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Image 6 (film)

FSA film, The Plow that Broke the Plains

Through documentary film, the director Pare Lorentz hoped to justify New Deal programs like the Farm Security Administration, which had been formed to aid families devastated by natural disaster. The film shows heroic farmers who had answered calls for increased wheat production during World War I and inadvertently stripped the prairies of grass.

In the film, machinery and tractors roll onward to the sounds of military artillery with marching band music playing in the background and a narrator shouting “Wheat will win the war!” Next, newspaper headlines report record drought. With despair, homesteaders abandon their homes and their livelihoods after they had dutifully served their country.

The film reflects a government report from 1936 that acknowledged “...a mistaken homesteading policy, the stimulation of wartime demands which led to over-cropping and over-grazing, and encouragement of a system of agriculture which could not be both permanent and preposterous.”

Lorentz called The Plow a “melodrama of nature.” He had wanted to explain a national predicament, but also to encourage audience sympathy, and to help New Deal programs resist accusations of supplying hand-outs to undeserving sectors of society. His film combined a musical score based on recognizable hymns with documentary-like narration and imagery — all designed to unabashedly appeal to the public's emotions. 17

Film produced by Pare Lorentz for the Farm Security Administration, 1936.

Prelinger Film Archives, Internet Archive

Above: stills from FSA promotional film The Plow that Broke the Plains.
Play film below (run time: 25:26).