John Ford shooting a scene. Photograph courtesy of Netflix.
I have been watching a 3 part Netflix documentary about the 5 legendary Hollywood directors who volunteered for service in World War II. These 5 directors, William Wyler, Frank Capra, George Stevens, John Ford and John Huston not only shaped the way Americans viewed the war, but their participation affected their post war movie making.
“Each of these names is paired with a modern director, and the latter-day film-makers offer tremendously engaged and insightful comment: their cinephilia and admiration for these first-generation Hollywood masters lights up the screen. Steven Spielberg is matched to Wyler, Paul Greengrass to Ford, Guillermo del Toro to Capra, Francis Ford Coppola to Huston and Laurence Kasdan to Stevens. “
The military gave them wide latitude in what they could do – their films weren’t just government propaganda films.
The modern directors show how the war experience affected their movie making craft. George Stevens, for one, made primarily comedies before the war. His postwar groundbreaking western Shane was shaped by his view of death and war. No longer would people be shot – grab their chest and fall down. Look at this scene from Shane with Jack Palance.
“Having witnessed during his WW2 service the profound effects a bullet could have on a man, realism was important to George Stevens during the making of the film. This therefore is one of the first movies to use stunt wires to pull the actors or stuntmen backwards to simulate when they’ve been shot.”
It has shown so much detail with so much expert commentary that I will have to watch it again.
As an aside, in 1944 William Wyler made the critically-acclaimed Memphis Belle, and 46 years later his daughter Catherine produced a feature length movie of the same title on the day of a B-17 8th AAF crew. I recommend both movies.