Last December, I was writing about a very limited showing of a fascinating movie on World War 1 that director Peter Jackson made. It was fascinating for the digital restoration he made of the old film, now over 100 years old.
Now Director Erik Nelson has breathed a similar new life into a film about World War 2 and the Mighty 8th AAF.
In 1943, famed Hollywood Director William Wyler with 3 assistants made a movie about the crew of a B-17 stationed in England. He volunteered to fly with them on their dangerous missions.
The movie from 1944, Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, is considered a classic.
Nelson took these 15 hours of film that Wyler produced, digitally enhanced it and corrected it, and together with the narratives of now 90+ year old veterans who were there made a completely new movie from different footage.
These veterans are telling the audience what it was like to be on one of these missions. We learned that one’s odds were 25% of being killed before the required 25 missions were up. One veteran said that on a mission he felt like a condemned man on death row, and was just waiting for his time to come.
The best description Nelson gave is that it is a “time portal” to a 1943 British air base.
The best compliment I heard came from one of these veterans, who said that it wasn’t “Hollywood at all”.
Catherine Wyler, daughter of William, said that her father would be very happy about this film.
This movie, like They Shall Not Grow Old, brought the times to life.
Some of the things brought out:
More crewman in the 8th AAF were killed (28,000) than all of the Marines in WW2.
It wasn’t unusual for B-17s to be damaged by falling bombs from above – bombs that hit the wings – from planes below slightly out of their assigned formation.
With sometimes 1,000 planes assembling, there were some mid-airs.
With no pressurization, being in a B-17 at altitude was like standing on the top of Mt Everest for hours.
With the contrails, the Germans could see them 50 miles out and had plenty of time to get ready.
95% of the WW2 generation – those who served – are now gone. All of the crew of the Memphis Belle are now gone.
I was talking a bit the other day about how the movie business has changed –
Like The Highwaymen, this movie was made for the small screen – HBO – with very limited screenings at the theater. It was shown in my town for 1 night.
However HBO is supposed to start showing it in early June (June 6th?)
If you can, see it at a theater. Otherwise it will be on HBO.