A filmed historical survey of the First World War.

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1  
1965   1964  
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 Narrator (26 episodes, 1964-1965)
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A filmed historical survey of the First World War.

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22 September 1964 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Still unmatched documentary about the war
6 May 2013 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Even after 50 years, no American-made documentary about World War One has come close to being as comprehensive or as moving as this documentary series. There have been some British made multi-volume documentaries about The Great War that are as good, in some cases even better, but this remains the definitive American documentary about that war.

With 26 episodes, each one about 25 minutes in length, plenty of time is available to present the full scope of the war. Entire episodes are devoted to the air war, the submarine war, the home front in England, the impact of the war on the US before America's entry into the conflict, the Bolshevik Revolution and even an episode dealing with the songs that were made famous by the war.

A couple of minor flaws can be easily overlooked, but to be fair, they are that the issues that brought the war on could have been a examined a little more thoroughly, as could the Eastern Front, and being an American production, perhaps the film focuses a little too much on the American experience of the war at the expense of some of the other participants.

But hours of actual film footage from the war were used, no re-enactments at all, and this is fascinating to see. Robert Ryan's narration is a highlight of the series - there is something to melancholy and tragic in his voice through the narrative that it really brings home the emotional impact of an entire generation being lost and a global way of life being destroyed forever. Having seen reruns of this series in the late 1970's while I was a boy, Robert Ryan's voice has become inseparable from World War 1 in my mind.

In the 50 years since this documentary was made, a lot of new scholarship about the war - and the opening of many old archives,- has changed some of the things we know about the war. Nevertheless, this series remains the best documentary about the war available in the US.

Perhaps now that the 100th anniversary of the war is a year away, a new documentary will be made that uses some of the information that was not available in 1964. As the grandson of a Doughboy who fought in France in 1918, I'd like to see one. Perhaps Ken Burns would be up to the task?


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