One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that:
America’s Answer, the second official United States war film, now being released by the division of films, has been booked for long-time showings in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In this city it will be exhibited at the Alhambra Theater, where the first of the government’s official films, Pershing’s Crusaders, was shown with such marked success.
L.A. only had to wait a week to see it, and Kingsley’s review pointed out why it would be a marked success too.
By all means don’t miss America’s Answer, the government film on view at the Alhambra this week, and which surely is the most vivid, the most gripping, the most logically arranged, the best photographed of any war film we have ever had. Tremendous crowds all day yesterday stamped and applauded and howled themselves hoarse over it.
So that you, whose son or brother or sweetheart or husband is in the midst of it, need not wait to conjure up pictures of his experiences with imaginings pieced together from his letters. In America’s Answer you may journey with him from the time he embarks on the transport for France until he rejoices in victory or is borne in to some hospital. You may even see him in the trenches and in battle.
She didn’t need to mention a soldiers’ other possible fate – the list of the dead was just a few pages away, and people were all too conscious of it. Audiences were hungry for information, and film could immerse them in the sights in a way that letters and newspaper couldn’t.*
The New York Times (and New York audiences) agreed: “Not a man and not a woman in the crowd that filled the seats failed to feel the pull of the war, the urging of its influence, the sense of participation in it.” The film allowed people to be “seriously and intelligently informed of what the war in all of its departments is really like.”**
America’s Answer was made by the Committee on Public Information, a government agency established on April 13, 1917 just days after Congress declared war. The CPI used film, advertising, posters, radio and public speeches to inform people about recruitment, rationing, war bond drives and why the war was being fought. They made one more documentary, Under Four Flags.
Now America’s Answer is only interesting if you’re a student of World War One (there are a lot of shots of men and goods being taken to Europe). It has been preserved at the National Archives, and is available on You Tube.
It was a sparse week for news because of the Labor Day holiday. Syd Chaplin announced that he was planning to appear in his own films again (he didn’t until 1921) and First National offered Mary Pickford a contract that was the “largest salary ever paid anybody for anything in the world” ($675,000 plus half of the profits for three pictures–she took it) and that was about it. Kingsley took two days off to enjoy the end of the summer. I hope you enjoy a long weekend, too!
*The other film she reviewed that day, The Prussian Cur, fared badly in comparison. Though “an absorbing story thread runs throughout…with those who like their war news sugar-coated with fiction this picture is bound to make a smashing hit.” So ‘those’ weren’t tough enough for real news?
** “America’s Answer Stirs War Spirit,” July 30, 1918, p. 9.