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Joe Thompson

Thom: "Memphis Belle" was an excellent choice for the blog-a-thon. It was a soul-stirring movie and it showed one of the extremes of Wyler's change.

A small note: "Man of Aran" was released in 1934 and was a talkie, although when I saw it I couldn't understand a word of the dialect spoken by the characters. Flaherty released the silent "Nanook of the North in 1922" -- I'll bet that's the one you were thinking of.

Joe Thompson ;0)


Nanook it is. Thanks, Joe. My own write-up on Man of Aran is right here. I'd love to read your take on it.

Glad you liked the piece on Belle. An unexpectedly gripping film, and a fascinating period of Wyler's life to research.


Those interested can stream or download The Office of War Information Bureau of Motion Picture's film about an all-American B-17 raid over Europe in Mission Accomplished: The Story of the Flying Fortress (1942) courtesy of Internet Archive.


According to Jan Herman's a Talent For Trouble, no less than FDR himself was instrumental in propelling the film to its commercial release. He says that 500 prints were made and distributed by Paramount, and that Bosley Crowther's review was the first review of an American film ever printed on the front page of the New York Times. But he makes no mention of its success with the general public. Only the generals, who in the wake of the film's acclaim stopped treating Wyler like the mere lieutenant colonel that he was, at least socially.

I thought you might have picked Wuthering Heights, to tie in your inexorable march of time with the Blog-a-Thon. But I'm so glad you picked this one. Now I just have to see it for myself!


Great essay, Thom. Have you been able to see his other WW2 documentary, about the P47 Thunderbolt? Sounds like they'd make a great double feature. This description of the harrowing shooting conditions cements my respect for Wyler.

The Oscars' policy on documentaries deserves mention here. In 1942, they named four winners and nominated more than 20 other films, all war-related. 1943 had seven nominees in the short subjects category (this film is under the Academy's feature length of 45 minutes), but in 1944, when Memphis Belle was eligible, there were only three nominees, and they didn't nominate this film. I understand what prompted the boom in 1942, but I don't understand the bust only two years later. It sounds from your essay that they missed the boat on this one.


Brian and Mike. I like that both of you added something more to the post. Thanks guys.

Brian - I could cheat and make this the post for '44 but we'll see when I get there. I looked up the Times page and, indeed, Crowthers review (not the one I note above) appears on the front page on 14 April 1944, likely to tie in with the top story about 3,000 American planes striking Germany, Hungary and Yugoslavia. interesting info about FDR and the public distribution too, thanks.

Mike - In Directed by William Wyler Mr. Wyler says that when he was busy making the film in the bomber he would forget(!) that the enemy fighters and AA guns were shooting at them. That's respectable dedication to filmmaking all right.

A drop in wartime docs nominated by the Academy towards the end of the war seems strange for sure. Did you happen to notice other types of docs being nominated?

Haven't seen Thunderbolt but it would make an ideal compare/contrast double-bill with Belle, particulalry if Wyler adjusted his approach.

I want to add a big thanks for hosting the blog-a-thon. I don't think I would have researched this filmmaker or watched this fascinating movie otherwise. It's been a good kickstart for my upcoming leap into films of the war period too.


It looks like most or all of the 1943 nominees were war-related. The same goes for the 1944 nominees; even a short entitled Arturo Toscanini: Hymn of the Nations was made by the Office of War Information and apparently a tribute to the Italians who resisted Mussolini. The 1945 and 1946 lists are also peppered with what look to be war documentary titles.

I don't know why the list of documentary nominees shrunk down between after 1942 (which was only the second year documentaries were given their own award categories). But I have a couple hunches as to why the Memphis Belle might have missed out on a nomination. Perhaps it was the wrong length for either category; I know that in 1941 Joris Ivens' the Power and the Land was disqualified from consideration because it was a smidgen over then maximum running time in the category. At 45 minutes, the Memphis Belle might have been too long to be considered a short, and too short to be considered a feature.

Or perhaps the documentary selectors that year were establishing an early precedent for what has been a common trend in this category: neglect to nominate the best-known films (Pumping Iron, the Thin Blue Line, Hoop Dreams, Grizzly Man) in favor of lesser-known titles that may deserve an "awards boost". I don't know if the 1944 nominees qualify as "lesser-known" but I bet they didn't get reviewed on the front page of the Times, anyway.

It's your blog, so it's up to you whether counting this post as your 1944 entry (and come to think of it, wasn't Hare Force from 1944 as well?) is cheating or not. But I can't believe you'd pass up the chance to write about Double Indemnity, To Have and Have Not, Laura, Hail the Conquering Hero, the Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Meet Me in St. Louis, the Curse of the Cat People, and before I get too Hollywood-centric, Maria Candelaria, a Canterbury Tale or At Land, would you?


Just wanted to mention that the second episode of Ken Burns' The War features quite a bit of The Memphis Belle in the segment about the American B-17 bomb groups based in England.


Brian - you're not going to make choosing a film for 1944 any easier, are you? lol. Thanks for the list of films from that year, my friend. I had no idea that I unconsciously chose films from the same year for both your blog-a-thon and Mike's. Strange.

Your hunch about Memphis Belle missing out even a nomination for best documentary short or feature due to something as arbitrary as running time is interesting. Belle is squeezed between two other Wyler nominations (and wins I believe) so we can't say the filmmaker wasn't getting his due. But, it's a shame if this film missed out because of length because I think that it served its purpose exceptionally: informing, persuasive, emotionally gripping and entertaining all at the same time. I'd call that a successful wartime documentary. I suppose we need to know what criteria is used to evaluate films and the process the Academy uses to decide which films are nominated.

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