(1975)3.5Dan FriedmanBrother, Can You Spare a Dime? is a very powerful documentary about the Great Depression in America, told purely through newsreel clips and scenes from period Hollywood films. The images, chronicling arguably the most distressed years of American history, focus on all aspects of society -- politics, popular culture, law and order, and race relations, among them. Without any type of voice-over narration, writer/director Philippe Mora has assembled an enormous amount of footage centered around what the modern viewer would consider to be the iconography of the day. Chief among these larger than life figures around whom the film is structured are Franklin D. Roosevelt, James Cagney, John Dillinger, J. Edgar Hoover, and Paul Robeson. The film shifts between bank runs, labor strikes, bread lines, and the dust bowl to play up the despair and destitution that the country experienced, and as with many a good documentary, it is still relevant. The research has clearly been extensive and well-executed. The pain, anguish, and even the eventual hope are all palpable. Made at the close of the Watergate/Vietnam era, the film implies that the relatively quick cycle of events that began with the attack on Pearl Harbor and ended with the resignation of Richard Nixon was on the verge of leading us into another Great Depression. While obviously nothing of that extreme occurred, causing the audience to think is the key goal. The stilted and staged speech of many citizens appearing in the news footage seems anachronistic, but keeping the perspective of time in mind allows for some mild humor. History buffs should have a field day, but anyone interested in those dark days will find it fascinating as well.
This documentary compiles newsclips from the 1930s to chronicle the entire decade of The Great Depression. The mood of the country is exemplified in a series of clips contrasting Franklin D. Roosevelt and James Cagney. Films of relevance to the documentary's task are also given attention, including I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang. The documentary includes many songs from the period, including Woody Guthrie's "Vigilanted Man," then swiftly moves through contrasting times up to the mid-1970s.