Filmed by WGBH/Boston. Executive producer, Grace Guggenheim; senior producer, Jenifer Millstone; producer/director/writer, Charles Guggenheim; “American Experience” recaptures D-Day with all the power of a direct hit. Watching original American, British and German b&w footage, listening to voiceovers of former soldiers, pilots, paratroopers, officers and other participants as events flow inexorably by in Charles Guggenheim’s stunning production, living-room warriors will witness the profound dedication of those who landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Guggenheim’s precise, clear script, melded with those of men who’d been there that day, never falters. Joseph Wiedenmayer’s superb editing shrewdly builds the story clip by well-chosen (and pristine) clip. Everything’s gray on gray, with Michael Bacon’s sustaining score and Skip Sorelle’s intricate sound design recreating the intense record of devastating events.
An angry Patton passes by in a Jeep: He had been named commander of a phantom division with fake trucks, tanks and housing assembled to make the Germans think the invasion would take place at Calais; his glory would come later.
There’s talk of the enormity of the operation — 5,000 ships covering 70 miles; 25,000 men in the first wave, followed by 125,000. Eisenhower is seen chatting with members of the 101st Airborne. The bombers, spread out across the skies, are guarded by fighter planes zapping attacking Messerschmitts.
The Germans had the advantage — seasoned troops, position, familiarity with the terrain, determination — and Rommel, brilliant tactician who set up the Normandy beaches to fend off the undoubted invasion. But his wife’s birthday was a day or so before June 6, and he went home to help her celebrate — not that much could have been done to ward off the Allied forces.
And the Germans never learned that the Allies had broken their codes and knew their plans; even Hitler was not exempt.
The Germans did have the advantage, but the Allies had quantity (“Half of England was under tarps”) and zeal; they had the spirit that precedes a surprise battle. An ex-infantryman comments about comrades: “We really liked each other.”
Docu is a powerful statement of purpose and dedication. “The biggest job was bringing the bodies that kept washing ashore,” says one ex-soldier. Over 9,000 were killed or wounded, and the sight of the dead resting sleeplike on beaches and in fields brings home the immediacy of the dreadful onslaught.
The enlightening and certainly inspiring program, an astonishing account of the 20th century’s St. Crispin’s Day, spotlights courage, commitment and history in graphic terms. It’s also an uplifting experience; that’s a lot to get out of one hour.