Fighting Hitler With Humor

Reviewing Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, a new exhibit on display at the British Library, Christie Davies notices that, even in the midst of war, comedy remained a part of British efforts to change hearts and minds:

A central characteristic of the British propaganda in the exhibition is its extensive and successful use of humor, often achieved by giving official employment to professional cartoonists such as Fougasse. Some of the visitors laughed out loud at the British Ministry of Propaganda film London’s New Version of the Lambeth Walk performed by the Nazi Ballet (1941). The producer, Charles A. Ridley, simply took Lenny Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film The Triumph of the Will (1934) and edited it so that the marchers, drummers, and goose-steppers of a Nuremberg rally sometimes move too quickly and sometimes move backwards and forwards. They no longer look menacing or impressive, but idiotic. It was all done to the then popular tune “The Lambeth Walk” that accompanied a jaunty walking dance popular in Britain and later in America. The actual music used was from the 1937 musical Me and my Girl. Even Hitler and his comrades salute in time to it.

On seeing the orderly precision of a Nazi rally reduced to a dance that had earlier been condemned by them as “Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping,” Goebbels is said to have been so angry that he ran out of the projection room kicking chairs and shouting obscenities. This short film without words was distributed to newsreel theaters throughout the world. A simple but effective technique for debunking power.