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George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin

More than any of his timeless entertainments, the entire world will be forever in George Stevens' debt for his alternately inspiring and shocking color footage of the American military's liberating sweep through Europe in World War II, a very small portion of which is shared in the 46-minute documentary George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin. Written and produced by his hagiographer son, George Stevens Jr., the film thankfully goes light on praise for his father in favor of a sober-minded encapsulating of the director's life-changing experience serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Joined by numerous Hollywood peers, from writers William Saroyan and Ivan Moffat to cameramen William C. Mellor and Joseph Walker, the "Stevens Irregulars" filmed many of the key moments in the country's successful campaign to decimate the Nazi menace. Stevens' first footage captures soldiers preparing for the Normandy invasion, while Stevens Jr. shares his father's recollections in narration (e.g., the troops being read the stirring call to arms from Shakespeare's Henry V.) From there, Stevens and his crew move inland, filming the capture of German troops (they reeked, said the director, of "leather and sweat"), and the thrilling August 25th, 1944 liberation of Paris (Stevens called it the greatest day of his life, and it's hard to imagine anything more wonderful than the sight of French citizens greeting U.S. soldiers with flowers, a spectacle that can sadly only be manufactured nowadays). Also cheering is the historic meeting of U.S. and Russian troops in Torgau, their last harmonious commingling before the advent of the Cold War. Vivid and unforgettable though these moments may be, they are woefully insignificant compared to Stevens' greatest service to mankind. It is impossible to imagine what U.S. soldiers and Stevens' crew must've thought as they waded into the concentration camp at Dachau. Even now, the color images defy comprehension: piles of naked, emaciated corpses seem to melt into one another, a solitary prisoner wound tightly into fetal position outside a barracks where he has frozen death, boxcars filled with gassed inmates. Words cannot do these images justice. Indeed, it's a wonder how anyone who witnessed them first-hand was able to walk out with their sanity. As is well known, these scenes had a profound effect on Stevens as an artist; he would never make another film devoid of socially conscious content. Though his frivolity as a filmmaker would be missed, his contribution to the historical record is invaluable. In purely humanitarian terms, this is his masterpiece. Warner presents George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin in a solid full-frame (1.33:1) transfer with fine Dolby Digital monaural audio. No extras, keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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