Tuesday in November

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Moving Image:Tuesday in November
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Tuesday in November is a short film from 1945 released on 35mm. It is held in the Prelinger Archives collection.


"It is early morning of the first Tuesday in November. This is an American city. A city that is not very large, not very rich, not very old. It is situated in the western part of the United States, in California. Its name is Riverton. The woman in the car is Mrs. Dawson, one of Riverton's fifteen thousand residents. She is principal of Public School No. 2, but today there will be no classes held here. For this is Election Day." Tuesday in November is a film in simple language made primarily for overseas audiences, many of whom did not enjoy the right to elect their own governments. It dramatizes both the participation of citizens in the electoral process and the 1944 campaign for the Presidency, linking these two threads into a quasi-religious quest characterized by unchallenged belief, ritualistic behavior and culminating in a mass announcement before a large crowd. The simplicity expressed in the understated narration and many of the images was a conscious choice dictated by the non-English-speaking intended audience, but for us now underscores the film's stature as a morality play. Dramatized, animated and newsreel footage are all mobilized to invoke emotionally charged themes. Solemn honesty is linked with the American electoral process very early in the film as the poll officials convene: "First they remove the last traces of their campaign activities, their party buttons. Then they take the oath." Then the first voter of the day -- a milkman -- enters the booth, but he leaves us behind. "That's as far as we can go. Remember, this is a secret vote. No one ever sees another person mark his ballot." Though he may be simply a milkman, in our system he is invested with great power: "When Bill Johnson is finished, he has elected an entire government, from top to bottom. That is, if the majority of voters think the way he does about it." Newsreel footage follows; without comment, we see African-Americans lining up to vote, probably in New York City. We return to Riverton, where actors playing voters are waiting in line at the polls. One brushes his sleeve against the chalkboard, elegantly segueing into yesterday's history lesson, where two previous wartime elections, 1864 and 1916, were discussed, proving that this is a country secure enough to hold elections in wartime. Newsreel footage shows masses of people turning out for campaign events (what we now call "retail politics"); the crowds continue to increase until the end, when New York's Times Square is filled with people waiting for the election returns. As a member of Hollywood's progressive community in the Forties, John Houseman was attracted to documentary film as a means of influencing social change. Wartime found him engaging in propaganda activities for the U.S. government. Tuesday in November was designed to explain the American political system and election process in a simple way that could be easily internationalized. Houseman assembled a skilled production team whose commitment to the ideals shown in the film was clear. Unlike most other films that celebrate American democracy, this one avoids appealing to mythology or to abstract ideals. (For something completely different, see Freedom Highway on The Uncharted Landscape disc.) That Tuesday in November shows the everyday business of elections as a routine, unquestioned exercise in democracy speaks for its honesty and authenticity. The Office of War Information films have been criticized for idealizing and oversimplifying the reality of American life, and there is no question that they do so. Tuesday in November ultimately is a case of wishful thinking, or about how things ought to be. Much of what we see is neither truthful nor completely candid. Elections were being stolen that year of 1944. Black people were effectively forbidden from voting in many states. Roosevelt was not strongly opposed in the wartime election of 1944. And it would be fair to say that the film's emphasis on mass events and politicians taking their campaigns directly to the people belittles the effect of the mass media in manipulating the public. The mobilization of communications technology in the service of fair and speedily reported election returns is at best a by-product of a media establishment that was set up to manufacture consent.

But, by the time the results are being calculated and disseminated, it no longer seems to matter. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people are gathered in Times Square waiting for the returns. Virgil Thomson's score and the searchlights sweeping the crowd vaguely suggest that they are awaiting some sort of visitation. Ultimately, the elegance and authority of the film lends credence to its optimistic view of our system, making it one of those rare propaganda films that has the power to seek out and stir whatever trace of idealism still may survive in your mind. "All over America tonight, the people are waiting to learn whom they have chosen to govern them for the next four years. Toward midnight, the final results are announced. A nation of a hundred and forty million has elected a government."

Tuesday in November
Produced byU.S. Office of War Information
U.S. Office of War Information
Distributed byU.S. Office of War Information
Release date
Running time
ewid: 1196 | Fresh | || dopt: {{{dopt}}}