The best books to understand World War II movies and their influence on the homefront

Why am I passionate about this?

My husband, Robert McLaughlin, and I taught at Illinois State University for over thirty years. Our fathers both served in World War II (one in the Army Air Forces and one in the Navy) but would never talk about it. That spurred our interest in the war and what it was like. One way to know about it was through the popular culture of the time, such as movies, plays, radio, and books. As we watched more and more movies and gave presentations on them (we’re English professors by trade), we realized how these movies still affect how we think about the war.


I wrote...

We'll Always Have the Movies: American Cinema during World War II

By Sally E. Parry, Robert L. McLaughlin,

Book cover of We'll Always Have the Movies: American Cinema during World War II

What is my book about?

We'll Always Have the Movies discusses how Hollywood movies made during World War II helped educate audiences about the war, offering narratives about what we were fighting for and what the audience at home could do to support the war effort. We watched over 600 movies made between 1937 and 1946 and analyzed the cultural and historical importance of these films, including what our allies and enemies were like, as well as the anxieties about changing gender roles, the war’s effect on American society, and what the postwar world would look like. Collectively, Hollywood's war-era films created a mythic history of the war that, even today, has more currency than the actual events of World War II.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Hollywood War Films, 1937-1945: An Exhaustive Filmography of American Feature-Length Motion Pictures Relating to World War II

Sally E. Parry Why did I love this book?

If you’re interested in movies made in Hollywood during World War II and about the war, this reference book is for you.

It was invaluable as we were compiling what movies to use for our own book. There are intelligent overviews of movies by topic, such as the crisis abroad, spies, fascism, humor, and postwar planning.

What is even more valuable is the filmography, which lists the movies made by year, with the genre, setting, themes, studio, and how relevant it is to the war.

By Michael S. Shull, David E. Wilt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hollywood War Films, 1937-1945 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From 1937 through 1945, Hollywood produced over 1,000 films relating to the war. This enormous and exhaustive reference work first analyzes the war films as sociopolitical documents. Part one, entitled ""The Crisis Abroad, 1937-1941,"" focuses on movies that reflected America's increasing uneasiness. Part two, ""Waging War, 1942-1945,"" reveals that many movies made from 1942 through 1945 included at least some allusion to World War II.


Book cover of Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies

Sally E. Parry Why did I love this book?

If you want to know what sort of pressures the Hollywood studies were under during World War II, from the OWI to the Production Code, then this book will help you sort it out.

The studios prior to the war were concerned about offending paying customers overseas, but once the war started, the Roosevelt administration wanted some oversight in how our enemies, our allies, and the Home Front were presented.

One of the most interesting parts is seeing how films about the Russians changed from humorous to supportive as they became our allies during the war and then back to untrustworthy as the war drew to a close. 

By Clayton R. Koppes, Gregory D. Black,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hollywood Goes to War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Conflicting interests and conflicting attitudes toward the war characterized the uneasy relationship between Washington and Hollywood during World War II. There was deep disagreement within the film-making community as to the stance towards the war that should be taken by one of America's most lucrative industries. Hollywood Goes to War reveals the powerful role played by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Office of War Information--staffed by some of America's most famous intellectuals including Elmer Davis, Robert Sherwood, and Archibald MacLeish--in shaping the films that were released during the war years. Ironically, it was the film industry's own self-censorship system, the Hays…


Book cover of The Star-Spangled Screen: The American World War II Film

Sally E. Parry Why did I love this book?

This is a really good overview of how the studios responded to the rise of fascism overseas and how, as the reality of America becoming involved in the war became more possible, what plans they made to adapt, from more military screenplays to what actors to use (since many of the male actors were either drafted or enlisted), to how to get military equipment for sets.

Dick also probes how these war films, including some made after the war, altered or rearranged history in order to make a better movie.

By Bernard Dick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Star-Spangled Screen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The American World War II film depicted a united America, a mythic America in which the average guy, the girl next door, the 4-F patriot, and the grieving mother were suddenly transformed into heroes and heroines, warriors and goddesses. The Star-Spangled Screen examines the historical accuracy - or lack thereof - of films about the Third Reich, the Resistance, and major military campaigns. Concerned primarily with the films of the war years, it also includes discussions of such postwar movies as Battleground (1949), Attack! (1956), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Patton (1970). This revised edition includes new…


Book cover of When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' Film 1939-45

Sally E. Parry Why did I love this book?

Hollywood has always loved the way that British actors spoke, as well as the history, culture, and literature of Great Britain.

Since Britain became involved in the war years earlier than the Americans, the studios could celebrate British heroism and in so doing, point towards a time when the U.S. might be involved.

Many of the best-loved films of the time, such as Mrs. Miniver, The White Cliffs of Dover, and some of the Sherlock Holmes movies show the British collapsing class lines, which appealed to American sensibilities, and provided clues to how the Allies should behave in the midst of crisis.

By H. Mark Glancy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Hollywood Loved Britain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work examines the Hollywood "British" film - ie American features that were set in Britain, based on British history or literature and included the work of British producers, directors, writers and actors. "British" films include many of most popular and memorable films of the 1930s and 1940s, yet they have received very little individual attention from film historians and even less attention as a body of films. This work seeks to redress this by considering "British" films made during World War II, when Hollywood's interest in Britain was at a peak and "British" films were more numerous than every…


Book cover of Don't You Know There's a War On? The American Home Front, 1941-1945

Sally E. Parry Why did I love this book?

This book takes you back to living in World War II America, from watching movies and listening to radio to enduring rationing and blackouts to changes in the family as (mostly) men went off to war and more women were working outside the home.

It’s well-researched and well-written, with a good sense of how popular culture helped shaped American society.

Lingeman really recreates what it was like for the average person, from silly fads and rumors to the sadness of telegrams and the seriousness of labor shortages and internment camps.

By Richard R. Lingeman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Don't You Know There's a War On? The American Home Front, 1941-1945 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 brought to the surface memories of an earlier time of unprecedented national emergency—Pearl Harbor—and America's subsequent involvement in World War II. In this evocative cultural history, Richard Lingeman re-creates the events—historic, humorous, and tragic—and personalities of the American home front. From V-girls and V-mail, blackouts and the internment of the Japanese, to new opportunities for African-Americans and women, Lingeman recaptures a unique time in American history in this New York Times Notable Book.


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Book cover of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

Victoria Golden Author Of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

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