Design for Death

Design for Death
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Produced by Sid Rogell
Theron Warth
Written by Theodor S. Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
Helen Palmer
Narrated by Kent Smith
Hans Conried
Edited by Marston Fay
Elmo Williams
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • April 14, 1948 (1948-04-14)
Running time
48 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Design for Death is a 1948 American documentary film that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.[1] It was based on a shorter U.S. Army training film, Our Job in Japan, that had been produced in 1945–1946 for the soldiers occupying Japan after World War II. Both films dealt with Japanese culture and the origins of the war.

Following the war, Peter Rathvon at RKO, who had seen Our Job in Japan during his own military service, decided to produce a commercial version of the film.[2] He hired the original writer and editor to work on the new project. Theodor S. Geisel, who is better known by his pen name Dr. Seuss, co-authored Design for Death with his wife Helen Palmer Geisel. Elmo Williams was the editor for both films. Subsequently, Sid Rogell replaced Rathvon, and became the film's producer.

The film was given wide release in January 1948; a review in Daily Variety characterized it as, "a documentary of fabulous proportions ... one of the most interesting screen presentations of the year".[3] Bosley Crowther, writing in The New York Times, was not complimentary; he wrote that the film "makes the general point that too much control by a few people is a dangerous a 'racketeering' thing and that another world war can be prevented only by the development of responsible, representative governments throughout the world. That is a valid message, but the weakness with which it is put forth in a melange of faked and factual pictures and in a ponderous narration does not render it very forceful."[4]

In his memoir, Elmo Williams maintains that he and Geisel created Design for Death nearly in its entirety, and that the credits for Fleischer and Warth were nominal ones.[2] Rogell, Fleischer, and Warth received the Academy Awards for the film.

Copies of Design for Death are apparently rare. Geisel thought that they had all been destroyed.[3] However, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sponsored a screening in October, 2005,[5] and parts of the film were included in the documentary The Political Dr. Seuss.[6] Some materials related to Design for Death, including its script, are in an archive of Geisel's papers at the University of California, San Diego.[7]



  1. Crowther, Bosley. "NY Times: Design for Death". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-07.
  2. 1 2 Williams, Elmo (2006). Elmo Williams: A Hollywood Memoir. McFarland. pp. 68–70. ISBN 0-7864-2621-7.
  3. 1 2 Morgan, Judith; Morgan, Neil (1995). Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel. Random House. pp. 119–120. ISBN 0-679-41686-2.. Secondary reference; primary reference hasn't yet been confirmed.
  4. Crowther, Bosley (June 11, 1948). "'Design for Death', Factual Film About the Japanese, Opens at Victoria -- 'Bad Sister' Also Arrives". The New York Times.
  5. Unger, Leslie (2005-10-04). ""Oscar's Docs" Begin to Shift Focus Beyond WWII". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 2008-12-21.
  6. "Independent Lens. THE POLITICAL DR. SEUSS. The Film.". Public Broadcasting System. Retrieved 2008-12-22.
  7. "Dr. Seuss Collection: Films". Mandeville Special Collections Library, University of California - San Diego. Retrieved 2008-12-22.

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