December 7th: The Movie (1943): John Ford and Gregg Toland’s Propganda Movie

John Ford and cinematographer Gregg Toland co-directed December 7th: The Movie, a propaganda film produced by the US Navy about the attack on Pearl Harbor, the event which sparked the American involvement in World War II.

The film begins with a chronological breakdown of the events of December 7, starting with the town of Honolulu waking up.

A young private is credited with intercepting some vital information which his superiors dismiss; other sailors play baseball or attend religious services. The chaplain immediately concludes the service with the statement, “Men, man your battle stations, and God bless you!”

The Japanese planes, “like locusts,” start humming over the air above Oahu, and begin the  attack on American military installations on the island, including sinking the Arizona, and the bombing of Hickam Field.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Japanese diplomats are talking with Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

An animated sequence is then shown, with radio towers over Japan, broadcasting a fictional speech by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. The narrator contradicts most of the “facts” that the Japanese leader tells his listeners in Tokyo, Nagasaki and Otaru, and Kobe.

After the attack, Honolulu is put under martial law, barbed wire and other protective barriers set up in case of invasion; even children had to be evacuated and given gas masks.

The film offers sympathetic depiction of the Japanese in Hawaii, and the difficulties they had to go through.

The original film was 82 minutes and asked some embarrassing questions, such as why there was no long-range reconnaissance and no short-range air patrols.  Also, the film devoted much time to the culture of the 160,000 Japanese-Americans in Hawaii and their response to the attack.

As a result, the film was censored for decades and the shorter 32-minute version released.

Starring Walter Huston, Dana Andrews, and Harry Davenport.

In the last sequence, set against the national cemetery, Dana Andrews propagates the merits of making the world a safe place for democracy–for everybody.  He then enlists the names of countries alphabetically, by showing their respective flags, ending, of course, with that of the United States of America.

Oscar Awards
The 32-minute censored version of the film won an Oscar at the 16th Academy Awards in 1944 for Best Documentary Short Subject.


Directed by John Ford and Gregg Toland
Produced by United States Army Air Forces
Written by Budd Schulberg (uncredited)
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Gregg Toland
Edited by Robert Parrish
Distributed by Office of War Information
Release date: 1943
Running time: 32 minutes (censored ver.); 82 minutes


I am grateful to TCM for showing the original (long) version of this docu on July 24, 2020.