The Battle of Russia
The Battle of Russia (1943) is the fifth film of Frank Capra's Why We Fight documentary series, and the longest film of the series, consisting of two parts. The film was made in collaboration with Lithuanian-born Anatole Litvak as primary director under Capra's supervision. Litvak gave the film its "shape and orientation," and the film had seven writers with voice narration by Walter Huston. The score was done by Russian-born Hollywood composer, Dimitri Tiomkin, and drew heavily on Tchaikovsky along with traditional Russian folk songs and ballads.
|The Battle of Russia|
|Produced by||War Department Special Service Division|
|Narrated by||Anthony Veiller|
|Music by||Dimitri Tiomkin|
|Cinematography||Robert J. Flaherty|
|Edited by||William Hornbeck|
U.S. Army Pictorial Service
|Distributed by||United States Office of War Information|
War Activities Committee of the Motion Pictures Industry
20th Century Fox
|November 13, 1943|
Film historian Christopher Meir notes that the film's popularity "extended beyond the military audience for it was initially intended, and was the second in the series to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
The film begins with an overview of previous failed attempts to conquer Russia: by the Teutonic Knights in 1242 (footage from Sergei Eisenstein's film Alexander Nevsky is used here), by Charles XII of Sweden in 1704 (footage from Vladimir Petrov's film Peter the Great), by Napoleon I in 1812, and by the German Empire in World War I.
The vast natural resources of the Soviet Union are then described, showing why the land is such a hot prize for conquerors. To give a positive impression of the Soviet Union to the American audience, the country's ethnic diversity is covered in detail and, later on, elements of Russian culture familiar to Americans, including the musical compositions of Tchaikovsky and Leo Tolstoy's book War and Peace, are also mentioned. Communism is never mentioned at any point in the film; instead, the Russian Orthodox Church is described as a force opposing Nazism. The start of the film includes a quote from U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who commended the Russian people's defense of their nation as one of the most courageous feats in military history.
The film then covers the Nazi conquests in the Balkans, described as a preliminary to close off possible Allied counter-invasion routes, before the war against Russia was launched on June 22, 1941. The narration describes the German "keil und kessel" tactics for offensive warfare, and the Soviet "defense in depth" used to counter this. The scorched earth Soviet tactics, the room-to-room urban warfare in Soviet cities, and the guerilla warfare behind enemy lines are also used to underline the Soviet resolve for victory against the Germans. The Siege of Leningrad and the Battle of Stalingrad conclude the film.
The episode, like other entries in the Why We Fight series, omits many facts that could have cast the Soviet Union in a negative light, such as its occupation of the Baltic States, its war against Finland, its occupation and subsequent atrocities against the population of Poland, and its occupation of Romanian territory. The film also does not mention the word "Communism."
Virtually in line with Soviet propaganda, the series was not only screened but widely acclaimed in the Soviet Union. The episode has been described as "a blatant pro-Soviet propaganda posing as factual analysis" and was withdrawn from circulation during the Cold War. Capra commented about why certain material was left out:
We had a political problem with Russia on that film. The problem was that a hell of a lot of people on our side were not about to be sold a bill of goods by the Communists. We were their allies, but that was all. Communism was not something we desired. So we stayed a way from politics and made it a people's battle. As a result, The Battle of Russia was one of the best episodes of the series and a true one.:125
Awards and honorsEdit
- Poague, Leland A. ed. Frank Capra: Interviews, Univ. Press of Mississippi (2004) p. xxxvii
- Aitken, Ian. Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, Routledge (2006) pp. 94-96
- Mieczysław B. Biskupski (January 2010). Hollywood's war with Poland, 1939-1945. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 148–150. ISBN 978-0-8131-2559-6. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
- Mieczysław B. Biskupski (January 2010). Hollywood's war with Poland, 1939-1945. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 151–152. ISBN 978-0-8131-2559-6. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
- "The Battle of Russia—Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved August 3, 2019.
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