A Year in Shorts Day 15: "Marines in the Making"
Anyone who dedicates a good amount of time and energy to watching the Academy Award nominated shorts is probably going to get pretty familiar with the name Pete Smith. A Hollywood producer with vaudeville roots, Pete Smith produced a series of short films from 1931 to 1955 called the “Pete Smith Specialities.” These short films were generally educational, sort of like the shorts that sometimes got riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The key difference is that the Pete Smith Specialties riffed themselves. And there’s no better example of this than Marines in the Making.
Like London Can Take It!, Marines in the Making is a propaganda short released during World War II. Unlike London Can Take It!, this 1942 film was released after the United States had joined the war, and was released to celebrate the U.S. Marine Corps (and presumably to encourage people to enlist).
Marines in the Making, like most Pete Smith Specialties, sets itself apart from other shorts like it thanks to its healthy dose of humor, delivered by Smith's own wry narration. It is, admittedly, a somewhat weird fit for a piece of propaganda, but I suppose that's what makes it a little more entertaining as well.
In the early days of the Academy Award for Shorts, the Oscar went to the producer, not the director of the film. That's how Walt Disney found himself with so many Oscars. Now the award is given to both the director and the producer, which is certainly fairer. Still, as much as I'm sure director Herbert Polesie would have liked to have been nominated, it's not unfair to say that Pete Smith is what makes this short what it is.
The Pete Smith Specialties, at least from the ones I've seen, were never great shorts, but they were always amusing, and Marines in the Making is no exception. It's not his best work, but it's not bad by any means.
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