George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin

George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin.

George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin, a 1994 documentary, uses footage that the filmmaker shot in color during World War II.

There’s a special thanks credit to David Dickinson, Paul Woolwich, and the BBC–for good reason. It turns out that filmmaker George Stevens Jr. and editor Catherine Shields reworked footage–originally edited by Peter Minns–from a 1985 documentary. They had previously submitted the documentary for the Emmy Awards. While they did win a few Emmys, those awards were since rescinded in 2020. Given that Wednesday evening marked my first viewing, I’m not sure if the special thanks dates all the back to 1994 or is more recent. In spite of all this, the film is airing during the D-Day marathon on TCM. It is also available to stream–at press time–on Max and the Criterion Channel.

Stevens Jr. first used his father’s Kodachrome footage while making the 1984 documentary, George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey. If you haven’t watched the doc, it is also airing on TCM during the 80th anniversary marathon. Back in 1985, it was the only known color footage of World War II. However, the Smithsonian Channel launched The Pacific War in Color in 2018 so we have color footage of the war from both the European and Pacific theatres. But anyway, a journalist had seen the documentary in 1985 and Stevens gave permission to use his father’s color footage. Nine years later, Stevens produced this documentary. However, the BBC filmmakers would not learn of the similarities until 2019. The Television Academy ruled that they shared production elements.

They were in the wrong to submit it to the Emmys. As to making the footage available for American audiences, maybe an American broadcaster could have licensed the BBC documentary. Instead, Stevens Jr. and Shields make a 46-minute documentary with a brief introduction and epilogue. Stevens Jr. also narrates the film from a script that borrows heavily from Robert Harris’ BBC narration. The BBC doc filmmakers had also tracked down people who had worked with Stevens during the war.

As far as what the footage contains, it starts with the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Stevens and the Stevens Irregulars were on a mission to film the war in Europe. From there, it’s onto the liberation of Paris. Eventually, Stevens makes his way to Hitler’s mountain hideout and Berlin in Germany. Outside of capturing the horrors of war itself, Stevens’ footage is important for capturing Dauchau upon its April 1945 liberation. To say that the Dauchau footage is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking is not an understatement. It serves as an awful reminder that the Nazis saw Jews as subhumans. If you’re planning to watch on TV or streaming service, I’m warning you right now that the images are not easy to watch.

I knew that Stevens had been a part of the Army Signal Corps during World War II from reading and watching Five Came Back. The same reason is how I know that–except for rare instances–he would never look at the color footage again. One of the rare occasions of watching the Dauchau footage upon its liberation is prior to filming The Diary of Anne Frank.

All of the behind-the-scenes drama not withstanding, George Stevens’ Kodachrome footage of the war is an invaluable contribution to the official war record. Most WWII footage is in black-and-white to my knowledge so the fact that anyone thought to film the war in color is incredible in and of itself. Given the drama, I want to stress that my below grade is less so for the editing, narration, score, etc. in as much as it is for the Kodachrome footage itself. I’d feel the same way regardless of the drama.

FEATURING: Dick Kent, Ken Marthey, Ivan Moffat, Hollingsworth Morse, Jack Muth, Irwin Shaw

George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin premiered on June 1, 1994. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.