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Movie Review: Victory Through Air Power

About I haven't seen any new movies lately

Previous Entry Movie Review: Victory Through Air Power Aug. 31st, 2010 @ 04:13 pm Next Entry

Victory Through Air Power (1943 United Artists Prod. Walt Disney*)
*There are four directors listed, three animated and one live action director. Besides, in this context the producer is more important than the directors.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “He’s only reviewing this because it’s a 70 minute propaganda piece and he thinks he can get away with writing a really short review.” Now I could say many, many things about that. I could complain that I’m being insulted, that this is a cynical statement that detracts from my interest in historical documents, and that you smell and no one likes you. However, it’s hard to get away from the fact that all those things are actually true. Including the bit about how you smell. However, it’s an interesting enough piece to write a review on, so I’ll give it a go. Allow us to discus.

LIES! As this photo shows, the Wright Bros. Shop had a striped awning! How can we take anything else they say seriously?

Based on the book of the same name printed a year before, Victory Through Air Power is a pretty naked piece of propaganda. Now, it’s important to note that this wasn’t some short subject that played with another movie. Victory was, in and of itself, a feature presentation. At 70 minutes it’s just as long as Bambi and even longer than Dumbo. So, yeah, it was a feature film. Why have you either never heard of it or never seen it? It’s very much a piece of World War II propaganda and not of much use after the war. After the opening segment, which is a short history of aviation, it becomes a hard sell for long range bombing missions.

Go Speed Racer, go Speed Racer, go Speed Racer GOOOO!

Now, you may have seen parts of this movie. The History of Aviation section was cut away and shown on it’s own from time to time. It’s a pretty interesting little piece of animation, and because of the accuracy in the drawings, a pretty serviceable educational tool. That alone is interesting since this is oft regarded as the beginning of Disney’s relationship with educational films. After the skill shown through this movie, Disney was used to make many training and propaganda films for the military. After the war was over, they turned to private companies that needed training films and schools that needed educational cartoons. So, this is actually a really important step for Disney as a company, even though the movie itself is more or less a footnote only chased down by historians such as myself.

HUH! What is it good for?

After the initial cartoon, which explains in brief the history of the airplane, with a concentration on its uses in wartime, we get to the real meat of the movie. After a brief introduction for Alexander de Seversky, which is more or less a reading of his CV, we get what amounts to a lecture from de Seversky with animated visual aids. While de Seversky lectures during the live action segments, Art Baker narrates the animated segments. I think one of the reasons this movie is forgotten is that this part of the movie is greatly concerned with what will be and what may be. Futurism is interesting to talk about when the futurist got things dad wrong, or only partially right. Since most of what de Seversky was discussing proved to be accurate, there isn’t much to mock. One might almost forget the context under which this was produced and see any inaccuracies as simple mistakes in research.

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

One might argue in places, such as why the Maginot Line failed, that the importance of airpower is slightly overstated. It makes it sound as though the Luftwaffe was the only reason that the French didn’t send the Nazis crying back home to mommy. Even granting that this is an infomercial for the B-52 bomber, it was still a little more complicated than that. However, much of what they say about the control of the North Sea is true, even if it’s interesting that the failure of the Luftwaffe at Dunkirk is credited to the RAF instead of being blamed on a morphine addicted dandy who couldn't think his way through a game of Monopoly without a dose of smack. I mean, had Göring not insisted that airpower alone could win the fight, Hitler could have wiped out most of the army in one go. If anything, that’s a strong bit of proof for the Boots on The Ground style of fighting.

Are they even trying to fly in formation?

However, there is much accuracy in the discussion of the Battle of Britain, and the Battle of Crete so we won’t judge too harshly. Also, they do kind of have us on the Battle of Pearl Harbor. I don’t mean to say that it was going against the facts, just that in some points the facts have been presented in such a way that it makes airpower the only real choice and I’m always suspicious when I’m given a single choice. Of course, the simple reply to that is that the whole idea of this film is to sell air power, which was a deeply underused asset at the time this was made.

The first attempts at the G.I. Joe Aqua-Tank went less well than had been hoped.

The animation is very interesting here as well. While it’s beautiful and great care has been taken to make the drawings realistic and accurate, it’s also strangely sparse and in some ways distant. Some of the reason for this is that the animation in many places is just still drawings being moved across the screens in what is called limited animation, something Walt Disney is supposed to have hated even more than his animators demanding the money and job security they'd been promised. ZING! The interesting thing is, how much more effective and serious the limited animation feels. So much so that in the end when a cartoon eagle attacks a cartoon octopus in a dramatic visualization of the fight, it actually looks sort of silly.

Well thanks, but what the hell am I supposed to do with this globe once the war is over?

After the discussion of how airplanes have changed warfare, we fall into a lengthy description of how difficult it is to transport goods by sea. The idea being that the Axis Powers only have to extend out from their base while the Allies have to surround them and travel a much greater distance with much more peril. The implication being that it would be a better world if we could send everything by airmail. Part of the description then falls to the difficulties of trying to use only ground forces and short-range aircraft against Germany and Japan. There are a lot of “Yeah, but” statements that can be made during this section. Problems about how over simplified they’re making the issue just jump out at me over and over. However, the central thesis is that long range bombing might, you know, end the war faster is correct. We hadn’t been doing much in the way of long range bombing of industrial targets at this time.

This is pretty much what Americans think wartime Germany looked like.

What de Seversky suggests is a bomber that could travel 3000 miles or more, with its own guns so it wouldn’t need an escort. What he’s basically asking for is the B-29 Superfortress and the B-32 Dominator. To his credit, these bombers did play a major part in kicking Hitler in the one ball he had. If we didn’t listen to de Seversky and his supporters, the war very well may have gone on a great deal longer. Much of what he said was correct, even if some parts are overstated. Still, this is an incredibly interesting piece of film history, if for no other reason than to see how the discussion was forming at the time instead of just a constant stream of retrospectives.

Yep! I see your problem here. You picked up a nail somewhere.

It is a propaganda piece though, one should never loose sight of that. Worth buying if one is interested in these sorts of things, but less education than sales pitch. If one wants another bit of American Propaganda blurring the lines of documentary, you could always look up Why We Fight, but that’s a review for another day. Right now, I’ve got to give this a score, which is a bit problematic. As a movie, it’s not worth much. As propaganda, its usefulness ended with the fall of the Axis. Even as a bit of history it’s only of value to historically minded people. I’ll go with my gut and rate it as it compares to Graffiti Bridge, which is the only criterion we’re really interested in.

Official Score:
10 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

And you thought it was going to be a short review. YOU FOOL!

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