Lights Out in Europe (1940, dir. Herbert Kline)
For those who cannot experience war at first hand, the next best thing is to see Lights Out in Europe.
It begins in England when war with Germany was only a weekly scare and not an hourly terror. It shows war overtaking children. The snout-nosed gas mask appears. For infants too small for the mask, there is the gasproof container. There are shots of a terrified baby being forced into a container, staring through its big glass pane in panic as he is sealed in. In their back yards people construct flimsy-looking air-raid shelters, decorate them with potted plants.
On Sept. 1, the Nazis invade Poland.
The Polish roads are crammed with the piled carts of fleeing peasants. They pass Polish cavalry going against German motorized forces, horses dragging anti-tank guns. Across the fields refugees run desperately carrying whatever they can. Desperately they pile on trains. Sometimes German planes machine-gun the trains. There are gruesome shots of a young Polish woman clutching the train seat in her death spasm, a father shot through chest and abdomen sitting helplessly between his hopeless wife and frightened, bewildered little girl.
Sometimes the peasants stand around their ruined homes. Pathetic shots show old peasant women futilely pouring buckets of water on mountainous heaps of lavalike embers, once their houses. Sometimes they stare at the burst carcasses of cattle burned alive. A woman stirs with her bare foot a half-burned sheep, then covers her eyes with her hands and weeps.
There are prayers in the open and upraised faces.
…Lights Out in Europe is as negative as all peace propaganda, which can never do more than repeat parrotwise what every adult knows—that war is horrible. But for Americans who wish to think with the utmost realism about Europe’s war, Lights Out in Europe is important because it lets them live through one hour of the real thing.
-Time Magazine, 1940