Posted Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, at 11:00 AM
The “Lambeth Walk” was a popular dance craze in the U.S. and the U.K. in the late 1930s. The song, from the musical Me and My Girl, referred to a street in a Cockney district in London. Dancers strode back and forth, punctuating their “walk” with high kicks and broad gestures. (You can see a rendition from a 1984 production of the musical here. Advance to the 2-minute mark to see the whole cast dancing the Walk.)
In 1940, an enterprising official at the British Ministry of Information put together this film, “Lambeth Walk—Nazi Style.” The official, Charles A. Ridley, edited parts of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1934 propaganda film Triumph of the Will to make it appear as though Nazi soldiers and Hitler were doing the Lambeth Walk.
The gag was all the sweeter because a Nazi Party member had publicly denounced the dance in 1939 after the craze caught on in Berlin, calling it “Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping.”
Partisans on both sides recognized the effectiveness of this bit of parody. Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels apparently ran out of a screening room in a rage after viewing it. And according to historian Erik Barnouw, the Danish resistance used to enter cinemas in occupied Denmark and force projectionists to show the short.
The Ministry of Information distributed the video without narration to newsreel companies, who supplied their own commentary. This 1942 version is from Universal Studios and was titled "Gen. Adolph Takes Over"; it's available in several formats on the Internet Archive.
Correction, Jan. 13, 2013: This post originally described the parody as a video. While it circulates in video form today, in 1940 it was created as a film.