After Charlottesville, new life for a long-forgotten propaganda film

There’s a fair chance that more people have seen a 1942 Army documentary in the last 48 hours than saw it in theaters when the government produced and distributed the anti-fascism film.

It took a tweet from a man in British Columbia on Sunday to propel the film — “Don’t Be a Sucker” — into the spotlight.

The film begins with a man on a soapbox decrying people holding jobs “that should go to me.”

The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer points out that at the same time the government was producing an anti-racism, anti-facsism film, it was interning thousands of American citizens because of their Japanese heritage.

Still, Don’t Be a Sucker seems wise. It seems to know how democratic solidarity falters, how prejudice and factionalism can fracture a nation, and how all these forces might manifest in the United States of America.

This wisdom may have emerged from simple practicality: Though the U.S. Army and Navy remained segregated for another five years, they were already vast and diverse enterprises by 1943. Simply put, different people had to work together to win the Second World War. The same was true of the whole country.

And in that, Don’t Be a Sucker may point to a deeper driver of the American experiment in multi-ethnic democracy. Building a diverse commonwealth has never been just an idealistic aspiration or moral avocation. It has been a requirement of the republic’s survival—the sole remedy to the cancer of white supremacy.

“Good direction and an obviously decent budget make this film very watchable, and it’s interesting to hear the old man appeal to our ‘good, hard, common sense’ in that Bugs Bunny/blue-collar worker colloquial slang that was the accepted voice of Average Joe in postwar America,” writes in its review. “‘America is minorities,’ the old man proclaims, ‘and that means you and me!’ This populist New Deal view would disappear as quickly as evil German references in the Republican 1950s.”

The propaganda film starred Lloyd Nolan, who went on to a long acting career, including as the co-star in the groundbreaking ’60s NBC series, “Julia,” the first regular “black-oriented” TV series.

In its obit for Nolan, the Los Angeles Times said he had a history of “‘A’ performances in a decade-long series of ‘B’ films.”

The actor on the soapbox was a “local.” Richard Lane, born in Rice Lake, Wis., eventually went into the TV news business in Los Angeles and then became a wrestling and roller derby announcer. He, not the more famous Keith Jackson, claimed to invent the sports announcing exclamation, “Whoa, Nellie!”