Five Came Back (2017)

I’ve just finished watching Netflix’s new three-part documentary. It’s a fascinating account of how five top Hollywood directors – John Huston, John Ford, Frank Capra, George Stevens and William Wyler – went with US troops to cover the second world war.

It tells the story chronologically, with amazing footage including Capra’s propaganda films about ‘why we fight’, aerial battles, Ford’s amazing footage of the corpse-strewn beaches of D-Day landings, Stevens’s harrowing depiction of what they found at Dachau concentration camp, and Huston’s compassionate documentary of the post-traumatic stress disorders that affected many of the soldiers on their return.

With commentary from Stephen Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Greengrass, Guillermo del Toro, Lawrence Kasdan and Meryl Streep, this is a captivating film. It has its flaws: the music is excessive, some of the analysis of the war’s impact of these men’s subsequent careers a little too pat, but i was happy to forgive these small missteps. Their films on the whole don’t approach the chilling greatness of Leni Riefenstahl’s nazi propaganda, or the absolutely harrowing German Concentration Camps Factual Survey film that was finally completed and released in 2014, but they are still important and the story behind them fascinating.

This is a fresh take on both the story of WW2 and on an important chapter on these key Hollywood legends.

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