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The Unknown War 

Documentary film history of the Nazi-Soviet conflict in world War II.

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Series cast summary:
Burt Lancaster ...  Himself - Host and Narrator 3 episodes, 1978


Sprawling, 20-part documentary history in film of the World War II conflict between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Companion book, The Unknown War, written by NYT reporter Harrison Salisbury. Each episode is about 52 minutes, similar in format to The World at War. The footage was edited from over 3.5 million feet of film taken by Soviet camera crews from the first day of the war, 22 June 1941, to the soviet entry in Berlin in May 1945. Most of these films have never been seen outside this documentary series. Narrated by Burt Lancaster. Chapters: 1. June 22, 1941; 2. The Battle for Moscow; 3. The Siege of Leningrad; 4. To the East; 5. The Defense of Stalingrad; 6. Survival at Stalingrad; 7. The World's Greatest Tank Battle-Kursk; 8. War in the Arctic; 9. War in the Air; 10. Partisans: The Guerilla War; 11. Battle of the Seas; 12. Battle of the Caucasus; 13. Liberation of Ukraine; 14. Liberation of Byelorussia; 15. From the Balkans to Vienna; 16. The Liberation of Poland; 17. The ... Written by Eric Novotny

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Soviet Union



Release Date:

22 June 1978 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Tuntematon sota See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Sovinfilm See more »
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Technical Specs



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Did You Know?


Produced with Soviet cooperation after the release of The World at War, which the soviet government felt paid insufficient attention to their part in World War II. Released in 1978, The Unknown War, sympathetic to the Soviet struggle against Nazi Germany, was quickly withdrawn from TV airings after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. See more »

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User Reviews

Interesting But Not Good
28 November 2017 | by moondog-8See all my reviews

I started following this series because it was so rare to see archival documentary footage from the Soviet Union and the Third Reich, both of whom were known as creating consummately well-crafted film (and film technology) to be used for propaganda. So the visuals are absolutely stunning. But the short-comings with this series are two-fold: 1) there is the obvious ego-stroking of the Soviet Union in the tone and delivery of information here; and 2) the English-language team that brought this to TV in the USA accomplished their task in a very amateurish way.

To elaborate on the second part, the script was crafted for the written page, not for voice-over, with no sense that the information would be absorbed by listening instead of reading. Many times, the message is lost or becomes muddied -- for instance -- by repeatedly hearing the word "they" while watching footage of two armies fighting each other. Which "they" are they referring to? Sitting down and reading the script, there would be no difficulty following the thread, but the text needed much more work before being used for voice-over. This is not helped by the fact the graphics and maps are badly done, and that frequently the voice-over and image don't match up (e.g., an image of a crying mother while the voice-over is talking about tanks on the move). And when the voice-over and image *do* match up, it is usually (as has been noted in other reviews) in a condescending, knock-you-on-the-head way (as in showing a shot of a tearful granny and telling you this is a tearful granny).

And despite my admiration for Burt Lancaster as an actor, there are certain techniques to voice-over that were not relayed to him. In voice work, one frequently has to make unnatural breaks in a sentence, and unnaturally stress certain words, yet make it sound natural. Lancaster reads well and is in fine voice, but no one outside the audio booth would stop and tell him to read the text in a different way. (Again, I think this is because the English-language creative team which included Rod McKuen couldn't change their points of view to realize this wasn't a written work but a work of audio montage to be comprehended with the audience's ears.) And speaking of audio, some of the music is dreadful, especially some tunes Mr. McKuen "sings."

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