The March Toward War: The March of Time 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

Marching Into War

 Produced by <em>March of Time</em>
The Ramparts We Watch

Released in August 1940, "The Ramparts We Watch" examined the actions and reactions of a small American community in the lead-up to America's entry into World War I. The film acts as emotional and mental preparation for Americans who were thinking about the potential consequences of another World War: they are reminded at the horrors committed by the Germans, and cajoled into defending American values now. The film is a nudging voice of conscience, hawking patriotism and belief in the triumph of American morality.

The film was also controversial; Pennsylvania banned the last 16 minutes of the film, which showed secret Nazi war propaganda, edited down, in a segment called "Baptism of Fire." Overall, however, the film was praised by government officials and military leaders, as well as the public, which at a Washington, D.C., premiere cheered the film. Frequent March of Time advocate and Washington Post columnist Nelson B. Bell wrote of the premiere: "What the United States of America has done once within the memory of those still living, the United States of America can do again. This is the implication, if not the primary message, conveyed by 'The Ramparts We Watch'...It utilizes as a direct and obvious analogy to the present world crisis, the cataclysmic years of 1914-18"1 (see who attended).

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Reports indicate that the film's makers were concerned with creating an authentic portrayal of the years leading up to World War I. "Ramparts" was noted in its time for using the citizens of New London, Conn., where filming took place, to play the roles of average Americans facing the prospect of war.2 More than 1,400 people took part in the production, 73 with speaking parts. Reporter Thomas M. Pryor wrote:

"Though the producers deny 'The Ramparts We Watch' is a documentary picture, a studious effort was made to obtain realism in casting as well as production, and the fact has been stressed that none of the elaborate technical rituals of Hollywood have been used in making 'Ramparts.'

'No panning, trucking or trick shots through the strings of a harp' is the way the boys put it." [...]

To give the film an added atmosphere of authenticity the producers have interspersed several hitherto unreleased shots of prominent personalities of the war careful selection of prints and even more exacting processing by laboratory experts the historic clips have been blended so perfectly with the film photographed by the Time crew, they say, that it is practically impossible to detect the inserts. You'll be seeing the real thing, though, when Woodrow Wilson, General Pershing, Newton D. Baker, Theodore Roosevelt, German Ambassador Count von Bernstorff, Billy Sunday and Herbert Hoover flash across the screen."3

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While filmmakers' quest for authenticity might seem valid going by this account, they filmed in Connecticut while mysteriously setting the film in Montana.

Producer Louis de Rochemont's comments in a Spring 1941 Sight and Sound magazine offer some insight as to his mind set during this period:

"We Americans are an excessively violent people and when we get confused and irritated we are likely to sock someone on the jaw. We don't much care who it is. The nearest person, mostly. This is a definite catharsis for us, and we feel better after it. And we like to see others acting in the way that we consider normal. The films which come from England have given Americans little emotional support in this respect. We have seen all types and conditions of men, and men smiling amid inconceivable ruins. We have seen them do 'thumbs up.' We have heard them sing. And we feel, more and more, that if we were in the same boat we would not feel that way about it at all. And since we are beginning to climb into the same boat with you, we wish you would act a little more the way we would."4

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While talking specifically about England during the initial years of World War II, de Rochemont reveals his feelings toward Europe's inaction in general. "Smiling amid inconceivable ruins" was not an option for Americans. Once the United States entered a war, "Ramparts" suggested, Americans went on the offensive and would shorten any war in which Europe had embroiled itself.

1 Bell, Nelson B. "'Ramparts' Is Lustily Cheered at Premiere." The Washington Post. July 24, 1940: 14.

2 Pryor, Thomas M. "Down the Homestretch/After Eighteen Months, Time Completes 'The Ramparts We Watch'—Potpourri." The New York Times. June 30, 1940: 103.

3 Ibid.

4 Thanks to Joshua Ranger for finding this quote.