powered by AFI
Native Land contains the following written onscreen foreword: "Since the founding of our country, the American people have had to fight for their freedom in every generation. Native Land is a document of America's struggle for liberty in recent years. It was in this struggle that the fascist-minded on our own soil were forced to retreat. And the people gained the democratic strength essential for national unity and for victory over the Axis." Actor Houseley Stevenson's name was misspelled in the credits as "Housely Stevens." The Variety review notes that the film was based on reports of the United States Senate Civil Liberties Committee and other public documents. The Congressial group, also known as the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee, a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, was created to address growing public concerns about the plight of working Americans and unfair labor practices. Many of the events portrayed in the film are based on actual events that took place in the 1930's, including the 1935 Tampa, FL Ku Klux Klan murder of Dr. Sam Rogers, a member of the Modern Democrats political party. Rogers and two other members of the party, Joseph Shoemaker and Eugene Poulot, were tarred and feathered for entering progressive candidates in a local election. Paul Strand, who co-created the film with Leo Hurwitz, founded Frontier Films, Inc. in 1937. This was Strand's last film, and the final picture produced by Frontier. Native Land marked the first feature film screenwriting assignment for writer and director Ben Maddow, who was billed under the pseudonym David Wolff.
Information contained in the Frontier Films Collection at the Paul Strand Foundation in New York indicates the following: The film originated in the fall of 1937, when Frontier Films began shooting a short film based on the findings of the La Follette hearings. By early 1938, Michael Gordon, the director first assigned to the picture, and cameraman Willard Van Dyke completed a number of sequences, including the reenactment of the Republic Steel massacre and a sequence in which a Michigan farmer is killed by hired thugs. Hurwitz and Strand, disappointed with the footage shot by Gordon and Van Dyke, took over their duties and expanded the film to feature-length. Most, or perhaps all, of the footage shot by Gordon's unit was scrapped and reshot under the direction of Strand and Hurwitz. Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, Julia Milch and Sidney Meyers assisted in the editing of the film.
According to a 1942 New York Times article, Strand and Hurwitz resumed production on the newly restructured film in the spring of 1939 with only $7,000 of the estimated budget of $40,000 available to them from Frontier Films, Inc. A few months later, with only one-third of the filming completed, Strand and Hurwitz ran out of money and suspended shooting for six months. During the break in production, incomplete versions of the film were shown to audiences in New York, Washington and Hollywood to generate interest and solicit additional funds. Some of the contributions reportedly came from raffles, auctions and benefit parties held in New York City. In the end, Hurwitz estimated that five to six thousand people contributed money to the film. (The Hollywood Reporter review indicates that director John Ford, screenwriter and director Dudley Nichols and actor and singer Paul Robeson were among the many investors.) Although enough money was raised by the spring of 1940 to resume production, Strand and Hurwitz subsequently encountered numerous delays, all of which resulted in a picture that ran $20,000 over budget, and which was not completed until late 1941. With the outbreak of World War II, according to a 1942 NY World-Telegram news item, Hurwitz and Strand made one final change to the ending of the film before releasing it in May 1942. The added scene, in which Robeson gives a speech comparing the battle against tyranny at home to the battle against Adolf Hitler and fascism abroad, was later deleted from the film. A contemporary Hollywood Reporter news item notes that the film, which was withdrawn from distribution after its first run "because of the war situation," was re-released in May 1946 by Brandon Films, Inc. According to a June 1941 New York Times article, most of the actors appearing in the film were members of The Group Theatre of New York. The New York opening of the film was held as a benefit for the New York Newspaper Guild.
Native Land marked the motion picture debut of actor John Marley (1907-1984), who appeared in the role of a "Thug" under the name John Marlieb. In a modern interview, production manager George Jacobson stated that the brief sequence in which the dead body of a labor organizer (played by Jacobson) is tossed from a truck was originally filmed as part of a longer sequence that featured actor Karl Malden and film director Martin Ritt in the roles of gangsters. Ritt and Malden did not appear in the final film. According to modern sources, some of the newsreel clips used in the film were taken from film coverage of the following historical events: a violent clash at a steelworkers strike in Ambridge, PA, in 1933; an incident of police brutality during the Hans Weidemann protest in Brooklyn, NY, also in 1933; and a 1934 general strike demonstration in San Francisco, where police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Modern sources also note that the bulk of the film was shot in and around New York City, and included shooting at the Communist party's Camp Unity in Wingdale, NY, where the Klu Klux Klan sequence was filmed; on Staten Island, NY, where the funeral of the victim of the Republic Steel massacre was filmed; and in parts of New England, where gravestones, town halls and the Maine coast were filmed for the opening sequence.