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Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War (2014)

de Mark Harris

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2621177,065 (4.12)23
The untold story of how Hollywood changed World War II, and how World War II changed Hollywood, through the director's lens. It is little remembered now, but in prewar America, Hollywood's relationship with Washington was tense. Investigations into corruption and racketeering were multiplying, and hanging in the air was the insinuation that the business was too foreign, too Jewish, too "un-American" in its values. Could an industry with such a powerful influence on America's collective mindset really be left in the hands of this crew? When war came, the propaganda effort to win the hearts and minds of American soldiers and civilians was absolutely vital. Nothing else had the power of film to educate and inspire. But the government was not remotely equipped to harness it--so FDR and the military had little choice but to turn to Hollywood for help. In an unprecedented move, the whole business was farmed out to a handful of Hollywood's most acclaimed film directors, accompanied by a creative freedom over filmmaking in combat zones that no one had ever had before or would ever have again. The effort was dominated by five directing legends: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. They were complicated, competitive men, and they didn't always get along with each other or their military supervisors. But between them they were on the scene of almost every major moment of Americas war, and in every branch of service. In the end, though none of them emerged unscarred, they produced a body of work that was essential to how Americans perceived the war, and still do. The product of five years of original archival research, this book provides a revelatory new understanding of Hollywood's role in the war.--From publisher description.… (mais)
Adicionado recentemente porbiblioteca privada, Kjuhase, wb4ever1, joedoone, William_W, frfeni, jessifanfic, sarahjanehardy
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I am a huge fan of Mark Harris’s SCENES FROM A REVOLUTION: THE BIRTH OF THE NEW HOLLYWOOD, which tells the stories of the making of the five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1967, a great history of the American movie industry at a critical turning point. His follow up FIVE CAME BACK: A STORY OF HOLLYWOOD AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR combines two of my favorite subjects, movies and history, and is just as compelling and fascinating. It is the story of five film directors, John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, John Huston, and George Stevens, who walked away from very successful careers in Hollywood to join different branches of the military during World War II, despite the fact that all of them were past draft age. In the service, each one put their talents to use making what were essentially propaganda films for the American war effort that would be shown in movie theaters, which in that pre television era, was the only means by which Americans saw any “real” footage of the war. I put in those quote marks because the military was not above recreating battlefield events that hadn’t been recorded on camera, though often not for want of trying. But because these men were awesomely talented masters of visual storytelling, the work they did was far more than just “propaganda.”

The names of Ford, Capra, Wyler, Huston, and Stevens are well known to film buffs like me, and their work in Hollywood, both before and after the war has been endlessly analyzed, and has legions of fans. Harris’ book fills in the gaps between in their careers, telling the story of how the war affected them personally, both emotionally and physically, and how the experience affected their work in the years and decades after the war, when they made some of their greatest films. Harris did a lot of research and it shows in his writing, which vividly gives us a feel for each man’s personality. The crusty and often cantankerous Ford saw the war coming, and enlisted in the Navel Reserve a year before the war, fulfilling a lifelong ambition to serve his country even though he was closer to 50 than 40. Capra had won three Best Director Oscars, and had made classics like IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, and possessed the kind of confidence necessary to go toe to toe with studio heads. Wyler, an immigrant from Europe, who made the Academy Award winning MRS. MINIVER just before joining the Air Force, was considered the master of the prestige film, a man who could get the best work out of event the most difficult stars like Bette Davis. Huston was from a family of acting royalty who had just established himself as a major director with THE MALTESE FALCON; he was a hard drinker and a womanizer who knew a good story when he saw one. Stevens had made his reputation as the director of sophisticated musicals and comedies staring Astaire and Rogers, Tracy and Hepburn, not to mention Cary Grant. Except for Capra, who stayed in Washington for the duration, these men would see and experience the war up front, and have crucial moments under fire, notably Ford at the battle of Midway; Wyler in the skies over Germany; Huston in the Aleutians and the small villages of Italy; Stevens in a journey with the infantry across Europe that ended at Dachau. For me the most compelling parts of the book are Wyler’s battle with severe hearing loss due to exposure to loud airplane engines during a bombing mission; Huston’s futile battle to get a documentary on the mental problems of veterans before the public; and especially Stevens’ reaction when confronted with the atrocities of Dachau, an event that, understandably, effected him for the rest of his life. It is good reading, and Harris tells their stories well, including pointing out where some of these men embellished their recollections of events after the war.

The book also serves to bring back some forgotten history, such as how the Jewish studio heads deliberately did not confront the growing threat of Nazism and Fascism in the years before the war in order to preserve the lucrative German market, not to mention risking the ire of powerful isolationist and anti-Semitic politicians who were determined to keep America out of another European war. Though all of these directors reputations are now firmly secure, all of them were keenly aware that walking away from Hollywood for the years it would take to defeat Germany and Japan might very well end their lucrative careers, and some of them, specifically Wyler and Stevens, had difficulty getting comfortable in the director’s chair once the hostilities ended, and were more than a little resentful that the film business had gotten along fine without them during their years in uniform. It is well known that Ford never let John Wayne forget that he didn’t serve – the Duke took advantage of a draft deferment because he was the father of four children, but that wouldn’t have prevented Wayne from enlisting. I found the parts of the book concerning Frank Capra’s politics to be quite interesting, and will come as news to the many who think the man who gave us MR. DEEDS and MR. SMITH was a liberal Democrat. Capra’s experience in Washington, far from the battlefronts, though no less of a contribution than those of his fellow directors, may have led him to seriously misread American audiences after the war. Harris gives an excellent accounting of the making of both IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, Capra and Wyler’s first post war films, projects that became personal statements for both men, and their inevitable clash at the Academy Awards for 1946. Harris’ research is faultless, backed up with pages of notes in the back of the book. The author also manages to work in some interesting cameos to his narrative: Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), animator Chuck Jones, future screenwriter Paddy Chafesky, playwright Robert Sherwood, and even Walter Mondale. Then there is Joseph Breen, the enforcer of the Production Code in Hollywood, a man, who in the midst of a world war for national survival, thought it his duty to protect the American public from mild profanity in movies, and the fact that married couples slept in the same bed. And hopefully a younger generation will read this book and learn of Harold Russell.

Words cannot adequately capture the work done by these directors during the war, but Ford’s THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY, Capra’s KNOW YOUR ENEMY series, Wyler’s MEMPHIS BELLE, Huston’s The BATTLE OF SAN PIETRO and LET THERE BE LIGHT, along with the footage Stevens shot of the Nazi atrocities that was used at Nuremburg are readily available online. Even check out the PRIVATE SNAFU cartoons that were made to be shown only to enlisted men. Mark Harris’s well written book honors these men and their legacy, and I think it should be a must read for any serious film buff or history student. I can’t recommend this book enough. ( )
  wb4ever1 | Apr 28, 2021 |
Now THIS is how you write history/biography (ahem, [b:A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940|16130422|A Life of Barbara Stanwyck Steel-True 1907-1940|Victoria Wilson|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1386557635s/16130422.jpg|21955364]). This has everything: detail, continuity, storytelling, suspense, and adequate conclusions. Even if you know your WWII history and/or films, this gives such insight to the five directors who served and their personal experiences doing so, that I can't imagine that this would be a retread for anyone. Can I give it six stars?

Also, in a slap fight between John Wayne and John Ford, I don't know for whom I'm rooting less. Maybe it could just go on for infinity? ( )
  beautifulshell | Aug 27, 2020 |
Excellent look at the five great Hollywood directors (John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens, and John Huston) who served in WWII. I found it incredible that Ford was on active duty training cameraman on rolling platforms to simulate a rolling ship three months before Pearl Harbor. However, of all the stories that of William Wyler and George Stevens touched me the most. Yes, Ford was at the Battle of Midway and did a great documentary of the battle. But Wyler and Stevens really risked their lives to get the footage and both suffered damage - Wyler physical who lost his hearing and Stevens psychological after filming the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. I don't believe Stevens ever recovered. This gives a good look at how the directors worked and managed the bureaucracy of the branch of service they were in. Some managed it better than others. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in either classic Hollywood or WWII. ( )
  knahs | Oct 24, 2019 |
Absolutely riveting. ( )
  DFratini | Apr 23, 2018 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 11 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
In his meticulously researched, page-turning group biography "Five Came Back," Mark Harris, a movie critic for Entertainment Weekly, tells what happened to these five directors — not just during the war but after.
adicionado por 2wonderY | editarLos Angeles Times, M. G. Lord (Feb 20, 2014)
 
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The untold story of how Hollywood changed World War II, and how World War II changed Hollywood, through the director's lens. It is little remembered now, but in prewar America, Hollywood's relationship with Washington was tense. Investigations into corruption and racketeering were multiplying, and hanging in the air was the insinuation that the business was too foreign, too Jewish, too "un-American" in its values. Could an industry with such a powerful influence on America's collective mindset really be left in the hands of this crew? When war came, the propaganda effort to win the hearts and minds of American soldiers and civilians was absolutely vital. Nothing else had the power of film to educate and inspire. But the government was not remotely equipped to harness it--so FDR and the military had little choice but to turn to Hollywood for help. In an unprecedented move, the whole business was farmed out to a handful of Hollywood's most acclaimed film directors, accompanied by a creative freedom over filmmaking in combat zones that no one had ever had before or would ever have again. The effort was dominated by five directing legends: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. They were complicated, competitive men, and they didn't always get along with each other or their military supervisors. But between them they were on the scene of almost every major moment of Americas war, and in every branch of service. In the end, though none of them emerged unscarred, they produced a body of work that was essential to how Americans perceived the war, and still do. The product of five years of original archival research, this book provides a revelatory new understanding of Hollywood's role in the war.--From publisher description.

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