Yankee Doodle in Berlin (1919)

Yankee Doodle in Berlin (1919)

The importance of film in seeding propaganda in times of war has long been established, but The Great War was perhaps the first opportunity for filmmakers to push political points of view in order to further - or mock - war efforts.

One of the most famous pieces of American propaganda for World War II is Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940), where the actor breaks from his traditional silent comedy to portray both Hitler and a Jewish barber.

However, during World War I, Chaplin had only just began his acting career, having been given his screen debut by "King of Comedy" Mack Sennett in Making A Living (1914). It is perhaps only fitting that Sennett himself released a famous piece of comedy propaganda during this period.

Yankee Doodle in Berlin was Sennett's highest budget film to date on release in 1919 (missing the end of the war) and tells the story of an American pilot who disguises himself as a woman behind enemy lines in order to carry out espionage. As is typical with Sennett's comedy style, the film ended up becoming more of a farce - even going so far as to depict Kaiser Wilhelm himself as someone taken in by the charade.

The aviator was played by Bothwell Browne, making his only film appearance. Browne was an openly gay Danish immigrant to the US and had developed a celebrated vaudeville act as a female impersonator and was known for performing both sexy and highly controversial shows.

In a strange mirror to Browne's life, while he was the biggest name in female impersonation in the US, he had a European rival, Julian Eltinge, who had emigrated from the US and starred in a similar propaganda film called The Isle of Love.

Browne continued acting in vaudeville throughout the 1920s - at one point in his career he was part of a double act with male impersonator Kathleen Clifford - before retiring and opening a dance school.

You can watch Brown's performance in Yankee Doodle in Berlin in full below: