John Huston and the Art of the WWII Documentary

Screen shot 2014-01-12 at 4.11.38 PMWhen the US War Department set out to document the Allied victory at San Pietro on film, naturally they turned to filmmaker and US Army Captain John Huston. Having just recently helmed The Maltese Falcon, Huston turned his cinematic genius to the war documentary – and did so with fine style. His work here is really quite breathtaking in terms of scale, realism, and cinematography. But there are some peculiarities here as well.  General Mark Clark’s introductory speech is nothing short of awkward (you can see his eyes reading cards). And many of the scenes are staged. Huston admits to much of this in a final note at the end of the film but does not note specifics. There were multiple reenactments, GIs posed as dead Germans, and the “ruined village” was actually another town that a US bombing had accidentally destroyed earlier. For a final touch – Huston added the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to add depth to the soundtrack. When the film premiered in spring 1945 Time magazine declared that it was “as good a war film as any that has been made.”

Many were worried that the realness of the film – filthy soldiers, tough fighting, and death would harm morale and sap the fighting spirit of the US citizenry. General George Marshall thought otherwise and defending the film for its grittiness. He even thought it would make a good training film. Soldiers, after seeing the realities of war would most certainly take their training seriously.

Have a look at the film below – what do you think?

With compliments,
Keith

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