There are several DVD publishers who specialize in public
domain films and it's often hard to know just what you're getting with
budget prices sets that they release.
Luckily DVDTalk has been able to get some copies of Mill Creek's
output. We already have reviews up of
Sci-Fi TV show set and their collection of 300
Western TV shows. Though neither was
perfect, both were
interesting sets that are worth checking out.
Our next Mill Creek review is for the intimidatingly large
documentaries and movies entitled America: Stories of War. This 36 DVD set contains over 170 hours of
content composed of 50 feature films and complete documentary series
the five major conflicts in US history.
(The Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Vietman
conflict.) After wading through this
huge set I was pretty impressed. While
the audio and video quality leaves something to be desired in some
are a lot of worthwhile shows and movies available at a budget price.
The set is divided into documentaries and feature
films. The first 24 discs have various
series that give a factual look at the wars America
has participated in.
Discs 1-3: The Civil
War: America Divided:
This series consists of 10
hour-long episodes and was made
by Creation Films in 2008. It covers the
war between the states using vintage photographs and maps, reenactments
battles, and some animation. From John
Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry to the assassination of Lincoln all of
the important battles are
covered as well as the major participants on both sides of the
While this series is very thorough, it is a little dry.
Dates and names are thrown out a little to
often and it didn't bring the events to life the way Ken Burns' classic
documentary did. Even so there is a lot
of information in this series and it does a good job of covering the
Discs 4-6: World War
I: The War to End all Wars:
This is another Creation Films product (also copyright 2008)
and it was a bit better than their Civil War series.
Once again told in 10 one hour episodes, this
series uses the same techniques as the previous one, but includes
footage from the war instead of reenactments.
Again, it was a little on the dry side but not nearly as bad. The series does a good job tracking not only
the complex origins of the war but also the various fronts and
battlefields. A very nice introduction
to this conflict.
Disc 7-10: The Great
Battles of WW II:
This is a very interesting collection of documentaries
mostly made during the war but newsreel companies or the US Government. There are mainly propaganda films but are
still quite interesting. Frank Capra's
award winning "Why We Fight" series is included (with the single
exception of War Comes to America), as well as a
Russian film about the war, "The Great Battle of the Volga." The films
included in this section are:
Disc 7: Attack! The Battle
for New Britain, The
Battle of China, Payoff in the Pacific
Disc 8: Appointment in
Tokyo, Attack in the Pacific, Marines on
- Return to Guam, Two the Shores of Iwo Jima - This is Guadalcanal
Disc 9: Prelude
War, The Nazis Strike, Divide and Conquer, The Battle
Disc 10: The Battle
The Great Battle of the Volga, Desert
Discs 11-14: The War
This is a 26-part TV series that looks as the European
theater of the war. Each 15-minute
episode is filled with contemporary footage of the men and machines
the war. Unfortunately there are no
closing credits so I'm not sure when this was made or where it was
broadcast, but it's a very good series and a highlight of this set.
Discs 13-14: War in
This 24-part docu is a companion to War in Europe. Like its
sister piece, this is a nice overview, presenting the events in the
theater. Once again the credits are left
off so it's hard to say where this originated from.
Discs 15-17: Victory
All 26 half hour episodes of this Emmy-winning production
are included in this set. Running from
1952 through 1953 on NBC this was a landmark series that paved the way
other TV documentaries. It covers the
Pacific theater very thoroughly and it's just as impressive today as it
have been back in the early 50's.
Discs 18-20: Korea:
The Forgotten War:
This section consists of 33 half
hour episodes of The Big Picture, a long running
that presented films created by United States Army Signal Corps Army
Service. The program was almost
certainly created in response to the success for Victory at Sea. Like most of the Army produced documentaries,
there's a fair amount of propaganda and flag-waving in these shows but
still very engaging.
This section may prove a little hard to watch for people who
lived through this war. It consists of
more government produced films, and since the conflict is nearly as
controversial now as it was back when it was being fought, not everyone
agree with the sentiments contained in these.
They also so American soldiers being wounded and cared for,
a little more 'real' since many of us at least know someone who fought
war. In any case the 53 half hour shows
will start discussions if nothing else.
Overall I was very pleased with these documentaries.
They were enlightening, interesting, and for
the most part very well done. I was a
little bit disappointed that the Revolutionary War was not represented
set, but that's a minor gripe. I can
only assume that a suitable (i.e. inexpensive or in the public domain)
The feature films:
The other 13 DVDs in this set are devoted to war related
movies. Most of these deal with WWII and
many of them were made in Hollywood
during the war. Though these are often
low budget flag-waving affairs they're still entertaining to a large
plot holes and all. While I did not
discover any lost classics in this set there were a few that were very
event the worst efforts had an innocent quality to them that films
lack. (Spoiler: In
one an American was seemingly cooperating
with the Nazis, selling them arms. At
the end it's revealed that all the munitions he sold them were booby
and would explode soon after the Germans left his base, yet the stupid
never connected two and two. "Hmmm,
every time someone buys ammo from this guy they blow up?
I wonder why?")
This Is the Army (1943) -
Technicolor - Ronald Regan
Identity Unknown (1945) -
An interesting tale of a soldier who survives a firebombing and
with amnesia. Since his mates who died
were burned beyond recognition no one knows who the survivor is.
Kansas Pacific (1953) - Clayton Moore - A civil war drama
The Lady from Chungking
(1942) - Anna Mae Wong - One of the better films in the set. Anna Mae Wong leads the Chinese resistance
against the Japanese
The Big Lift (1950):
Montgomery Clift, Paul Douglas - The experiences of two pilots
the Berlin Air Lift
They Raid by Night (1942):
Lyle Talbot British commandos head into Nazi territory to rescue
captured General. Pretty average.
The Torch (1950): Paulette
Goddard - Not sure what this Mexican
production is doing in the set. A
Mexican revolutionary takes over a village and falls in love with a
with a lot of spirit.
Pretty bland film about some deserters from the civil war who
through Florida trying to make it to Cuba.
Hitler's SS: Portrait
of Evil (1985): José Ferrer , Tony
Randall - Not bad TV movie about two brothers in Hitler's Germany.
The Marines are Coming (1934): William
Haines, Conrad Nagel - an amusing
programmer that involves a marine who has to save the commander who has
for him. Silent star Haines last
Submarine Base (1943):
Stranded in a South American country, an American ship captain
a local of collaborating with the Nazis.
Richard Alen, Robert Mitchum - the dangerous work of the men who
landing areas of floating mines.
Three Came Home (1950):
Claudette Colbert, Patrick Knowles - a very good and moving film
young lady who is imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp.
The Proud and the Damned (1972): Chuck
Connors, Caesar Romero - five
confederate soldiers have to chose sides in a rebellion.
Pretty poor film.
Spitfire (aka The First of the Few) (1942): David Niven,
Leslie Howard - a very good biopic of the man who designed the Spitfire.
Submarine Alert (1943):
Richard Arlen - not a bad war-time thriller.
In order to finish a prototype radio needed
to send ship movements to an offshore receiver, Japanese spies hire a
fired engineer who needs money for his ward's life-saving operation.
Eagle in a Cage (1972):
John Gielgud - Another strange pick.
This film shows Napoleon during his exile on Saint Helene
Mark of the Hawk (1958):
Sidney Poitier, Eartha Kitt - Set in colonial Africa,
a man tries to stop a war between the British and the natives.
Sundown (1941): Gene
Tierney Bruce Cabot - The English fighting Nazis in Africa. Pretty
Then There Were Three (1961): A Nazi spy
hides among a group of Allied
War Devils (aka Diavoli della Guerra) (1969): A Spanish film
about a German and an English office who help each other to survive in
Africa only to meet again in France. Not
Go For Broke (1951): Van Johnson - A very
good film about the U.S.
442nd Regimental Combat Team, a group of
Japanese Americans who fought in Europe
Gung Ho (1943): Randolph Scott, Noah
Beery Jr. - A good movie about a group of volunteers who fight in the
Hearts in Bondage (1936): James Dunn - a melodrama centering
around the building of one of the first iron clad ships, the Monitor. *Yawn*
The Last Chance (1945):
One of the better films in this collection.
An English and an American officer escape
from a train taking them to a POW camp and try to get to a neutral
the Nazi army after them.
Drums in Deep South
(1951): Two friends find themselves
opposite sides of the civil war.
Hell in Normandy (1960):
Guy Madison - An Italian film about a group that has to parachute into
prior to the D-Day invasion.
Mutiny (1952): Angela Landsbury - During the War of 1812 a
naval officer is ordered to run the British blockade.
of the Eagles (1979): - This is an interesting Yugoslavian film that
story of the Yugoslavian Partisan air-force which took on the might of
Luftwaffe with WWI era biplanes.
The Navy Way
(1944): A group of recruits makes their
way through Navy boot camp.
Prisoner in the Middle (1977): David
Janssen - sent to the middle east to find
and disarm a
nuclear warhead, a weapons expert is captured and has to survive.
Desert Commandos (1967):
An unusal Italian film where five Nazi commandoes are dropped
off in the
African desert and have to make their way to Casablanca so they can assassinate
Churchill and Roosevelt who are meeting there.
The Battle of El Alamein (1969):
An Italian production, this
film tells the story of the famous battle from the point of view of a
Italian soldiers. Not bad.
One of our Aircraft is Missing (1942): Peter
Ustinov - a Michael Powell/Emeric
this film was nominated from two Oscars.
The crew of a plane shot down in enemy territory has to seek out
help of the underground. Well worth
Outpost in Morocco (1949):
George Raft - a Foreign Legion officer is sent to find out what
local emir is up to and discovers that his garrison is about to be
Pacific Inferno (1979):
After the fall of Manila,
the Japanese commander forces two captured Navy Deep Sea Divers to dive
treasure. You can safely skip this one.
The Steel Claw (1961):
George Montgomery - after a marine looses his hand, he's
discharged. Living in the Philippines,
he's called back to active duty once the Japanese attack.
With a metal claw for a hand, he has to go
into the jungle and rescue a captured General.
Battle of Blood Island (1960): Two GIs are
the only survivors on a Japanese
held island in the Pacific. They must
to work together to survive. Eh, not
Commandos (1968): Lee
Van Cleef - A group of Italian-Americans disguise themselves as Italian
soldiers and try to replace a squad in Africa. Horribly dubbed and non-anamorphic this is
not the highlight of the set.
Dawn Express (1942): Anne Nagel - Nazi spies try to capture
a secret formula.
Corregidor (1943): Otto Kruger - A doctor trapped on the island of Corregidor has to beat back the
Black Brigade (1970):
Richard Pryor - a racist is in charge of a group of black
during WW II
Immortal Battalion (1944):
David Niven, William Hartnell - an excellent film about a
group of draftees who are turned
into fighting men.
Unfortunately this is the 91 minute version, not the 115 minute edit.
Iron Angel (1964): During the Korean War a group of soldiers
has to silence some North Korean guns.
Bombs over Burma
(1943): Anna Mae Wong - A Chinese teacher spies for the Allies
British Intelligence (1940): Boris Karloff - A British
Cabinet Minister's butler is secretly a German spy, and the new maid he
is his contact. Karloff does a wonderful
job. A nice wartime film.
The Bushwhackers (1952):
Lon Cheney Jr. - A typical
western, which isn't a bad thing. A
Union soldier arrives home after the civil war and promises never to
fire a gun
again. When a local rancher starts to
force settlers off their land so he can sell it to the railroad
ex-GI has to decide if he's willing to fight one more battle. A nice film.
The Adventures of Tartu (aka Sabotage Agent) (1943): A man
goes undercover and behind enemy lines to sabotage a German factory,
his contacts are all killed no one knows that he's not really a Nazi.
Aerial Gunner (1943):
Richard Arlen, Robert Mitchum - two GIs vie for the love of the
woman. A pretty standard film.
This mammoth set is packaged quite nicely. The
36 DVDs come in black paper DVD sleeves
which are housed in a nice metal box that resembles an ammo canister. When you open the top there's even a
cardboard image of bullets covering the discs.
That was a nice touch that made the set just a bit cooler to own. There is also a very handy booklet included
that list the contents of each disc.
The two channel mono sound is about what you'd expect from
unrestored vintage films. There is some
background noise in many of the feature films, though the documentaries
better (the episodes of The Big Picture have a lot of background hiss
and the range is very limited. Some of
the movies have muddled audio and there are a couple of segments where
really have to listen to understand the dialog, but none of the
documentaries are particularly bad.
Like the audio, the video quality leaves something to be
desired but none of the entries are so bad as to be unwatchable (like
public domain DVDs I've purchased.) The
documentaries overall look very good with clean clear images and
contrast. The features fare a bit worse
however. Scratches, dirt, and other
print defects are not uncommon but they're never so heavy as to ruin
viewing experience. The image is
generally soft, white tend to bloom, and the contrast is only average. The color features come across a bit worse
than the B&W entries. There's color
bleeding and none of the tones are as bright and solid as they should
Technicolor feature This is the Army
was particularly disappointing since the
colors were faded and poor and it could have looked so good.
I was happy to see that there isn't a bug or image
superimposed on the picture for most of these.
Unfortunately there is one that randomly shows up in the War in Europe and War in the Pacific documentaries.
Mill Creek often puts 5-6 hours worth or film on each disc,
and there are some compression artifacts present because of that. Blocking is prevalent in fast action scenes
and aliasing is also easy to find. Even
with these defects the image quality isn't horrible, and I've seen much
but it's not first rate either.
The big exceptions are the first two documentaries by
Creation Films. Being made last year
they look fine.
With 170 hours (!) worth of features there's really no need
for extras, which is good because there aren't any.
This is not necessarily a case of quantity over
quality. Yeah, there's a lot here, but
most of it is pretty good. The Capra
WWII films are great, and the documentary Victory
at Sea is very impressive too. On
the movie side of things One of our
Aircraft is Missing is excellent as is The
Immortal Battalion. While most of the rest are standard B movie
they're still entertaining if forgettable.
All of this comes in a nice package too.
With a street price (as of this writing) significantly lower
(about ½ off if you look) this gives you literally months worth
entertainment for pennies an hour. A
very impressive set that comes recommended.