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Many movies are historically more revealing about the time periods in which they were made than they are about the subject matter of the films themselves, and the Oscar®-nominated short subject My Country 'Tis of Thee (1950) is no exception. In under twenty minutes, the film tells a highly selective story of the United States, from the Pilgrims' landing to the present day, all the while omitting the more negative aspects of the country's history (such as slavery). Made in 1950, as the Cold War was raging and McCarthyism was taking hold in America, the short is a true product of its time, meant simply to inspire patriotism and attack Communism.
It did these things so well that the U.S. Treasury Department arranged with Warner Brothers to screen the short for use in the government's war bond drive in 1950-51. It was also, according to trade reports of the time, shown at all Army stations and used for "GI indoctrination."
The film itself is comprised of snippets of preexisting newsreels, shorts and features, including Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) and Dodge City (1939), as well as historical reenactments. Included is documentary combat footage from WWII, and footage of figures like Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Admirals William Halsey and Chester Nimitz, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. With the exception of a brief sequence showing Eisenhower, which was dyed, it is all in Technicolor.
"So much is packed into the 18-minute running time that it leaves you feeling you have seen an all-too-short feature production," raved The Hollywood Reporter. "And it does a great sales job for the American way of life... [It demonstrates] the supremacy of Warners in turning out shorts that stimulate patriotism while giving entertainment. No citizen who sees the subject can help feeling proud he is an American." Variety echoed these sentiments, calling the short "a fine tribute to and insight into Americanism and a potent message against Communism."
My Country 'Tis of Thee was produced by Gordon Hollingshead, the shorts department chief at Warner Bros. Hollingshead was nominated for 21 Academy Awards over the years for his shorts, winning five. This film did secure a nomination for Best Short Subject, Two-Reel, but lost the award to Disney's nature documentary Beaver Valley (1950). However, Hollingshead did win an Oscar® that year for a documentary short in the One-Reel category -- a film entitled Grandad of Races (1950).
Producer: Gordon Hollingshead
Screenplay: Owen Crump (narration written by)
Music: William Lava
Film Editing: Marshall Eyanson
Cast: Marvin Miller (Narrator), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (archive footage), Admiral Nimitz (archive footage), General Patton (archive footage), General George Marshall (archive footage), General Eisenhower (archive footage), Arnold, General Douglas MacArthur (archive footage), President Truman (archive footage), Truman Bradley (Voice Announcing D-Day Invasion)
By Jeremy Arnold