The March of Time 1935-1951

The March of Time was one of the most famous US weekly newsreel series. Its grand tone and expressive shots were the source of Citizen Kane's (1941) satire "News on the March."

In the early 1940's, when wartime rationing limited international newsreel coverage, The March of Time sent a crew to India. World War II threatened. The result was two complete 35mm film newsreels, "India in Crisis" and "India at War" (May and June 1942). Each ten minute program was seen by millions across the US before regular cinema programs.

The March of Time was hatched in the corporate offices of the early Time, Inc. It was the brainchild of Roy Edward Larsen, a senior executive, and the man he found to produce his vision, Louis de Rochmont. In the midst of the competitive newsreel wars of the time, they saw the need for a popular newsreel that mixed dramatic reenactments and high-quality location footage. The point was to inform and dazzle with "pictorial journalism."

The resources and marketing of Time, Inc. guaranteed that over 500 theatres pre-booked the series when the first volume was launched on February 1, 1935. The March of Time was very successful with audiences. The voice of its leading narrator Westbrook van Voorhis became ingrained in the popular imagination. It was parodied by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane.

But the series never made money. Single episodes could cost $50,000 or more, with 75 staff members spending 1000 hours in preparation. There were serious labor management problems. In 1951, the rising costs and the advent of television led to the end of the series. Nearly 200 shows had been completed and 10 million feet of film remained in the archival vaults.

The three excerpts included here are from the outtakes or raw footage shot for the two India programs. Much of this footage is disappearing or damaged because it was shot on perishable silver nitrate stock. The sound, if any was recorded, has been lost.

Each excerpt is accompanied by the exact shot descriptions from The March of Time's index card to the reel of 35mm film. A list of all India March of Time film is also available.

Further Reading


© Harappa 1996