Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Daily Batman: A story in stills, “The Electrical Brain” edition

October 3, 2011

Yesterday at the grocery, I spotted a collection of the 1943 Columbia Pictures Batman serial adaptations. I obviously had no choice but to pick it up — my hands were clearly tied — and I’ve found the content … illuminating?

The Dynamic Duo are first seen rounding up some miscreants and leaving them cuffed to a lightpole with a note pinned to one’s jacket for the police. The original script called for the Caped Crusaders to be their usual vigilante selves, but the censors deemed that a little too risky?

And, I guess with all the purportedly people-based government shifts going on in the world, they didn’t want the popcorn-scarfing masses to get ideas? — so Steve Jobs converted Batman and Robin in to federal agents. (May or may not be accurate.)

Isn’t it bromantic? Lewis Wilson as a jaunty, kohl-browed Batman, with Douglas Croft as the Boy Wonder, congratulate themselves on a good night of taking the law in to their own hands without right or invitation after hopping in a Batmobile chauffered by good old Alfred Pennyworth, whose previous comic presence had been a facial hairless, rotund figure — colloquial wisdom credits this adaptation’s portrayal of Alfred as thin, stately, and mustachioed with influencing his subsequent appearance in the comics.

Accordingly, so far as I’ve watched, this opening scene introducing their crime-fighting prowess is the only bit of vigilantism Batman and Robin display in the serial. Everything else is under the aegis of fighting Communist and Axis spy infiltration.


This comes from the “Japanese Cave of Horrors” scene and is CLEARLY a wax figure of Cary Grant as a fake POW.

The note pinned to the man up there on our right’s jacket is somewhat reminscent of the “deliver to Lt. Gordon” note from The Dark Knight. It also indicates that the key to the cuffs may be found in the apprehended man’s pocket. Ostensibly, the cuffs will be taken off and replaced with official ones, but as they do not know the secret identity of Batman and Robin, are the originals now a gift to the Gotham City PD? I assume so. Not to worry: Batman and Robin have lots more pairs of handcuffs. You know, for … crime-fighting.


Did it come from Gunga Din, do you reckon? The uniform, I mean? Where did props even get this figure? I feel like it’s just out of reach in my mind. Little help?

This first segment in the serial is titled “The Electrical Brain” and is a total yawn fest, since all that it features is electric zombies, atom-smashing handheld ray guns, a sinister villain, and more astounding racism than you can shake a KKK hood at. Oh, wait — it couldn’t be less boring. If you’re a fan of camp and jaw-dropping behavioral archaisms, like your happy hostess here, run, don’t walk out and find this collection.

Get all of your latently guilty chagrin primed, though. I’m not made out of moron: I understand the film is a product of its time — it’s part of why I find vintage, obscure cinema from this era interesting. But, sweet mother of Edward Said, the orientalism and propaganda are strong with this one.

The villain of the piece, Dr. Tito Daka, is a self-proclaimed servant of Hirohito. Daka is a Japanese enemy of capitalism who I’m amazed to say constitutes only a fraction of the deeply-woven Asian-targeted xenophobic mise-en-scene of the picture.

U.S. readers, if you’ve nursed some fantasy that the internment of our Japanese fellow citizens during the second World War was not widely known by most Americans and did not make a big dent in pop culture, this little slice of 1940’s life will prove you all kinds of unfortunately wrong.


Narrator: This was part of a foreign land transplanted bodily to America and known as Little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs, it has become a ghost street where only one buusiness survives, eking out a precarious existence on the dimes of curiosity-seekers.

Wise government. Rounded up. Shifty-eyed. I honestly triple-took. “Did that just happen??”

It seems boldly racist to me, even for the time. So like I said, this serial has so far shown me that I don’t know crap about what was “okay” on the day-to-day in my country during this time.

Daka introduces himself to a new recruit to his organization, the partner of a recently sprung white collar criminal of sorts (his niece is dating Bruce Wayne, which is how the plotlines tie together), with the following charming monologue.


I am Dr. Daka, humble servant of His Majesty Hirohito, Heavenly Ruler and Prince of the Rising Sun. By divine destiny, my country shall destroy the democratic forces of evil in the United States to make way for the New Order, an Order that will bring about the liberation of the enslaved people of America.

Daka is portrayed by totally-not-Asian actor J. Carrol Naish, a future Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner. Irish by descent, Naish actually portrayed nearly nothing but non-traditional races in his performances, from Japanese to Puerto Rican to Middle Eastern.

Congruent to his alleged continent of origin in this serial and his heavy “oriental” makeup, Naish would later bring a whole new ball of uniquely challenging race-based character traits to the role of famous detective Charlie Chan on the small screen, in television’s The New Adventures of Charlie Chan (1957).


The teaser for the next installment. There was no Bat Cave in the comics until after the release of this serial. But so far the Bat Cave in the serial is a stone wall behind a regular desk, with flickering shadows of bats waving around in front of lights off-camera… so I’d have to say the comics Bat Cave, even if inspired by the serial, most certainly carries the edge.

Movie Millisecond: Just wish I were dead

July 6, 2011

Gentleman’s Agreement (Elia Kazan*, 1947).

You know. The usual.

Actually, this movie is really excellent and special. It shed light on the prevalent anti-Semitism which proceded the second World War. Everyone is always so busy patting themselves on the back for liberating the concentration camps* during the Allied victory over Hitler & Co. that we tend to forget the Jewish people were still being discriminated against in the countries of their liberators.


via.

Based on a book by Laura Z. Hobson, the film is about a writer who claims to be Jewish in order to write an authentic series on anti-Semitism in America. He quickly learns firsthand how prevalent bigotry against Jewish citizens remained in the post-War years. It was considered a risky film to make, and the anecdotal Hollywood folktale circuit would have it that Jewish heads of other production companies went to producer Darryl Zanuck and asked him not to make the film. I’m not so sure: I think that sounds like marveolous publicity fodder and is more likely a fiction generated by Zanuck to drum up interest in the picture than anything that actually happened — especially since a scene mirroring that situation is included in the film. Inspiration for PR story much? In any case, the buzz paid off: the film was Fox’s top-grossing movie of 1948.



*Kazan himself is of course controversial.
**no question, the liberation of the camps was fantastic and thank God for it, no matter if it was late in the game or for political rather than humanitarian reasons, but I’m just sayin’.

Audrey Hepburn and the War, featuring her childhood drawings

January 8, 2010

All of the artwork in this post was done by Audrey Hepburn during World War II.


Audrey at the beach in 1937, 8 years old, before the war.

Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering — because you can’t take it all in at once.

In 1939, Audrey Hepburn’s mother Ella moved Audrey and her two half-brothers from Belgium to their grandfather’s home in Arnhem, in the Netherlands. She believed they would be safe there. On May 10, 1940, six days after Audrey’s eleventh birthday, the Wehrmacht invaded the Netherlands, having already come through Luxembourg and Belgium. The Germans called their campaign of invasion of the Low Countries “Fall Gelb;” in Dutch, the Nederlanders refer to it as “Slag om Nederland,” or, “Battle for the Netherlands.”


Audrey passed much of her time outside of school during the occupation drawing.

Completely hemmed in and outmanned by the German army, the Dutch main force in the Netherlands nonetheless held out for five days in mid-May, 1940 — a small contingent near Zealand held off the Wehrmacht through the 17th, but finally surrendered after grave loss of life. Almost exactly five years later, the final Dutch province was liberated.

During the five-year occupation of Arnhem, besides spending her time drawing and performing openly in plays with her mother and friends, Audrey attended school under the name “Edda van Heemstra,” a pseudonym invented by her mother Ella that she hoped would not betray Audrey’s English roots.


Audrey in costume for one of the plays in which she and Ella performed to raise spirits in the town during the occupation.

Audrey trained in ballet and secretly performed for small, sympathetic groups to raise money for the Dutch Resistance.

“The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performances.”


1939 — age 10.

I was exactly the same age as Anne Frank. We were both 10 when war broke out and 15 when the war finished. I was given the book in Dutch, in galley form, in 1946 by a friend. I read it and it destroyed me. It does this to many people when they first read it, but I was not reading it as a book, as printed pages. This was my life. I didn’t know what I was going to read. I’ve never been the same again, it affected me so deeply.

During the Dutch famine over the winter of 1944, the Germans confiscated the Dutch people’s limited food and fuel supply for themselves. Without heat in their homes or food to eat, people in the Netherlands starved and froze to death in the streets. Hepburn and many other Dutch people had to resort to using flour made from tulip bulbs to bake cakes and cookies.

Arnhem was devastated during allied bombing raids that were part of Operation Market Garden. Audrey’s older brother Ian was sent to a labor camp, and her uncle and cousin were shot in front of her for being part of the Resistance.


Audrey and her brothers Anthony and Ian playing in 1938.

We saw reprisals. We saw young men put against the wall and shot and they’d close the street and then open it and you could pass by again. If you read the diary [of Anne Frank], I’ve marked one place where she says, ‘Five hostages shot today’. That was the day my uncle was shot. And in this child’s words I was reading about what was inside me and is still there. It was a catharsis for me. This child who was locked up in four walls had written a full report of everything I’d experienced and felt.


In Belgium in 1934, five years before the war broke out.

I have memories. More than once I was at the station seeing trainloads of Jews being transported, seeing all these faces over the top of the wagon. I remember, very sharply, one little boy standing with his parents on the platform, very pale, very blond, wearing a coat that was much too big for him, and he stepped on to the train. I was a child observing a child.

When the tanks came in and the country was liberated, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration trucks followed. Hepburn said in an interview that she ate an entire can of condensed milk and then got sick from one of her first relief meals because she put too much sugar in her oatmeal. This experience is what led her to become involved in UNICEF late in life. (source)


My own life has been much more than a fairy tale. I’ve had my share of difficult moments, but whatever difficulties I’ve gone through, I’ve always gotten a prize at the end.

Donate to the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, online via PayPal, by phone at 310.393.5331, or through the mail to The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, 710 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 600, Santa Monica, CA 90401.

Update 1/27/2012: Contact info for the AHCF update:

Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund
65 S. Grand Avenue – First Floor – Pasadena – CA 91105
phone 1.626.304.1380
fax. 1.626.304.1386
email ahcf@audreyhepburn.com