Hell Bent for Election

So this is friggin’ cool. Above is an animated film directed by Chuck Jones that was basically a union-sponsored campaign ad for FDR. From the YouTube description:

Hell-Bent For Election was a 1944 two-reel (thirteen minute) animated cartoon short subject now in the public domain. The short was one of the first major films from United Productions of America (then known as “Industrial Films”), which would go on to become the most influential animation studio of the 1950s. As UPA did not have a full staff or a studio location until the late-1940s, this film was made in animator Zack Schwartz’s apartment with the help of moonlighters from various local Hollywood animation studios. Among the moonlighters was Chuck Jones, who directed the film.

The film is an allegorical campaign film, designed to inspire viewers to register and to vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Democratic Party candidate, Roosevelt, is depicted as a then-modern streamlined steam locomotive, the Win the War Special, pulling a high-speed freight train of war materiel, whereas his Republican opponent Thomas E. Dewey is depicted as an old creaky steam locomotive, the Defeatist Limited (numbered 1929 as a nod to the 1929 stock market crash) pulling cars variously representing hot air, high prices, taxes, business as usual ( a sleeper car), poor housing for war workers, and finally a caboose named “Jim Crow.” The conflict in the film centers on Joe, a railroad switch operator who represents the American voting public. He is warned by the station master, Sam (a representation of Uncle Sam), not to fall asleep at the switch as he did in November 1942. Joe must then decide whether to listen to the influence of a cigar smoking gnome-like Dewey supporter and wrecker who tries to make him fall asleep at the switch, or to fight his influence and make sure that the FDR “Win the War Special” stays on the track. (At one point, the phantasmagoric saboteur briefly metamorphosizes into Adolf Hitler whilst trying to beguile Sam into neglecting his duties.) After a notable nightmare sequence, Joe pulls the switch, sidelining the Defeatist Limited. The film ends with a paean to the bountiful post-war world to come; the Win the War Special’s caboose is the Post War Observation Car, and generic constituencies such as Joe Soldier, Joe Farmer, J. Industrialist, Joe Industrialist, Jr., and Joe Worker are shown examining fold-out brochures depicting the benefits of the American post-war world.

H/T to Crooked Timber, who also noticed that the film also interestingly is probably the first to tie Jim Crow to the Republican candidate.


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