Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Little American,” made in 1917, stars Mary Pickford as Angela Moore, an American caught up in World War 1. A Prussian named Karl Von Austreim proposes marriage to Angela before leaving to join his German regiment in the French campaign. Angela accepts Karl’s proposal, but remains neutral about the war, even though she’s soon called to France to run her deceased aunt’s opulent household.
During Angela’s journey to France, a German submarine sinks her passenger ship. Angela survives and makes it to her dead aunt’s mansion in Vandy, France — just as the Germans attack and take over the house. The Germans rape the servant women, and Karl corners Angela to do the same, but he suddenly recognizes her and draws back. As an American, Angela remains unharmed. However, after seeing the Germans execute some of the Vandy townsfolk, Angela drops her neutrality and spies for France.
The film presents the German troops as cruel monsters committing crimes against humanity and property as they march across France. The war footage seems realistic, especially when the Germans and their tanks thrust into the town of Vandy. There must have been plenty of recent war footage to use, but DeMille preferred to shoot the war himself in his studio. The war lasted until late 1918, so this film reflected the deep-seated hatred of Germany at the time. However, Angela seems too forgiving of Karl at the end. Perhaps DeMille wanted a lighthearted wrap-up to a rather tense and thrilling story.