1194. THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS and NIGHT MAIL (1934-USA; 1936-England).
1. THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS (1934-USA). Written and directed by PARE LORENTZ. Music composed by VIRGIL THOMSON. The Plow That Broke the Plains is one of the cornerstone documentaries in American film history. It was made at the height of the Depression, when Pare Lorentz was film advisor to President Roosevelt’s U.S. Resettlement Administration. It’s the story of America’s Great Plains: windswept grasslands that stretch from the Texas Panhandle up through Canada, an area of “high winds and sun…without rivers and with little rain.” The land was at this time devastated by drought; this powerful, poetic, beautifully photographed film details the area’s history, and the then-current migration of farmers to the Pacific coast: the reality of The Grapes ofWrath. Virgil Thompson’s uniquely American musi score is a highlight.
2. NIGHT MAIL (1936-England). One of the most famous and highly regarded documentaries to come out of Britain during the 1930s. The film was produced by JOHN GRIERSON’s famed GPO Film Unit, and is a homage to the British postal and railway systems. It is the impressively mounted chronicle of the special express train that each year delivers over 500 million pieces of mail across the United Kingdom. Night Mail is a document of precision, and dedication. 49 minutes. Documentary
113. DAY OF FREEDOM – OUR FIGHTING FORCES (Tag Der Freiheit) (1935-Germany). Directed by LENI RIEFENSTAHL. Until recently, this important Riefenstahl propaganda film was considered lost. A powerful demonstration of Nazi Germany’s military might, it was ordered made by the Fuehrer himself, to make up for the virtual absence of the Army in “Triumph of the Will,” Riefenstahl’s overwhelming film of the 1934 Nazi Party Rally. (Reportedly, the Army had been left out of “Triumph” because this footage was of such poor quality.) Here, under the proud eyes of Hitler, Hess, Goering and others, the Wehrmacht displays the awesome arsenal of weapons and vehicles that would soon be sweeping across Europe. We see the infantry and cavalry in precision drills and formations; processions of jeeps, tanks and planes; and mock battles involving cannons, machine guns and anti-aircraft barrages. As in ‘Triumph,” Riefenstahl masterfully orchestrates imagesÑrepeatedly using low angles to pose men and machines heroically against the sky, and intercutting the Nazi emblems, the swastika and eagle. In the finale, “Deutschland Uber Alfes” accompanies a montage of flags, clouds and planes, culminating in a shot of aircraft in a swastika formation! A chilling prelude to World War II, and propaganda at its most effective. With original music score. No dialogue or narration. 17 minutes. Propaganda-Documentary
114. THE STILWELL ROAD (1945-USA). Narrated by RONALD REAGAN. Stirring World War II documentary, using exciting combat footage to tell of the “almost forgotten” China-Burrma-lndia FrontÑ”a story of humiliating defeat, flaming courage, and hard-won victory.” Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese destroyed much of the Burma Road, a vital “land bridge” between India and China, which, since 1938, had prevented the collapse of blockaded China, Over 200,000 laborers had “practically scratched it out of the mountains with their fingernails.” Now, with both China and India in danger of falling, and with thousands of Burmese and others forced to seek refuge along rivers and elephant trails, through jungles and over mountains, a complex Allied campaignÑinvolving a massive multinational forceÑundertakes the monumental task of rebuilding the road. British and Americans work side by side with Chinese, Indians, Burmese, and othersÑeven African headhuntersÑand the result is a new 1000-mile road (renamed in honor of General Stilwell), and a major victory in the war against Japanese aggression. “Study this picture carefully . . . Unless we, the free men of the world, learn the lesson that it teaches us, we will never be able to maintain the peace, the freedom, and the security for which all of us have fought.” 46 minutes. Propaganda-Documentary
1073.WHY WE FIGHT #4- THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1943-USA). Produced by Frank CAPRA. Directed by FRANK CAPRA and Anatole Litvak. Music by DIMITRI TIOMKIM. Narrated by WALTER HUSTON and others. The fourth film in Frank Capra’s acclaimed series produced for the War Department, this superb documentary vividly portrays Britain’s courageous stand against the Nazis throughout 1940, when that tiny island nation was the lone defender of freedom on the entire planetl Hitler had taken over much of Europe, and thought it would be simple to knock out Britain, the one remaining obstacle between him and world conquest. Vastly outnumbered in ships, planes, weapons and fighting forces, the British nevertheless had an indomitable spirit. Despite continuous bombardmentsÑincluding the infamous blitz on London and the worst firebombings in historyÑand tens of thousands of casualties, Britain survived, destroying over 2000 Luftwaffe planes and even going on the offensive against targets inside Germany! Britain had decisively demolished the myth of German invincibility, and had won for the world a year of precious time. Capra and his staff expertly interweave newsreel footage (including the most dramatic dogfights and aerial views you’ll ever see), staged scenes, animation (produced by the Disney studio), speeches, narration and stirring music. Winston Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” to describe Britain’s triumph-a triumph powerfully conveyed in one of the finest war documentaries ever made! 52 minutes. Documentary
1047. SEPTEMBER 1939 (1961-Canada). Narrated by FRANK WILLIS. September 1,1939: “When the Nazi forces let loose on Poland and its unprotected cities, the most concentrated and ferocious assault in history. This was a new concept for waging war and gave a new word to the language Ñ the Blitzkrieg – the Lightning War!” This comprehensive, emotionally overwhelming documentary brilliantly combines Polish newsreels, German propaganda and other rare archival sources to tell one of the most dramatic stories of all time. Polish films show the peaceful sights of pre-invasion Warsaw, one of the centers of European culture and civilization, while the narrator ominously tells us. The city that you see here has vanished from the Earth.” Audacious Nazi propaganda fiIms build up the supposed Polish threat to German security, and call for “counter attack.” The land invasion, aerial bombings and courageous Polish resistance are shown in exciting, superbly edited footage, augmented by excellent sound effects. Through breathtaking aerial photography, we ride with the Luftwaffe on their bombardments of roads, railways, bridges and cities. Combat films portray the people fighting back, but the cities topple like dominoes, and the final fierce battle is waged in the now-unrecognizable streets of Warsaw, Eventually we see a country littered with refugees, bodies and rubble Ñ a civilization that has indeed vanished before our eyes. The invasion of Poland was the first act in a war that shaped the modern world, making this definitive, first-rate film an essential piece of history. 60 minutes. Documentary
100. BORNEO (1937-USA). Produced by MARTIN JOHNSON. With MARTIN and OSA JOHNSON. Narrated by LOWELL THOMAS. Comic Commentary by LEW LEHR. The final film by explorer and popular naturalist Martin Johnson, who, with his wife Osa, made some extraordinary documentaries between 1912 and 1937, recording their journeys to Africa, Asia and the South SeasÑ”through the dark, mysterious byways of the unknown world.” This exciting exploration of Borneo, “Island of the Impossible,” includes many unusual sights never before shown to movie audiences. Travel with the fearless Johnsons through awesome, almost impenetrable jungles; down treacherous, maze-like rivers; and into the land of the headhuntersÑ”The Wild Men of Borneo!” See unbelievably strange jungle creatures, including proboscis monkeys, flying snakes, and tree-climbing fish! Experience the couple’s narrow escape from a crazed tribe of headhunters! Thrill to the marathon battle between natives and a 300-pound orangutanÑan amazingly agile monster who swings from tree to tree and frustrates his would-be captors for three days! Lowell Thomas’ narration, though often smugly condescending toward Borneo’s inhabitants, does provide a wealth of background information. An educational and artistic documentary, which proves once again that truth is indeed stranger (and more suspenseful) than fiction. 76 minutes. Recommended. Adventure Documentary
1014. JAZZ BALL (1956-USA). A compilation of scenes from the greatest jazz films of all time. Anyone who was anyone…blowing hot! 56 minutes total. Music