War, what is it good for, the song asks. Absolutely nothing? Perhaps. But back in the 1940s, it was a nearly essential response to depose an abomination and dismantle his fear machine. American forces quickly learned that other than boots on the ground and bombs in the air, one of the best ways to win was with words. And pictures. Moving pictures at that.
With more than half of all adult Americans going to the cinema at least once a week (they aren’t call the good old days for nothing!) America fought back with movies. Perhaps the official term was propaganda. Regardless. Movies!
The Netflix mini-series Five Came Back details these movies through the eyes, works, and efforts of five of the top filmmakers of their generation by actually documenting the war from the front line. The five? Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, William Wyler and George Stevens. Men at the top of their game who risked their lives – both professionally and, well, physically (they went to war) – because they believed in service of something greater. The Axis had to be stopped and this was the best way they knew how.
Five Came Back shows their pictures intercut with archival interviews. Their tales are raw, heroic, and beautiful.
To bring a modern day viewpoint into this incredible story, director Laurent Bouzereau interviews five present-day directors – Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Greengrass, Guillermo Del Toro, Laurence Kasdan, and oh yeah, Steven Spielberg. Each bring context and understanding to the others’ achievements, both in Hollywood and on the front line. The impact each of the five had on the war. The ultimate impact the war had on each of them.
Three episodes. A beginning-middle-end of not only the primarily-European campaign, but also of the Five’s cinematic life. Episode three wraps cleaner and perhaps more positively than it ought to have. All Five struggled after the war. There were more tales to be told. But isn’t that the baseline craft of propaganda?