AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Victory Through Air Power
Director: H. C. Potter () (Scenes with Major Seversky dir by)
Release Date:   13 Aug 1943
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 17 Jul 1943
Production Date:   live action seq began 14 Oct 1942; addl live action seq 14 May--19 May 1943
Duration (in mins):   65
Duration (in feet):   5,866
Duration (in reels):   8
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Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Major Alexander P. de Seversky (Himself)  
    Art Baker (Narrator )  

Summary: Through animation, the history of aviation is presented: On 17 Dec 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright make history at Kitty Hawk by flying their twelve-horsepower airplane for twelve seconds. The public is not impressed by their achievement, but aviation pioneers, including Alberto Santos-Dumont, who makes the first European flight in 1906, continue their exploration of the skies. The Wright brothers further their advances in 1909 when they win a military contract with the U.S. Signal Corps, while in Europe, Louis Bleriot makes the first flight across the English Channel. Aviation progresses over the next few years, but the general public still does not consider aircraft practical. At the beginning of World War I, planes are used for reconnaissance only, until pilots begin throwing things at each other. Their single-handed brand of combat expands as machine gun timers are refined and airplanes become true weapons. Pilots continue to drop bombs by hand, but the competition of warfare finally results in the development of bombers and other innovations. After the war, however, airplanes are again regarded as novelties, despite the achievements of pilots such as Charles Lindbergh and Howard Hughes. Eventually, the airplane proves its usefulness in the carrying of mail and passengers, and establishes itself as the only weapon of war to become integral to peacetime life. In 1939, war is again declared in Europe, and the advances in aviation technology since the previous war are astounding. For example, the bomb load that is dropped on Cologne, Germany, in one night is twenty times more powerful than the total amount deployed by the United States in World War I. At the end of the description of aviation's history, Major Alexander de Seversky, a Russian-born pilot who came to America in 1918 and achieved fame as a flier and inventor, is introduced. Seversky speaks about the necessity of changing attitudes about airborne warfare, a topic that was of the highest importance to World War I aviation leader General Billy Mitchell. Seversky emphasizes the unreliability and inefficiency of ground and sea warfare. The vulnerability of land and sea forces is shown, and the English triumph during the Battle of Britain is presented as an example of the need for a well-trained, well-supplied air force. No nation can be invaded if it controls its skies, asserts Seversky, and he cites the bombing of Pearl Harbor as an example of America's lack of preparedness. The ability of aircraft to transport supplies to military sites is depicted, as is the need for the United States to fulfill its role as the "arsenal of Democracy" and produce more equipment. Shipping routes are easily bottlenecked, states Seversky, especially due to the threat of superior German u-boats, whereas planes can reliably deliver supplies. Seversky also notes that in order to stop the German industrial machine, its centers of production must be destroyed through intense bombing. The problem of stopping Japanese forces is a difficult one, due to the distances involved, and Seversky proposes the construction of long-range bombers that can be launched from Alaska. Seversky also describes how a dam's own power can be utilized when bombing it, thereby stopping electricity supplies and creating massive damage, and how scientific bombing can eradicate the threat of submarines. Seversky emphasizes that the United States must improve its bombing capabilities immediately while Japan is concentrating on acquiring more land. Seversky then proposes that a single, unified air command be created, instead of splitting our forces between the Army and Navy. While Seversky praises American airmen, an animation sequence shows how bombers could take off from Alaska, fly to Japan and end the war by destroying the enemy. 

Production Company: Walt Disney Productions  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: H. C. Potter (Scenes with Major Seversky dir by)
  David Hand (Anim supv)
  Perce Pearce (Story dir)
  Clyde Geronimi (Seq dir)
  Jack Kinney (Seq dir)
  James Algar (Seq dir)
  Ted Sebern (Anim asst dir)
  Eloise Tobelmann (Anim asst dir)
  Rusty Jones (Anim asst dir)
  Bee Selck (Anim asst dir)
  Lowell Farrell (Live action asst dir)
Producer: Walt Disney (Pres)
Writer: T. Hee (Story adpt)
  Erdman Penner (Story adpt)
  William Cottrell (Story adpt)
  Jim Bodrero (Story adpt)
  George Stallings (Story adpt)
  José Rodriguez (Story adpt)
Photography: Ray Rennahan (Dir of photog)
  Harry Hallenberger (Live action photog)
  George Clemens (Live action asst photog)
Art Direction: Richard Irvine ([Live action] art dir)
  Herbert Ryman (Art dir)
  Don Griffith (Art dir)
  Donald Da Gradi (Art dir)
  Bill Herwig (Art dir)
  Tom Codrick (Art dir)
  Cliff Devirian (Art dir)
  Charles Philippi (Art dir)
  Glenn Scott (Art dir)
  Elmer Plummer (Art dir)
  Karl Karpé (Art dir)
Film Editor: Jack Dennis (Film ed)
Set Decoration: William Kiernan (Int dec)
Music: Edward Plumb (Mus)
  Paul J. Smith (Mus)
  Oliver Wallace (Mus)
Sound: C. O. Slyfield (Sd rec)
  Lodge Cunningham (Sd rec)
Production Misc: Dan Keefe (Prod mgr)
  Dorris Pugsley (Secy)
  Eva Jane Sinclair (Secy)
  Ruth Kier (Secy)
Animation: Al Dempster (Backgrounds)
  Dick Anthony (Backgrounds)
  Claude Coats (Backgrounds)
  Ray Huffine (Backgrounds)
  Bob Blanchard (Backgrounds)
  Joe Stahley (Backgrounds)
  Nino Carbe (Backgrounds)
  Ward Kimball (Anim)
  Josh Meador (Anim)
  John Lounsbery (Anim)
  Carleton Boyd (Anim)
  Hugh Fraser (Anim)
  Bill Justice (Anim)
  George Rowley (Anim)
  Ed Aardal (Anim)
  John Sibley (Anim)
  John McManus (Anim)
  Norm Tate (Anim)
  Oliver M. Johnston (Anim)
  Bill Tytla (Anim)
  Marvin Woodward (Anim)
  Harvey Toombs (Anim)
  Andy Engman (Anim)
  Brad Case (Anim)
  Les Clark (Anim)
  Alexander D. Amatuzio (Anim)
  Ed Benedict (Layout)
Color Personnel: Natalie Kalmus (Col dir)
  Morgan Padelford (Assoc)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the book Victory Through Air Power by Major Alexander P. de Seversky (New York, 1942).
Authors: Major Alexander P. de Seversky

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Walt Disney Productions 24/6/1943 dd/mm/yyyy MP13981

PCA NO: 9413
Physical Properties: col: Technicolor
  Sd: RCA Sound System

Genre: Documentary
Sub-Genre: Animation
  World War II
Subjects (Major): Aeronautics
  Air pilots
  Airplanes--Design and construction
  Bombing, Aerial
  War preparedness
  World War II
Subjects (Minor): Alaska
  Britain, Battle of, 1940
  Germany. Air Force
  Great Britain. Air Force
  Japan. Army
  Military education
  Pearl Harbor (HI), Attack on, 1941
  Submarine boats
  United States. Army Air Corps
  United States. Navy. Air Corps
  World War I
  Orville Wright
  Wilbur Wright

Note: After the opening credits of this film, a series of written titles, some presented as newspaper headlines, describe the career and predictions of General William Lendrum "Billy" Mitchell (1879--1936), an early advocate of a strong, unified American air force. Mitchell is also seen in newsreel footage, during which he discusses the potentials of air power. The last written title in the sequence reads: "So to the memory of Billy Mitchell, pioneer and prophet of air power, and to the gallant airmen of America, this picture is dedicated." Alexander de Seversky (1894--1974) was born in Russia and served in the imperial air service during World War I. After immigrating to the United States in 1918, he worked for the American government as a test pilot, became an American citizen and a major in the Army Air Corps Reserve and founded his own aircraft company, which produced several innovative airplanes. In his controversial, nonfiction bestseller, Victory Through Air Power , Seversky promoted the formation of a unified air force in the United States, and a wartime strategy that relied on air power instead of land or sea forces.

       According to a "joint statement" issued by Seversky and producer Walt Disney, printed in the 29 Jul 1943 issue of NYHT , Disney had been interested in aviation for some time and had decided "to make a picture on the history of aviation." Disney's staff did a good deal of research on the subject, but the producer felt that something was lacking, and became very intrigued by Seversky's book upon its publication in 1942. Believing that Seversky's theories should be presented to the general public in a clear, entertaining way, Disney purchased the rights to the book in Jun 1942, according to HR news items, and began production immediately. A 5 Aug 1942 HCN article, announcing that Disney was adapting the book for the screen, reported that he had assigned to the project the artists who had just finished Bambi , and who were scheduled to begin work on Peter Pan . The latter film, which was not released by the Disney studio until 1953, was "shelved" while the studio worked on films for the government and production on it was not resumed until the late 1940s. The studio produced a large number of animated short and feature-length films specifically for military use, but Victory Through Air Power was its only feature-length, theatrically released picture to deal with World War II. According to a 20 Oct 1942 HR news item, due to the increased efficiency of the Disney workers, the animation required for the picture was "scheduled to be wrapped up in less than four months on the drawing boards."

       In the 29 Jul 1943 NYHT article, Disney disclosed that work had been done on "a beautiful sequence illustrating the folly of island-to-island 'stepping-stone' strategy in the Pacific." The sequence was deleted, however, when President Roosevelt, in a Feb 1943 speech, stated that the U.S. would not take the time necessary to defeat Japan by working its way forward one island at a time. A 21 Sep 1942 work assignment, contained in the Walt Disney Archives, reveals that a sequence, entitled "Aircraft Carrier" and depicting the Battle of Midway, had also been planned but was not included in the released picture. According to a 15 Oct 1942 HR news item, the opening sequence of the live-action footage was to show "Seversky being interviewed by a group of newspaper correspondents played by Gloria Holden, Roy Gordon, Damian O'Flynn and Edward Fielding. A 24 Feb 1943 HR news item announced that O'Flynn had been given a military deferment in order to finish additional scenes in the picture, as well as to work on a Monogram production. A modern source states that the sequence, in which Seversky was to be asked questions that most interested the public, were filmed. They do not appear in the released picture, however. The picture's pressbook states that sounds of planes in flight were reproduced by a six-piece orchestra, because the actual airplane noises had "tinny overtones." A modern source notes that the picture was originally scheduled to include footage of Donald Duck.

       An 11 Jan 1944 HR news item noted that, due to the studio's work for the government, Victory Through Air Power was its only feature film release in 1943. According to a review of the film in the Sep 1943 issue of Modern Screen , "all during production, the studio was under the guard of the Navy, as it was part of the 11th Naval Command." A modern source reports that Commander Frank W. Wead was the technical advisor assigned by the Navy to work with the studio. The film was the only feature-length Disney production to be released through United Artists. All other feature-length Disney films were released through RKO, until the formation of Disney's own distribution branch, Buena Vista, in 1953.

       A 12 Apr 1943 HR news item stated that U.S. Army and Navy officials were "pleading" with Disney to "withhold the release of the picture for a while because they do not agree with the theory that is the basis" of Seversky's proposals. The news item suggested that the picture might not be approved for exportation, but other contemporary information indicates that the studio did not encounter any difficulties with foreign distribution. In a 3 Jun 1944 letter, contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, PCA head Joseph I. Breen expressed his concern over the project to Disney. Breen worried that "it would be a mistake if the over-all effect of the picture would be to run down...the value...of the other branches of military and naval endeavor." He also felt that it "would be most regrettable if, out of your picture would come a disturbing feeling to families who have boys in the service, and who would get the impression from the film that these lads were being sacrified in combat because of utterly futile tools." The PCA did not formally object to the film, however.

       A Nov 1943 AmCin article on the film reported that "high military circles throughout the globe" had expressed a great deal of interest in the film, and that the Technicolor plant was rushing 16mm prints of it to the U.S. Army Pictorial Service for distribution overseas. British Air Ministry and Naval officials also wanted copies of the film "for its historical records and to show it at the Royal Air Force Staff College," according to the AmCin article. Modern sources assert that Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt viewed the film during an Aug 1943 conference in Quebec. According to a 31 Mar 1944 HR news item, the Argentine government twice rejected the film for exhibition in Argentina, but finally relented and passed it for distribution "without a single cut." On 19 Apr 1944, HR announced that the Brazilian censor had approved the picture, but only on the condition that a short about Santos-Dumont be exhibited with it.

       The controversy surrounding Seversky's theories was reflected in reviewers' discussions of the film, which some praised and others considered outlandish. Most critics complimented the studio's depiction of the technical aspects of Seversky's views, and its mastery of the documentary form. In the 12 Jul 1943 issue, a Time critic commented on the film's "prophetic sequence showing the mining and destruction of an enemy power dam, made six months before the R.A.F. wrecked the Mohne and Eder dams." A 24 Aug 1945 Christian Science Monitor article also praised the bomb sequence, reporting that the War Deparment had "recently given full credit to Col. Cass S. Hough for the development of what has come to be known as the Disney Bomb--a dam-breaking bomb shown in Victory Through Air Power a full nine months before it was actually developed and used on the Western front in breaking up German fortifications."

       The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Score (Dramatic or Comedy Picture). Unlike the majority of feature-length Disney animated films, which are re-issued periodically, Victory Through Air Power has been theatrically re-released only once, in Dec 1947. The film has never been released on home video [as of 1998], although it has occasionally been exhibited at retrospectives, including the 1989 Annecy Animation Film Festival in France. The film's opening sequence depicting aviation history has been issued separately as a short. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Nov 43   p. 422.
Box Office   17 Jul 1943.   
Christian Science Monitor   24-Aug-45   
The Daily Worker   21 Jul 1943.   
Daily Variety   7 Jul 43   p. 3.
Documentary News Letter   1943..   No. 6, p. 231.
Film Daily   8 Jul 43   p. 6.
Film Daily   13 Jul 1943.   
Hollywood Citizen-News   5 Aug 1942.   
Hollywood Reporter   28 May 42   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jun 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jun 42   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Sep 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Oct 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Oct 42   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Oct 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Oct 42   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Nov 42   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Feb 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Apr 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Apr 43   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   14 May 43   p. 4, 8
Hollywood Reporter   20 May 43   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jun 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Jun 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jul 43   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jul 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Jul 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Sep 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Sep 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Sep 43   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Oct 43   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Jan 44   p. 1, 8
Hollywood Reporter   31 Mar 44   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Apr 44   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Dec 47   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jun 89   p. 3, 44
Life   19 Jul 1943.   
Look   13 Jul 43   p. 54, 56
Modern Screen   1 Sep 43   p. 10.
Motion Picture Daily   7 Jul 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   19 Jun 43   p. 1375.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   10 Jul 43   p. 1413.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   17 Jul 43   p. 1432.
New York Herald Tribune   4 Oct 1942.   
New York Herald Tribune   29 Jul 1943.   
New York Post   17 Jul 1943.   
New York Times   19 Jul 43   p. 13.
New York Times   26 Jul 43   p. 18.
New York Times   1 Aug 43   p. 6.
New York Times   10 Oct 1943.   
New York Times   16 Jun 1974.   
New Yorker   17 Jul 1943.   
PM (Journal)   19 Jul 1943.   
The Sun (NY)   22 Jul 1943.   
Time   12 Jul 1943.   
Variety   7 Jul 43   p. 8.

Display Movie Summary
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