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Five Came Back (2014) by Mark Harris

five

After spotting this book on the shelf at the local bookstore it took me all of two seconds to decide I wanted to read it. What we have here is a well researched book from author Mark Harris on the military careers of 5 influential directors who were all heavyweights in Hollywood as America entered the war. For the better part of the next 4 years these men were filming footage of the real thing and not an attack by warring armies on the Hollywood back lots.

The book covers the real life war stories of John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra. It goes into detail on there contribution to filming the war effort and getting the necessary documentaries and propaganda on to movie screens across North America. Covered is Ford and the battle of Midway, his efforts on D-Day and subsequent filming of They Were Expendable. Huston and the real story behind the battle of San Pietro. Capra’s position as an overseer of the films and what could be released. Wyler’s work on the documentary Memphis Belle and subsequent hearing loss while filming from the bellies of aircraft. Stevens from D-Day to his filming the atrocities at Dachau and the life changing effects it would have on him. It was his footage that would be used at the Nuremberg trials.

Admittedly the book probably won’t interest the mainstream but for those who are a student of WW2 or classic Hollywood history then there is much to be found here. Politics of the Armed Forces and the studio machine play havoc with our main characters throughout. After all these men were Generals on the sound stages of Hollywood. In adjusting to life back in tinsel town it’s interesting to see how the careers of the 5 directors play out. Capra filmed It’s a Wonderful Life. Huston would eventually get to work on Sierra Madre and stay busy till the end of his life. Ford would move almost exclusively towards the western for the balance of his career and solidify his association with John Wayne. Wyler would embark upon The Best Years of Our Lives as a way to make peace with himself. Then there’s George Stevens and the nightmare of Dachau that would influence his career choices as he moved from light romps to A Place In the Sun, Shane and The Diary of Anne Frank.

All in all worth the time if so inclined. Ironically there is a good movie in here somewhere.

 

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