The March Toward War: The <em>March of Time</em> as Document and Propaganda
Introduction The Time Empire MOT as Document Marching into War Voice of Conscience Timeline/Index
Voice of Conscience
America's Hometown
Toward War
Baptism of Fire
Defining America
 Rmparts We Watch scene

America's Hometown

 Today Americans are preparing to meet what may be the greatest crisis in the nation's history
The Ramparts We Watch
  The American Community 1914
(3) The ideal American community, also represented by the small-town bakery. (4)
Candy shop
 

"Ramparts" begins with the alarming sound of sirens as the narrator says that Americans—in confronting the tide of war in Europe and the Orient—may be facing their greatest crisis yet. The filmmakers suggest Americans look back at how they dealt with the prior crisis of World War I (1). March of Time producer Louis de Rochemont explained what his movie meant to accomplish in a New York Times feature on the undertaking:

"'We don't intend to make any portentous implications,' said Mr. de Rochemont. 'It is not our desire to damn those who went to war with honest conviction. And I certainly hope no one will think we are inquiring direfully, "Will it happen again?" We simply mean to show how people act—or did act—as war approached them.'"1

De Rochemont filmed "Ramparts" in New London, Connecticut—columnist Nelson B. Bell in July 1941 called New England the "cradle of liberty"2—and what landscapes are shown hearken back to the familiar ideals of freedom of religion, American industriousness and entrepreneurship (2). The setting would paint a picture of an ideal America, a small town complete with caring shopkeepers and immigrants who have complicated ties to the old country, although they have adapted to America's ways. As explained in a New York Times article on the making of the film, "Ramparts" would not only show military preparations (which it does little of), "but would also explore that less tangible, less comprehensible but much more vulnerable rampart of our national defense, the mass mind of the American people."3

The article continues: "The next question was: Where and how to make it? That didn't trouble Mr. De Rochemont long. He is a great believer in authentic detail, even in creative moods. So he decided that the right thing to do was to find a typical town which still looks pretty much the way it did twenty-five years ago, to move his entire production unit in and film the whole thing right there. New London was chosen as the town. And thus, for the past five weeks, an abandoned silk mill (rental, $150 a month) just a few blocks from the heart of town has been studio and general headquarters for the company which is making 'The Ramparts We Watch' and the entire community has been its oyster."

Thus we get the contradiction of filming in the town to make an authentic record and filming in a studio. How much was set in the studio is impossible to know.

The film's first scene takes place in a bakery, where the first words of the film uttered by someone other than the narrator are "a Washington cream pie." (3) The filmmakers seem to make an analogy to the happy obliviousness of childhood and American innocence before World War I. The narrator proclaims the time one of "unparalleled progress and prosperity," a time when the daily newspaper indicates there is little interest in news outside the community or nation. Americans are looking forward to "new standards and new ideals," and until newspapers declare Europe's war, "Europe and Europe's troubles seemed very far away."

First 12 minutes of Ramparts Play movie

The first few minutes of the film set the scene for what life was like in 1914 and cover the initial start of the European war, and the immediate impact only foreign-born Americans felt. The segment also shows a self-referential moment as an immigrant family watches a Pathe News newsreel on the Austrian empire. One immigrant decides not to go back to fight in the army, while another head of household decides he must return now if he ever wants to go back to the old country again.

1 Crowther, Bosley. "Time Marches On to the Ramparts." The New York Times. Oct. 22, 1939: 133.

2 Bell, Nelson B. "New England States Offer Example in Patriotism." The Washington Post. July 8, 1941: 8.

3 Bosley.