once America entered the war, however, the U.S. government not only encouraged the work of the British, in particular the Films Division of the Ministry of Information (M.o.I.), but assisted in many of its activities.(1)

Sidney Bernstein, an M.o.I. cinematographic advisor sent to the United States to facilitate Allied film cooperation, drafted the initial policy paper on film liaison in September 1942. Bernstein believed that the M.o.I. and the American Office of War Information (OWI) should share information about current film projects, their production status, and completed copies of films. He suggested a joint film panel to develop film policy, supervise the exchange of government films, and coordinate "with the services for the covering of the war on all fronts."(2) Bernstein also took the first steps toward joint production, noting in his memorandum: "A number of film directors now in the U.S. Services are making arrangements to go, and are going, to Britain and the Middle East to film the activities of American troops. In some cases they may overlap work being done by our cameramen. In view of the shortage of manpower and equipment we should plan the use of all available staff irrespective of nationals." Further, although "the bulk of the films produced in either country are of home activities for home needs, a reasonable proportion of films must (a) illustrate the war effort in the opposite country, [and] (b) illustrate the joint enterprises and the United Nations' effort."(3) Bernstein concluded that in addition to the exchange of films the possibility of joint production should be investigated.

At this time the British believed their film propaganda qualitatively surpassed that of the United States. The American propaganda machine was still developing, while the British had more than two years of actual experience. British confidence in the efficacy of their film propaganda relates directly to the military fortunes of the Allies in the second half of 1942. That year marked a turning point in the war. At the Battle of Midway in June 1942 the U.S. Navy halted the Japanese advance across the Pacific, and the British army won a decisive victory over Rommel's Afrika Korps that fall. …

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