Netflix’s new three-part series ‘Five Came Back’ documents the little-known efforts of five Hollywood directors who joined the U.S. government to create propaganda films during World War II, while putting their remarkable careers on hold. The five directors, Oscar winners all, were William Wyler, John Huston, George Stevens, Frank Capra and John Ford. Remarkably, each gave up their craft and dazzling careers and instead wore on a uniform in service to their country in a fashion that only they were capable of.
The series will be available for streaming on Netflix beginning on March 31, 2017.
It is hard to imagine in today’s political landscape a scenario where the U.S. government might consider teaming up with Hollywood directors to create movies produced under the authority of the military (or vice versa). The Netflix series is based on a 2014 book ‘Five Came Back: A Story Of Hollywood And The Second World War’ by Mark Harris. Mr. Harris has adapted the book for Netflix and painstakingly documents the five distinct personalities of the directors, each of whom became ‘guns for hire’ in the war effort.
The five Hollywood directors succeeded in showcasing for people on the homefront what exactly was going on during the war. The documentary, unlike the book, allows the viewer see some extraordinary video footage while simultaneously providing backstories with each. ‘Five Came Back’ director Laurent Bouzereau and Mr. Harris brilliantly intersperse relevant comments from five modern-era contemporary directors.
They comment at length on the individual achievements of these venerable filmmakers. Thus, we hear Steven Spielberg talking about William Wyler, Paul Greengrass commenting on John Ford, Guillermo del Toro highlighting Frank Capra, Lawrence Kasdan commenting on George Stevens and, finally, Francis Ford Coppola talking about John Huston.
One incredibly poignant story revolves arount John Huston’s final project, ‘Let There Be Light’ which showcased the serious effects of war on soldiers as they returned home. The U.S. military effectively banned the film, believing it was not bad for both morale and recruitment. The film was kept hidden in storage for more than thirty years,until in the early 1980s. Since then, it has come to be considered a film classic of the era.