The Spanish Earth
The film, made during the height of the Spanish Civil War, was directed by Joris Ivens, written by John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway, with music composed by Marc Blitzstein and Virgil Thomson. Although the film’s credits state that it was narrated by Orson Welles, it is actually Ernest Hemingway who narrates the film. In December 1936, several literary figures, including Lillian Hellman, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker, and Archibald MacLeish, formed and funded a company they named Contemporary Historians, Inc. to back a film project proposed by Ivens. Hellman and MacLeish collaborated on the story. Ernest Hemingway was a major contributor as well.
The film’s backers specifically meant the film to demonstrate support for the anti-Franco forces and the Americans of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion who fought against Franco, unlike Hollywood’s only other effort on the subject, the apolitical Last Train from Madrid (1937). A later film Blockade (1938) was also sympathetic to the Republicans.
President and Mrs. Roosevelt invited Hemingway and Ivens to show the film at the White House in advance of its premiere. A review in the New York Times found Hemingway’s narration “a definitely propagandist effort” and preferred the camera work that “argues gently and persuasively, with the irrefutable argument of pictorially recorded fact, that the Spanish people are fighting, not for broad principles of Muscovite Marxism, but for the right to the productivity of a land denied them through years of absentee landlordship.” The same reviewer in a longer essay concluded that: “Contemporary Historians, Inc…are Ivens’ employers and it is their right to dispose of his product as they see fit. They have used it as a violent outcry against fascism. Ivens might have made it lasting art as well.” Ten years later, Bosley Crowther wrote: “The best film we’ve yet seen on the Spanish tragedy is still Joris Ivens’ long-released The Spanish Earth.