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Imperial War Museum: The True Glory - From D-Day to the Fall of Berlin
London's Imperial War Museum is one of the most impressively vast collections in the world of archival data in various forms on man's apparent inability to "just get along." Originally founded to document Britain and Canada's involvement in The Great War (WWI), the museum has kept pace with each succeeding conflict, amassing huge amounts of material just in its film archive alone. That archive has been used for many relatively recent compilations like the classic The World at War series, segments of which are still being hawked today by Time-Life Videos. However, the archive also maintains some fascinating material shot during WWII and released either during that conflict, or directly after it, and the Museum is now releasing these in a new series which includes this title.
Although the insert states that many of the documentaries "have never been released to the public before," I had the nagging feeling I had seen three of the features included on The True Glory, more about which below. As for the main feature, True Glory is a stellar and Academy Award winning documentary that combines literally thousands of archival shots of the Allied push circa 1944-45 from D-Day to the fall of Berlin.
The film was released in the United States as "Dwight D. Eisenhower's 'True Glory,'" and according to director Garson Kanin, Eisenhower was actually the designated winner of the Oscar that went to the film. Eisenhower in fact starts off the film with an on-screen introduction and one of the most fascinating things, from a historical standpoint anyway, is that these introductory remarks were evidently filmed right after Germany's surrender but before the Japanese were vanquished. This "in between" moment is also encapsulated in two endings which are presented in succession in the documentary, one specifically mentioning the move on to the Pacific theater to finally end the conflict, and another, more general one, discussing building a brighter world.
True Glory is a marvel of editing, with so many incredible battle scenes it's impossible to winnow out just a few for comment. What is remarkable is that the obviously scripted voiceovers by "participants" (my hunch is they were professional voice actors, with the exception of Eisenhower, who is also included) manage to capture the weirdly workaday world of winning a war. The script, by none other than Paddy Chayefsky, isn't quite as flowery as some of the British documentaries included in the Imperial War Museum releases, but it's distinctly American, capturing that "can do" spirit even as it's discussing enormous losses suffered by the Allies. Augmenting the archival footage, which is truly stunning at times, are animated interstitials showing campaign strategies, as well as a nonstop heroic score by William Alwyn.
In fact if there's one criticism that can be leveled at True Glory, it's that the piece is relentlessly "upbeat," for wont of a better word, and, perhaps more easily understood given the context of its production, one-sided in its presentation. This was western propaganda at its finest, a little present to American (and other Allied) audiences celebrating a hard fought win. Therefore, don't expect any penetrating analyses of the various combatants--this is a film not afraid to throw around disparaging comments like "The Hun" or "The Japs," as was obviously part of the national patois back then.
Filling out the rest of Disc One is the first part of a four part series tracing various campaigns leading up to D-Day and then following on the heels of the Allied invasion. This first 30 minute documentary, From Italy to D-Day, is the only one in this set (aside from True Glory) that it turns out I hadn't seen and reviewed separately some time ago when the supplemental documentaries were released as standalone DVDs by Eagle Rock (see below for URLs to those reviews). Italy is a fascinating piece for a number of reasons. So much emphasis has been placed on the monumental efforts to launch the Normandy invasion that a lot of modern audiences forget that the Allies did pretty much the equivalent thing a year previously, from 1943 to literally just a couple of days before D-Day's June 1944 invasion, in order to reclaim Italy from the Fascists and Nazis.
This piece, while short, manages to catch the incredible logistical efforts required to land forces by sea (in fact utilizing the same amphibious craft that would later become famous in the Channel crossing and French landing of 1944), as well as the slow slog by infantry inland, culminating in the capture of Rome. The archival images show the unbelievable squalor and ruins left by aerial bombardment, as well as some incredible huge crowd scenes in Rome once the Allies moved in.
Disc Two features the three subsequent documentaries in the From/To series that I reviewed some time ago in their previous releases. You can read those reviews here:
Taken together, these five documentaries, led by the incredible True Glory, present a "you are there" feel for the closing battles of WWII that is unmatched by modern fictional recreations like Saving Private Ryan. While there's obviously some jingoistic elements due to the time frame when these were filmed, and some especially bad image degradation from time to time, these are important and meaningful historical pieces that provide insight not only into the battles themselves, but the sociopolitical zeitgeist of at least the Allied world directly after World War II.
There's fairly significant damage running through all five of these full frame black and white features. Be prepared for some fairly omnipresent scratches and abrasion, as well as quite a bit of washing out at times. There are moments of clarity interspersed here and there (the alternate ending of True Glory, for example, emerges relatively unscathed), but these are obviously old and archival source elements, so be forewarned.
The mono soundtracks, as always seems to be the case in these older documentaries, actually weather the time element much better than the images ever do. There's nothing incredible about any of these soundtracks, but voiceover narration is always clear, and underscore, while boxy and occasionally highly compressed and boxy sounding, retains quite a bit of snap. No subtitles are available.
Koch no doubt thinks of everything other than True Glory as an extra, so you can adjust your own rating accordingly. My feeling is the audience for this sort of product would probably not have bought True Glory, despite its reputation, as a standalone product, and so a 2 DVD set was required.
True Glory is one of the classic documentaries from the immediate post-War period. Brilliantly edited and with a compelling through line courtesy of the Paddy Chayefsky script, it provides a sweeping overview of the final Allied push to reclaim the European continent. The bonus documentaries are also compelling in their own, smaller-scale way. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet