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John Huston's World War II documentary on the battle of San Pietro is
easily up to the high standard that he set with his numerous classic
dramas. It is impressive in describing both the events and the
atmosphere of a desperate and costly struggle, and it is memorable in
preserving its effect on those who had to live through it.
Even on a purely historical level, this would serve as a valuable description of one stage in the grueling Italian campaign, one of the war's least-remembered and least glamorous aspects. The narration is very efficient in detailing what the battle was about, what happened, and why it happened. It puts everything into the perspective of the war as a whole, and it also provides a look at the nature of the Allies' slow, grueling, costly progress up the Italian peninsula.
On a dramatic level, it is even more effective and memorable. Without forcing anything, without resorting to ploys of any kind, it brings you into the world of the unfortunate foot soldiers on whose backs and blood the fate of the battle rested. Huston's narration is flawless, using evenly measured tones to describe events in such a way as to allow them and the pictures of them to speak for themselves - and they speak in a powerful way.
Most of the footage must have been taken at considerable risk, and while there is nothing fancy about the techniques, it's impressive how much it captures. The soldiers slowly crawling along rocky heights, the pounding of heavy artillery, the frightened civilians hiding in caves, and much more, are all vividly captured. It's hard to think of another documentary then or now that succeeds so well at what it set out to do.
This film is available on DVD -- as part of the
"Treasures from American Film Archives" collection released this year.
collection has lots of gems on its four disks but "The Battle of San
alone would make it worth the price.
I watched this 30-minute documentary of one of many battles in Italy shortly after having viewed "All Quiet on the Western Front" for the first time. I thought the Milestone film was brilliant but it was this Huston documentary that made me cry. I don't know whether it is the matter-of-fact narration (by the director), the sight of all those G.I.s, or the Italian children that got to me but the sum of it all was almost overwhelming. Very highly recommended. 10/10
i recently saw the approx. 40min version of this film and i must say, knowing what is missing from the 32min version, that it is indeed far more impactful and superior. images of more fallen soldiers in white body bags appear and reappear throughout to the point of it being a reocurring theme. i'm sure it's just as brilliant without the extra footage, but if you can, try to see the extra footage. while i have not seen the true original (running approx. 50min), i'm quite positive it's even better than the one i was fortunate enough to see. a great documentary film all-around (even if some of it was staged).
I don't know how this documentary ever managed to be released in 1945
while the war was still underway. Other examples of the genre always
ended in victory. Allied dead were never seen except at funeral
services with flags flying and officers making speeches and a solemn
narrator telling us of their brave deeds.
Huston's documentary is different. The narration is by the director and is full of the logic of battle and lacks sentiment. The film is shot from ground level, the level of the foot soldier. A phosphorous shell explodes some feet away, the ground trembles, and the air is filled with bits of burning chemicals. An American soldier is shot in mid-stride and flops unceremoniously to the ground. There are multiple shots of American dead, some being bundled into mattress covers and lowered into hasty graves by the Quartermaster Corps.
Only one speech is delivered, by General Mark Clark at the opening of the film. He was in charge of American forces in Italy and always saw to it that the press referred to the Fifth Army as "General Mark Clark's Fifth Army." Clark points out that there was great sacrifice during the campaign and hints that it might not have been so great if the Army hadn't seen fit to rob him of resources for the invasion of France. Nevertheless, he observes, we kept many Germans pinned down in Italy. No mention of the fact that the Allies too were bottled up in Italy with the Germans acting as the cork.
Huston uses a simple map and pointer to illustrate the tactical situation. And his narration is blunt. The attack on the German's right was launched and not a man got more than 300 yards beyond his starting point. All our attacks were repeatedly repulsed with heavy losses. And when at last the Germans withdrew, they did so swiftly and according to plan, and took up new defensive position five kilometers away.
Five kilometers away. That meant a new battle against a new defensive line. And after that, another battle against another defensive line, with all the German artillery sighted in, and their positions camouflaged and mutually supporting.
There was nothing else to be done. The Italian boot seemed made for defense, with a high mountain range forming a spine down the center, and innumerable smaller ranges to the east and west, interspersed with rivers that swelled during the winter rains. The obstacles and mud often halted operations entirely.
I suppose that's one of the reasons why we don't see very much footage of combat from the Italian campaign on television. It wasn't colorful. It wasn't glamorous. It didn't end in a smashing victory. The Battle of San Pietro was an early one, and Monte Casino and the Gustav Line and other terrors still lay ahead.
The closest Hollywood ever came to capturing the misery associated with the Italian campaign was in William Wellman's "The Story of G.I. Joe" -- and even there, the despair these men must have felt is muted by the homespun voice over of Burgess Meredith as Ernie Pyle. Huston evidently staged many of the combat scenes but I still don't know how Huston's short film managed to get past the wartime censors.
One reviewer commented that he didn't know how this film ever got
released during World War II. It almost didn't.
First, you need to know that Hollywood actors, directors and producers were heavily recruited by the War and Navy Departments (the Defense Dept. is a post war innovation). These celebrities got to know a lot of the senior military personnel through their activities in Stage Door Canteens, the USO, recruiting and bond drives. Few were closer to the military top brass than Orson Welles, a close friend of Houston's.
Welles told this story on, I believe, a Dick Cavett Show in the late 1960s or very early 1970s. I repeat it as I remember it.
According to Welles the War Department censors did not want San Pietro released. They felt that the film was too graphic and that it might have an adverse effect on support for the war. Through Welles' personal friendship with General George C. Marshall he and Houston arranged a private screening at the Pentagon for Marshall, his staff and the censors. Following the screening Gen. Marshall stood up and ordered that the film be released. He said that it was an accurate depiction and that war was horrible. He felt that the American people needed to know that horror lest they romanticize war and become fond of a monstrous act of inhumanity.
So San Pietro was released. If Welles exaggerated his role, I can't say. Certainly Houston didn't contradict him. If I have misremembered the tale in some particular, it does not change the fact that San Pietro owed its release to the intervention of Marshall.
Even today San Pietro is worth seeing. As has already been suggested, it is a good complement to Lewis Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front. I would suggest that it also ranks with two other great movies whose subject is World War I. Those movies are Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion and Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory. And, although it doesn't quiet rank with the three films already mentioned, Philippe de Broca's King of Hearts belongs in the insanity of war film festival we seem to be constructing here. Finally, I would point out that earlier wars are often stand ins for the more recent one as in M.A.S.H. Korea stood in for Vietnam.
This documentary movie is about the battle of San Pietro, a small
village in Italy. Over 1,100 US soldiers were killed while trying to
take this location, that blocked the way for the Allied forces from the
Huston and his crew were attached to the U.S. Army's 143rd Regiment of the 36th Division. Unlike many other military documentaries, it was claimed Huston's cameramen filmed alongside the infantrymen as they fought their way up the hills to reach San Pietro. (Huston's claim that the film was made during the battle was proved false by the research of Peter Maslowski.) Huston quickly became unpopular with the Army, not only for the film but also for his response to the accusation that the film was anti-war. Huston responded that if he ever made a pro-war film, he should be shot. And this coming from a man who served. I think that is a great statement. We can support the troops, especially when they are fighting the fascists, but that should not make us "pro-war". Whatever is between pro- and anti- war, that seems to be the right outlook.
I saw this film while watching my copy of the 4-DVD set "Treasures From
American Film Archives"--a set of mostly ephemeral films that would
have otherwise been lost.
"San Pietro" is a film assembled by the US War Department to chronicle one of many battles from WWII. Like so many government films made during WWII, it is narrated by a Hollywood star (director John Huston) and I assume it was made by film makers who were in military service for the war.
The film's narration and images are surprisingly blunt and free from extreme patriotism--making it highly realistic and gripping. In other words, the film is not all about American victory but shows casualties and describes how difficult this battle was--not some jingoistic rant meant to glorify war and make it seem like the troops were super-human. While some might have thought this would demoralize the folks at home (hence it was held for release for two years), it was direct, informative and well-constructed. At times, it felt almost as if you were there in the action and was very compelling--and a nice tribute to real sacrifices made by some very brave soldiers as well as an important historical record.
These comments helped me a lot' It is impressive in describing both the
events and the atmosphere of a desperate and costly struggle, and it is
memorable in preserving its effect on those who had to live through it.
This documentary movie is about the battle of San Pietro, a small village in Italy. Over 1,100 US soldiers were killed while trying to take this location, that blocked the way for the Allied forces from the Germans'
Well i do watched film not the whole of it but i cant get the documentary devices the filmmaker used, uniqueness in the film e.g in Triumph of the Will everyman has got Hitler' s hairstyle and how the editing together with shots relate to what the film is about. Also why is that women and children are shown smiling? Which type of shots are mostly used? What causes this battle? Who won the Battle and what are the effects brought by this fighting apart from people dying? What is the filmmaker trying to explain to the world?Please anyone explain to me.I will be happy... Really want to know about this film Thanks a lot
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*Spoiler/plot- 1945, The Allied and US forces attack the German strong
hold that is just below of the hilltop fortress a Benedictine Medieval
monastery of Monte Cassino to start their march through Italy to
*Special Stars- Director: John Huston
*Theme- The smallest of battlegrounds illustrates to us the great bravery that won WW2 for the Allied troops.
*Trivia/location/goofs- American documentary, a very famous documentary film of the time about the troops fighting in the Italian peninsula. Look for 36th Texas Infantry Division footage here along with other Allied units fighting in that battle area of the muddy Liri Valley, Po River, and Monte Casino. My father fought in this battle and lived!
*Emotion- An enjoyable documentary made up of live action combat or newsreel footage. However, there are the unpleasant shots of injured Americans and killed Germans with some blatant racist language. But it is extremely educational and does what a narrative simulated war film can do.
In honor of Memorial Day, I decided to watch some John Huston documentaries made during World War II. Before the film begins, a General Mark Clark makes some comments on the worthiness of what is depicted in the picture. Then narrator Huston guides us through what went on in the title village of Italy as the American soldiers try to break the German blockade of our troops. Quite compelling battle footage even though a later disclaimer mentions how staged some of it was before and after the actual battle. There's also much somber footage of dead soldiers and many survivors digging graves. But there's also some joyful scenes of women and children smiling at their rescue and many grateful local men as well. I have to also note how surprised I was at some breastfeeding shots as well! This seemed even more worthy of this commemorative day than Huston's previous doc, Report from the Aleutians, as the stakes were higher. So on that note, San Pietro is recommended.
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