Italy’s film industry during the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) in the 1920s and 1930s was intended to create statist, nationalist, and imperialist propaganda, as Mussolini noted when he paraphrased Russian Communist leader V. I. Lenin (1870–1924):‘‘For us cinema is the strongest weapon’’ (quoted in Nowell-Smith 1996, p. 354). In fact, however, official,‘‘fascist’’ films constituted only a small percentage of Italian productions between 1930 and 1943. Fascist filmmakers,however,did produce movies about Italy’s ‘‘African mission’’ with Squadron, dir. Augusto Genina, 1936) and bronzo The great costume drama and epic Squadrone bianco (White Squadron, dir. Augusto Genina, 1936) and Sentinelle di bronzo (Bronze Sentries, dir. Romolo Marcellini, 1937).The great costume drama and epic Scipione l’Africano (Scipio the African, dir. Carmine Gallone, 1937)
reminded Italian audiences that Italian (Roman) soldiers had conquered Africa before and would do so again.

 The Nazi state in Germany through the Ministry of Propaganda made many more films than the Italian fascist state, but there was little interest in overseas imperialism.Of the more than one thousand feature films produced in Germany between 1933 and 1945, few dealt with subjects other than Germany. La Habanera (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1937) and Germanin (dir. Max Kimmich, 1943), about Latin America and Africa respectively, focused on fever, sickness, and premature death.

 The Soviet Union, officially anti-imperialist, made internationally recognized avant-garde films in the 1920s, but under Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) in the 1930s and 1940s production declined, as did quality. During World War II and the buildup to the war, Soviet cinema fell back on Russian imperial themes to promote nationalism and support for the state. Kutuzov (dir. Vladimir Petrov, 1944) presented Mikhail Kutuzov (1745–1813), the general who saved Russia from the Napoleonic invasion, as a loyal Russian and brilliant strategist. The great Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948) in Ivan grozny (Ivan the Terrible, part 1, 1945) depicted the sixteenthcentury czar as a troubled character but great national hero. The film was begun on Stalin’s request, but the dictator viewed it as a critique as his own autocracy and banned it. During the Stalin years, the Soviet republics were permitted to make their own film epics about national heroes (Bogdan Khmelnitsky [dir. Igor Savchenko, 1941] in Ukraine, for example), but the Soviet censors made sure that these were heroes who had never fought against Russian oppressors.

 By 1929 over 80 percent of the world’s feature films came from the United States, and most of those from Hollywood, California. The United States had long viewed itself as an anti-imperialist nation, despite its expansion across the transcontinental West, its seizure of Native American lands and Mexican provinces, and its late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century adventures in overseas acquisitions of Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and the Panama Canal Zone. American filmmakers, and apparently American audiences, were not interested in any American ‘‘empire’’ other than the ‘‘Wild West’’ and cowboys and Indians.

 The ‘western’ dominated American cinema from the silent period through the 1950s. Not unlike French and British colonial films, American westerns contrasted white civilization and Indian ‘‘savagery,’’ as well as the conflicts within newly settled colonial societies. Many American western films, beginning with The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913) directed by D. W. Griffith (1875–1948), present the advance of the frontier as a triumph of character and heroism. Not all westerns before the 1960s and 1970s, however, were vehicles for anti-Indian propaganda. Hundreds of early silent films were based on the popular Wild West shows of Buffalo Bill, Broncho Billy, Tom Mix, and others that had genuine Indian performers who provided the attraction of an exotic and cliche´d past. A number of feature films, from Griffith’s The Squaw’s Love (1911) to Howard Hawks’s Broken Arrow (1950) and John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), presented sympathetic portraits of Indian life and relations with whites, and complex observations on the nature of American racism. The famed ‘‘Cavalry Trilogy’’ directed by John Ford (1895–1973)— Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950)—was scathing in its portrayal of U.S. Indian agents, cavalry officers, and other whites who took advantage of the Apaches or misunderstood them.

  Americans were as interested in the adventure and romance of the British and French overseas empires as the British and French were themselves, although American films set in the French and British empires were often more attuned to non-European sensibilities. In 1916 Hollywood made Anatole France’s novel Thaı¨s (1890) into The Garden of Allah (dir. Colin Campbell). This story about very little, a man and a women abandoning their religion and seeking their selves in the North African desert, was remade in 1927 (by Rex Ingram) and in 1936 (by Richard Boleslawski) in the United States, apparently because  of the popularity of the exoticism and romance of the desert.

 The Sheik (1921), the film that made the Italianborn actor Rudolph Valentino (1895–1926) a star,involves a London socialite traveling across the Sahara,where she is attacked by bandits. She is rescued by Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Valentino), and the English lady and the Arab sheik fall in love. North Africa also served as the setting for Beau Geste, an adaptation of a British story about three English Geste brothers and the French Foreign Legion. This story, set in French North Africa, highlighted the virtues of English and French manliness and brotherhood in the context of relentless Arab attacks.

 The 1930s became the golden age of British colonialism in Hollywood and the classic action-adventure spectacular. Henry Hathaway’s The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1934), a blockbuster success in America and Britain, is a melodrama about three British officers stationed in northwest India. This film set the civilized British soldiers against the ruthless and treacherous Afghan rebel Mohammed Khan, who tortured well-bred Englishmen. The success of Bengal Lancer brought more films like it: Clive of India (dir. Richard Boleslawski, 1935), Storm over Bengal (dir. Sidney Salkow, 1938), The Sun Never Sets (dir. Rowland Lee, 1939), Gunga Din (dir. George Stevens, 1939), and Stanley and Livingston (dir. Henry King, 1939).

                                                                                                                

The 1930s became the golden age of British colonialism in Hollywood and the classic action-adventure spectacular. Henry Hathaway’s The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1934), a blockbuster success in America and Britain, is a melodrama about three British officers stationed in northwest India. This film set the civilized British soldiers against the ruthless and treacherous Afghan rebel Mohammed Khan, who tortured well-bred Englishmen. The success of Bengal Lancer brought more films like it: Clive of India (dir. Richard Boleslawski, 1935), Storm over Bengal (dir. Sidney Salkow, 1938), The Sun Never Sets (dir. Rowland Lee, 1939), Gunga Din (dir. George Stevens, 1939), and Stanley and Livingston (dir. Henry King, 1939).

 Gunga Din, George Stevens’s (1904–1875) take on the British author Rudyard Kipling’s (1865–1936) smug commemoration of a loyal Indian water-bearer, naturally portrays the British soldiers as brave and heroic. However, the anti-British enemy is noted to be lovers of ‘‘Mother India’’ and therefore not mindless fanatics but believers in a worthy cause. Kipling’s multicultural theme, and the one often pushed by liberal American filmmakers, was found in the story of Gunga Din, who was a nobody and who in the end sounded his bugle, warned the troops, rescued his friends, and saved the day.

 Prior to World War II, French, British, and American films rarely deviated from the accepted values and norms of their times regarding the framework of colonialism. Filmmakers took the dichotomy of civilized settlers and primitive natives for granted. However, not all films on colonial subjects followed these rules. The disintegration and liberation of the European colonial empires in the decades following 1945 transformed the way the West understood colonialism and therefore changed cinema’s view of colonialism. This change did not happen immediately. King Solomon’s Mines (dirs. Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton, 1950, a remake of the 1937 British film), Storm over Africa (dir. Lesley Selander, 1953), West of Zanzibar (dir. Harry Watt, 1954), Zulu (dir. Cy Endfield, 1963), and Khartoum (dirs. Basil Dearden and Eliot Elisofon, 1966) continued to portray the British colonial soldier or adventurer as the noble agent of ‘‘civilization.’’ The story of how Muhammad Ahmad, the Mahdi, an Islamic mystic, organized an army and drove the British out of the Sudan in 1885 is told in Khartoum. British General George Gordon (1833–1885), martyred in the campaign, was played by the handsome and heroic American actor Charlton Heston. The British actor Laurence Olivier, as the Mahdi, on the other hand, presented a lunatic religious fanatic, an Islamic stereotype that was reinforced in later movies from time to time.

  By the 1960s, with the demise of most of the European empires, Western filmmakers had begun their passage into cinematic collective guilt, cultural self-condemnation,and moral instruction. La bataille d’Alger (The Battle of Algiers, 1966), an Italian film directed by Gillo Pontecorvo (b. 1919) about the anticolonial uprising against French colonialism in the capital of Algeria from 1955 to 1957, brought the bitter history of colonialism and anticolonialism to life in French cinemas and everywhere else. This documentary-style film won awards in Venice, London, and Acapulco largely because of its obvious political perspective, a defense and justification of the National Liberal Front (FLN), the Algerian insurrectionary organization. Bosley Crowther, writing the review for the New York Times, observed that Pontecorvo’s film was essentially about valor, ‘‘the valor of people who fight for liberation from economic and political oppression. And this being so, one may sense a relation in what goes on in this picture to what has happened in the Negro ghettos of some of our American cities more recently’’ (Crowther 1967/2004, p. 82).

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