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Another Good Story Ruined -- The Battle of Los Angeles

February 21, 2011 |  2:37 am

  Feb. 26, 1942, Spotlights.  
  Los Angeles Times file photo  


I haven’t talked to a movie publicist since Brian De Palma’s ghastly “The Black Dahlia” came out, but I was recently bombarded with pitches to do some sort of story about the rather comical February 1942 “Battle of Los Angeles” to hype the upcoming science fiction shoot ’em up “Battle: Los Angeles.”  And frankly, if the publicity campaign wanted to establish UFO research as nothing but lies and fakery, it couldn't have done a better job.

In case you don’t know, every year about this time, someone revisits a rather ridiculous episode of wartime hysteria that occurred shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in which more than 1,000 rounds were fired at strange objects in the sky over Los Angeles. The objects were later suspected to be weather balloons – although  nobody was ever really sure. In later years, the reporters who lived through the Battle of Los Angeles treated the whole thing as a big joke. And if the incident sounds familiar, that’s because it inspired the movie “1941.”


Battle of Los Angeles on the Daily Mirror 2008

Battle of Los Angeles on the Daily Mirror 2009

The publicists pitching me a story on “Battle: Los Angeles” assured me that the film was about this historic event, which sounded interesting, so I did enough online investigation to discover that there is a cheap knockoff called “Battle of Los Angeles” by those folks who brought you that cinematic triumph “Sharktopus.”   A few minutes with the “Battle: Los Angeles” trailer on YouTube and a scan of the production notes (spoiler: it was filmed in Louisiana) convinced me that the movie is a modern-day shoot ‘em up of Marines vs. aliens, but I was intrigued by the publicity campaign’s attempt to drape the film with some sort of historical authenticity.

And look, I don’t expect accuracy from movies, but here’s what they pulled:

  Feb. 26, 1942, Army Says Alarm Real  

Here’s the actual Times headline from Feb. 26, 1942: “Army Says Alarm Real.”

  Fake Headline  

And here’s the fake headline used in the trailer from – uh-oh – Nov. 6, 1957!

  Nov. 6, 1957, Mystery Air Objects  

And here’s the actual Times headline … Oh, did they have Sputnik in World War II? Someone better update the entry in Wikipedia!

  Battle: Los Angeles photo  

And how about this supposedly historic photo, shown in a screen grab from the trailer for “Battle: Los Angeles?”

  Feb. 26, 1942, Los Angeles Times  

Here’s the photo from ProQuest as published in The Times on Feb. 26, 1942.

  Feb. 26, 1942, Los Angeles Times  

These little dots, by the way, were identified in The Times as bursts of anti-aircraft fire illuminated by the spotlights.

  Battle: Los Angeles Fake Headline  

Here’s some more fake headlines from the trailer for “Battle: Los Angeles.” Notice that there’s no periods in “L.A.” in the headline “Five Deaths in LA Raid.” Did someone get paid for this?

  Feb. 26, 1942, Headlines  

And here’s the actual headline. Notice that although Bruce Maccabee says in the trailer that five people were killed during the shooting, three died in car accidents during the blackout and two people had heart attacks. Oops.

Ready for more lies? Oh good, here’s another one:

  Battle: Los Angeles Fake Headline  

The fake headline says: “Searchlights Reveal Craft Over …”

  Feb. 26, 1942, Page  

And the real headline says: “Searchlights and Anti-Aircraft Guns Comb Sky During Alarm.”


Nothing but lies and fakery. I don't know if people who do this sort of work are capable of shame, but it would be nice to think so.