"Docudrama" about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 and its results, the recovering of the ships, the improving of defense in Hawaii and the US efforts to beat back the Japanese reinforcements.
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In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, director Gregg Toland is tasked by producer John Ford, both now serving in the navy, to film a documentary about that infamous day. What Toland provided was an 82 minute documentary that featured not only the attack but focused heavily on the local Japanese population's supposedly large role as spies providing information to the homeland. Ford took over the direction of the film and the military eventually released a 34 minute version focusing on the attack. The longer version features Uncle Sam telling the audience how naive America was before Pearl Harbor with recreations of Japanese people collecting information in preparation for the attack. Written by
Walter Huston, who plays Uncle Sam, the personification of the United States, was born in Canada. See more »
Showing the events of the Sunday morning attack, the priest at Mass (at Kaneohe, I believe) announces incorrectly that it is the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Actually it was the 2nd Sunday of Advent. See more »
Greg Toland, a phenomenal and temperamental cinematorgrapher ("Citizen Kane" inter alia) wanted to be a director instead of a photographer, and this is basically his film. As part of Ford's Field Photo group he was assigned this project, which was to explain how and why Pearl Harbor could have happened.
Toland was a better photographer than a director. Very little documentary footage of the Pearl Harbor attack existed. Most of what was available was shot after the attack, sometimes days later. So Toland organized a lengthy (some 80 minute-long) version of events by restaging the attack both in Hawaii and on the studio lots in Hollywood.
The rather long prologue is like a cartoon. Walter Houston is dressed in an Uncle Sam costume and has a sort of argument with his conscience before the attack. Oh, sure, Uncle Sam admits, there are some traitors among the hyphenated Japanese but they're a negligible threat. We get to hear Philip Ahn (a Korean) explain that Shintoism is Japan, and Japan Shintoism, and that Hirohito is the direct descendant of God, which must have gone over well with Christians.
The attack itself is reasonably well done for the time but embarrassing to watch now. American dive bombers pose as Japanese. The model work, with tiny airplanes on strings, is obvious. Cardboard ships explode into slivers in a tank. Non-actors pose as American servicemen and die Hollywood deaths, twisting and falling gracefully. The narrator tells us that the whole deal might have been different if an inexperienced lieutenant had heeded the radar warning of a subordinate, which is true, but which couldn't be admitted at the time. The result was an unshowable movie.
Ford and his editor, Robert Sherwood, were called in to try salvaging it by cutting it down to about half an hour. Ford may or may not have added any shots. Only one of them resembles something he might have done. (A chaplain saying mass cuts it short, makes the sign of the cross, and says, "To your battle stations, boys.") Of course Ford's name is on the credits as director. He was John Ford. But it isn't his picture.
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