Tuesday, September 15, 2015

December 7

On tonight's third installment of the TCM Spotlight, Five Came Back, Ben Mankiewicz and Mark Harris will be discussing director John Ford. Among the movies airing is the interesting docudrama December 7, at 11:45 PM.

Assuming you all know your history, you should know that December 7 refers to the date in 1941 when Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, an attack which caused the US to enter World War II. But it takes a while before this movie gets to the actual attack. Instead, it starts off with a sequence involving Uncle Sam (Walter Huston), and a "Mr C." (Harry Davenport), who is apparently supposed to be the conscience of Uncle Sam or something. Uncle Sam is enjoying himself on what is for him a Hawaiian vacation, since this sequence is set before December 7, 1941. Mr C., however, gets into a debate with Uncle Sam as to what the "true" nature of the Japanese-Americans in Hawaii is. After all, many of them have apparently reatken Japanese citizenship thanks to a law that allowed them dual citizenship, and they may be spying for Japan against America. As we already learned from Resisting Enemy Interrogation, it's amazing what information the enemy can get just by being patient and listening to people inadvertently drop secrets.

All that out of the way, we then get into the meat of the film, which is a look at how the US could have dropped the ball so badly in allowing Japan to attack Pearl Harbor and inflict so much damage. One of the things mentioned in looking at the attack is that the Americans had radar, but didn't use it (to be fair, it was a relatively new technology at the time). This and other mentions of American incompetence caused problems at the Department of the Navy, which commissioned the film. There were things that they probably wanted to be kept secret, even though this was ostensibly more for the Navy than for the general public. That, and I don't think they liked having their incompetence laid bare in front of the general public. So the Navy Department had what was originally an 80-minute movie, and had it edited down ultimately to a two-reeler. Amazingly, that two-reel version won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short.

Finally, ending the movie is a look at the people who lost their lives in the Pearl Harbor attack, with a very young Dana Andrews at the beginning of his career playing the ghost of one of those dead soldiers.

December 7 is a difficult movie to give a rating to, largely because it doesn't really fit into any genre very well. I called it a docudrama at the beginning, and that's partly right. But it's almost propaganda as much as it is documentary. And the debate between Uncle Sam and Mr. C. is strange, to say the least. All in all, however, the result winds up being something that's quite interesting. The full 80-minute version is now available again, and it is that version which TCM showed last December the last time I saw it on the schedule. It is presumably also that version which will be airing tonight, since the schedule lists it as being about 80 minutes.

No comments: