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Warner Home Video presents
George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin (1994)

"This is the way it looked to those who were really there."
- George Stevens, Jr.

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: January 27, 2005

Stars: George Stevens, Jr., Dick Kent, Ken Marthey, Ivan Moffat, Hollingsworth Morse, Jack Muth, Irwin Shaw
Director: George Stevens

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brutal images of dead soldiers and concentration camp victims)
Run Time: 46m:01s
Release Date: December 07, 2004
UPC: 012569589889
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+B+ D-

DVD Review

To most of us, World War II is a black-and-white war. Shades of gray pervade our memories, thanks to scratchy newsreels, government-sponsored shorts, and countless Hollywood propaganda films. The monochromatic images cast a haze over the conflict, dulling our senses to the destruction and suffering, and distancing us from the admirable ideals that distinguished the Allied forces. Very little color footage exists of the war, but most of what remains was shot on 16mm film by a group of Hollywood servicemen who dubbed themselves The Stevens Irregulars. And once seen, it is not easily forgotten.

George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin is the most comprehensive color record of the war in Europe, and it shines an entirely new light on the conflict, making it more immediate, human, and devastating than ever before. To those of us born long after Germany surrendered and the peace treaties were signed, World War II at last seems real, and the people who died no longer look like extras in a Hollywood movie. From the shores of Normandy to the liberation of Paris to the horrors of the Dachau concentration camp, Stevens and his accomplished team of craftsmen chronicle combat, camaraderie, sorrow, death, exhilaration, and unspeakable cruelty—all in brilliant, unforgiving color—and it is unquestionably a moving and fascinating experience.

One of Hollywood's finest directors (who would later win Oscars for A Place in the Sun and Giant), Stevens served in the Army Signal Corps, and was personally tapped by Gen. Eisenhower to organize the motion picture coverage of the war in Europe. His crew of "irregulars" was comprised of "pacifistic" men who were well past military age and gave up lucrative careers to participate in the enterprise. (Among them were writers William Saroyan, Ivan Moffat, and Irwin Shaw, and cinematographer William Mellor.) Although he used 35mm black-and-white stock for the official documentation of events, Stevens shot raw color footage on his own 16mm camera to record his personal experiences.

This priceless video diary sat for years on a shelf in the director's home, until son George Stevens, Jr. (himself a successful producer) included excerpts in his stirring 1985 documentary, George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey. The revelatory scenes inspired such interest, the younger Stevens put together a more comprehensive compilation that eventually became D-Day to Berlin. He also narrates the Emmy Award-winning film, putting an intimate spin on this very special home-movie presentation.

Though silent, the images still possess tremendous power, and the overdubbed reminiscences of some of the Stevens Irregulars (all of whom remain sadly unidentified) add context and resonance to what we see. Stevens' lens allows us to follow the Allies as they infiltrate France, invade Germany, and fight the Battle of the Bulge, but we also share more personal moments—soldiers reading mail and biding time, and French civilians throwing flowers and blowing kisses to the American liberators as they head toward Paris. Rare color shots of such larger-than-life figures as De Gaulle and Patton, and a brief glimpse of Hitler's hideaway in the Bavarian Alps once again lend this era a new and startling immediacy.

Of course, the scenes of death and destruction weigh most heavily, and the film doesn't shrink from lingering on the war's harshest realities. Seeing bombed out villages and dead soldiers lying on roadsides in full color magnify the already numbing impact of such images. Stevens and his crew were also the first to document the atrocities at Dachau, and the devastating footage of both survivors and victims is difficult to watch.

Yet despite the brutality, D-Day to Berlin ultimately celebrates the resilience, courage, and compassion of the human spirit. World War II may have ended 60 years ago, but this well-made documentary makes it no longer feel like ancient history. Thank you, George Stevens.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The color footage flaunts a rich, lush look that helps soften some of the harsh imagery. Clarity is remarkably good, and only minimal age-related defects—quite understandable given the rarity of the material—dot the print.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The mono track is clean and clear, and the overdubbed narration and interviews are always easy to understand. Carl Davis' music score (lifted from George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey) possesses a lovely tone and adds just the right emotional shadings to the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic two-disc keepc
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The disc includes no extras of any kind.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

A moving, beautifully produced documentary, George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin makes us look at World War II in an entirely different way. The color footage adds dimension and depth to familiar images, and brings home the war's human aspect in a fresh, emotionally affecting manner. We're very lucky these rare films have survived, and they remain a vital keepsake of a pivotal period in our history. Highly recommended.

 


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