Hell-Bent for Election
|Hell-Bent For Election|
|Directed by||Charles M. Jones|
|Produced by||Stephen Bosustow (executive producer)
John Hubley (producer)
|Story by||E.Y. Harburg (lyrics)|
|Voices by||Marvin Miller (narration)|
|Music by||Earl Robinson|
|Animation by||Dave Hilberman
Zack Schwartz (design)
|Studio||United Film Productions|
|Distributed by||United Auto Workers|
|Release date(s)||July 1944|
|Running time||13 mins (two reels)|
Hell-Bent For Election is a 1944 two-reel (thirteen minute) animated cartoon short subject now in the public domain. The short was one of the first major films from United Productions of America (then known as "Industrial Films"), which would go on to become the most influential animation studio of the 1950s. As UPA did not have a full staff or a studio location until the late-1940s, this film was made in animator Zack Schwartz's apartment with the help of moonlighters from various local Hollywood animation studios. Among the moonlighters was Chuck Jones, who directed the film.
The film is an allegorical campaign film, designed to inspire viewers to register and to vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Democratic Party candidate, Roosevelt, is depicted as a modern streamlined steam locomotive, the Win the War Special, pulling a high-speed freight train of war materiel, whereas his Republican opponent Thomas E. Dewey is depicted as an old creaky steam locomotive, the Defeatist Limited (numbered 1929 as a nod to the 1929 stock market crash) pulling cars variously representing hot air, high prices, taxes, business as usual ( a sleeper car), poor housing for war workers, a hearse wagon for labor legislation, a small two wheel cart with just a few apples inside for unemployment insurance, and finally a caboose named "Jim Crow."
The conflict in the film centers on Joe, a railroad switch operator who represents the American voting public. He is warned by the station master, Sam (a representation of Uncle Sam), not to fall asleep at the switch as he did in November 1942. Joe must then decide whether to listen to the influence of a cigar smoking gnome-like Dewey supporter and wrecker who tries to make him fall asleep at the switch, or to fight his influence and make sure that the FDR "Win the War Special" stays on the track and that the Defeatist Special goes ahead towards Washington. (At one point, the phantasmagoric saboteur briefly metamorphosizes into Adolf Hitler whilst trying to beguile Sam into neglecting his duties.) After a notable nightmare sequence, in which he fights his way through sales taxes (tacks), 'frozen' wages, and rising prices (as depicted by an ever growing boxcar to make sure he doesn't climb up to the top onto the roof), Joe pulls the switch, sidelining the Defeatist Limited. The train itself tries to stop by running into reverse, which damages many of its cars, but it doesn't even slow down, and as it hits the switch as it's against it, the train derails and crashes as the "Win the War Special" advances down the track full steam ahead towards Washington.
The film ends with a paean to the bountiful post-war world to come; the Win the War Special's caboose is the Post War Observation Car, and constituencies such as Joe Soldier, Joe Farmer, J. Industrialist, Joe Industrialist, Jr., and Joe Worker are shown examining fold-out brochures depicting the benefits of the American post-war world, including the benefits of the GI Bill and Social Security.
Hell-Bent for Election is a far more literal film than later UPA entries such as Gerald McBoing Boing and the Mr. Magoo shorts. Nevertheless, its strong symbolism, non-literal design styles, and unusual camera angles made the short stand out among its peers.
The film was sponsored by United Auto Workers, and features a song, "We're Going to Win the War", written by Earl Robinson and E.Y. Harburg, famous for writing the music for The Wizard of Oz. Hell-Bent for Election was UPA's first major success, and paved the way for its later achievements, including nine nominations and three wins Academy Awards for Animated Short Film.
The short focuses on comparative attitudes towards World War II, with the contest between the "Win the War Special" (representing Roosevelt) and the "Defeatist Ltd".  The brief argument between Joe and the Wrecker also mentions the War and attitudes towards it. Joe argues that "we" [Americans] are out to win the war, while the Wrecker snarls that this is Roosevelt's war. As he says that, the Wrecker transforms into a caricature of Adolf Hitler. Joe's dream features a billboard depicting Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and a Japanese caricature. Joe waking up results in him sending the munitions-laden Special to run towards victory. The "Post War Observation Car" displays veterans' benefits and full employment as post-war goals.
- Shull, Michael S.; Wilt, David E. (2004), "Filmography 1944", Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, 1939-1945, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786481699
- Shull, Wilt (2004), p. 169-170
- The short film Hell-Bent for Election is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- Hell-Bent for Election at the Internet Movie Database
- Toontracker: The Formation of UPA