Rarely seen since its original airing in 1978, The Unknown
War is a 20-part documentary that examines WWII from the Russian side
conflict. It was a direct response to
The World at War, a ground-braking documentary that the Soviets felt
tell the full story of Russia's
sacrifice and valor during the conflict.
Soon after the series aired on PBS the USSR
and it was pulled from further circulation and has been hard to see
time. Luckily Shout! Factory has
released this interesting series on DVD and war buffs everywhere can
they've been missing for the past 30+ years.
On June 22, 1941, two days short of the anniversary of the
start of Napoleon's invasion of Russia,
German troops crossed the border and began one of the bloodiest
WWII. Five million troops were amassed
along a front that stretched 1800 miles.
The German Blitzkrieg campaign, which had worked so well in Poland
other European countries, was devastatingly effective.
The Germans advanced quickly, destroying
towns and cities along the way and leaving thousands of dead Russians,
soldiers and civilians, in their wake.
By early October, German troops were miles from Moscow, and it was
reported that the soldiers could see the towers of the Russian capital
their lines. They would not get any
This documentary tells the story of the Eastern Front
through the eyes of the Russian people and their commanders. The Soviet film vaults were opened for this
and a vast majority of the video is footage taken during the war by
cinematographers. The series was created
by sifting through three and a half million feet of Russian newsreel
footage, most of which has never been seen in the US
before, and that alone makes it
a valuable resource.
The series also does a magnificent job of detailing the vast
cost in human lives the conflict cost the Soviets.
By the time the war was over, a staggering 10
million + Russians were killed and this is brought home over the course
series. The siege of Leningrad, which lasted 900 days, is
documented. The food warehouses were one
of the first buildings bombed at the beginning of the siege and the
starved. There is haunting footage of
people casually walking past dead bodies in the streets, and
discussions of the
bread they ate made out of sawdust.
Unknown to the citizens who refused to surrender, Hitler had
generals to level the city and leave no one alive.
Other important battles in the Eastern Front are also
examined. The Battle of Kursk the
largest tank conflict in history is an exciting chapter.
Here Hitler tried to destroy the Russian army
once and for all and literally thousands of tanks faced off in an epic
struggle. Likewise the Defense of
liberation of Poland,
and the Battle of Berlin and looked at in some detail.
The series is hosted by Burt Lancaster, and while he does a
great job narrating the story, the video inserts featuring the actor
the flow of the story. He's filmed at
the site of some famous battle to show what the place looks like today
it did in the late 70's) but he often recaps the information that was
given in detail during the first 15 minutes of the show.
That seems a little useless, and the present
day shots aren't that interesting.
Also, the show is told from a Soviet point of view and tends
to gloss over the negative things that Soviets did during the war. The German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact is
solely as a way for Stalin to bide his time and prepare for an
invasion. No mention is made of the
secret protocols which carved up Europe into German and Russian zones
influence and the fact that Russia
from the East soon after Hitler invaded from the West.
These are significant omissions, but not
fatal flaws. The meat of the series is
still accurate it shouldn't be disregarded for some omissions.
Overall, this is an excellent series that gives an in depth
look at the Eastern Front, a subject that often is mentioned only
WWII documentaries. Even with its flaws,
this is an important show.
The 20 episodes arrive on 5 DVDs, each with it's own
slimcase. The five cases are housed in
an illustrated slipcase.
The set comes with the original mono soundtrack. Compared
to modern documentaries, this show
sounds thin and unimpressive, but that's largely due to the fact that
made in the late 70's. The narration is
easy to hear and the sound effects are decent.
About what you'd expect from a TV show from this era.
Since most of the series consists of vintage footage filmed
under less than ideal circumstances, the full frame B&W image isn't
impeccable, but it does look very good taking its history into account. The unrestored picture is generally very
clear and with minimal print damage. The
contemporary color shots are less impressive, with the colors muddled a
a bit faded.
There are a couple of extra, both of which are very good and
add a lot to the understanding of the subject matter and how the series
created. The first is a 25-minute
interview with Rod McKuen who co-wrote the script as well composed the
music. It's very informative as well as
interesting. He talks about working with
the Russian historians and authorities on the project as well as what
out of the project. It's a great
addition to the series. There's also a 33 minute talk with
historian Dr. Willard Sunderland who points out some of the ommisions
from the series. This too was a splendid bonus that helps bring
some balance to the series.
There can be no argument that the Russian Army played a
significant role in Nazi Germany's defeat.
If Hitler's forces had not been split fighting on two fronts who
if D-Day would have been successful or what the fighting in France
would have been like. Even so, the events
on the Eastern front,
while not ignored, are usually downplayed in most WWII documentaries. This series, devoted to the Russian efforts
during WWII, is an important documentary and well worth watching. Highly