Released in 1945, The True Glory (a co-production between the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information) documents the victory on the Western Front – from the D Day landings of 1944 to the collapse of the Nazi regime in Berlin the following year.
The footage – shot by some seven hundred front-line cameramen – remains highly impressive and in certain cases (shots of the wizened victims in the liberated concentration camps for example) gut-wrenchingly moving.
Although the film does use a narrator, the majority of the voices heard are a varied cross-section of fighting men and women drawn from many countries. This ‘oral history’ approach is a major plus point – it certainly helps to reinforce the notion that the war was won thanks to the efforts of millions of ordinary people rather than the select band of generals and commanders. Indeed, General Dwight D. Eisenhower filmed an introduction making this very point.
All this is excellent propaganda of course – indeed, as the whole film is. The True Story may still stand up today as a record of a vital year, but it’s not quite the whole story. However the authorised nature of the film does give us a totally different, but still valid, perspective on a host of key events compared to documentaries made decades later.
The Anglo-American nature of the production was reflected in the fact that two directors, one British and the other American, were assigned to the project (Carol Reed and Garston Kanin). Although there were tensions in certain quarters about content and tone, Reed and Kanin got on very well and swiftly formed a harmonious working partnership. Kanin later said that his collaboration with Reed was “a kind of love affair from the start. I simply adored Carol Reed.”
Peter Ustinov, who had worked with Reed the year before on The Way Ahead, found himself sifting through some of the thousands of hours of raw footage sent back to London. Ustinov remembered watching the material shot in Belsen. “One after the other, individual soldiers fell out, vomiting helplessly on all fours. The shock had felled these men with a blow to the stomach, and there was nothing discipline could do. Suddenly one soldier went berserk. He broke ranks for no visible reason. Eyes wild, he ran, and the camera followed him.”
Ustinov’s presence makes me wonder if other personnel from The Way Ahead were also utilised. Certainly at one point there’s a voice-over from a British tommy who sounds very much like Leslie Dwyer – so maybe the voices were a mixture of actors and real people.
This two disc set from Simply is supplemented by four further documentaries produced by British Paramount News for the British MOI. They don’t quite have the weight of The True Glory but are all still interesting in their own right and I’m glad they were included.
The True Glory is a fascinating slice of contemporary reportage which attempted to sum up the tumultuous events of 1944-1945 in just under ninety minutes. This was obviously going to be a tall order, but the ‘now’ feel of the film helps to give it a great impact. Warmly recommended.
The True Glory has an RRP of £9.99 and a running time of 271 minutes. It can be ordered directly from Simply Media here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).
Sources – the Kanin and Ustinov quotes were taken from this New York Sun article dated 5/2/08.