Monday, May 12, 2014

Five Came Back by Mark Harris

Mark Harris. Five Came Back: A History of Hollywood and the Second World War. ew York: The Penguin Press, 2014.

During World War II, the Federal government had filmmakers filming in combat zones They were given great creative freedom even though the government’s goal was to create propaganda to inspire Americans to support the war well. In addition, the films informed people about the war. Five legendary directors were among those involved, including John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, John Huston, and George Stevens. Of them, John Ford was involved first.

Ford was a Navy Lieutenant Commander when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He had already begun creating the Naval Volunteer Photographic Unit involving professional camera operators, sound technicians, and film editors. They rehearsed working in simulated ship conditions.

Rod, at age 46, and Wyler at 39, were too old for the draft. Huston was 4F.

Wyler had directed “Mrs. Miniver” which was designed to give audiences respect for the British spirit.

Stevens watched Leni Riefenstan’s pro-Nazi “Triumph of the Will” movie and decided he needed to act, stating “All film is propaganda.”

Capra wrote that his decision to become involved was mostly out of boredom and somewhat out of patriotism.

The War Department had a long history with filmmaking. The Signal Corps first made soldier training films in 1929.

The movie industry feared government censorship and regulation.

The government’s decision to involve film professionals into a world war was made with little forethought or planning on what they were going to do.

In 1938, the major film companies all avoided films that touched on the politics of Hitler. Exception were allowed in dialogue comments. There was a Production Coe that covered movies that demanded movies avoid controversial topics.

Ford became active in the Anti-Nazi League in 1938. He lated helped found the Motion Picture Artists’ Committee to Aid Spain, which reached 15,000 members.

In 1935, Capra declared he admired Benito Mussolini. Mussolini was a fan of Capra’s films. Mussolini offered Capra $1 million o produce a movie biography of Mussolini. Harry Cohn, Columbia Pictures President, stopped the idea stating “I’m a Jew. Hes mised up with Hitler and I don’t want no part of it.”

Capra supported Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Capra hated unions and declined, for the first 18 months of its existence, to join the Screen Directors Guild. Capra later switched from being anti-Roosevelt and a pacifist to being pro-Roosevelt and an interventionist. He did so after meeting Roosevelt and be awed by Roosevelt. Capra later became President of the Screen Directors Guild.

In 1939, the movie “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” was released. The German-American Bund objected. A Paramount censor warned Warner Brothers that films like that would mean “the Warners will have on their hands the blood of a great many Jews in Germany. Some feared the film would incite accusations that the film industry favored “a Jewish interventionist agenda.”

Capra’s films “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” had “quasi-populist anger: yet their “politics are completely non-specific.” Capra insisted his goal was to entertain When questioned if his films had a political theme, Capra declared “Go get fucked with your theme! Are you a Communist?”

Over half of American adults in 1940 went to the movies weekly.

The leaders of all eight major studios formed the pro-war Motion Pictures Co-operating for the Defense.

Ford, a Catholic loyal to his wife, produced for the military the six “Sex Hygiene”. It showed close-ups of penile sores and informed personnel that anyone wishing to have sex with a solider “probably has a disease.”

Ford’s proposed budget for the Field Photo Unit was $5 million for the first year, $3 million for the second year, and $2 million for the third.

Sen. Gerard Nye, Republican from North Dakota, berated the film industry as a group of “foreigners” with “non’Nordic” surnames who produced over 20 movie such as “Sergeant York” and “The Great Dictator” in order to make the public “fear that Hitler will come over here and capture them.” The Senate held hearings on the film industry’s propaganda and monopoly status.

The film industry decided to avoid the monopoly issue and fight back on the propaganda charges. The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of American paid Wendell Willkie to appear with them at the hearings. Willkie was a pro-interventionist Republican who had been the Republican nominee for President, The strategy was not to appeae the Senators yet to refuse to apologize for informing the public about the international problems. Willkie spoke of the filmmakers’ patriotism.

The Senate committee on the film industry had four isolationists and one interventionist, Sen. Ernest McFarland. Willkie spoke first, proclaiming the studios “abhor everything that Hitler represents.” The committee refused to allow Willkie to ask questions during the hearing with McFarland objecting to that. Nye, who was not a member of the committee, testified first, calling the film industry “the most potent and dangerous fifth column of our country.” Nye declared “the people of Germany and of Italy...are also suffering.” He accused the studios with supporting England for profit reasons with their films shows in England.

Willkie ignored the prohibition on his questioning a witness and asked if Nye had seen the movies he questioned. Nye replied he hadn’t seen all of them. Willkie offered to show to the movies to committee members.

The second day’s witness with Sen Bennett Clark. Clark testified the film industry was controlled by six people and implied they sought to go to war to help the Soviet Union.
He warned if they did not halt their propaganda he would destroy their monopoly.

McFarland later wondered how the film industry could be taking orders from the Federal government, as some Senators accused, when it produced movies such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” which ridiculed the Federal government.

Sen. Sheridan Downey, Democrat from California, testified supporting the film industry, arguing “should be expect Hollywood to turn its back upon the reality of the world?”

Harry Warner of Warner Brothers testified the movies were “accurately recording on the screen the world as it is or as it had been.”

Warner testified disputing charges the movies were being greeted by public indifference. He correctly predicted that “Sergeant York” would be his most profitable film.

Darryl Zanuck noted that Hitler and Mussolini had banned U.S. films for “they wanted no part of the American way of life.”

The Senate committee realized it had litle support to bring its’ issues before the full Senate. It disbanded on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor.

After Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt named Lowell Mellett to operate the Office for Emergency Management in collaboration with the film industry. Darryl Zanuck, an active duty Lieutenant Colonel, met weekly with the War Departnet.

Mellett met with the film industry both to produce films both for government use, such as military training films, and for commenting on films to get the general public to support the war. Roosevelt was aware how public support decreased for World War I. Roosevelt declared he was against censorship, yet wanted public safety to be a priority. Some movie executives were not pleased that Merritt was not from the film industry and was advising them.

In 1942, Ford was ordered to overall the War Department’s first important propaganda film. I was designed to reassure the American public that the Navy remained strong despite in losses at Pearl Harbor.

The film Ford produced was “December 7th”. Ford filmed the Navy in Hawaii. He also did filming in California without informing the government of his California footage.

When an admiral was recommending shots, Ford yelled at the admiral that Ford knew what he was doing. This actually increased the confidence that Navy brass had in Ford. Ford was allowed to fly with airplane raids over Japan led by General James Dolittle. These shots were used in newsreels.

Capra received an Army Captain’s salary that reached $4,000. General George Marshall had Capra transferred from the Signal Corps, which was traditionally in charge of filmmaking, to the Morale Branch. Capra’s first film was “Why We Fight.”

Bette Davis, elected weeks earlier as the Academy Award’s President, proposed turning the 1942 Academy Awards into a war relief fund raiser selling tickets to the public. The Academy Board strongly objected and continued with a lavish Academy Awards. Davis resigned as the Academy’s President. Formal wear was rejected with the recommendation that the money for formal wear be donated to the Red Cross.

Carole Lombard died in a plane crash from Indiana to Los Angeles. She was returning from selling war bonds, She was seen as the first movie star casualty of the war effort.

Louis B. Mayer had led MGM away from making propaganda films. Mayer was upset at the Nye Committee for including MGM’s “The Mortal Storm” and “Escape” in their claims of films that were propaganda. Yet, in 1941, MGM released “Mrs. Miniver” which depicted British civilian strength during the war. Director William Wyler stated he deliberately made a propaganda film because it was something one wasn’t supposed to do. Mayer approved it as it was pro-British without being anti-German. Mayer wanted the movie toned yet after Pearl Harbor, Maybe told Wyler “You do it the way you want.”

Capra asked brothers Julius Epstein and Joseph Epstein as well as other screenwriters to join his war efforts. The screenwriters were all left wingers, the opposite of what Capra himself was politically before Pearl Harbor.

The screenwriters all agreed despite Capra’s reputation of being difficult to work with. Capra admitted he has trouble telling others what he wanted but he knew it when he saw it. He did ask that “to turn words into pictures.”

Capra claims the initial outlines the screenwriters produced “were larded with Communist propaganda.” The author notes the surviving copies of these outlines are not as Capra remembered them.

Capra’s request for office space was delayed by the War Department due to War Department bureaucracy. Capra on his own got the Interior Department to allow him to use some empty space they had in a cooling tower.

Lowell Mellett urged for showing more Blacks in the war effort movies. He wanted white viewers to see Blacks working at jobs not traditionally done by Blacs. It was also hoped ot get more Blacks to support the war. One survey in Harlem found half of Blacks thought there would be little difference in their lives if Japan won the war. There was talk among Southern Blacks of creating a Japanese-Black alliance.

The U.S. Army’s War College in 1937 studied Black soldiers and found them “careless, shiftless, irresponsible and secretive, immoral, un-truthful, and his sense of right is relatively inferior.”

400 movies with war themes were produced by move studies in 1942 and 1943.

Studios loaned screenwriters to Capra. Yet the studios insisted that their time left on their contracts should be extended by the amount of time they were with Capra.

The Museum of Modern Art collected pro-Nazi propaganda films. Some had been shown in U.S. communities with large German-American populations. The films argued that the Treaty of Versailles was “the rape of Germany” and that Germany was defending itself. Goebbels supervised the production of such films as “Campaign for Poland” and “Victory in the West.” Capra studied the films. Capra observed the films encourage the youth to fight for Hitler and that surrender meant death.

Capra developed the “Why We Fight” series.

Eric Knight was an advisor to Capra. He advised that the films required a cohesive theme that would motivate the troops. He found the early screenplays consisted of too many boring facts and contained too much dry information. Capra placed Knight to supervise the screenwriters.

Ford  was wounded with shrapnel with filming the Battle of Midway. Ford was filming from a roof as a Japanese plane attacked. He had picked a power station roof as it had telephones. A bomb hit the station, knocked Ford unconscious, and shrapnel hit his arm. The camera operator, Jack MacKenzie, Jr., stated “I got a swell short of a Jap formation coming in straight toward me.” MacKenzie continued filming elsewhere. Ford needed medical attention. MacKenzie continued filming the devastation of the battles for days afterwards.

Ford would later elaborate the story, claiming he did the filming. MacKenzie later clarified that he and Kenneth Pier had done the cinematography.

Ford was upset when men of Torpedo Squadron 8, whom he had met, died in action. He had a film made of the men and had a copy delivered to eery deceased man’s family. The film was never show to anyone else for about half a century.

Capra was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. “Prelude to War” became the film film of the “Why We Fight” series, telling about Italy invading North Africa and Japan invading Manchuria. This was followed by “The Nazi Strikes” about Germany invading Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Next was “Divide and Conquer” about France falling to Germany. The next two were about Germany’s war with England and Russia. The sixth was about Japan invading China. The several was about Pearl Harbor.

In 1942, the Academy changed rules allowing 25 nominees for Beat Documentary with four winners.

Huston had a cameraman who loved being shot at who flew nine missions in six days. They filmed in the Aleutian territory where the bright light required a rare type of film that was hard to find.

Stevens observed that soldiers seeing films experienced a “catharsis” of being reminded of things from home.

Wyler was sent to England with no written directive, officer assistance, or funds. He didn’t have a typewriter or a car. Wyler did not know Army protocols. Wyler was informed by a “Stars and Stripes” writer he won an Academy Award for directing “Mrs. Miniver.”

Ford’s film “December 7” included descriptions of Japanese race-baiting. Tug Gallagher, a film historian, believe the strong anti-Japanese narrative of the film may have been served to gain support for the internment of Japanese nationals. Ford’s film included dialogue that most Japanese Americans supported the U.S. Mellett stopped general release of “December 7th” yet it was show to military and munitions personnel.

A U.S. Senate Committee investigating waste questioned whether Zanuck was using his war post for stir training film contracts to 20th Century Fox. Zanuck denied doing anything improper. He was cleared of malfeasance.

The Army Inspector General conducted its own investigation on Zanuck. Zanuck stopped bragging about being in dangerous combat. It was determined no director had a full time salary from studios in addition to their military pay. The matter was dropped.

Wyler took dangerous shots. He shot from a hole in a plane’s belly to film a landing. He could have been killed had there been a rough landing.

Zanuck with Anatole Litwak filmed much footage of the Casablanca battle. The film was lost when the ship carrying the film was sunk by German torpedoes.

The film “Desert Victory” used some reenactments. Reviews liked the film and were not concerned with the reenactments. Variety’s review wrote “It’s the overall effect that counts.”

Capra produced cartoon shorts of Private SNAFU who would learn the importance of rules. Private SNAFU often wound up blown up.

Capra hired Theodor S. Geisel for the Private SNAFU project. Geisel would later be known as Dr. Seuss. Geisel partnered with Chuck Jones of Elmer Fudd fame. Mel Blanc did the voices. Friz Freling, Frank Tashlin, and Bob Clampett, experienced cartoon makers, joined the process. 26 cartoons were produced in a year and a half. The cartoons got lines past censors such as showing nuts falling off a jeep with the line “it’s so cold it would freeze the nuts off a jeep.”

Capra produced “Tunisian Victory” with reenactments.

Sam Goldwyn wanted Wyler to return to MGM. Wyler stated he would stay until the war was over. Goldwyn asked Wyler to sign that he would return within 60 days of discharge and that Toldwyn could end his contract if the war didn’t end by the end of 1945.

Capra’s film “The Battle of Russia” helped convince viewers that the U.S. was part of an Allied effort. This was not just a U.S. war. This was the first film of the “Why We Fight” series that was released to the general public. It ran for 80 minutes. This film was later used by pro-Joseph McCarthy supports during the 1950s in their claims Capra that Capra had Communist sympathies.

Capra was promoted to Coloneo had yet no additional duties.

Huston claimed he serve as a nurse to the camera crew in San Pietro. He did not. In fact, the footage used in the later scripted movie “The Battle of San Pietro” was taken by Jules Buck. Huston did film there.

Movie audiences were tiring of the documentary movies. THey were increasingly attending musicals, comedies, and biographies.

The Best Documentary Award went to the British production “Desert Victory.”

Ford was promoted to Captain, He produced the film “They Were Expendable.”

For the D Day invasion, Capra was sent to D.C. to handle quickly the arriving film footage and coordinating it for use.

Capra insisted on making “The Negro Soldier.” He was met with government hypocrisy as they wanted a movie that would win Black support yet would not upset whites. Military units were segregated. Black military units did not have this important jobs that would appear as exciting to Blacks they hoped to recruit. Capra kept stereotypes out of the fim. It was well received when released to Black audiences. It was released to general audiences in hopes of changing white people’s attitudes towards Blacks.

The filming of D Day was shot by the Field Photo Unit, SEPCOU (Special Coverage Unit) team, Coast Guard, Canadian Army, and British military. Film ws in London 76 hours afterwards. Color film was converted to black and white for newsreels.Some of the film was so graphically violent it was not shown for over a half century. Churchill watched a 1 hour, 40 minute synopsis.

Stevens filmed bombing results, including the dead and survivors.

Junius Stout, one of Capra’s camera operators, filmed the Omaha Beach invasion from the top of a boat. He died when his returning plane was shot down.

Ford gave his MGM salary to create the Field Photo Memorial Home for rehabilitating studio technicians who served in war. Year later, a critic declared it was a low cost veterans’ housing, which Ford denied.

Ford returned to make “They Were Expendable” for MGM. Zanuck, Ford’s former 20th Century Fox employer, was upset yet it was his patriotic duty to let Ford make the movie where he wanted. Ford told Zanuck he was recovering from shock and war wounds. Zanuck knew Ford like to overly boast and replied “I do not choose to believe all the facts as related by Ford, including the wounds.”

Capra’s family was financially hurting from the lower royalties his films earned. Capra tried to leave military service yet was denied.

Huston wrote scripts under pseudonyms which allowed him to get around Army regulations prohibiting him from having a civilian salary. He wrote “The Killers” and “The Stranger”.

Huston’s first cut of the film “San Pietro” was rejected by the War Department. They believe it was anti-war. Huston stated to the War Department representative that he “pompously replied that if I ever make a picture that was pro-war, I hoped someone would take me out and shoot me. The guy looked at me as if he was considering just that.” Huston recut the film.

It was decided that film propaganda should blame the people of the countries at war with the U.S. In the film “Know Your Enemy”, the Japanese were described as “pigeon-toed and perhaps bowlegged. He is near-sighted and has buck teeth.” 20th Century Fox’s “The Purple Heart” recommended that the was to handle the Japanese was to “wipe them off the face of the Earth.”

Capra, observing Stevens had not taken a break in seven months, ordered Stevens to temporarily report to London to supervise “The True Glory”. Paddy Chayefsky was writing the script. Stevens found there was little for him to do.

Wyler filmed “Thunderbolt” about P 47 fighter planes. Wyler also filmed the devastation of Italy. Wyler’s driver for awhile was Leicester Hemingway, Ernest’s brother, who was known for agreeing to drive into dangerous places.They filmed a ragtag group of local armed resisters. Wyler discovered that the Jews were missing from towns and no one knew where they were.

Ford filmed John Wayne in “They Were Expendable”. Ford yelled at Wayne “Duke! Can’t you manage a salute that looks like you’ve been in he service?” Wayne walked off the shoot. Robert Montgomery walked to Ford declaring “Don’t you ever speak like that to anyone again.” Ford apologized and gave Wayne an additional scene in the film.

During filming, Ford fell off a soundstage several feet and broke a leg. Ford was told he would be in traction for three weeks. Montgomery shot the scheduled close ups and inserts for the next two weeks. Ford returned after two weeks against his doctor’s roders to finish filming.

Wyler lost his hearing from loud plane engines while filming in Italy. Wyler was discharged due to his deafness.

Eisenhower ordered Stevens to film the 16,000 American and British paratroopers attacking Germany. Stevens arrived at a concentration camp in Nordhausen. He discovered piles of bones from mass murder. His film was the first confirmation of Nazi concentration camp atrocities.

Stevens filmed more atrocities at Dachau Concentration Camp. Many dead were there with 30,000 still alive. Those alive were starving and ill.

Theodore Geisel’s script for “Your Job in Germany”, a film for those occupying Germany included the dialogue that the Germans stating “they’re not sorry they caused the war. Someday the German people may be cured of their disease---the super race disease, their world conquest disease.” Ronald Reagan auditioned to read the narrative yet Geisel noted Reagan “didn’t see to have the understanding, the meaning, of the vital issue.” Eisenhower approved the film be shown to all U.S. solders encamped in Germany.

“San Pietro” showed the realism of war to the public.

Huston wanted to remove the stigma that psycho-neurotic veterans experienced. He filmed Let There Be Light”. Military police seized the film before it was to be shown at the Museum of Modern Art. It was not shown for 35 years

After the war, Capra directed “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Stevens commented on the elaborateness of the production, stating “He’s putting in snow scenes. WHy the hell can’t ti be springtime?”

Wyler wanted realism in films. He hired a non-actor Harold Russell, who lost both hands in a military training accident, to appear in “The Best Years of Our Lives.”

Ford tried to use veterans in his first postwar film.

Wyler was nearly fully deaf and worried about hearing actors the nuisances in their voices. He hesitated about returning to directing. Wyler regained his confidence and returned to directing.

The initial poor public reaction to “It’s a Wonderful Life” made Capra feel he has lost his directing skills.

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