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This World War 2-era classic – originally titled as "San Pietro" – is a documentary film produced by the US Army Pictorial Service about the historical event known as the Battle of San Pietro Infine. It was released in the US on May 3, 1945 but shown to US troops earlier. It was written, directed and narrated by prominent Hollywood director John Huston. The production supervisor was the multi-Oscar-winning director Frank Capra. The cameraman was the later film producer Jules Buck.
The film opens with a short speech by General Mark W. Clark, who explains that San Pietro is a 700-year-old town in Italy's Liri River Valley, just south of Monte Cassino about halfway between Naples and Rome. The valley is a wide, flat pass that's surrounded by high mountains. The fighting took place from 8–17 December 1943, as US forces tried to wrench control of the area from the Germans. Unfortunately, the enemy had the advantage, with machine guns and mortars situated in the mountains. Flooding rivers also made movement exceedingly difficult for American troops.
The film shows a series of maps that give a thorough explanation of the ongoing tactical situation. US Army soldiers assault German positions, making progress but taking heavy losses. US tanks then brave a single winding mountain road, fully exposed to German artillery fire, in order to attack the enemy-held town. Finally the Americans drive the Germans out of San Pietro and the surrounding mountains. The Allied victory in the battle was crucial in the ultimate drive to the north to liberate Rome. Scenes following the battle show villagers as they returned to their devastated town and attempted to rebuild their lives.
"San Pietro" was one of the most controversial documentary films made during World War 2. When it was filmed, Huston was a captain in the US army. His initial assignment was to document the liberation of Rome. When the fight northward proved slower and more frustrating than the army anticipated, he was reassigned to make a film that would explain the difficulties to stateside Americans. Huston and his crew were attached to the US Army’s 143rd Regiment of the 36th Division. Unlike many other military documentaries, it was claimed Huston’s cameramen filmed alongside the infantrymen as they fought their way up the hills to reach San Pietro. Huston's claim that the film was made during the battle was proven false by the research of Peter Maslowski in his 1993 book, Armed With Cameras. When Huston and his crew reached San Pietro, the battle for the town was effectively over, so several of the scenes were reenacted.
The film was held up from being shown to the public by the US Army until May 1945, after victory in Europe. Huston screened his first edit for army superiors in October 1944. The complaint voiced against the film by the army brass was simply that "this picture is pacifistic" and "against the war." The film portrayed the controversial Italian Campaign in a bad light. (General Mark W. Clark, one of the most widely criticized US commanders, looks distinctly uncomfortable talking about the battle in the film's introduction.) The Italian campaign was controversial because its primary purpose was to draw German divisions away from France and relieve the pressure on the Soviets in Russia. That meant many months of heavy, costly fighting for the Allies slogging over mountainous Italian terrain that favored the enemy, with few tangible results. Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, however, came to the defense of the film, stating that because of the film’s realism, it would make a good training film. Then the film was used as a training tool. Huston was redeemed, decorated and eventually promoted to major.
The film is vastly different than any newsreel-style, cheerleading documentary of the era, as the voice-over is sober, ironic, and poignant at times. In 1991, the documentary was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
"San Pietro" followed Huston’s relatively straightforward documentary "Report from the Aleutians". Watch Report from the Aleutians here: https://youtu.be/VkmgeseTShE
Battle of San Pietro | World War 2 Documentary | 1945
NOTE: THE VIDEO DOCUMENTS HISTORICAL EVENTS. SINCE IT WAS PRODUCED DECADES AGO, IT HAS HISTORICAL VALUES AND CAN BE CONSIDERED AS A VALUABLE HISTORICAL DOCUMENT. THE VIDEO HAS BEEN UPLOADED WITH EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. ITS TOPIC IS REPRESENTED WITHIN HISTORICAL CONTEXT. THE VIDEO DOES NOT CONTAIN SENSITIVE SCENES AT ALL!