October 1, 2014

Films

The True Glory – 1945 | 87mins | Documentary, War | B&W

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Plot Synopsis

The True Glory

The True Glory is a thrilling documentary account of the D-Day landings and the subsequent conquest of Europe. A joint British-American effort, the movie was the product of collaboration between Carol Reed and the American playwright and director Garson Kanin. The completed film had a prologue by no less than Dwight Eisenhower himself, Reed and Kanin undertook the awesome task of distilling a feature-length movie from approximately ten million feet of film, much of it shot in action. These continents of celluloid came from the archives of a dozen countries and represented the work of 1400 different cameramen, of whom 130 were killed or wounded.

Eisenhower’s robust preamble sets the tone of the rest of the film. The movie’s high-minded inclusiveness takes some interesting forms. Although a familiar orotund BBC type provides the main thread of the narrative, hundreds of other voices break in along the way to supply small, pungent glosses on life at the front. These personalised vignettes are flavoured with the distinctive speech rhythms of the men and women who recount them. French, Scottish, Irish and several American dialects (even Brooklynese) are among the accents that make up the splendid polyglot. Purportedly the voices of actual Allied servicemen (and numerous civilians) speaking in ‘their own words’, these interpolations are lively and pungent. Less successful, ironically, is the more high-flown commentary of the central narrator, which the filmmakers decided to cast in blank verse.

The film begins on a note of painful honesty, with an American serviceman confessing that the greeting he and his platoon received in England – a band playing ‘White Christmas’ -was ‘pretty corny’, though well intentioned. An officer in the Royal Navy admits to getting road sick while towing his craft to the Rhine. A Canadian recounts the bloody fighting at Caen, one of the major battle theatres of the D-Day invasion. Several Frenchmen summarise the miseries of the occupation. An American supply officer complains, with a self-congratulatory tone, that Patton’s advance into Germany was so swift that new maps could not be prepared quickly enough. Amidst the torrent of comments, none is more exuberant than the tank man at the banks of the Rhine, where every bridge except the one at Remagen had been destroyed is: ‘A miracle’. The watch on the Rhine was finished … washed up … or to coin a phrase, “kaput!”‘ After his words, a sign flashes by briefly: ‘Cross the Rhine with dry feet courtesy of the Third Army.’

The superb footage, intercut with maps, makes the Allies’ progress fairly easy to follow. The beach-heads at Normandy, the terrible fighting at Caen, the airborne invasion of Holland, the struggle to free the Antwerp estuary in order to maintain the supply lines, Von Runkle’s counteroffensive, the Battle of the Bulge and the conquest of Germany itself – each stage in the monumental campaign comes brilliantly to life. In view of his past achievements, there is no reason to minimise Reed’s part in telling this collaborative story. The pacing is unfailingly brisk; using quick cuts and sharp transitions, Reed sweeps us forward through the most complex military encounters of the Second World War, cleverly resorting to shorthand to convey bulky information compactly. The panoramic events of warfare are nicely counterpointed with small, personal details – the touches for which Reed was already heralded – such as an old French lady dressed in black near the English naval yards. In one startling leap, the camera moves from the battlefronts to a quiet, orderly London street, where the citizenry is ‘doing its bit’ by simply carrying on as usual. All the fabled heroism of the stoical Londoners is captured in this single contrast. On a larger scale, Reed balances the euphoria of liberation – thousands of jubilant French cheering the arrival of American troops in Rennes, De Gaulle’s triumphant return to Paris – with the barbarism of the concentration camps, where a survivor is seen kissing a soldier’s hand.

The same deliberate play of antitheses concludes the film. Fraternising among British, American and Russian servicemen lead to a young soldier’s hopeful prophecy: ‘to the victor belongs the spoils. That’s what they say. Well, what are the spoils? Only this: a chance to build a free world better than before. Maybe it’s the last chance. Remember that.’ At the same time, a huge military cemetery, with its vast forest of crosses, haunts the last moments of The True Glory and casts a backward shadow over everything that preceded it. The official record of the colossal effort to free Europe and smash the Third Reich could not be expected to deal dispassionately or charitably with the other side. Captured Germans are displayed in unattractive poses, while a GI’s remarks sort them into five or six categories (sullen, defiant, pathetic, etc.). Still, the film avoids outright contempt, crudity or the attribution of diabolism.

Production Team

Carol Reed: Director
Garson Kanin: Director
Cameramen of Britain: Cinematography
USA: Cinematography
Canada: Cinematography
France: Cinematography
Belgium: Cinematography
Poland: Cinematography
Holland: Cinematography
Czechoslavakia: Cinematography
Norway: Cinematography
American Army Pictorial Service: Cinematography
Army Film Unit: Cinematography
Sgt Bob Clark: Editing
Sgt Bob Carrick: Editing
Sgt Jerry Cowen: Editing
Sgt Bob Farrell: Editing
Sgt Lieberwitz: Editing
Lt Robert Verrell: Editing
William Alwyn: Music
Private Harry Brown: Script
Private Peter Ustinov: Script
Staff Sgt Guy Trosper: Script
Sgt Saul Levitt: Script
Major Eric Maschwitz: Script
Captain Frank Harvey: Script
Flt Lt Arthur Macrae: Script
Flt Officer Jenny Nicholson: Script
Gerald Kersh: Script



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