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Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War Hardcover – February 27, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; 1St Edition edition (February 27, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594204306
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204302
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (160 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* It’s hardly news that the movies affect and are affected by the broader canvas of popular culture and world history, but Harris—perhaps more successfully than any other writer, past or present—manages to find in that symbiotic relationship the stuff of great stories. He turned that unlikely trick in Pictures at a Revolution (2008), about the five Best Picture nominees in 1967 and how they defined a sea change in Hollywood and in society at large, and he does it again here. The number is once more five, but this time it’s five acclaimed directors who went to war in the 1940s to make propaganda films and came home changed by what they saw and what they did. The stories of what John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra did in the war are dramatic (Ford filming the opening salvo in the Battle of Midway from a rooftop; Wyler riding along on bombing missions over Germany; Stevens filming the horrific scenes at Dachau), but they are also stories of personal redemption, frustration, and even dishonesty (Huston receiving acclaim for the authenticity of his documentary San Pietro, which was made up almost entirely of reenactments). Every chapter contains small, priceless nuggets of movie history (Joseph Goebbels thought Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver was “an exemplary propaganda film” and hoped the Germans could copy it), and nearly every page offers an example of Harris’ ability to capture the essence of a person or an event in a few, perfectly chosen words (describing Huston as a “last-call bon vivant”). Narrative nonfiction that is as gloriously readable as it is unfailingly informative. --Bill Ott

Review

* The bombs fall on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and Hollywood rolls up its sleeves and swaps the diplomatic velvet glove for the patriotic steel fist ... A story well worth telling Observer * A captivating history ... makes you want to revisit many of the films Daily Telegraph * Mark Harris conducts a fastidious investigation into the five top filmmakers who put their careers on hold to help the war effort ... Fascinating Total Film * Harris deftly threads the story of each man into the wider canvases of Hollywood and the war Scotland on Sunday * Gripping ... reveals how an elite squad of Hollywood's greatest directors recorded the bravest - and bloodiest - actions of World War II Mail on Sunday * Tough-minded, information-packed and irresistibly readable New York Times * Can't-put-it-down history of the World War II propaganda film San Francisco Chronicle * Harris has a huge story to tell, and he does so brilliantly ... an inspirational, if cautionary, tale of the triumph of the individual over the collective, of personal vision over groupthink, and ultimately of art over propaganda Wall Street Journal * Harris is a lively commentator, and a master weaver of multifarious threads Empire * Impeccably researched and irresistibly entertaining Belfast Telegraph * Full of colourful anecdotes about the golden age of Hollywood as well as unflinching descriptions of what the directors faced on the frontline, the 500-plus pages just fly by. This would make a great movie... Aberdeen Evening Express * This is as epic an undertaking as those historical Hollywood sagas of the '30s and '40s, including anecdotes from this golden age of film Good Book Guide * I enjoyed the honesty of this book. It opened my eyes The Truth About Lies * A startling account of how five exemplary film-makers (John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, Frank Capra) enlisted in every branch of the US forces, only to return, deeply moved and changed, to approach cinema in new ways Financial Times --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Very interesting book...well written and fascinating.
Julie A. Gold
The book is a detailed account of the military careers of five of Hollywood's most distinguished directors during World War II.
C. M Mills
For anyone interested in film and history, this book was fine reading.
asiana

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 96 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Five Hollywood directors volunteered for active duty after Pearl Harbor. They ranged in age from mid-thirties to late forties and had families to support. They were in no danger of being drafted at their age, and taking an indefinite leave from their careers was risky. They took huge cuts in pay to join up. They all accepted commissions and spent the war doing what they did best -- making movies.

I came into Five Came Back with a pretty sketchy idea of who these five directors were (Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, William Wyler, George Stevens). I remembered Capra did It's a Wonderful Life and John Ford did westerns, or was that John Huston? So, to be honest, I was ready to bail out if it turned out to be for insiders.

Once I started the book though, I was hooked. Mark Harris did a tremendous amount of research to track down the stories of the five. There's a fair amount of personal information and some gossipy bits, but mostly it's the story of the movies they made while they were in uniform. Since they were working for Uncle Sam and not for a movie studio or a news outlet, most of what they did was propaganda and training films. But because these were talented and creative men, they didn't churn out standard issue films.

While all the stories are fascinating, that of George Stevens is the most gripping. He was with the first Allied unit that entered the Dachau concentration camp after the Germans had fled. No one was prepared for the horror. And as an army unit, they were unable to do much right away for the many inmates who had survived to that point. Stevens filmed as much as he could, and his film would be used as evidence during the Nuremburg Trials. The experience shattered him though, and it took years for him to recover enough to make movies again.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Steven Schwartz VINE VOICE on December 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Five top Hollywood directors -- John Ford, Frank Capra, John Huston, William Wyler, and George Stevens -- enlisted in the armed services for World War II to offer their skills in documenting the conflict. Ford, the most prescient of the five, actually joined the Navy several months before Pearl Harbor. All had made classic films before the war. All of them put their very lucrative careers on hold, with no guarantee that they would or could resume them afterward. Except for Capra, all of them saw action. Capra stayed in the US to help organize Hollywood's war effort and the army's propaganda.

James Agee remarked in one of his film essays that most of these men's work deepened after the war, and this book shows you why. Harris also paints a detailed picture of the complex relationships among the studios, the military, and the movie-going public.

Ford, famously, was wounded during the Battle of Midway. Wyler risked his life filming bombing runs over Germany and actually lost his hearing trying to get a particular shot. Ford and Stevens filmed the D-Day landings at Omaha and Juno beaches, respectively. Stevens documented (he realized immediately that his footage would be used as evidence) the liberation of Dachau. He would not allow his men to film the worst of it, but shot the crematoria and other footage himself. Huston worked mainly in Italy. Capra spent his war mainly creating the Why We Fight series, in the process coming up with many narrative innovations that we now take for granted.

Harris also contrasts these men with other Hollywood people who served. Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th-Century Fox, strutted like a popinjay in his tailored uniforms and insisted on being addressed as "Colonel." He squandered resources and produced nothing usable.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Gary K. McCormick VINE VOICE on January 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War" examines the impact that the Second World War had on the Hollywood film-making community in general, and five top directors – William Wyler, John Ford, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens – in particular. It is a well-researched volume with considerable detail (sometimes too much, frankly) which brings to light aspects of the uncomfortable alliance between civilian filmmakers and their military counterparts that most readers, even WW II aficionados, might not be aware of.

The partnership between the Hollywood community and the military film-making establishment that was forged in hurried fashion when the United States was plunged into war on December 7th, 1941 was never an easy one, and the varied wartime careers of the five notable film directors around which the volume is structured brings this fact to light.

Treading carefully with government and military information establishments which often viewed them as slightly untrustworthy, liberal-tending dilettantes, these five men brought their own personal and political baggage to the task of making training films and morale-boosting documentaries for the civilian and military populations. John Huston was a thrill-seeking adventurer who firmly supported the war, Frank Capra was a timid sort whose beliefs wavered with the current political wind – his only true conviction the fear of being ostracized.

While some went to the front, in harm's way – notably John Ford and John Huston – others contributed from the home front; Frank Capra, for example. For all the trials and tribulations these five men encountered, the over-arching impression that I came away with was that they didn't really accomplish much.
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