November 4, 2018

MR. CAPRA GOES TO WAR: Yeah...He Did That
Various Directors. (1942-1945/310 min). 


Review by Mr. Paws😸

Imagine if Steven Spielberg decided to drop everything and serve his country by using his talents to make films supporting the war in Afghanistan. That's essentially what Frank Capra did at the onset of America's involvement in World War II. Granted, it was a different era and collective attitudes regarding war have changed, but you get the idea.

Capra was one of the most successful directors working in Hollywood at the time, yet put it all on hold to oversee a series of documentaries for the military. His salary? A little over $300 a month. Man, that's some serious patriotism.

This disc from Olive Films collects five of those films, two from the Why We Fight series and three others, all originally produced by the U.S. War Department. Capra didn't exactly "direct" them - most consist largely of existing footage shot by others - but oversaw their assembly and narrative. Being wartime, these films were obviously made to generate support for the war effort, as well as inspire those who were sent to fight.

"We need a love scene right here."
The best of the lot, Prelude to War, explains how and why the U.S. got involved, and provides detailed histories of its enemies (Germany, Italy and Japan). Using stock footage and animation, the film is a chilling example of how easily fascism can spread through fear-mongering and propaganda (sounds familiar, doesn't it?). Also interesting are The Negro Soldier and The Battle of Russia, mainly because they often paint a decidedly different - and sometimes inaccurate - picture than history eventually did.

Speaking of history, the MVP of this disc is undoubtedly Joseph McBride, a film historian and Frank Capra biographer. Not only does he discuss Capra's film career before, during and after the war, his informative introductions to each film provides valuable historical context. Seeing them prior to the films is highly recommended.

Mr. Capra Goes to War isn't indispensable, especially since it's by-no-means a complete collection. However, it is an interesting curiosity for Capra fans who might have wondered what he was up to for four years. The documentaries themselves range from historically informative to archaic & silly. Sometimes what we learn about them is a lot more interesting.

"FRANK CAPRA: WHY WE FIGHT" - Analysis of Capra's early career and involvement in WWII by biographer Joseph McBride.
INTRODUCTIONS - Intros to each film by Joseph McBride.


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