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FIVE CAME BACK Shines a Fascinating Light on Five Heroic Filmmakers (REVIEW)

FIVE CAME BACK Shines a Fascinating Light on Five Heroic Filmmakers (REVIEW)

Can you imagine five of Hollywood’s most successful directors putting their careers on hold so they can go overseas to document the deadliest war ever waged? It sounds like the premise of a particularly rousing Hollywood film, to be sure, but it’s also all true — and the wonderful new documentary Five Came Back does a remarkable job of bringing these filmmakers’ bravery, talent, and patriotism to light. Consider this three-hour Netflix exclusive a must-see for anyone who with even a passing interest in WWII history and the importance that filmmakers can sometimes play on the world stage.

If there are two things that Steven Spielberg clearly has a lot of respect for, it’s A) those who fought in WWII, and B) the power of cinema, so this project fits the celebrated filmmaker like a glove. Here we have five very passionate contemporary filmmakers discussing five legendary filmmakers who had the courage to take their cameras overseas and document the war for the folks back home. And it’s nothing short of fascinating.


The Subjects

Frank Capra (It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, It’s a Wonderful Life)

John Ford (The Long Voyage Home, How Green Was My Valley, The Searchers)

William Wyler (Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, Ben-Hur)

John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen)

George Stevens (Gunga Din, Shane, The Diary of Anne Frank)

The very short version of the story is that these five filmmakers were tasked with recording the war effort in various parts of the world.

For the longer (and much more interesting) version of the story, we need some helpful experts.

The Teachers

Steven Spielberg (E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan)

Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth)

Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill)

Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now)

Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy, United 93)

So already you know you’re in good hands, film history-wise. Director Laurent Bouzereau (who is more or less an undisputed genius when it comes to documentaries about movies) is careful to keep the “talking head” segments to a minimum while focusing mainly on the accomplishments of Capra, Ford, Wyler, Huston, and Stevens. And impressive accomplishments they were; these guys were not merely war photographers. Their goal was to bring the war home in a way that would inspire Americans to keep up hope, support the troops, and buy some darn war bonds. And, as you’ll see throughout Five Came Back, these filmmakers delivered an eclectic mixture of films; some were failures, some were successes, and some proved to be absolutely indispensable.


Based on the book by the astute film guru Mark Harris, Five Came Back is stocked with fascinating archival material and interviews, not to mention tons of rarely-seen WWII footage and (of course) a wealth of great information from all five co-hosts. One is tempted to say that Five Came Back is tailor-made exclusively for aspiring film historians and history professors, but that’s simply not the case. Like the finest historical documentaries, Five Came Back exists as a well-earned memorial to five brave, gifted filmmakers who deserve to be remembered — and it will probably strike a chord with everyone from the most erudite film expert to the open-minded 15-year-old movie fan who is down for one fascinating history lesson.

5 cinematically patriotic burritos out of 5


Five Came Back is now available on Netflix, as are several of the films covered therein, including Prelude to War (1942), The Battle of Midway (1942), Why We Fight: The Battle of Russia (1943), The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944), The Negro Soldier (1944), Tunisian Victory (1944), Nazi Concentration Camps (1945), San Pietro (1945), Let There Be Light (1946), and Thunderbolt (1947). Try watching some of these documentary shorts after getting the context on how they were made! Truly fascinating film history brought back to life, and it’s long overdue.

Images: Netflix

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