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 The Military Media Room    
Jon Zelazny
Los Angeles, CA, USA
top 50
E-4 Specialist

Posts: 77
Five Came Back - 2017 documentary miniseries
Posted on: 4/15/2017 2:05:32 PM
Kudos to Steven Spielberg and Netflix for their new three-parter detailing five of the more prominent Hollywood directors who left their careers to make documentaries and/or propaganda for the U.S. Army during WW II. What set John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens, and John Huston apart from the tens of thousands of other film workers who volunteered was they were "stars," well before directors were popularly considered artists. In any event, they were older men with healthy egos and comfortable lives who nonetheless donned uniforms, followed orders, and went off to the the same far-flung hellholes as everyone else.

FIVE CAME BACK depicts the uneasy beginnings of this alliance: the Army's hesitancy at using "showmen" to provide nuts-and-bolts instructional materials vs. the directors' natural instincts to tell stories with as much snap and verve as possible. And, as a wonderful supplement, Netflix is further streaming a selection of the actual films under discussion. Some I'd seen: THE NEGRO SOLDIER (1944), a propaganda film extolling the virtues of black people to ease the prejudice of white servicemen, and LET THERE BE LIGHT (1946), Huston's disturbing portrait of shell-shocked veterans in a stateside facility, but there's some amazing work I'm seeing for the first time: Ford's 18 minute doc of MIDWAY, Wyler's superlative coverage of a B-17 mission in MEMPHIS BELLE, and Stevens' stark color footage of the liberation of Dachau used in NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS, offered as evidence at Nuremberg.

As expected, the series ends with a discussion of how the war effected the directors' personalities and subsequent Hollywood output, which probably could have filled a whole further episode. Spielberg says he watches Wyler's searing coming home drama THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946) once a year, and FIVE CAME BACK ably demonstrates how this, and other classics ranging from IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE to THE SEARCHERS, were informed by their directors' wartime service.



top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major

Posts: 3916

Re: Five Came Back - 2017 documentary miniseries
Posted on: 4/15/2017 2:32:08 PM

 He wasn't "known" at the time, but Sam Fuller also filmed (his work still available on YouTube the last time I checked) the liberation of the camp at Falkenau, Czechoslovakia, in early 1945. The four part series is interesting in the ordinary sense of history as it occurred; but also firmly grabs one's attention when the footage shows, during a funeral procession for the dead, a German swiftly removing his hat, commented acidly by Fuller that "the captain (Fuller's company commander) told him to take his goddamned hat off". This on-the-scene early work of Fuller vividly expresses the outrage of ordinary American soldiers at the existence of the camps and the less-than-clever attempts of the local Germans to assert that they were unaware that people were being badly treated in the camp.

 Years later, Fuller would make his own highly personal contribution to World War II films with "THE BIG RED ONE". A topic he knew well as a rifleman who had served with the 1st Infantry Division from the landings in North Africa until the advance into Czechoslovakia in 1945.


With occasional, fatigued glances at life's rear-view mirror from the other side of time.

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