At the start of World War II, famed Hollywood director George Stevens (Woman of the Year, A Place in the Sun, Shane), like several of his film-world cohorts, volunteered for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, whose assignment was to document the front lines of the war as it happened. Their footage accounts for the many famous black-and-white newsreels that were the public’s only moving-image link to what was going on in the war. But Stevens also brought along his home movie camera and shot color film at the same time, capturing many images both informative and horrific, that he shelved away until his death. George Stevens Jr. inherited a treasure trove of film lore, and assembled this footage to show to the public for the first time in this documentary.
George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin is really an astonishing collection of personalized movies. We’ve seen much of this before: D-Day in Normandy, the liberation of Paris, the discovery of the horrors of the concentration camp in Dachau. But being used to seeing these images in gritty black-and-white, it is almost alarming to see it in full, vibrant color. These films aren’t washed out, and they certainly aren’t sepia-toned. They are brightly colored as though they could happen today.
The famous moments are most certainly interesting, but what I found most intriguing where the off-guard moments: Soldiers lolling about in a field, peering through binoculars of hundreds of planes flying overhead to bomb the crap out of the Germans a few towns away; The bombed out villages, with the townsfolks pushing their overburdened carts through the street; The brightly lipsticked women tossing flowers at the jeeps of the liberators. These are truly special and unique images that color brings a new life to.
Men who were part of Stevens crew, jokingly dubbed “The Stevens Irregulars” provide voiceover commentary and anecdotes. Though the stories are wonderful, this also proves to be a slightly weak point of the movie, as you have no idea who all these different voices belong to. But that is a minor quibble. D-Day to Berlin is a fantastic and highly personal account that will let you see World War II quite literally with new eyes.