As it did during the last Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's stock has risen as Wall Street's has fallen. Boldly piloting the nation through the twin calamities of economic collapse and world war, FDR was so popular that he became the gold standard by which his successors are measured. But how did Hollywood respond to Roosevelt's New Deal?
Americans sought relief from the grim reality of the Depression in movie palaces supplied with escapist fare, but studio heads and stars, like everyone else, were not neutral about “that man in the White House” and his policies. Films depicting the crisis thus appeared alongside the gleeful spectacles of Ginger and Fred, Judy and Mickey. Whether depicting hoboes riding the rods or hardscrabble farmers pushed to the wall, the tyranny of bloated government agencies or a president who, under divine guidance, makes himself dictator for the good of his people, Hollywood responded at a time when extreme notions like revolution and fascism tempted many as alternatives to despair.
Washington commissioned its own films, as well, to justify the vast expenditure of taxpayer money that put Americans to work in New Deal agencies such as the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The feature films and shorts in this series reflect the ways in which Americans and their institutions coped with the greatest economic catastrophe of the not-so-distant past. And perhaps through these films, we can reflect upon the newest of New Deals.