The War and the Silver Screen -- "Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War"

Mar 24, 2015

Our guest is the film historian and journalist Mark Harris, who's written for Entertainment Weekly, Grantland, New York Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications. He's also the author of the highly acclaimed nonfiction book, "Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood." Harris joins us today to discuss his latest book, which is just out in paperback, and which skillfully profiles a vitally important time (that is, WWII) in the lives and careers of five American movie directors: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. The book is called "Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War." It is, per The New York Times, a "tough-minded, information-packed, and irresistibly readable work of movie-minded cultural criticism. Like the best World War II films, it highlights marquee names in a familiar plot to explore some serious issues: the human cost of military service, the hypnotic power of cinema, and the tension between artistic integrity and the exigencies of war." And further, as was noted by The Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Harris has a huge story to tell, and he does so brilliantly, maintaining suspense in a narrative whose basic outcome will be known ahead of time. 'Five Came Back' is packed with true stories that, according to the proverb, are stranger than fiction. Mr. Harris's story of five particular directors at one particular moment of history tells us much about the motion-picture industry, about the nature of filmmaking, and, more generally, about the relation of art to the larger demands of society. Although 'Five Came Back' at first seems to be chronicling a collective enterprise, it turns out to be an inspirational, if cautionary, tale of the triumph of the individual over the collective, of personal vision over groupthink, and ultimately of art over propaganda."