The concluding chapters of Frank Capra's "Why We Fight"
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 06/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first five volumes in Frank Capra's celebrated "Why We Fight" series focused on Hitler's Nazis overrunning Europe in the first half of World War II. The final two volumes shift the focus to the Pacific Theater and those are what we have collected on this DVD. "The Battle of China: The Assault on the Great Wall" looks at the Chinese defense against Japanese aggression. Like the previous chapter, "The Battle of Russia," an important part of the intent here is to establish a sense of identification between the American people with a foreign ally. Fortunately Capra does not have to gloss over the political ideology of the Chinese the same way he did with the Communist Soviets.This explains why "The Battle of China" provides a brief history of China and its people and then details why the Japanese wanted to conquer the country, namely getting the raw materials and slave labor necessary for taking over all of Asia. The War in the Pacific covered, showing the valiant effort by the Chinese to stop the Japanese. Also featured are General Claire Lee Chennault's famous Flying Tigers, the American Volunteer Group who had joined the battle to defend China. This 67-minute black & white 1944 documentary is narrated by writer Anthony Veiller (Walter Houston just does the voice of Abraham Lincoln this time) and Anatole Litvak served as an uncredited co-director. In the next volume, "War Comes to America," the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brings the United States into the war."War Comes to America" is the seventh and final episode in the celebrated "Why We Fight Series." Anatole Litvak was the uncredited co-director of this chapter, with music by Alfred Newman, and actors Walter Huston and Lloyd Nolan provided the narration for this 67-minute black & white documentary produced in 1945 as the war was ending. This final installment celebrates the good qualities of the United States and establishes those things worth fighting for. "War Comes to America" also looks at the history of the United States and traces how the shifting opinion of the public towards supporting the Allies against the Axis forces was clearly shifting in that direction when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. As such the film presents the mood of the American people on the eve of World War II and how the isolationist position changed in reaction to the aggressive policies of the Axis powers (a.k.a. "Death, Inc.") as traced in a revealing series of Gallup Polls. There is also a summary of Japanese aggression from the invasion of Manchuria to Pearl Harbor.This particular chapter is one of the most interesting because Capra is going out of his way to present America as an inclusive society when Hungarians, Portuguese, American Negroes and Chinamen all work together, although it is interesting that the first two are shown more often and more progressively than the latter pair. Even Germans and Italians are included in the mix, but not the Japanese, which is not surprising given the internment camps in California (which were actually called concentration amps at the time). But we do see an indictment of activities of the German American Bund as well. The perspective here is decidedly liberal, seeing the U.S.A. as a nation proud of having trade unions and capable of correcting mistakes like Prohibition. While covering December 7, 1941, the day that "will live in infamy," Capra ends with the uplifting music of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and the idea of an inevitable Allied victory. Capra served as a major in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and was commissioned by Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall to make a series of films that would explain the government's policy to the troops hastily being assembled, trained, and sent overseas. The "Why We Fight" series is the supreme example of propaganda put out by the U.S. government during World War II. Eventually the "Why We Fight" series was shown to the public in theaters. At the end of the war Capra also made a pair of films for the occupation forces, "Your Job in Germany" and "Know Your Enemy: Japan." In 2000 the "Why We Fight" series was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry and remains a prime source of archival footage for the period."
The Battle of China / War Comes to America
Steven Hellerstedt | 08/05/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This review is for the Goodtimes Video release.
THE BATTLE OF CHINA and WAR COMES TO AMERICA are the final two episodes in Frank Capra's `Why We Fight' series. Ordered by George Marshall to inform and inspire the troops - to tell them, as the series' title suggests, why we're fighting - the films use voice-over narration (usually supplied by actor Walter Huston) and a montage of pertinent documentary images to fulfill that mandate. More propaganda than disinterested history, the final two entries seem less urgent than the earlier films. Released in 1944 and 1945, they seem almost an afterthought, as though the project was losing a bit of steam. The quality of the transfer prints on these two is superior to the earlier ones, which might indicate that these two weren't watched as often as the previous ones.
THE BATTLE OF CHINA (1944, 65 min.)
Reprising a lot of material from PRELUDE TO WAR, the first film in the series, THE BATTLE OF CHINA shows us again the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and their slaughter of Chinese in Shang-Hai as the momentous events in the war in the east. The Tanaka Memorial, the secret Japanese document that outlined their plans for `world conquest', first mentioned in PRELUDE, is used here to expose the Japanese early attacks on China. `In order to conquer the world,' quoth the Tanaka Memorial, ` we must first conquer China.' Of course, Capra's TBOC shows us how far the Japanese fell short of that first of that first condition. Shows us in ways remarkably similar to those used to glorify our other soon-to-be Cold War foes in the earlier THE BATTLE OF RUSSIA. China's Sun-Yat Sen is favorably compared to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and the Chinese love of freedom and their generally pacifistic nature is extolled in a rather long sequence that tells us "They never waged a war of conquest. They are not that sort of people," and continues with a list of good things that `that sort of people' do and bad things that aren't done by the Chinese because, well, they're `not that sort of people.' In retrospect it's an obvious gild and whitewash job, compensated mainly by the fact that it worked.
WAR COMES TO AMERICA (1945, 70 min.)
The series wraps up with WAR COMES TO AMERICA, which again regurgitates a lot of material from PRELUDE TO WAR. The film opens with children pledging allegiance to the flag, visits Lexington and Valley Forge, surveys the militant and idealistic history of the United States before embarking on a catalogue listings of states and nationalities that would make Walt Whitman proud. After this extended, self-admiring prologue the film starts in the familiar stuff, namely the 1931 invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese. From there we re-visit one Axis atrocity after another until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and America's entry into the war. It may have been that the tide of war was turning noticeably in the Allies' favor by 1944-5, and demonizing the Axis enemies was no longer a priority. In any event, the last three films in the series concentrated a lot more on the virtues of their Allied subjects than on the atrocities of the Axis foes.