173. Hell-Bent for Election – Chuck Jones

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SUMMARY: An allegorical campaign film for the re-election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in which Roosevelt is depicted as a modern, streamlined locomotive and his Republican opponent Thomas E. Dewey as a creaky, worn out old steam train called The Defeatist Ltd. A railroad switch operator named Joe is told to make sure he doesn’t fall asleep at the switch but he must resist the persuasive propaganda of a mysterious saboteur.

WHY IT’S HERE: The excellent, politically Liberal campaign film was one of the first shorts to emerge from what would ultimately become United Productions of America or UPA. UPA was established by disillusioned ex-Disney animators lead by John Hubley, who reacted against the increasing Disney style of ultra-realism in favour of more experimental, stylised drawings and animation techniques which were revolutionary for the time. Chuck Jones’s masterpiece ‘The Dover Boys’ was a great influence so it’s not entirely surprising that these first fruits of the burgeoning UPA were directed by a moonlighting Jones himself.

‘Hell-Bent for Election’, though politically one-sided, is a wonderful short which must have outraged Republicans, making it all the more appealing. The saboteur for the Republicans is even visually compared to Hitler at one point. This phantasmagorical creation is not officially established as a Republican per se but his agenda is certainly to cause disheartenment in the American public and his chosen tactic is to enable the Republican candidate (or train) to win the race. In this respect ‘Hell-Bent for Election’ pulls no punches which makes it all the more riveting and fascinating, and Jones’s touch mixed with early hints of the UPA style make for an exceedingly handsome, energetic film.

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