The Ramparts We Watch


1h 30m 1940

Film Details

Release Date
Aug 16, 1940
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
The March of Time
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Film Length
7,828ft

Synopsis

In the summer of 1914, when over 100,000 soldiers are serving in the U.S. Army, and while aircraft are being tested for military purposes, the "Hesitation Canter," a dance similar to the "Turkey Trot," is gaining popularity on America's dance floors. Although Americans learned in June that Austria had declared war on Serbia, and that country after country since then has been mobilizing for war, most of the nation does not appear to be bothered by the news. Some foreign-born Americans are directly affected by the war in Europe, however. Joe Kovacs, who lives in a small town, receives a letter from Austria requesting that he return to his fatherland to fight in the war. Joe bids farewell to his wife and his daughter Anna and quickly leaves for Austria. Following the German invasion of Belgium, a partisan argument erupts in the town, and a Belgian relief rally is organized. Meanwhile, Anna, unable to pay for her education, drops out of school. Suspicion of foreign-born nationals soon runs rampant in the town, and the Bensingers, a German American family, are believed to be German sympathizers. In 1915, following the German Zeppelin bombing of London and the sinking of the Lusitania , Americans march against the German Kaiser and meet with their Congressmen to discuss the developments in Europe and their implications. While a debate over American neutrality takes place, an elite military corps made up of young volunteers, called the Lafayette Escadrille, attracts many Americans who want to get involved in the war, including Edward Averill's son Walter. When Dora Bensinger and her daughter Hilda are suspected of being a spy family, they are asked to leave the ladies' bandage packing circle. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson is seen marching at the head of a war preparedness parade. That same year, Anna, now working at the hat check desk at a local dance hall, receives news of her father's death. Tensions mount in the country as news reaches Americans that a number of munititions plants in New Jersey have been exploded in apparent acts of sabotage. On 2 Apr 1917, President Wilson declares war and gives a speech dilineating his reasons for entering the war. Months after the Bensingers are told that their son will not be permitted to go overseas because of his father's nationality, the Germans concede defeat and an armistice is signed. The film concludes with a commentary on the need to remind Americans that a similar threat is brewing in the year 1940, this time with the menacing Adolph Hitler leading the German nation to war.

Film Details

Release Date
Aug 16, 1940
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
The March of Time
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Film Length
7,828ft

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

No credits appeared in the viewed print of the film, except for the following: "The editors of Time and Life present a saga of modern America produced by the staff of The March of Time." This was the first feature-length film produced by The March of Time, a subsidiary of Time, Inc., that was primarily known for its short newsreel films. RKO originally copyrighted the film on August 16, 1940, but because the studio revised the ending of the picture, a second copyright registration was requested. Although a July 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the premiere of the film was to be held in Washington, D.C. during the last week of that month, the copyright files contain a letter from RKO to a copyrighting agency, dated October 22, 1940, which states that the revised, and presumably final, version of the film had its first public showing on August 30, 1940. The copyright records also indicate that the second version was twelve minutes (or 1,101 feet) shorter than the first version. The title of the film was taken from a book published in 1938 entitled The Ramparts We Watch: A Study of the Problems of American Defense by Major George Fielding Eliot.
       Studio publicity material indicates that producer Louis de Rochemont "hired no movie actors" for the picture, but instead "picked businessmen, housewives, college students who simply played themselves before the camera." Many of those who appeared in the picture were residents of New London, CT, where the picture was filmed. According to a Time article, New London was chosen as the location because it had not changed in appearance since the late 1910s. Studio publicity material also notes that the film was made over an eighteen month period at a cost of $400,000.
       According to contemporary news items in New York Times and Hollywood Reporter, scenes from the 1939 German-produced Nazi propaganda film Baptism of Fire were used in the film. The inclusion of footage from the German film reportedly resulted in UFA, Inc., a German film distribution company, accusing Time, Inc. of pirating the film. Producer Louis de Rochemont responded to the accusation by asserting that the German film was confiscated by the British contraband control in Bermuda and obtained legally through the Canadian government. The German government warned RKO that if it used footage from Baptism of Fire, it should expect "reprisals" and legal action. According to a New York Times news item, the Pennsylvania Board of Censors, fearing its "terrifying effect on the masses," cut the footage taken from Baptism of Fire. An October 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that RKO and The March of Time took the Pennsylvania censors to court over the deleted footage, arguing that because the material was news, it was not subject to censorship. Information as to the outcome of the trial has not been located.