Hollywood was never the same after taking up the fight to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan - just like the rest of the world. Many of the film industry's greatest talents put aside their careers to join the military and turn the movies into a weapon for victory.
Films were developed to boost public morale, educate millions of troops and stoke anti-German and anti-Japanese sentiment. The studios cooperated with the government to ensure that dramas and comedies - entertainment polished with propaganda - carried the right message. Besides churning out training films, filmmakers in uniform also sought to tell inspiring stories through documentaries, some of them mostly real and some of them mostly made up.
In his engaging book "Five Came Back," author Mark Harris follows the wartime experiences of a handful of movie directors - Frank Caprato ("It Happened One Night" and "It's a Wonderful Life"), John Ford ("The Searchers" and "The Quiet Man"), John Huston ("The African Queen" and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre"), William Wyler ("The Best Years of Our Lives" and "Ben-Hur") and George Stevens ("Giant" and "Shane") - to explore this unique intersection of entertainment and war. His compelling narrative is first-rate in all respects, a war story for film fans and a miniseries-like treatment of American history for those interested in World War II.
In Harris' telling, these directors faced their wartime fears with little more than cameras and courage. Their frustrations were due mostly to a kind of friendly fire. Time and again the indifference of government bureaucracy, including in the military itself, made it exceedingly difficult for them to obtain the equipment and supplies required for them to do their jobs.
Of the five, only Capra failed to recover his footing when he returned to Hollywood, a professional stumble as much about age and changing tastes and times as ability. His colleagues, however, achieved their greatest work after the war. Their movies turned more realistic, more serious and more profound. Like Hollywood and a world once at war, they too were never the same.