Using rare archive footage, this documentary tells the story of World War I. The film shows the rivalry between the various royalty in Europe leading up to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the failed attempts to avoid the war that followed. It then goes on to show German attrocities as they invade Belgium and France, and how incompetent leaders on both sides cost the lives of millions of men. Written by
Excellent Newsreels, Dishonest Script Untrue to Title Book
Barbara Tuchman's excellent books, THE GUNS OF AUGUST (a deserved Pulitzer prize winner) and THE ZIMMERMAN TELEGRAM look at the start of World War I and the U.S. entry into it three years later (NOT, as this film implies in one of its many distortions, as a result of the Submarine warfare spoken of one-sidedly here, but due to a different German diplomatic blunder *surprisingly* touched on briefly in this film although it took place LONG after the end of the book THE GUNS OF AUGUST) in a valuable, even handed way. This film makes no such pretense.
With its excellent use of period newsreel footage, the Tuchman title and the fine narration skills of Fritz Weaver, one wanted this to be a definitive look at how the world stumbled into a war no one wanted which changed the way the world looked at itself and the aftermath of which we are still dealing with today. Instead, Arthur Tourtellot's highly biased and distressingly shallow screenplay and producer/director Nathan Kroll attempt to use the project as a high school level rehashing of the Allied propaganda version of the history of the World War. Not for nothing is the distributing company called "The Apologetetics Group." They have a lot to apologize for - and the esteemed Ms. Tuchman should have sued.
The worst distortions are not front loaded, and up until the death of the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, one can almost overlook the loaded, insulting descriptions of figures screenwriter Tourtellot has decided his audience thinks are "bad guys," (though his treatment of the Archduke himself and his fascinating love story is an insult to history) but at least in the build-up to war he is partially constrained by Ms. Tuchman's (and history's) construction. Once the war starts, any pretense at even-handedness or even consistency goes out the window. "German frightfulness" and the evils of their every plan are the order of the day.
Tourtellot's OWN mention of the publicly announced pre-war French battle plan is ignored when he claims the German reliance on it had no evidence to support it! No mention is allowed of the initial efforts of German submarines to follow the rules of war until Britain armed it's merchant ships and started luring submarines into surfacing to be attacked. No mention of the equally understandable Allied blockade of Germany and Austria or the suffering it resulted in. When the war bogs down into trench warfare, we hear only of German waste of life, not the identical tactics of the Allied General Staff on the Western Front and at the unmentioned Gallippoli. The two crucial Russian Revolutions are treated as if they were one and while the German role in returning Lenin to Russia is highlighted, the reluctance of Allied powers to accept fleeing Russian nobility from the second, Bolshevik Revolution - or the uniformed Allied Soldiers who fought on with the White Russians in Russia for three years after the World War itself had ended somehow is passed over despite the way all these things shaped the history we have had to live with in the rest of the 20th Century.
The list goes on and on. the War was probably too grand and complicated to be definitively explained in only 135 minutes, but when cuts had to be made, Tourtellot and Kroll only cut when the omitted material might give the impression that there was justice on the side of the cause which lost. Unlike Tuchman, every effort was made to spin information to damn the side whose heir to the throne's assassination was the spark which ignited the war, and to whitewash the side which sent the assassin.
While, on balance, one has to agree that a majority of those on the Allied side sincerely tried to do the right thing before, during and after the conflict, there's something terribly wrong when their "defenders" feel they have to twist history this badly to defend them. Such "defenses" tend to accomplish the reverse.
If there is any good news here other than the fascinating use of the newsreels themselves, it is that the film has finally, if sloppily, been put on DVD. The transfer is an incredibly cheap one however - as sloppy as Tourtellot's screenplay. The DVD starts up directly with no establishing menus or extra features - and at the end of the film, there is merely a blue screen with the letters announcing that a menu was *supposed* to be there. Dare I suspect that Mr. Tourtellot himself was involved in the transfer and exerted as much care on it as he did on his screenplay?
What a disappointment to anyone who knows and respects the history of the era (this is sub-high school level "history") - AND what a betrayal of those who have enjoyed and been prompted to learn more from from Ms. Tuchman's actual books.
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