Koch Vision // 1945 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 11th, 2009
From D-Day to the fall of Berlin.
Because The True Glory is very much a propaganda film, put out by the governments of both the United States and Great Britain as an approved version of how the Allies won World War II, it would be tempting to dismiss it as whitewashed. Surprisingly, however, that's not necessarily the case. There are some things left out that historical texts have since revealed, but considering that it's meant to glorify the armies of both countries, it actually contains some unexpected revelations and some impressively gritty and enthralling storytelling. It's no accident the film won the Oscar for best documentary, because even as dated and incomplete as it is, it still contains some remarkable filmmaking.
What makes The True Glory so compelling is that it is not told through simple narration. There is plenty of rare combat footage taken by cameramen both from the Allies and Nazis, and there are some animated maps to explain the geography of each battle. The bulk of the story, however, comes from recordings of various veterans and nurses from several countries, including the United States, England, Canada, France, and Australia. These eyewitness accounts are frequently riveting and are far more interesting than generic narration would be. It's hard to tell how much of these are genuine; according to IMDb (See Accomplices section), noted screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky (Network) worked as a writer for this film, although his name does not appear anywhere on the credits. Nonetheless, even if some of the accounts are scripted, they remain fascinating just for their emotions and language alone. Hearing the lingo of the era (such as "Brother, you can have it!") and the occasional emotional outburst, such as when one American soldier remarks that he would have happily mowed down all of his Nazi POWs, paints a vivid picture of the era. Similarly, with these reminiscences, you get to hear little but interesting stores that sometimes get forgotten amidst the bigger picture of war. One U.S. cartographer, for instance, laments that the Army was advancing so fast that they kept overrunning their maps, making it very difficult to order new ones. That's the sort of small detail that helps add more color to a story that could seem too larger-than-life.
The True Glory also excels in its use of combat footage. True, some footage was no doubt censored and edited to conform to U.S. government standards. It's not an accident, after all, that the film begins with a hearty endorsement from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Still, even if it does sometimes sanitize combat, there are still a few moments that demonstrate how dreadful the war was. Footage showing airplanes crashing and bodies of soldiers being unearthed is tastefully edited, but may still shock some viewers. Unique to this war, of course, was the Holocaust, and some of the footage of Nazi concentration camps being liberated is also appalling, even if some of the more horrific aspects are not mentioned. Still, as an overall look at how the Allies were able to finally defeat Germany, it's a worthy introduction.
Koch Vision has actually done a commendable job in putting this film on DVD. The 1.33:1 non-anamorphic transfer shows its age, but looks pretty sharp for a fifty-year-old film. The real story is the PCM Mono track, which is surprisingly loud. The explosions and gunfire are louder than on some recently produced DVDs and the audio sounds crisp and clear, with only a handful of pops. The extras consist of the original alternate ending, which consists of a few extra seconds of narration that would have been added on if Japan hadn't surrendered by the time of the film's release. Also included are four more conventional wartime documentaries: From Italy to D-Day (31 min.), From D-Day to Paris (50 min.), From Paris to the Rhine (55 min.), and From the Rhine to Victory (48 min.). These are not as compelling, partly because they tend to be more educational and also because they sometimes mention references that were common to viewers in the 1940s but are more obscure today. Nonetheless, these are also valuable as historical artifacts. Although some footage is repeated between these films and The True Glory, there is also plenty of new footage as well, some of which is far more graphic than what is seen in the main film, so viewer discretion is strongly advised.
Ultimately, Koch Vision is doing WWII buffs a great favor by releasing this film and its companions on DVD. While it would have been more logical for Koch to box up both this set and the concurrently released Desert Victory set into one big WWII documentary package, this still a noteworthy historical memento that is also enjoyable for its excellent filmmaking.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1945
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Alternate Ending