It’s No Citizen Kane: Legendary Cinematographer Gregg Toland Directs December 7th

By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th of 1941, Gregg Toland had already won an Oscar for the cinematography of Wuthering Heights and created the distinctive look of Citizen Kane that is still discussed in introductory film classes today. But Toland wanted more than to be the most famous cinematographer of his day: Toland dreamed of becoming a director. Unfortunately, Toland’s one and only directing project, the unreleased long version of the United States Navy’s December 7th, is nothing short of a disaster.

After the United States entered the war, Toland answered the call to join the United States Navy and John Ford’s Field Photo Unit. Toland’s first assignment was to make a film about Pearl Harbor. The film would be the first major government film production of the war and was intended to reassure the American public that we would be soon be back on our feet. This was Toland’s chance to shine.

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The US Navy’s first major film project, December 7th was intended to reassure the American public that we would swiftly recover from the Pearl Harbor attack. (Still from film.)

Toland arrived in Honolulu in January of 1942, a month after the attack. Six weeks later, John Ford was sent to check on the production. While there, Ford shot footage of ships being rebuilt and troops working together and then, in April, left Toland to complete the film. Production stretched on. Over the course of months, Toland returned to Hollywood to shoot dramatic scenes and recreations of the attack to fill in the incomplete film record. Finally, in December of 1942, Toland was ready to show his first cut, an 85 minute feature.

Lowell Mellet, a liaison between Hollywood and the War Department, was the first to see the final product. He was horrified.

Remember, the criteria for successful completion of Toland’s assignment were simple: the film should be turned around quickly and should make the public feel that the naval fleet was recovered and prepared for battle. The film that Toland screened took nearly a year to complete and can only be described as bananas. (Really, it’s difficult to overstate this one. If you have a chance, you really need to watch it.)

Toland’s December 7th includes long sequences of Uncle Sam (played by the legendary Walter Huston) being admonished by his “conscience” (played by character actor Harry Davenport) for vacationing too much and not taking seriously the “hyphenated” threat of Japanese-Americans. The overt racism far surpasses even the propaganda films that were shown only to the troops and intended to instill scorn for the enemy (that would be our actual enemy, the Japanese nationals that the US military was fighting in the Pacific). The film depicts everyday Japanese-Americans as lying in wait to collect information from unsuspecting tongue-flappers. Viewers are reminded over and over that there are 150,000 Japanese-Americans in Hawaii. By the logic of the film, that would equal 150,000 spies and saboteurs. Even the children.

The film concludes with the ghost of an American soldier strolling through a military cemetery and explicating an extremely unwieldy baseball metaphor to demonstrate his belief in the American cause. On the positive side, since this is Gregg Toland’s film, it’s all very beautifully shot.

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In Gregg Toland’s version of the film, Uncle Sam’s conscience chastises him for being too trusting of Japanese-Americans living in Hawaii. (Still from film.)

After viewing the film, Mellet scrambled to make sure that it would not be released to the public.  In addition to Toland’s December 7th just being a really bad film, Mellet was concerned about the scope of the re-enactments. Much of the Pearl Harbor attack depicted in the film was created in a special effects studios at Fox, which made it little more than a fictional account of the battle.

And then there was the problematic anti-Japanese-American sentiment. In a recent talk at the National Archives’ McGowan Theater, author Mark Harris explained that it wasn’t so much the racism itself that was the problem (after all, the American government was paranoid enough to intern Japanese-Americans in camps), it was the level of suspicion that it cast on Japanese living in the United States. The U.S. government’s plan was to “redistribute” the Japanese-American population throughout the country to keep them from amassing sizable communities. If Toland’s film were to be released, it might cause every small town in America to reject the families that were expected to resettle there. It’s a distasteful distinction to make, but it ultimately led to Toland’s December 7th being heavily cut.

The task of fixing the December 7th went to John Ford. As the head of the Field Photo Unit, Ford was responsible for Gregg Toland, and the debacle reflected poorly on his command. Ford and editor Robert Parrish quickly re-cut the film, hacking out over 50 minutes so that the final version was just over half an hour. The film was still too long to play as an opening short in public movie theaters, and was too late to serve its original purpose anyway. Ford’s cut was approved for troops and munitions workers and released in early 1943.

Despite its troubled history and limited release, December 7th won the 1944 Academy Award for best documentary short. Gregg Toland never directed another film, but his failure did nothing to tarnish his reputation as one of the best and most influential cinematographers in film history.

All of the information about the production of December 7th comes from Mark Harris’s excellent book Five Came Back, a history of five Hollywood directors who served in World War II. You can view his talk about the book on our YouTube channel

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Mortal Moonshine: Treasury Agents Take On Backwoods Bootleggers

This post was written by Heidi Holmstrom. Heidi works in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, which is responsible for performing conservation and preservation work on motion picture records held across the National Archives.

In past blog posts, we’ve highlighted some of the favorite films of Motion Picture Preservation Lab staff. Because the motion picture holdings at the National Archives and Records Administration are so voluminous, we are always encountering new films that jockey for the top spot on our list of favorite things. One Time Too Often, a 1969 crime drama featuring Treasury Agents chasing down moonshine bootleggers and an appearance by Raymond Burr, is the latest of these.

When a man turns up dead, ATF agents take down a moonshine still.
(Stills from One Time Too Often)

One Time Too Often, presented by the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF, now in the Department of Justice), tells the story of a man who gambles his health one too many times by consuming illegal moonshine whiskey. His death due to lead salts poisoning launches an ATF investigation, which tracks the moonshine to its source: a sketchy backwoods still. The ATF agents raid the still, resulting in a gun battle and car chase as a saxophone wails on the soundtrack.

Although the film is shot like a stylized television show, lead salts poisoning from carelessly-produced illegal moonshine has long been a real problem. As it distills, moonshine can leach lead from the still components, which sometimes include lead-soldered pipes and automobile radiators in place of copper condensers. There is also a risk that the moonshine may be contaminated by toxic levels of methanol. Even today, government continues to target illegal moonshine production, as seen in this May 2014 news article from Alabama.

There’s no question that One Time Too Often is a highly entertaining film—especially for those nostalgic for television programs of the 1960s and 1970s—but how was it originally used by the ATF and Treasury Department? In so many cases we lack the documentation that would give us these answers. Fortunately, we know one way that One Time Too Often was used. A 1976 press release on the United States Mint website reveals that it was to be presented daily, along with other Treasury-produced films, as part of a new display in the Department of the Treasury’s exhibit hall. Other items on display included currency presses, half a ton of gold bars, and a moonshine still.

One Time Too Often came through the lab as part of the preparation for Spirited Republic, an upcoming exhibit at the National Archives Museum. Another film digitized by our Lab is 1973’s America on the Rocks. Featuring narration by Robert Mitchum, the film addresses the issue of alcohol abuse, using a creepy carousel as a visual metaphor for alcoholism. After the creation of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 1970, educators produced many films about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. The Institute cooperated with Airlie Productions on this film, which was a CINE Golden Eagle winner.

Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History will open March 2015 at the National Archives in Washington, DC. We hope to see you there!

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Mechanical Computers and Sound Collectors: World War I Anti-Aircraft Technology

This post was written by Harry Snodgrass. Harry is working on a project to preserve and digitize World War I and World War II films and photographs.

As we remember and applaud our veterans for their service on Veterans Day, I wanted to bring attention to a lesser-known film in the collection at the National Archives. Earlier this year, I had the honor of being hired to work on a special project focusing on preserving WWI and WWII films and stills. Since starting my work, I have come across many interesting, thought-provoking, and unusual films. This week’s film highlights various technologies and munitions designed for anti-aircraft use during World War I, a war that was fought before the development of radar.

111-H-1132Anti-Aircraft Materiel, U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1918

Without radar to assist with firing control systems, other technology was utilized to locate enemy aircraft and control anti-aircraft guns. In Anti-Aircraft Materiel, we see specific demonstrations of sound locators, range finders, height finders, and data computers to detect enemy aircraft and control the firing of anti-aircraft guns. Although the complete operation of these systems is not clear, our best guess is that the sound location system in tandem with searchlights were used to initially locate a target. Through the use of field chronographs, range-finders, and anti-aircraft height finders, the operators could better zero in on the target and provide final coordinates of distance and altitude to anti-aircraft gun operators. These operators were using early firing control computers to guide the guns. We might also assume that these systems were used independently of each other but we have not found any information to confirm this.¹

The slideshow below shows the components of the system in action:

A World War I system used to locate aircraft: sound locator, the Barr and Stroud anti-aircraft height finder, and the field chronograph.
(Stills from 111-H-1132)

The first component demonstrated in the slideshow is the sound or acoustic locator. The four large megaphone/horn devices, configured in an array, act as the sound collector or microphones. Using a device similar to a stethoscope, the output of these horns was fed to the operator, who wore a set of headphones or earphones.  The resulting information was used to initially triangulate the location of an enemy aircraft.

This next image shows the complete setup being used to locate the aircraft:

Final setup being used to locate the aircraft

Notice that the equipment is different than what was demonstrated earlier. According to our research, the item on the left could be a Barr and Stroud range finder model F.T. 23, but it is not clear what the two pieces of equipment are to the right. In the film (seen at 4:25), a demonstration follows achieving the end result of shooting down an enemy aircraft.

The next section of the film shows the operation of a three-inch anti-aircraft gun controlled by the ordnance data computer T-1. Yes, they used the word computer. The “computer” here is not what we recognize as a computer today– it is a mechanical control system that assisted in the operation of the anti-aircraft guns. The ordnance computers had torque amplifiers controlling the distance and direction settings of the gun. In the film, you can see the two operators turn controls as the gun(s) responds to their movements. This three inch anti-aircraft gun fired up to 22 shots a minute and had a range of four miles.

This three inch A.A. gun fired up to 22 shots a minute and had a range of four miles.

Shown below is an experimental glider target developed by the Army Air Service. It appears that the glider had a built-in control system so a specific course could be set, simulating manned flight and providing a more realistic target for practice. The glider was attached to the top of a plane and released when the plane made a steep bank.The glider then assumed the specified course.

glider

Another mechanical computer demonstrated in this film is the Vickers control computer. The Vickers computer directed the firing of a bank of .30 caliber machine guns. This computer was known as a firing control computer. It controlled the height and lateral movement of the bank of guns as operators fired the guns.

The Vickers computer up close. Click through the slideshow to see the Vickers in action. (Stills from 111-H-1132)

The film concludes with a demonstration of the sound locator electronically controlling searchlights (starting at 14:45).

In this slideshow, stills from the film show the sound locator, an operator wearing the sound locator earphones, and the searchlights that were then directed at the enemy aircraft.

This film is a great example of how the U.S. Army Signal Corps documented World War I. Anti-Aircraft Materiel is just one title of the U.S. Army Signal Corps Historical Collection held at the National Archives. Currently the entire collection of 473 unique titles (871 reels) is being assessed, digitized and uploaded to the National Archives YouTube channel. View the films digitized as part of this project on this playlist.


¹According to a technical report written by Allan G. Bromley of the University of Sydney, mechanical gunnery computers were used during combat but with very limited success. It is unclear if any of the technology shown in this film was actually used during combat by the United States armed forces as the references in the Bromley paper refer to the British military.

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Home Movies from the War Front: The First Fighters in New Guinea

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab. 

Home movies aren’t usually thought of as a rarity – especially these days as we happily capture our kids, friends, families, and pets on our smartphones– but home movies taken during war on the front lines are few and far between. In 1981, NARA was fortunate to receive Lt. Col. Ken Gerrish’s home movie of the time he spent on Papua New Guinea between 1942 and 1944. As the Engineering Officer, Mr. Gerrish had a unique vantage point from which to observe preparations for being stationed on the contested Pacific territory, outfitting men and equipment for battle, as well as being able to get to know the men and interact with the indigenous people of the island. Mr. Gerrish was responsible for maintaining P-39s for the 36th Fighter Squadron and P-38s for the Eighth Fighter Group of the Fifth Air Force Division.

Lt. Col. Ken Gerrish shot 16mm color home movies of his World War II experience and later added music and narration to create this film.

While there’s not a historic focus on Papua New Guinea like there is on the Pacific islands of Midway, Iwo Jima, or Tarawa, it was an incredibly important strategic location. With only about 100 miles of ocean between the southern coast of Papua New Guinea and the northeastern tip of Australia, it was a vital stronghold for the Japanese after they captured the town of Rabaul on the northeastern island on January 23rd, 1942. The Allies – Australian and American – held Port Moresby on the southeastern edge of the territory. The climate and the terrain were almost as brutal as their foes. Over the course of two and a half years the soldiers were plagued by dysentery, dengue fever, malaria, daily rains, monsoons, swamps, punishing topography, and irregular shipments of supplies.

Wanting to secure a foothold on mainland Papua New Guinea the Japanese dug in along the northern side of the main island on July 21st, 1942. Though the Gona Buna airstrip, held by the Japanese, was just 120 miles from Port Moresby, the Owen Stanley Range stood between the armies and the only way to cross between was over the treacherous Kokoda track. Both air offensives and land maneuvers were aimed at Japanese targets with the Allied Forces finally prevailing on August 31st, 1944. Over the course of the New Guinea campaign, approximately 14,000 Allied soldiers died and over 202,000 Japanese died.

Mr. Gerrish’s home movie shows little of these conditions aside from the rains and mention of the mosquitoes, malaria, and dengue fever during a ceremony where everyone is wearing long sleeves despite the heat. What Mr. Gerrish does focus on are particular individuals including Gen. George Kenney, commander of the Allied Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area, and WWII flying ace, Lt. George Welch. Other scenes focus on the men as they prepared equipment, enjoyed leisure time, and interacted with their Australian comrades. The films also contain quite a bit of footage of the native people of Papua New Guinea. A young child is given cigarettes in exchange for cutting down coconuts, a hospital built for the natives is shown, and Gerrish captures the reactions of a tribe when they see photos of themselves for the first time. According to the narration, some of the native people also helped to rescue a downed pilot and were enlisted to help kill the Japanese on the island.

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Gerrish’s home movies show the lighter side of living on the front lines as officers play against enlisted men in a 1943 baseball game.

Perhaps what interests me the most about these reels is how Mr. Gerrish was able to make them. According to Gerrish, the raw film stock came from the Army Air Corps supply for which he traded a bottle of gin, or whisky, for four rolls of film. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t regulation! The films may have been developed on the island (we see a “photo lab” sign), while on leave in Australia, or they may have remained sealed until his return to the States. We do know that the narration was added sometime after 1954 as Gerrish references Lt. Welch’s death, which occurred that year. We’re also not sure whether or not Mr. Gerrish compiled the A&B rolls on his own, or worked with someone else to edit them.

The original reels are 16mm Kodachrome and perhaps because of the time the reels spent in hot and humid conditions in the jungle the film exhibited a high level of shrinkage and was warped. There was also perforation damage, deterioration, and heavy scratches which are most noticeable in the second reel. Luckily, we were able to preserve these films despite their poor condition. We created a protection preservation copy as well as a new print and digital copy for access.

Ken Gerrish passed away in 2002; we are indebted to him, not only for his service, but for the unique record that he created and donated to the National Archives.

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Black Tuesday: 85 Years Gone By

October 29 marks the 85th anniversary of Wall Street’s most infamous day, Black Tuesday. While the crash alone did not cause the Great Depression, the sharp drop in stock prices symbolized the end of the Roaring Twenties and the beginning of a decade of hardship. As prices plummeted, many lost their life savings. Many more lost faith in American financial institutions. The photographs below reflect the chaos and sorrow that emanated from the stock market crash and run on the banks. These photos are from the New York Times Paris Bureau, and now part of the holdings in the Still Picture department at NARA.

Wall Street in panic due to heavy trading. October, 1929.  306-NT-157.062C

Wall Street in panic due to heavy trading. October, 1929. Local Identifier: 306-NT-157.062C

Unemployed men queued outside a depression kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone. Feb. 1931. 306-NT-165.319C

Unemployed men queued outside a depression kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone. Feb. 1931. Local Identifier: 306-NT-165.319C

 
stand guard at the entrance to the World Exchange Bank at 174 Second Avenue, New York City.  It had been closed down today due to a run on it. March 20, 1931. 306-NT-443-J-1

Police stand guard at the entrance to the World Exchange Bank at 174 Second Avenue, New York City. It had been closed down today due to a run on it. March 20, 1931. Local Identifier: 306-NT-443-J-1

Crowd gathers in front of the doors of the Bank of the United States on Freeman Street, New York.  April, 1931. 306-NT-166.153C

Crowd gathers in front of the doors of the Bank of the United States on Freeman Street, New York. April, 1931.
 Local Identifier: 306-NT-166.153C

Groups of depositors in front of the closed American Union Bank, New York City.  April 26, 1932. 306-NT-677-B-177.476C

Groups of depositors in front of the closed American Union Bank, New York City. April 26, 1932.
Local Identifier: 306-NT-677-B-177.476C

Crowds gather as hundreds of thousands of dollars in “Scrip Money” are burned.  The notes were issued after the bank had closed.  April, 1933. 306-NT-177.567C

Crowds gather as hundreds of thousands of dollars in “Scrip Money” are burned. The notes were issued after the bank had closed. April, 1933. Local Identifier: 306-NT-177.567C

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This Week in Universal News: The War of the Worlds Broadcast, 1938

On October 30, 1938, CBS broadcast a radio play of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The novel, first published in serial form in 1897, tells the story of an alien invasion of England. The Mercury Theatre on the Air production changed the location to New Jersey and employed a series of news bulletins to heighten the realism of the story. The next day, national media reported widespread panic, with citizens taking to the streets and scores of injuries resulting. The “panic” was more likely media hype: while some listeners were tricked, there is little evidence that the few who missed the frequent disclaimers actually took action or injured themselves because of the broadcast. Whatever the extent of the terror The War of the Worlds incited, the broadcast has become legendary. In a press conference the following day, 23-year-old Orson Welles explained why he didn’t expect listeners to think the well-known story was true. The actor-director’s exhaustion is more than just mental–Welles had stayed up until dawn rehearsing a new play.

From the release sheet:

RADIO PLAY TERRIFIES NATION.   New York, N.Y. Thousands of radio listeners throughout the U.S. are frightened into mass hysteria by a dramatization of H.G.Wells’ old thriller, “The War of the Worlds”, as staged by Orson Welles, young actor-manager.

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Orson Welles is surrounded by reporters at a press conference.

You may view the complete reel, which also includes stories about new car technology and a college football roundup, on our YouTube channel. The newsreel is incomplete and the full soundtrack no longer exists.

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.

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This Week in Universal News: The March on the Pentagon, 1967

On October 21, 1967, an estimated crowd of 100,000 gathered by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to protest the Vietnam War and march on the Pentagon. Organized by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, the demonstration was the first major national protest against the Vietnam War. Along with the signs, chants, and other hallmarks of an anti-war demonstration, activists Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Ed Sanders, and Jerry Rubin planned an exorcism designed to raise the Pentagon off its foundation and put an end to the war. While the exorcism was mostly designed as political theater, the group purportedly met with officials from the General Services Administration and obtained permission to attempt a three-foot levitation (reduced dramatically from their original plan of 300 feet). The group also planned to use an airplane to drop a multitude of daisies on the Pentagon. They were foiled by the FBI at the airport, but the daisies played a part in creating one of the most iconic images of the late 1960s–that of a young protester placing a flower into the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle. By the end of the protest, the Pentagon remained firmly on its foundation, nearly 700 protesters had been jailed, and dozens were hospitalized. While it would be nearly seven years until the end of fighting in Vietnam, the march on the Pentagon had a lasting impact on public discussions surrounding the war. In its contemporary assessment of the events, the Universal News narration straddles the political line, saying that both sides ended up as losers.

From the release sheet: 

WASH, D.C. DEMO– Violence at the Pentagon, more than six-hundred persons arrested, and the general feeling that everyone lost are the parts and sum of a two-day anti-Vietnam-War demonstration in the nation’s capital.

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Anti-war protesters march in a “three hour parade across the Potomac” to demonstrate at the Pentagon.

You may view the complete reel, which also includes stories about a new fire extinguisher created in response to tragic fires on Navy aircraft carriers, an inflatable windshield, and college football, on our YouTube channel.

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.

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From the Front Lines to the Homefront: The Importance of War Films Then and Now

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab. 

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the premiere of Fury Wednesday night and seeing the film (on film even!) reinforced what I know about World War II from the reels I see in NARA’s holdings on a regular basis. War is frighteningly loud; war is unbelievably gruesome; war reveals the best and worst traits of human beings. That being said, what struck me the most is how important film is in chronicling events from WWII in modern times and how important films were in documenting what happened at the time. Films were used to encourage enlistment, train troops, bolster morale, document the war, and inform troops and the American people about what was happening in Europe and the Pacific.

208-FS-1110-3

The First Motion Picture unit in action. Local Identifier: 208-FS-1110-3

The United States military recognized the importance of motion pictures: Films could reach out to potential recruits, train troops, and disseminate information to the folks at home and soldiers spread across the planet. The Army Signal Corps had long been responsible for making training films, and after the United States’ entry into the war, the Army Air Forces got into motion pictures as well. In 1942, Gen. Hap Arnold commissioned studio head Jack Warner to establish the First Motion Picture Unit and contracted with Warner Bros. to produce Winning Your Wings, a film featuring Hollywood star and Army Air Force pilot Lt. James Stewart. Winning Your Wings is credited with inspiring 100,000 young men to enlist in the US Army Air Forces. The First Motion Picture Unit produced hundreds of films between 1942 and 1945.

342-USAF-19369
First Motion Picture Unit: Army Air Forces

Motion pictures were also vital to disseminating information about what was occurring throughout various fronts in the war and to inform the troops about what was going on at home. Newsreels produced by the military efficiently distributed information to members of the armed services. Subjects ranged from lighter topics, such as training war dogs, and training high schoolers to work in industry to bolster the war effort, to the way blood donations made their way to the front. Some of the footage in these digests is every bit as harrowing as some of the scenes in Fury as can be seen in this clip from the offensive on Tarawa. And, unlike in Hollywood, there are no sound effects, stunt doubles, or extras.

111-ANSM-21
 Army-Navy Screen Magazine #21 

At the same time, the Office of War Information ensured a steady stream of official films hit screens across the country. The OWI partnered with the Hollywood-based War Activities Committee for National Defense (run by George Schaefer, the former head of RKO Studios) to distribute films such as The Battle of Midway (1942) and With the Marines at Tarawa (1944)The Battle of Midway was the first time the American public saw troops engaging in battle in color and With the Marines at Tarawa was the first time audiences saw dead US Marines in color.

80-MN-1433
The Battle of Midway

The legacies of the events of WWII live on because these moving images exist. As the veterans of WWII become fewer in number these reels will live on to tell the story of that era as only moving images can. While films like Fury are able to capture the sense of what it was like to live and die in a war the films in the collection at NARA can document the reality of life and death in a war zone.

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The Fury of Hell on Wheels: Tank Warfare, April 1945

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab. 

Ten months after the D-Day invasion, Allied forces were sweeping through western Europe. Germany in April 1945 is often depicted as the Allies capturing scattered Axis soldiers and liberating citizens from the clutches of the Third Reich. Small offensives, cutting supply lines, and rounding up fractured German units was far from the reality of the situation, however. American troops encountered some of the most tenacious and ruthless fighting of the war and faced the cruelest and vilest of human nature as they liberated concentration camps throughout the region.

The culmination of the war in Europe brought with it the most mechanized force the planet had ever seen with the sheer firepower of the United States military. In spite of Allied superiority in weaponry, divisions often had to fight in close quarters with hand-to-hand combat. Limited maneuverability in small German towns resulted in heavy losses. The men fighting in Germany were either battle-hardened or green recruits, but all of them were sleepless and racing to end the war at breakneck speed. The new feature film, Fury, depicts the last month of the war in these startlingly real terms.

tank-2

Allied tanks in the German city of Koblenz. (Still from Universal News)

Fury’s fictionalized account of events at the end of the war focus on a small platoon within the 2nd Armored Division. The 2nd Armored Division was created in July 1940 under the command of then Colonel George S. Patton. Parts of the division were among the first U.S. military armored divisions serving in North Africa when they landed at Casablanca on November 8, 1942. After nine months the division moved on to Sicily in July of 1943. On June 9, 1944, the 2nd Armored Division landed on Omaha Beach in the invasion of the Normandy. There the division known as “Hell on Wheels” fought the Germans near Avranches and then crossed through France as part of the Third Army before reaching Germany in September 1944. The 2nd Armored Division was the first to reach the Elbe River in mid-April 1945, which is where the Fury story begins.

During their period of service in World War II, the 2nd Armored Division took 76,963 prisoners of war, liberated tens of thousands of Allied POWs, and destroyed or captured thousands of enemy tanks, including Panzers and Tigers. Between 1942 and 1945, the 2nd Armored Division lost 1,160 men in battle.

To get a sense of what the men of the Armored Divisions experienced as they fought to end the war, we can look to the Universal Newsreel Collection and see the stories the public was shown at the time. While there may not be specific footage of the 2nd Armored Division, these Universal News stories feature tank warfare in Germany during April 1945.

The Sherman Crab (aka Sherman M4 with Mine Flail) clears mines. Sherman tanks and infantry take Koblenz. [From 3:10 to 5:00]
Release date: April 5, 1945

 

Tank warfare, taking German POWs, and rocket attacks by The Third Army. [From 3:57 to 5:36]
Release date: April 9, 1945

 

Allied troops taking cities in West Germany, trying to keep the peace in conquered cities, and liberating work camps. [From 2:14 to 5:32]
Release date: April 23, 1945

The tank battles in Fury feature face-offs between the M4 Sherman and German Tiger tanks. Tank warfare was an integral part of the war in Europe and mechanization for the war effort occurred rapidly. At the start of the war, U.S. forces had only a handful of tanks in use even though light tanks had been in production since 1940. Medium M2 and M3 tanks, among others, soon went into production, first to supply to Britain, and later for use by the U.S. Army.

The new M4 Sherman rolled off the line in 1942 and was first employed in North Africa. Until the German Panzers up-gunned to 75mm L/48s in mid-1944, the M4 Sherman was clearly superior. New tanks introduced by Germany were a significant threat: the Panther and Tiger tanks had stronger armor and a longer firing range with more penetrating power and higher accuracy. The Shermans were not back on equal footing with German tanks until 76mm guns were added in December of 1944. While the Shermans were not as well armored as the German tanks they were much easier to maneuver and more adaptable so that tanks could be fitted with bulldozer blades (Sherman Dozer), rocket launchers (T34 Calliope), flame throwers (M4A3R3 Flame), and mine flails (Sherman Crab).

What is captured by Fury, that isn’t included in the Universal Newsreels is how horrific the conditions were that men faced at the end of the war. The Volkssturm protecting the towns in Germany, mainly made up of older men and Hitler Youth, were relentless and fanatical in their attempt to hold out against The Third Army. While the Allies won the day in the long run, they paid dearly for the honor in men, minds, and morale.

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A Curious Alice Coloring Book

I still remember the coloring book I received after a man from the power company came to my school and showed us a cartoon about a cat that is repeatedly “zapped” when it makes bad decisions around electricity. Like visits from the fire department and McGruff the Crime Dog, coloring books are a staple of public safety education for children.

Much to my delight, I recently learned that the early anti-drug education film Curious Alice was no exception. In its 1971 publication “A Guide to Drug Abuse Education and Information Materials,” the National Institute of Mental Health (the government agency that made the psychedelic cartoon) laid out its plans for elementary schoolers. An activity book was part of a planned educational package that included the film, posters, and pamphlets.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that the activity book made it into the permanent records of the National Archives. We were, however, able to obtain a copy via interlibrary loan. I scanned the booklet and am featuring some of the best pages in this post. You can download a PDF of the complete booklet here. The booklet contains a range of activities, from class activities like a drug abuse “science experiment” that utilizes a stalk of celery and a pantomime game where a suggested action is the caterpillar smoking his hookah, to individual activities like coloring pages and fill-in-the-blank worksheets.

The Best of the Curious Alice Activity Book

In this exercise, school children are presented with a set of drawings of cartoon characters using drugs. The child is expected to circle the drug and write its name on the line below the picture.
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Here’s the White Rabbit in connect-the-dot form:

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…and here are some of the best coloring pages. If you would like to color of one of these yourself, click on the image. It will open in a separate tab and you can print from there. If you want to share, take a picture and tweet it to @NARAMediaLabs.

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Since the Curious Alice booklet is not technically in the holdings of the National Archives, I’m rounding out this post with a public service announcement from the Everly Brothers. The same year that the National Institute for Mental Health released Curious Alice and the accompanying activity book, Don and Phil Everly filmed an advertisement warning the public about the dangers of amphetamines.

For more on early government anti-drug education, see my post on A Day in the Death of Donny B.

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