World War II Documentary Double Feature: December 7th /Attack! The Battle of New BritainDocumentary/War
Box Office: $0.0M
PRINCIPAL CASTRalph Byrd, Walter Huston, Lloyd Nolan
DIRECTORJohn Ford, Gregg Toland
DECEMBER 7TH (1943): Produced in cooperation with the War and Navy Department, John Ford's December 7th captures the mood and tenor of the nation during World War II like no other film of its era. In the aftermath of FDR's declaration of war, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox requested "a complete motion picture factual presentation of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941." The assignment was given to John Ford, who had been made head of the Field Photographic Unit of the Navy. Ford immediately handed off the job to legendary cinematographer Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane, Ford's own How Green Was My Valley) and screenwriter Samuel G. Engel (Night and the City). Toland and Engel then filmed an extensive recreation of the attack at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, utilizing Hollywood actors and miniatures created by Ray Kellogg (later the director of The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster.) Though their had been some cameras rolling during the actual bombing, most of the devastation had to be recreated with Kellogg's special effects (which were so convincing that they are commonly mistaken for actual footage and used in movies and TV shows to this day.) Under Toland and Engel's guidance, December 7th soon became an 82-minute epic that examined the culture of Japanese Americans living in Hawaii, criticized the Navy for their lack of preparedness, and even featured Walter Huston as a living, breathing Uncle Sam! Presented with a film that had become more about editorializing than reportage, President Roosevelt subsequently decreed that all movies produced by the Field Photographic Unit would be subject to closer scrutiny by the War Department. A demoralized Ford then worked with his editor Robert Parrish to turn December 7th into something usable. Excised were Toland and Engel's criticism of the Navy, as well as their contention that the Japanese Americans living in Hawaii were all potential traitors (only one brief scene of Ralph Byrd as a reporter interviewing the Consulate-General of Japan in Honolulu displays this sentiment.) Instead, they focused on the battle itself and the lives that were lost. Ford also shot footage of the reconstruction efforts at Pearl Harbor. Shorn down to 32 minutes, December 7th was finally shown to servicemen and munitions workers in 1943. It was this version of the film that won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject at the 16th Annual Academy Awards. Ford accepted the award, his fourth in four years, despite his relative lack of participation in the film itself.
ATTACK! THE BATTLE OF NEW BRITAIN (1944): Frank Capra produced this feature-length documentary about the Allies' campaign to retake the island of New Britain from the Japanese. The down-to-earth voice of narrator Lloyd Nolan spends much of it explaining that the typical American soldier could be your brother, son, or husband. "Not ghosts from Pearl Harbor but American boys...Tom, Dick and Johnny. The boys who used to play baseball in vacant lots on Saturday afternoons, the youngsters that drove jalopies and listen to popular songs." Perhaps to demonstrate this, a long sequence of "Tom, Dick, and Johnny" skinny-dipping follows, with full-frontal nudity (!) There's plenty of brutal combat footage on hand as well, which elicits some decidedly un-politically correct commentary from Lloyd. "Dead Japs aren't always dead...better be sure" he says as a dogface inspects the corpse of a Japanese soldier. New Guinea natives assisting the Americans are also referred to as "fuzzy wuzzies." This commentary was written by Robert Presnell Sr., who had previously contributed the original story on which Capra's Meet John Doe (1941) was based. In charge of shooting this film under Capra was Jesse L. Lasky Jr., who later worked on the screenplays of Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Ten Commandments (1956).
Alpha Home Entertainment/Gotham