The animation produced during World War II has always been of particular interest to cartoon fans since so many of the films were made by the Golden Age Studios. The First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) seems to have kept excellent records of the films they produced, where those records survive and where they have been organized well enough to find.
Weapon of War was one of the favorite finds at the National Archive. I wrote about it just briefly on the second ‘Thunderbean Thursday’.
I still go back every year and look for more films; at this point, I’m really looking for the least known items.
There’s one particular collector out of the country that has a great interest in these films, and I always hope to send a bunch of things his way that no one has seen since they were made. I’d love to be able to say that everything made that was animated (and still exists) is accessible to the public.
Something to know about the National Archive is that, even on material from World War II, there really isn’t a complete, searchable public record of any kind. There *is* a searchable catalog of the films, but it only contains roughly 60% of the titles in the archive, according to the very helpful researchers at NARA. Everyone there has been kind in helping me look through what paperwork survives on the films and then correlate that with where those actual films are, but it’s a huge undertaking to actually gather *all* the animation produced, specifically the training and educational films.
Anything that appeared in the Army/Navy Screen Magazine or was distributed along with that program has been identified at this point, and all but one (Venereal Disease, 1944, Walt Disney Productions) has material at NARA.
The nature of the educational films has allowed them to be become nearly invisible over the years, with only a handful of people actively trying to find them in any way. There’s a handful of issues in hunting them down. The Army’s materials for the most part are archived; material produced for *other* parts of the military seemingly have not faired as well. The Navy has it’s own library and archive, with some material being sent over to NARA, but far from all. Some materials ended up at other government agencies and there they stayed. Some were produced by outside production companies and the print work was sometimes outsourced to labs that were not part of the government, and it’s unclear what generation ended up at NARA, if a version ended up there.
When the lab work was done for the Army the records are impeccable. One bulletin in the paperwork noted that no classified films were allowed to be printed by any lab other than the ones at the government. Some of the issues in trying to find them is that they’re often cataloged at the National Archive by the production numbers; sometimes they have a complete title attached, other times not. I do hope to spend some time digging deeper this year at some point and finding as many of the films that contain more entertainment-style animated content.
‘Weapon of War’ appeared as part of the Army Navy Screen Magazine, as a ‘special’ Bulletin along with the ‘Magazine’ two other times, and again as a film released for civilian showings. I find that last choice interesting in that it’s clearly aimed at members of the forces, and talks directly about religious and race hate in a way that most propaganda doesn’t. NARA had all three releases of the short, so I transferred all of them. There was no difference in the edit in any of the versions.
The animation was produced by MGM studios, and it’s clear that they followed the very complete and detailed storyboards from the First Motion Picture Unit.
We owe a debt of gratitude to artist Paul Manchester, who saved these storyboards from his great uncle, Harold ‘Al’ Curry, who was a storyboard artist at the FMPU. We put these storyboards next to the finished film for the More Cartoons For Victory DVD.
Have a good week everyone!