Monday, March 13, 2017

"America Goes Over" (USA, 1927)

To commemorate the centennial of America's entry into the First World War C-SPAN3 on "American History TV" recently broadcasted the silent film America Goes Over. This vintage five-reel film provides us with a fascinating example how the Great War was shown on the American movie screen.

U.S. Marine Corps ready for war, 1917. Publicity picture from the National Archives

There is a great deal of ambiguity surrounding America Goes Over because actually two versions of the film were produced. The original film was produced shortly after the Armistice in November 1918 by the Commitee on Public Information (CPI), America's wartime propaganda agency. The first reel of this film version mentions the CPI and judging from the opening titles appears to have been used mainly as a complilation movie for distribution both in the United States and abroad. Apart from scenes taken by military cameramen of the U.S. Signal Corps this first reel of the film also has footage supplied by other Allied countries.

The original CPI version of America Goes Over can be watched here on YouTube.

New Film Release in 1927

In 1927, ten years after the United States had entered World War I, there was a new release of this movie. The U.S. Signal Corps had struck a deal with the Eastman Kodak Company and the original footage was now printed on 16 mm safety stock, which made it possible to distribute the war film directly to customers as a home movie. Apart from the complete five reel film, the customer could also order a separate segment from this historical film. The first reel of this 16 mm version is quite different from the original film which had been released by the CPI nine years earlier. Most of the propaganda content was cut out of the opening intertitles and many scenes not related to the American theater of war in France were deleted.

On December 31, 2016, C-SPAN3 first aired this 1927 home movie version of America Goes Over nationwide in the United States. The footage comes from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and despite the fact that the film is almost one hundred years old the quality of these pictures is astounding. As the film is being shown historians Mitchell Yockelson and Allison Finkelstein provide comments on America's entry into the First World War, both on the political and the military stage.

We have uploaded C-SPAN's showing of America Goes Over to our YouTube channel.


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