Victory at Sea (Film Chest Media Group, NR)

victory sea_75 - CopyVictory at Sea is a fine example of an old-fashioned, heroic documentary that seamlessly mixes real combat footage with obviously staged shots.

 

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Victory at Sea has its origins in a 26-episode television documentary series originally broadcast on NBC in 1952-1953. Each episode was half an hour long and focused on a different aspect of World War II with many, as the title suggests, concerned with naval warfare. The television series won an Emmy in 1954 and helped establish the genre of historic compilation documentaries that have since become quite common on television.

The original episodes are all in the public domain, but if you don’t have 13 hours to invest, you can get a very good sense of what the series was about with the 98-minute feature documentary of the same name, originally compiled in 1954 and recently released in a restored version by Film Chest Media. The restored version looks and sounds great, and is well worth a watch if you have any interest in either the subject matter or the art of the documentary film.

The feature version of Victory at Sea is a fine example of an old-fashioned, heroic documentary that seamlessly mixes real combat footage with obviously staged shots and presents in a package with narration by Alexander Scourby and a score by Richard Rodgers and Robert Russell Bennett. It covers many aspects of the war, from the battles themselves to the liberation of the concentration camps, and keeps moving quickly from subject to subject so that even if you’re not a WWII buff, you won’t have a chance to get bored. The downside is that it can’t offer a definitive look at any aspect of World War II, but there are plenty of books and films already that focus on specific aspects of the war for those who want to explore it in greater depth.

Subject matter aside, Victory at Sea is also worth watching for the way it captures the triumphalist spirit of America in the years following World War II. As such, it can serve as a useful springboard for discussion about the differing ways that war can be presented to the public, and more generally about the many ways that nations can process the experience of war. It’s also a fine example of a style of documentary that aims directly at the viewer’s heartstrings, combining heroic action footage with sentimentality that is remarkably unsubtle and yet somehow effective. | Sarah Boslaugh

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