Director Frank Capra, known to millions as the man behind the beloved classics It’s a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Meet John Doe, also used his talents in support of the war effort by directing, producing and acting as an advisor on a series of World War II propaganda films. Depicting the ravages of combat, the lives of soldiers engaged in battle, as well as those left behind on the home front, five of the films that Capra was involved in bringing to the screen are represented in this special edition presented in cooperation with the National Archives.
Tunisian Victory takes us behind Allied troop lines and documents American and British forces working together to free North Africa from the grip of the Nazi stranglehold. Capra was assisted by film editor Hugh Stewart (49th Parallel) and directors Roy Boulting (The Outsider) and John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Let There Be Light), in this film that features the voice talents of Burgess Meredith (Story of G.I. Joe, Rocky), Bernard Miles (In Which We Serve) and Leo Genn (Moby Dick), and a powerful film score attributed to Dimitri Tiomkin (High Noon) and William Alwyn (The Fallen Idol).
Prelude to War, the first in Capra’s Why We Fight series of propaganda films, is a rallying cry for patriots to join the fight against the Axis powers and the tyranny of Nazism. A host of musical talent contributed to the score, including Alfred Newman (How the West Was Won), winner of nine Academy Awards®, and David Raksin (Laura).
The Battle of Russia, another of Capra’s Why We Fight films, is the longest and most ambitious of the series. Presented in two parts, the film focuses on the Nazi conquest of the Balkans in an attempt to capture Russia. Capra would share directing credit with Russian-born Anatole Litvak (Sorry, Wrong Number) in a film which is aided immeasurably by Walter Huston’s (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) narration.
The Negro Soldier, produced by Capra and directed by Stuart Heisler (The Glass Key), was used as an enlistment tool to encourage African-American men and women to join the armed forces. The film incorporates footage of Olympic athlete Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Games, highlighting and contrasting the freedom-loving citizens of the United States with Germany’s oppressive and ever-growing Nazi party.
Your Job in Germany, directed by Capra and written by Theodor S. Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss), is a short form film shown to soldiers who would be serving “occupation duty” in Germany in 1945.
- “Frank Capra: Why We Fight,” an analysis of Frank Capra’s war documentaries by Joseph McBride, film historian and author of the biography “Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success”
- Introductions to each of the five Capra war documentaries by Joseph McBride