During World War II, films were a vital part of the war effort. Films trained, entertained, and informed our troops, and films distributed information to the American public who, before the advent of television, had a serious movie-going habit. Very early on, the Office of War Information (OWI) also established an overseas branch, which would do the work of explaining America to war-torn countries that had experienced years of anti-American propaganda and totalitarian regimes. In some cases, European cities were liberated for mere days before American films were projected onto screens. Some of the films were classic Hollywood entertainment, while others were government productions that presented a vision of American life, ideals, and values. One such film was Tuesday in November, a film about the 1944 election and the United States’ system of government.
On its face, Tuesday in November is a straightforward educational film. We see citizens of a fictional California town vote and serve as election officials. An animated primer explains the branches of government. The townspeople argue politics and then set their animus aside at the conclusion of the election. We also see President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and opponent Thomas E. Dewey cast their ballots. Above all, the film places citizen participation at the center of America’s democracy. The electoral process depicted is undeniably idealized, but the film still works remarkably well as a lesson in civics.
Stills from Tuesday in November (1944) demonstrate the United States’ electoral process.
Tuesday in November was part of the OWI’s “Projections of America” series shown to towns and cities liberated by the Allies during World War II. The films covered a wide range of topics, including the Swedish diaspora in America, a town adjusting to an influx of refugees, and the story of a Jeep, told from the popular vehicle’s perspective. The films were made by well-regarded screenwriters and documentarians such as Alexander Hammid and Irving Jacoby. Robert Riskin, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of many of Frank Capra’s classics, oversaw the films’ production.
While the “Projections of America” series was made by the Office of War Information, the United States Information Agency and the State Department used the films for overseas screenings long after the OWI was dissolved in 1945. They ended up scattered across several record groups, but now many of them have been digitized. Swedes in America (starring Ingrid Bergman), Steel Town, Valley of the Tennessee, The Town, The Cummington Story, and Hymn of the Nations can be viewed by clicking on the embedded links.
For much more on Robert Riskin and the film series, see the recent documentary Projections of America.