|Der Fuehrer's Face|
Original theatrical film poster
|Directed by||Jack Kinney|
|Produced by||Walt Disney|
|Music by||Oliver Wallace|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
Der Fuehrer's Face (originally titled Donald Duck in Nutzi Land) is a 1943 American animated anti-Nazi propaganda short film produced by Walt Disney Productions,created in 1942 and released on January 1st 1943 by RKO Radio Pictures. The cartoon, which features Donald Duck in a nightmare setting working at a factory in Nazi Germany, was made in an effort to sell war bonds and is an example of American propaganda during World War II. The film was directed by Jack Kinney and written by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer from the music by Oliver Wallace. However, Wallace's original song "Der Fuehrer's Face", in a version by Spike Jones, was released before this short film.
Der Fuehrer's Face won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film at the 15th Academy Awards. It was the only Donald Duck film to receive the honor, although eight other films were also nominated. In 1994, it was voted Number 22 of "the 50 Greatest Cartoons" of all time by members of the animation field. However, because of the propagandistic nature of the short, and the depiction of Donald Duck as a Nazi (albeit a deeply reluctant one), Disney kept the film out of general circulation after its original release. Its first home video release came in 2004 with the release of the third wave of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD sets.
A German oom-pah band--composed of Axis leaders Joseph Goebbels on trombone, Heinrich Himmler on snare drum, Hirohito on sousaphone, Hermann Göring on piccolo and Benito Mussolini on bass drum--marches noisily at four o'clock in the morning through a small town where the trees, windmills, fence posts, and even the clouds are shaped like swastikas, singing the virtues of the Nazi doctrine. As they near Donald Duck's house, Donald is heiling to the song in his sleep. His alarm clock, with all the numbers replaced with swastikas, goes off and he smashes it. His cuckoo clock with a bird that is dressed up as Hitler heils as a clock chime, only for Donald to throw a shoe at it. Passing by Donald Duck's house (the features of which depict Adolf Hitler), the band members poke him out of bed with a bayonet to get him ready for work. Here Donald then faces and "Heils" the portraits of the Führer (Hitler), the Emperor (Hirohito) and Il Duce (Mussolini) respectively, then goes to make breakfast.
Because of wartime rationing, Donald's breakfast consists of bread that is so stale and hard it resembles wood (and must be sliced using a saw), coffee brewed from a single hoarded coffee bean, and a bacon and egg-flavored breath spray. The band shoves a copy of Mein Kampf in front of him for a moment of reading, then marches into his house and escorts him to a factory, with Donald now carrying the bass drum and Göring kicking him.
Upon arriving at the factory (at bayonet-point), Donald starts his comical 48-hour daily shift of screwing caps onto artillery shells coming at him in an assembly line. Mixed in with the shells are portraits of the Führer, so Donald must perform the Hitler salute every time a portrait appears, all the while screwing the caps onto shells, much to his disgust. Each new batch of shells is of a different size, ranging from individual bullets to massive shells as large as Donald (if not larger). The pace of the assembly line intensifies (as in the Charlie Chaplin comedy Modern Times), and Donald finds it increasingly hard to complete all the tasks. At the same time, he is bombarded with propaganda messages about the superiority of the Aryan race and the glory of working for the Führer.
After a "paid vacation" that consists of making swastika shapes with his body for a few seconds in front of a painted backdrop of the Alps as exercise, Donald is ordered to work overtime. He has a nervous breakdown with hallucinations of artillery shells everywhere, some of which are snakes and birds, some sing and are the same shape of the marching band from the start, music and all (some of the animation from this sequence is recycled from the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence from Dumbo).
When the hallucinations clear, Donald finds himself in his bed, and realizes that the whole experience was a nightmare; however, he sees the shadow of a figure holding its right hand up in the form of a Nazi salute. He begins to do so himself until he realizes that it is the shadow of a miniature Statue of Liberty, holding her torch high in her right hand. Remembering he is in the United States, Donald embraces the statue, grateful of his U.S. citizenship, saying "i'm so glad to be a citizen of the united states of america".
Before the film's release, the popular band Spike Jones and His City Slickers, noted for their parodies of popular songs of the time, released a version of Oliver Wallace's theme song, "Der Fuehrer's Face" (also known informally as "The Nazi Song") in September 1942 on RCA Victor Bluebird Records #11586. The song parodied the Nazi anthem, the "Horst Wessel Song". Unlike the version in the cartoon, some Spike Jones versions contain the rude sound effect of an instrument he called the "birdaphone", a rubber razzer (also known as the Bronx Cheer) with each "Heil!" to show contempt for Hitler (Instead, the cartoon version features the sound of a tuba.) The so-called "Bronx Cheer" was a well-known expression of disgust in that time period and was not deemed obscene or offensive. The sheet music cover bears the image of Donald Duck throwing a tomato in Hitler's face. In the Jones version, the chorus line, "Ja, we is the Supermen--" is answered by a soloist's "Super-duper super men!" effeminately delivered suggesting the prevalence of epicenes in the Party; in the Disney version, these lines are flatly delivered but with effeminate gestures. The recording was very popular, peaking at No. 3 on the U.S. chart.
Although the film portrays events in Nazi Germany, its release came while the United States also was on total war footing. Coffee, meat and food oils were rationed, civilians were heavily employed in military production, and propaganda in support of the war effort (such as the film itself) was pervasive. The film's criticism therefore emphasizes violence and terror under the Nazi government, as compared with the dull grind that all the warring nations faced.
In 2010, Der Fuehrer's Face was ruled by a local court in Kamchatka, Russia to be included in the national list of extremist materials, which was first created in 2002. This was due to a local who received a suspended sentence of six months for uploading it to the internet and "inciting hatred and enmity". On July 21, 2016, another Russian court reversed the ruling of the local court, removing the short film from the list. The court highlighted that the film's portrayal of Nazism through caricature form cannot be deemed "extremist" in nature.