Hitler didn’t dance that jig
France fell to Nazi Germany in June 1940. The Germans stage managed it so that Hitler would receive the French surrender in the same railroad car that the Germans had signed their surrender that ended World War I. Hitler stepped out of the railway car while the surrender documents were being read out loud and talked with some of his generals waiting outside. While chatting, Hitler took a step forwards, but he did it in kind of odd and stilted manner, raising his right knee up high as he did so. It was as if he wanted to emphasize the step downwards, like a stomp. The newsreel cameras were rolling, and filmed it all.
When the footage was seen in London, John Grierson, a Scottish film maker and director of the Canadian Information and Propaganda Service, saw an opportunity. He and Stuart Legg, an English filmmaker, realized that the clip of Hitler’s step could be looped, repeated, and turned into a little dance step that would make the Furher look ridiculous. They worked their film so wizardry well that many people thought Hitler had indeed danced a celebratory jig.
Grierson was a pioneer in documentary filmmaking before the war, and would later go on to lead both British and Canadian government film boards. In fact, it was Grierson who coined the term, “documentary,” in 1955. Stuart Legg did other fantastic film work during the war. He was a central member of Charles Ridley’s team at the British Ministry of Information, and helped create the “Lambeth Walk – Nazi Style” short film that used cutting and editing mastery to set Hitler and Nazi marching gestures to the highly-popular tune, “Doing the Lambeth Walk.”
These films were a great and very effective Allied propaganda tool. Many British people who lived through the war have told me that film clips and shorts like these were important in maintaining morale on the homefront. And, just think, Buzzkillers, they edited these films and matched them with the music using scissors, glue, and a stop watch. No computers, no software, just pure genius and a genuine desire to make Hitler look foolish. Mission accomplished.