December 7, 2015 — 64 years ago, the military strike against Pearl Harbor propelled America into World War II.
The attack began at 7:48 (Hawaiian Time). It was actually a series of attacks on the Philippines, Guam and Wake Island, and on British-held territories in the Pacific, but the attack on Pearl Harbor is only one commonly remembered. 2,403 Americans died and 1,178 were wounded in the assault.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously called December 7th, 1941 “…a date which will live infamy.” America joined the Allied war effort on December 11, 1941.
Hollywood would join the war effort, churning out war-based films, propaganda films and sending out its best-known stars to raise money for the war effort. In addition, actors Bette Davis and John Garfield opened The Hollywood Canteen, a place where soldiers on their way overseas could eat dance and be entertained by some of filmdom’s greatest stars.
One of Hollywood’s greatest and most famous directors, Frank Capra (It Happened One Night, Meet John Doe, It’s A Wonderful Life), was called upon to create a series of films designed to convince Americans, including drafted soldiers, who had been significantly non-interventionist until the attack. of the need for a concerted war effort. In total, Capra made seven films plus a number of other related documentaries. They were commissioned by the U.S. government; in 2000 they were included in the National Film Registry, having been deemed “culturally significant.”
The first of the films, Prelude to War (1942), explains Nazi and Japanese aggression by using their own films and newsreels to convince Americans of the cause. Capra was able to get access to previously unavailable government archives for the films he needed. He described the film as “presenting a general picture of two worlds; the slave and the free, and the rise of totalitarian militarism from Japan’s conquest of Manchuria to Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia.”
The last film to be made was War Come to America (1945). Director Frank Capra’s described it: “Dealt with who, what, where, why, and how we came to be the USA—the oldest major democratic republic still living under its original constitution. But the heart of the film dealt with the depth and variety of emotions with which Americans reacted to the traumatic events in Europe and Asia. How our convictions slowly changed from total non-involvement to total commitment as we realized that loss of freedom anywhere increased the danger to our own freedom. This last film of the series was, and still is, one of the most graphic visual histories of the United States ever made.”
The films were narrated by Walter Huston (Dodsworth, Yankee Doodle Dandy) — father of director/actor John Huston (Beat the Devil, Report from the Aleutians, The Maltese Falcon) — and starred Lloyd Nolan (Guadalcanal Diary, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). Walt Disney Animation Studios provided the animation.
Another documentary to watch on Pearl Harbor Day: World War II: I Was There describes the war through personal recollections of people who served during the war from the Battle of Dunkirk to D-Day. Six episodes tell the stories of Dunkirk, The Battle of Britain, The True Story of the Blitz, The True Story of the Home Guard, The True Story of Private Ryan, and Churchill’s War.