DOCUMENTARIES

THE GREAT WAR (approx. 55 min.)

The first in a series of historical documentaries about the twentieth century, produced by NBC at the mid-point in the century and among the best historical work ever done for television. Beginning at the end of the first decade of the century, narrator Alexander Scourby tells of the belief throughout Europe that war was a thing of the past, based on the fact that all of the kings and queens of Europe were now related to each other, and had been at peace for more than 50 years –

Only to see those hopes dashed by an assassination in the Balkans and, over the weeks that followed, the outbreak of World War I. Newsreel footage tells of the escalating war and casualties, and the slaughterhouse that Europe became for the British and French. We see images of America trying to stay out of the fighting, dedicated to peace until 1917 – and then the entry of the Americans because of Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare, just at the point when it looked as though civilization in Europe might collapse. The images are grim and startling, but the story ends on a hopeful note as the boys finally come home, following the Armistice in 1918.

 

THE JAZZ AGE (approx. 50 min.)

The 1920’s remembered by narrator Fred Allen. The program begins with the euphoria surrounding the end of World War I, and the desire on the part of the public to forget about the problems of the world. Amazingly for a documentary of the 1950’s – a decade in which television was supposed to be bland and safe – the program goes into the anti-foreigner hysteria that swept the country after the war, and the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, marching over a million strong on the streets of Washington, D.C.

The birth of prohibition is also profiled, and the hypocrisy surrounding it, as Americans are seen taking to speakeasies by the thousands, and the bootleg liquor industry springs up – and gang warfare in Chicago gets its due as well. On the lighter side, Allen shows us the emancipation of women, and the gradual liberation of American thinking, as more and more of us headed for Paris in the middle- and late-1920’s. We get glimpses of the run-up of the stock market and the encouragement of people to invest – the partying, the dancing (including the “Charleston”), and the seemingly endless opportunities to make money.

The market goes higher and higher, and the party goes on, with a few cautionary comments from the sidelines in the summer of 1929, and then, in October of that year comes the stock market crash. The images and graphics telling this 10-year story of success and ultimate ruin are startling and entertaining, and the mix of narration, images, and music make this one of the best documentaries ever made on American history.

 

BACK IN THE ‘30s (approx. 90 min)

Fred Allen narrated this fast-paced remembrance of life and history during the 1930’s, including the Great Depression, made by NBC during the early 1950’s. What makes this documentary even more effective than most is that it focuses on the actions behind the events usually associated with the decade. We get a good glimpse of the Jazz Age of the 1920’s and its loose, freewheeling morality and money-management, and the depiction of the gradual deterioration of life as the effect of the 1929 stock market crash rippled outward, to drive thousands of businesses into bankruptcy. The human side is also seen, in images of haggard men and hungry children. On the lighter side, we also get a glimpse of the popular culture of the era, including such radio stars as Jack Benny and Fred Allen.

TWISTED CROSS (approx. 50 min)

The rise of Nazi Germany is recounted in this documentary, which covers the history of the German nation from 1918, and the end of the German monarchy at the conclusion of World War I, to the collapse of the German economy in the 1920’s. The rising influence of the Nazi Party is shown, from its modest beginnings in the early 1920’s to its takeover of the government in 1933, following the burning of the Reichtag in Berlin. The Nazis’ brutality is documented along with their accompanying racial policies and savage military conquests, from the 1938 annexation of the Czech Sudetenland to the Allied victory in Berlin in the spring of 1945.

 

NOT SO LONG AGO (approx. 50 min)

Bob Hope is mostly associated with comedy, but this documentary shows off the more serious side of Hope’s personality. As narrator, he takes us from the end of the 1930’s, and the conclusion of the Great Depression, to the end of World War II, and through the years of peace and normalcy that followed. There’s a certain wistful sadness in this glimpse of then-recent American history, as we see images of thousands of soldiers and sailors coming home on the decks of aircraft carriers, and then the scenes of parents watching their children sailing off to serve in Korea a few years later.

 

CALL TO FREEDOM (approx. 90 min.)

This extraordinary documentary was a product of NBC in the mid-1950’s. In 1956, the Vienna State Opera, which had been destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II, reopened with a gala production of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. This special, hooked around that event, covers the previous 1000 years of Austrian and Viennese history using Beethoven’s opera as a jumping off point, moving the the Golden Age of Viennese splendor in the late 19th century and then into the Nazi era, when the city and the country were taken over by Hitler’s minions. From there, we see the return of the surviving Austrian soldiers (still in Soviet hands 10 years after the end of the war) and the celebrations surrounding the rebuilding and reopening of the opera house. The history is exciting enough, but it is intercut with priceless footage (about 30 minutes’ worth scattered throughout the program) of the actual opera performance, which includes such legends as Karl Bohm conducting, and Imgaard Seefried and Anton Dermota in its cast.

 

DATELINE HOLLYWOOD (Approx. 55 min.)

Before Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and E!, television had DATELINE HOLLYWOOD, a mid-1960's schmooze-fest featuring Joanna Barnes as host and Rona Barrett as the resident gossip columnist (all introduced to the strains of "A Man and a Woman"). This installment features film of a Hollywood party celebrating the opening of the Los Angeles production of Wait Until Dark, starring Shirley Jones and Jack Cassady, with glimpses of Carl Reiner, Edward G. Robinson, Louis Nye, Lisa Kirk, Craig Stevens, and the two stars; an interview with Addams Family star Carolyn Jones, in which she discusses her former marriage to and continuing friendship with producer Aaron Spelling (famous more recently for Beverly Hills 90210)