Der Fuehrer’s Face is a 1943 American animated short film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by RKO Radio Pictures. The cartoon, which features Donald Duck in a nightmare setting working at a factory in Nazi Germany, was made in an effort to sell war bonds and is an example of American propaganda during World War II. The film was directed by Jack Kinney and features adapted and original music by Oliver Wallace. The film is well known for Wallace’s original song “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” which was actually released earlier by Spike Jones.
Der Fuehrer’s Face won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 15th Academy Awards. It was the only Donald Duck film to receive the honor, although eight other films were also nominated. In 1994, it was voted #22 of “the 50 Greatest Cartoons” of all time by members of the animation field. However, because of the propagandistic nature of the short, and the depiction of Donald Duck as a Nazi (albeit a reluctant one), Disney kept the film out of general circulation after its original release. Its first home video release came in 2004 with the release of the third wave of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD sets.
The cartoon begins with music from Wagner’s comic opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg before continuing into the title song.
A German oom-pah band composed of Axis leaders Hirohito on sousaphone, Göring on piccolo, Goebbels on trombone, Mussolini on bass drum and an unnamed man on snare drum marches through a small German town, where everything, even the clouds and trees, are shaped as swastikas, singing the virtues of the Nazi doctrine. Passing by Donald’s house (the features of which depict Hitler), they poke him out of bed with a bayonet to get ready for work. Because of wartime rationing, his breakfast consists of a piece of stale bread, coffee brewed from a single hoarded coffee bean, and an aromatic spray that tastes like bacon and eggs. The band shoves a copy of Mein Kampf in front of him for a moment of reading, then marches into his house, carrying the bass drum, and escorts him to a factory with Donald carrying the drum and Göring kicking him.
Upon arriving at the factory (at bayonet-point), Donald starts his 48-hour daily shift screwing caps onto artillery shells in an assembly line. Mixed in with the shells are portraits of the Führer, so he must perform the Hitler salute every time a portrait appears, all the while screwing the caps onto shells, much to Donald’s disgust. Each new batch of shells is of a different size, ranging from minute shells to massive shells, as large as Donald if not larger. The pace of the assembly line intensifies (as in the Charlie Chaplin comedy Modern Times), and Donald finds it increasingly hard to complete all the tasks. At the same time, he is bombarded with propaganda messages about the superiority of the Aryan race and the glory of working for the Fuehrer.
After a “paid vacation” that consists of making swastika shapes with his body for a few seconds in front of a painted backdrop of the Alps as exercise, Donald is ordered to work overtime. He has a nervous breakdown with hallucinations of artillery shells everywhere, some of which are snakes and birds, some sing and are the same shape of the marching band from the start, music and all. When the hallucinations clear, he finds himself in his bed — in the United States — and realizes the whole experience was a nightmare. Donald embraces a miniature Statue of Liberty, thankful for his American citizenship.
The short ends with a caricature of Hitler’s angry face. After two sets of “Heils”, a tomato is thrown at Hitler’s face, and forms the words THE END.